Tag Archives | working practice



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

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

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

What is an excellent leader like?

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

  1. 1.  Being a visionary

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

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

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

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

  1. 2.  Personal qualities

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

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

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

3.  Emotional intelligence

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

  1. 4.  Working with a team

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

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

  1. 5.  Thinking systemically

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

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

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

  1. 6.  A change agent

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

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

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


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

The inhibitors to excellent leadership

  1. A.  In the individual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Why does this happen? Two reasons:

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

So how do we change our habits?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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There have been many stories in the media about the heartfelt reactions of people all over the world to natural disasters. For me, it is a great reminder that human beings are essentially caring and kind.

It is easy to forget, because we react more strongly to the cruelty or simple thoughtlessness that we experience, and register it in our consciousness more deeply – the unpleasant remark from a work colleague, the partner who doesn’t bother to acknowledge an important anniversary – we have all hurt from these sorts of behaviours.

Yet most of us equally experience simple kindnesses from others – a cup of coffee delivered to the desk when we are busy, a favourite dinner after a hard day at work – and for a moment they lift our spirits. Wouldn’t it be lovely if kindness were the norm – imagine how that would feel, and what a difference it would make to our daily lives! And it isn’t that demanding. Being kind and acknowledging kindness shown to you are simple things to do and pay off for both sides.

To increase the level to which human beings demonstrate their kindness, we need to take two simple actions:

  1. Every day do one kind act for someone else
  2. Every time someone does a kindness for you, acknowledge it

It is the small steps that begin the major differences. This sort of behaviour is infectious, and when we decide unilaterally to take these small actions, we find that more people are kind more often, that we increase the number of times we do a small kindness for someone, because it creates a good feeling and is easy.

Let’s not save our kindness for times of great disaster – let’s practise it every day!


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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 www.meta4business.com/coaching)

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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 “The reality of life is that while staying put is without doubt the most comfortable for the short haul, it is in fact the highest risk strategy of all.” – John Harvey-Jones. We live in an era of constant change. This has become a cliché that everyone recognises, heaving a sigh before carrying on as they were whenever they can! The reason for this is that, although we know there is constant change, it is not coherent and often only temporary. Take the example of changes due to technology. Because of technological improvements, we should be able to work smarter, and use the technology as a trusted servant. Instead, most people find that it means learning how to use some new software, but does not really reduce their workload, or encourage them to work differently with their colleagues. Yet the original intention behind such improvements was to enable people to use their time more effectively, and work differently. So what happened? Most organisations have not thought through the implications of constant change, and so still work to the old premise of looking for ways to stay put for however long they can, before introducing a change that will establish a new status quo. They are still geared for staying put, not for change. This is true of our education, our training, and our way of life, so for many people, change is an unwelcome interruption, not a welcome move forward. How do we move to being geared up for change? There is another ‘revolution’ taking place, in the working practice and culture of organisations. Change is inevitable. It need not be a crisis but can offer new opportunities. Change takes place more rapidly than ever, yet few of us have had any preparation in the art of dealing with change, whether in our personal life, our work, or in our wider social circumstances. Coping with change and the events of change is a neglected skill.

Most organisations have undertaken some major changes in the last few years, both structurally and technologically. All such change is necessary, but for it to have a lasting positive effect, it is vital that it is supported by a reinforcing culture. This means that the vision and values of the company, in practice as well as in theory, need to match with the paradigm of change, so that the people in the organisation receive a clear message that change is now a constant in the organisation, and that the culture supports them in developing their ability to work well within the new paradigm. It is inevitable that working practice will have to change. The leading edge will be where people have learnt to work together in a more effective way. Only then will re-structuring and re-processing show their full benefits. Only then will change be something to delight in, rather than to fear. Reinforcing organisational development.The purpose of organisational change is to increase the effectiveness of the company. This can only be achieved in the longer-term, if the behaviour and attitudes of people change, so that they are geared up to continually look for ways of increasing organisational effectiveness. The attitudes and behaviour required. The characteristics of those who support and thrive on change have been well researched. They include:- delight in change constantly learning flexible innovative taking responsibility working co-operatively being resourceful valuing differences in others looking for opportunities to develop. These characteristics are also the characteristics of those who are excellent in what they do. THE META MODEL OF CHANGE The Meta model demonstrates that healthy change in individuals, teams and organisations does not have to be about tackling all the problems. The model demonstrates that fast/healthy change can be facilitated by noticing and growing what is already excellent in an individual/team/ or organisation. The theory is that by taking this non-linear and unusual approach ‘the problems’ reduce of their own accord, as we grow what is excellent. This suggests that positive change can be accomplished quicker and more easily with the Meta approach than traditional linear ’cause and effect’ approaches to problem solving. The process of developing towards the ideal What would it be like if it were perfect? Why should we make change happen? What have you already got towards the ideal? What else could you do to move it  on? What obstacles are there and how do you get past them? What are you going to do now? This is the Meta design principle for change programmes, and is applied in workshops, coaching and consultancy on change. It is also Meta’s approach to organisational diagnostics and co-creation with the customer.


