Tis the season for reflection


Dare to lead in 2019

As we race towards the end of 2018, it is timely to reflect on the year. We have seen many challenges and change here and around the world.

During times of change, whether large scale or in our own life, it’s important to connect with what is core. This principle is equally true for organisations and ourselves in our own life.

In organisations, people are core to any business, so growing and nurturing them to be their best is critical. In 2019, we will be launching a new way to bridge the gap between classroom learning and individual online platforms. It will highlight and support the idea that leadership development is more like a quest than a one-off sugar-hit. We will continue to work with organisations and people in ‘daring them to lead’. We are excited by the possibilities.

people are core to any business, so growing and nurturing them to be their best is critical

In our personal lives, Christmas and the promise of a new year is an opportunity to get back to our own core. It is a time for reflection and renewal. It is about spending time with family and friends. It is also about being grateful for what we already have, rather than longing for what we don’t.

It is important to remember that all of us – including work colleagues, family and friends – are good at showing the world ‘our best face’.  So I invite you to take the time to check-in with all the people in your life – personally and in a work context – to find out how they are really doing beyond ‘I’m fine’. Showing another human being compassion and care is a relatively simple act, yet can make a huge difference.

We wish you and your family all the very best for Christmas and the New Year and look forward to connecting with you in 2019.

Phil and the team

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Four Keys to Personal Mastery & Change

If we were able to peer long enough through the fog surrounding leadership, or listen hard enough above the cacophony of noise – at its core – leadership is about change. And at the very heart of leadership is creating and leading meaningful change.

Adaptive Challenges Will Trip You Up

Most of us know from experience however that leading change effectively is rarely a straight-forward undertaking as we navigate the complexity and sometimes murky waters of adaptive challenges. Ron Heifetz at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government first wrote about adaptive challenges nearly three decades ago. He drew the distinction between adaptive challenges – those that keep on keeping on – versus technical challenges where we know how to solve the problem. Examples of adaptive challenges are climate change, recidivism (are we ever not going to need prisons?) and changing the culture of an organisation.

They are the challenges that sometimes create confusion, frustration and sometimes conflict within us. For example, a High Court judge once told me about the dilemma in balancing the needs of the perpetrator, the victim and the community. And how personally tormenting it was looking in to the eyes of the mother of the victim who was pleading for justice – and then looking in to the eyes of the mother of the accused who was pleading for mercy.

…how personally tormenting it was looking in to the eyes of the mother of the victim who was pleading for justice – and then looking in to the eyes of the mother of the accused who was pleading for mercy.

These challenges are non-