Excellent organisations, change.




Where do I start?

The question of where do I start is one that many of us face all too often in our lives. We read or hear about something that inspires us or prompts us, personally or professionally, get excited about the possibility of making things better in some way, and then grind to a halt.

It is so hard to decide what exactly to do, how to fit it in, and even worse if it will require some change to our routine! How many lost dreams do you have in your kitbag somewhere, delayed until they might be possible, or you win the lottery!

When we decide that we would love to make our place of work a place where people want to give of their best, and where quality and excellent service are automatic, it feels exciting and inspiring. Then we look around us at all the stuff of everyday work, and all the problems we notice with the product, the people, the processes, and feel overwhelmed by the enormity of what we already have to deal with, never mind adding more!

We can of course have a go, and this is what we often hear praised in people who are considered to be entrepreneurs, because they devote all their time, energy and concentration into making their dreams a reality. What we don’t hear so much about is:

  1. The cost in terms of their personal lives for many of them
  2. The majority who don’t make it through to a successfully achieved vision, but give up along the way

I believe that we can make it much easier for ourselves and also make it more likely that we will get to where we want to go. All that is required is that we find someone who will give us some support and help in the transition from where we are to where we want to be.

Why don’t we ask for help?

The idea of using someone else’s help is not an automatic one with most of us. This is because we learn fairly early on in our lives that it is a ‘good thing’ to be independent and do things for ourselves. In fact, it goes further than that: it is seen as some form of failure to need other people’s help. Rather than being a way of empowering ourselves, and enabling ourselves to be more effective, asking for another’s help is seen as a sign of weakness and an admission of failure on our part.

This is made even worse by the historical attitude to needing help in work. It is worse than just a sign of weakness, it is a sign that you are not up to the job, and possibly even a career stopper. Most people are told that they need help because they are perceived to be under-performing in some way, and they would prefer for it to be quick, easy and forgotten about as soon as possible.

I still remember when an organisation I was working with had decided that all their managers should be coaches to their teams, in line with the trend at the time for trying to get managers to adopt a less authoritarian style. They gave them a few days’ training in coaching methods, and assumed that the coaching style of managing would follow.

The result was that instead of calling people to their office to lay into them for something that wasn’t good enough, the majority of the managers started to call people to their office for a ‘damn good coaching’, and then laid into them in exactly the same way! Those people were as keen to avoid coaching as they had been to avoid being laid into before, and would laughingly say to me that they didn’t mind what I did with them so long as I didn’t coach them.

More recently, there has been some acceptance that executive coaching may be a good thing, and may even be a sort of status symbol, like having your own psychiatrist. Yet the idea still lingers on that coaching is a remedial activity for people who have problems, and those executives most likely to have coaching agreed are the ones who are not ‘fitting in’ as well as they might with the culture of the company, or who are under-performing in some way.

The importance of a coach

What nonsense! We all know that there are times when another’s perspective is invaluable, when another’s challenge is just what we need to get us moving, and another’s support keeps us going when we are not so sure of ourselves.

The word coach was first generally used in a sports environment, and the purpose of the coach was to enable someone to reach their peak performance. Sometimes that meant challenging them on their weaknesses, but it also meant helping them to exploit their strengths, and become even better than they thought they could be. The coach cared and believed in the person’s potential, and gave them another perspective on what they could achieve, and ways of getting there.

Some of us can use our friends in this capacity. They are the person who helps us to see that things are not as complicated as we thought, or who prompts us to dare when we were thinking of giving up, or who just comes to the class or gym with us, and helps us to keep going. Some friends are better at this than others, because they will vary in how much they run their personal agendas on our issues, and they will vary in their skill in asking us the right questions.

At work, few of us are lucky enough to have someone who can genuinely fulfil this role for us from within the organisation. Although some managers are good at the role, they will almost inevitably have some of their own agenda running, and colleagues may be a useful sounding board, but most of us prefer not to let them know either our doubts or our dreams, in case they use the information in some way.

The recognition that this ‘ally’ could be invaluable in helping us to achieve even more has led to a proliferation of professional coaches, particularly for leaders at work. As with anything, the value of the coaching depends on how skilled the coach is and what he/she holds to be the purpose of what they are doing.

At Meta we have a lot of experience of coaching at executive levels, and we believe that coaching is a vital tool for those who want to achieve excellence in their leadership and for their organisations.

The benefits of coaching

An excellent coach will prompt you to:

  • Re-awaken your dreams or dare to dream of possibilities
  • Clarify exactly what you want as outcomes
  • Decide how you can begin to turn your dreams into reality
  • Identify what you already have that you can build on to achieve your dream
  • Challenge your pre-conceptions about the obstacles involved
  • Begin to move towards what you want
  • Keep going when things slow down or seem to be blocked
  • Delight in your progress

He/she will also provide the objective yet caring view that can help us to see from a different perspective, and will encourage you whenever you need it. The coach’s intention and attention is entirely with you and the outcomes you want, and they have no other agenda. They also come with no judgement of you, so you can bring any topic to the coaching and they will deal with it with the level of importance that you give it.

An example of how this works would be the recently appointed MD who wants to have an excellent organisation, but thinks that the staff are not really up for it. To begin with, we established what he meant by an excellent organisation, so we knew where we were headed. The challenge was then in defining the role of the leader in such an organisation, and his recognition that he was not playing that part. Talking it through enabled him to define his role more clearly, and begin to put that version into practice.

His examples of how the staff were not coming up to scratch were not ignored, but we started instead from what they did well, and then looked at how he might build on that to achieve what he wanted.

Within 3 sessions, he had a clear role description, a set of principles for the organisation to live by, and a strategy for encouraging the staff to become more committed to his vision for the company. As he said, he would have started by getting discouraged by the lack of response from the staff, and probably given up if left to his own devices. Yet he had come up with all the answers, and just needed the prompt of someone else.


Finding the right coach

To gain these benefits, we need to ensure that the coach is right for us. For example, I know that I need a coach who will challenge me and stretch my thinking – sympathy needs to be there, but not running the show.

It is essential that you ensure that the coach is going to fulfil the role you require of them, and that means that you need to be clear about what you want from a coach.

At Meta we believe that there are some vital qualities and principles that underlie coaching, and we do not accept anyone to work as a coach for us without this underpinning.


Principles of coaching

  1. The coach is there to enable the person to uncover their own potential and wisdom
  2. The coach works with the other person’s agenda and commits to helping them achieve their outcomes
  3. Coaching is only appropriate if the person genuinely wants to enhance their performance and/or that of their organisation in some way
  4. The coach makes no assumptions about what is best for the person or the organisation, whilst ensuring that they check that the person’s own ideas will really work to achieve what they want
  5. The content of a coaching session is confidential and any reporting of it is with the person’s agreement
  6. The coach helps the person to not only find solutions, but also to identify how they found them, so they can use the same process for themselves in other situations – second level learning

Notice that this set of principles is very similar to what we would expect of a trusted friend.


Qualities of a coach

If the coach is to be useful to you, he/she needs to be the sort of person you can trust and feel comfortable with. Their personal qualities are paramount in this, and to accept someone you are not sure about is to reduce the likelihood of the coaching being as useful as it might for you.

The excellent coach is someone who:

  • Has integrity and values
  • Is excellent at asking the right questions
  • Can maintain a level of objectivity while at the same time being clearly ‘on your side’
  • Genuinely cares about what you want to achieve
  • Is non-judgemental about your present skills and believes that you can achieve what you want and maybe even more
  • Is willing to work with you in a way that works for you, rather than imposing a method on you that doesn’t really suit you
  • Ensures that you always feel that it is a safe environment to explore in
  • Ensures that your action plans are achievable and realistic, so that you do not get overwhelmed
  • Helps you to recognise your unconscious as well as conscious decisions and motivations
  • Is available for you on an informal basis as well as the formal sessions to give support and encouragement
  • Takes every opportunity to enhance what you gain from the coaching, so that you grow as a person in as full a sense  as possible, and achieve the changes you want for yourself and for your organisation

Notice that an executive coach does not need to be an expert in your particular field. In fact, this can be a handicap to their objectivity, as they are more likely to believe that they know the way to do things if they are an expert in sales, manufacturing etc.

What they do need is an understanding of the principles of good leadership, planning and implementing changes, and what makes an excellent organisation work.


Using a coach

So you have found an excellent coach who suits your requirements. What help can they give you?

  1. Enhancing your skills as a leader

A coach can help you to establish what you are good at and what you would like to be even better at as a leader. He/she can also help you to identify easy ways of enhancing your skills, and building on your strengths. You may also need some help with areas that are less familiar to you. For example, if you are used to keeping a tight hold on what is happening in your area, and have decided that you want to delegate more effectively, you may need to work through how this can be achieved without you or others feeling uncomfortable.


  1. Establishing your vision for the company

A coach can help you to stretch your thinking on what’s possible as a vision for how you want your organisation to be, whether that is a department or the whole company. He/she can also help you to find ways of beginning to turn it into a reality, identifying strategies, priorities and actions. You may also need some help with areas that are less familiar to you. For example, if you have never offered an explicit vision to your colleagues and engaged them in it, you may not be sure how to go about this.


  1. Deciding on and planning for changes

A coach can help you to make a coherent plan for changes you want to instigate, and ensure that they are presented in a way that makes sense to others as well as to you. You may also need some help with areas that are less familiar to you. For example, if you have not before instigated successful change in people’s behaviour, as opposed to training them in a new process, you may need to explore what will help you to really capture people’s hearts as well as their minds, so that they truly engage with the change.


  1. Finding a way of improving the working practice in the company

A coach can help you to ensure that you have considered all the aspects of making successful improvements to working practice, so that it is not just regarded as another initiative, and is taken on fully by the people involved. You may also need some help with areas that are less familiar to you. For example, if you think that some people will resist the improvement, you may need to explore how to make it irresistible for them!


  1. Any other business!

This list is not exhaustive, although it probably captures the main themes we come across when coaching. The beauty of a good coach is that you can take almost anything you would like to tackle to them, and they will work with you on it with gusto!



All of us have our moments of inspiration and desire to make things better for ourselves and our organisations. Too often, they drift away, buried under the everyday demands on our time, and the difficulty of turning an idea into reality.

There are lots of ways we can help ourselves and our organisations to become the best we can be. We can read books, attend seminars, talk with colleagues, go to workshops. And we can take advantage of the chance of having a personal coach who will help you to make it more possible to achieve your dreams. After all, it is well known that getting physically fit is far more successful when you have a personal trainer, who designs the programme specifically for you, and encourages you to keep going!

Coaching is not a remedial exercise – it is one of the most powerful ways of making it easier for you to grow your own skills as a leader and a visionary. It enhances the likelihood of you becoming the best you can be, and enables you to really grow your organisation in a way that is coherent and thought through. Have you found a coach yet?


Leadership, excellent organistaions



From the very beginning we at Meta have been fascinated by the concept of the ideal organisation.  The company was formed with the explicit intention of putting the ideal into practice, to check out how the ideal works in practice.  What do we mean by the ideal organisation? Well, firstly we established the criteria for the ideal organisation:-

  • People love to come to work, they feel valued, and treated like a grown-up.  They are encouraged to give of their best, and are continually growing.
  • Customers love the organisation.  They feel respected and liked and are also treated like grown-ups.  They know the organisation is honest with them and can be trusted.  They also know the company will always deliver on its promises.
  • Suppliers also like working with the organisation.  They know that both their work and their humanity will be respected, and that the organisation will deal fairly and honestly with them.  They are also encouraged to experiment, and supported in growing their own business. The relationship is one that is truly valued on both sides.
  • The organisation is completely ethical.  There are a clear set of values that are lived to, with no shady areas of compromise to get a deal, either internally or with customers and suppliers. The organisation is as transparent as it can be.
  • The company has a clear identity supported by a brand that people admire.  Every contact made, every decision made, every piece of marketing reflect the brand and values in the same way, regardless of who is involved.  When different people compare their stories about the organisation, they have the same characteristics.
  • The organisation runs smoothly.  Whilst absolutely embodying a strong people focus, it also has simple and effective systems and processes which enable and support this focus.  It delivers a professional service that is responsive to peoples’ needs. Every system and process is designed with common sense in mind, so that it’s easy to use.


This list of criteria is not something we have made up in some ivory tower.  Our research into what people would consider to be the ideal organisation has been ongoing for over 15 years, and many others have also been exploring the same topic for even longer – see references for some other research.

The fascinating part of our research is that the criteria seem to be universal.  We have asked people at all levels in a whole variety of organisations, and even different cultures throughout the world, yet the variation in response is minimal.

We have also researched from the customer and supplier perspective looking at both individual views and corporate views, and again found a remarkable consistency.

This suggested to me that there is something very strange going on:  we can all agree on the criteria for the ideal organisation, yet we continue to work in ways that prevent us from having that ideal organisation.  What is that about?  In Meta we call this the tacit conspiracy. We all know what would work, yet we perpetuate working practice that is not effective in making us want to be at work. We think that this is because we follow the example set by others who have already accepted the pattern of how you need to be at work, assuming that there must be some good reason for it. Because no-one questions it, the normal working practice continues to be a reality that most would prefer to be able to walk away from. Hence the attraction of things like lotteries!

It is this big gap between the ideal and the reality of most working practice that led to the next set of questions:

  1. What is required to turn the ideal into reality?
  2. What stops us from doing so?


Requirements to turn ideal into reality

When we have explored with people what would need to happen for the ideal to become reality, they usually begin by suggesting that it has nothing to do with them.  However, most of us have occasionally experienced the ideal in practice, if only in part, and when we ask people to remember such experiences, they begin to realise that maybe we all have a part to play.

For example you may have worked in a particular department where everyone loved to come to work.  As you explore it, you realise that the ‘tone’ of the place was established by how everyone tacitly agreed to treat everyone else.  The boss often sets the tone, but I have known places where the tone was set by someone else, and the boss just got caught up in it.

Or you may have worked with somewhere where the care for the customers was genuine and heartfelt, and the staff felt at the end of the day that they had done a good job, because they had done something to make life easier for their customers.

We all do have examples, even if they are not the most common experience of work. And even if you haven’t actually worked somewhere that gave you direct evidence, you will have been to a pub or restaurant where the atmosphere told you that there was good practice going on there. And it is often just a few of the characters in the place who change how it feels.

So what exactly makes the difference?

  1. 1.  Leaders rather than managers

Traditionally people have been managed, that is, they are given tasks and checked on to ensure that they fulfil their tasks. The control in the workplace has been very similar to the control in the school room, and since that has been most people’s previous experience, they accept that that is how it works, even if it doesn’t feel right.

Leaders are those who give people the guidelines and the goals, and then trust them to achieve. They inspire people to give of their best and set the example of how to work effectively themselves, rather than giving our rules and instructions.

When senior staff are developed to be leaders rather than managers, the whole organisation benefits.

  1. 2.  A vision that makes sense of everyone’s role and responsibility

If I know how what I do contributes to the success of the organisation, and that my part is vital to that success, then I am more motivated to play my part as well as possible, and more likely to recognise that without my part, others cannot do theirs successfully.

Success is more than short-term profits however. People need to feel that they are doing something worthwhile, that does more than just earn money, for them and for the company.

I remember working with a company that provides a form of power. When we talked about how selling their power to people and businesses could be seen as worthwhile, we got lots of examples of communities and businesses that relied on their form of power, and couldn’t exist where they were without it. The managers I was working with went back to their business units and talked about this aspect of what their business was about with their staff and reported that both they and their teams found it really useful to enhance their motivation.

  1. 3.  Empowerment

This word has been around for a while, yet we still do not generally put into practice its real implications. I referred earlier to the fact that many managers treat us as if we were still school children. This implies a lack of trust in our ability to act like grown-ups, take responsibility, and actively do our best. Yet we manage to behave like grown-ups in our personal lives – at least most of the time!

When an organisation decides to trust its employees, there is a significant change in atmosphere. (See Ricardo Semler’s book ‘Maverick’ for an example of what I mean). Most people are trustworthy and want to do their best. At Meta we see how motivated and excited people are when they truly believe that their managers will trust them to help make the business work. The fear of giving this trust seems to stem from a belief that people will ‘take advantage’ and of course, some few will – but they are only the minority.

  1. 4.  Communication

If there is one thing that every organisation seems to have problems with, this is it. Wherever we go, we hear people say that there is a lack of communication in their organisation. And all too often, the solution is seen to be to give more information. This is not what makes the difference.

Communication means to share something with someone else. It is more than information, it is a feeling behind what is being presented. We believe that this feeling comprises two parts:

  1. That what is being communicated is based in honesty and a genuine desire to keep people fully informed of the things that matter
  2. That the person communicating wants to make this a dialogue, and is open to what you have to say as well

At Meta we believe that good communication is based on establishing real relationships with others, through ordinary conversations which form the basis for being able to talk about anything in a genuine way – like we do with friends. We also believe that it is impossible to have good communication without being willing to play straight with people.

  1. 5.  Accessibility

Do you see and speak with your boss? Or do you wonder what he or she is doing all day, and have to book 3 months in advance to get 20 minutes with them?

When the boss is around and available, when their commitments are clear and make sense to everyone who works with them, when the boss knows who you are and what you do, then people feel that their work is valued.

When they can ask a question, admit to a mistake, discuss an issue, then people do their best and get on most of the time.

There is sometimes a fear that people will devour the boss’s time and be completely dependent, or that if the boss is too ‘familiar’, then he/she won’t be respected. Yet those bosses who do go for a drink with the staff, wander around and have a laugh with people, tend to be both respected and have effective teams who work well.

  1. 6.  Learning

As human beings we were designed to continually develop and grow. As children, we learn enormous amounts very easily. Then we go to school and learn that learning is difficult, and often meaningless or irrelevant to our lives!

A decade ago, there was never—ending talk of learning organisations, yet we didn’t really succeed in putting the theory into practice. Maybe we made it too complex. All it really means is that everyone is encouraged to share what they know with others, and to experiment to increase their knowing. We do this naturally when we know that it is OK to not always be right, when we are allowed to risk sometimes, and when we are allowed to talk with each other!

  1. 7.  Systems

These differences are even easier to achieve if the systems of the organisation support what you are doing.  For example, truly flexible hours as a system supports a team who are allowing for individual personal needs whilst maintaining the quality and productivity of their work.  Otherwise, they have to cover up, when they are making that allowance and break the organisational rules.  However, there are examples of where a coherent business case has been put forward to change a rule, to allow people to work more effectively: in fact this was the major role played by trade unions originally.


So the common conclusion is that turning the ideal into reality requires people to start thinking and acting differently, and everyone can play a part.



What stops us?

The Myths

There are, I believe, four major myths that prevent us from making the simple changes required, and they all link to cultural norms that have somehow become viewed as facts.

  1. 1.        Businesses need to be constantly ‘streamlined’

We work in a world that views everything in a short-term way. Companies are judged by their performance on a quarterly basis, not over the long-term, just as governments are judged on what they have achieved in their few years’ term of office.

To keep the profits high, companies are always looking for ways to cost-cut, so that the profits look good for the next quarter or year.

And there is no doubt that reducing staffing is a good way of achieving a reduction in fixed costs and therefore increasing profit. Presently the favourite trick is to move jobs to countries where labour is cheaper – the latest in a list of ways of achieving this short-term gain.

Yet it takes little common sense to notice that these ‘solutions’ really are short-term gain only. The effect within the organisation can be devastating, and many of those which have taken these short-term actions have not survived and thrived in the longer term.

Those who remain in the organisation after a bout of ‘streamlining’ are affected almost as much as those who lose their jobs, and these effects have repercussions for the business.

  • People lose their trust in the business and concentrate on keeping their heads down, or look for jobs elsewhere
  • Those who stay lose their passion because they see no point in investing their energy in a place that could get rid of them
  • People get more responsibility than they van possibly carry, and end up stressed and ill or under performing

There are examples of companies that take a different approach ( see ‘Nuts’ by the Friebergs to find out about how South-West Airlines tackled difficult times). When people care about their organisation and are allowed to help to make it work, they create changes that are sustainable, rather than short-term.


  1. 2.        Doing the right thing is commercial suicide

It is interesting that the recent high-profile examples of companies engaging in unethical and illegal practices may help to shift this myth!  Nonetheless, there is still a tendency to equate commercialism with some lack of transparency and honesty, as it would adversely affect customers’ view if they knew that you had problems of any sort.

This translates to an individual level: managers not being honest with their staff, sales people fudging their figures, people blaming colleagues and shifting responsibility.

Yet when people explore the evidence of their own experience, they tend to find that these organisational and individual behaviours lead to:

  1. being found out and suffering the consequences
  2. demotivation of staff
  3. lowering of morale and productivity
  4. increasing levels of distrust and deceit in all sorts of ways.

There are organisations that are successful and ethical – the two are not mutually exclusive. An example would be Triodos Bank, who engage in ethical investing. ( see www.triodos.co.uk)


  1. ‘I am powerless to change anything’

It fascinates me that the majority of people at work believe that they cannot change how things work.  This includes senior managers and whole  departments, not just those at grass roots level.

I believe that we have been educated to feel powerless.  As small children, we come into a world full of rules constructed by others and are educated to conform to the rules rather than question their validity.  We learn very quickly that what seems obvious to our common sense may not be the rule at all, and that questioning the rules is not allowed, so we learn to say ‘it’s not my fault’ rather than ‘what can I do about it?’.

Yet most of us have shown that we can change things and have changed and evolved ourselves.  We have formed and built friendships by taking first steps.  We have created our own homes to be pleasant environments on tight budgets.  We have found another job when we were being treated badly or unfairly.  We may even have challenged the status quo: not accepting poor service; standing up to the bullying boss or peer; demonstrating for human rights.  The changes that have happened in the world and the social fabric have happened because people have acted.

For example, it is people who caused the Berlin Wall to come down, and a peaceful revolution to happen in South Africa. And it is people who are making enough noise to make the government think twice about allowing GM crops to be grown here, despite the pressure from the multi-nationals involved.

And when people feel powerless at work the results are:

  1. They don’t suggest simple things that they have identified that would improve the work they are producing, thus help themselves and the organisation.
  2. They snipe at others to make themselves feel a bit better, thereby creating a poor, mistrustful atmosphere
  3. They don’t take responsibility, and look for something or someone to blame

Yet when people realise just how powerless they feel, they make a different choice. We at Meta do an activity with people called choice points. It asks people to decide what choice they would prefer to make regarding change, for example, and gives them a range, making the point that choosing to be passive in the situation is also a choice, even if unconscious. Most people prefer to chose to take an active position, rather than be a victim of circumstance.

  1. 4.        Non-conformists are unwelcome

Many years ago, in my youth, I was told by an education inspector that I was a really good teacher, but that I might not pass my probationary period because I had an unconventional approach!  This is a prime example of the way this particular myth is supported and passed on.  We have confirmed for us the belief that stepping out of line will lead to negative consequences in many ways throughout our early lives.  From early on, we realise that most parents and teachers seem to like us and approve of us when we conform to their rules and expectations, even though from the child’s viewpoint, many of their rules seem daft! For example, we are told to eat all of our main course up, so we can ‘earn’ our pudding. What if I don’t like it? And what if I don’t particularly want my pudding? But we learn to follow the norm – no wonder so many people are overweight!

Then we begin to realise that there are more general expectations: that we pass exams at school, marry, have a good job, behave politely.  Despite protestations to the contrary, these still apply.  Just think how many 30 years olds are asked when they are going to ‘settle down’ if they don’t fulfil the norm!

At work, it is accepted that you don’t ‘rock the boat’ if you want to get on.  If you have an induction, you are told the formal rules of the company.  Then you embark on the real learning curve of fitting into the unwritten rules: how you behave in meetings, with your boss, with your colleagues, with the opposite gender, in terms of your productivity or level of service you offer.  At Meta, we call these the operating principles, and make explicit that they are a powerful tool that can be actively decided upon to become a tool for positive change rather than a negative influence on how people behave.

The daft bit is that we won’t generally even stand out in a positive way.  Managers won’t treat their staff better in case the staff think they are a soft touch, and their peers think they are not strong enough.  People aren’t respectful and helpful to their colleagues, in case they get taken advantage of, and aren’t seen as getting on with their job! This is something we call the tacit conspiracy: we all tacitly agree to behave in ways that don’t work, rather than challenge the practice and suggest the more useful ones that we know would work. It absolutely denies common sense!

Yet we all admire, maybe envy, the non-conformists: the boss who has a laugh with you, rather than staying distant; the colleague who challenges the piece of nonsense being given as fact in the meeting; the one who comes up with a much simpler way of achieving the same effect. And the growth and development of organisations actually depend on these people, because without them there is no innovation.

Furthermore the non-conformists are frequently the high achievers, long term.  They are likely to encourage others to give of their best, and be influential in changing the status quo.  They also create a space for others to move out of their strict conformity.  If we maintain the myth of needing to fit in, we are likely to get:

  1. A serious lack of creative thought, which leads to entropy, particularly in a rapidly changing world.
  2. A dulling down of people, so they are less motivated in what they do.
  3. The most talented people leaving the organisation because they see it as a straight jacket
  4. A loss of passion and drive in the organisation


The power of the myths

The power of these myths rests in 2 things:

  1. 1.  There are examples that support the myths

We are all able to find evidence to show that they are true.  There is no doubt that there are examples of:

  • The company that didn’t ‘streamline’ to meet the demands of the stock market for short-term cost-cutting and ended up folding because its share price collapsed
  • The company that folded because the owner ‘naively’ decided to trust people and be honest
  • The time when we really couldn’t change what was happening and we were made to feel again our powerlessness
  • The non-conformist who was ostracised and ‘punished’ for their lack of conformity

What we forget are the many counter-examples that exist, and also the negative consequences of maintaining the myths.


  1. 2.  Cultural acceptance

These myths are perpetuated by our cultural norms, reinforced by upbringing, education, and stories.  This means that we take them in and learn how to work with them at an unconscious level, and mostly don’t question them.  It becomes automatic behaviour with us, not consciously chosen.

When we do consciously question their validity, we may intellectually agree that they are myths, and are not very useful.  But we still have the automatic patterns of behaviour that maintain them.

So it takes a lot of conscious effort to shift the automatic behaviour despite our intellectual acceptance.  It’s like deciding to be a swimmer rather than an athlete.  We make the decision, and then have to really work hard at retraining our muscles for the new activity, until we automatically use our swimming muscles rather than running muscles.

At Meta we talk about getting different behaviours ‘into the muscle’ rather than just intellectually accepting them, and then falling back into old habits.


There are, of course, some other obstacles to us turning our ideals into reality, such as:

  • Systems that reward those who conform and are self-serving
  • Legal obligations
  • Bosses who make or lives hell if we don’t fit in with their way
  • The pressures to achieve and compete

However, we believe that if we tackle the myths, the rest becomes much easier. It is our choice to invest power in the myths, and whereas children may not be able to challenge them, however silly they may appear to them, as grown-ups we can certainly decide to use our common sense instead!



Despite all the obstacles to us making the ideal organisation a reality, there are some strong counteracting forces, which support us in making the move, should we chose to do so.

While it is useful to identify and acknowledge the obstacles, it is far more useful to use our energy on the areas that will facilitate our move to the ideal way of working.  These are the areas that we will explore in depth, as we build this website.  The main elements are:

  1. Natural preference

When we stop and consider, most of us would prefer a different way of working, so we are willing to explore how to.

  1. Clarity of vision

When offered explicitly the ideal of working practice, it is attractive to most people, so spelling it out is vital

  1. Committed leadership

When the boss genuinely wants the ideal, then others also feel allowed to move towards it

  1. Explaining the rationale behind wanting to move towards the ideal

When we bother to point out how the move will make life easier and more fulfilling for people, we get a buy-in to give a start to the process.

  1. Working together

Most people are already working in teams.  If they work together and support and encourage each other in moving towards the ideal, they speed up the process considerably.

  1. Making the move easy

The movement towards the ideal is not linear, it is cumulative, so anything positive will contribute to its growth.  When people are given easy steps to take, it encourages them to take more.

In Meta, we have focussed our attention on researching all the ways we can find to help make the process of moving from ideal to reality easily, whilst taking account of the obstacles caused by the myths.


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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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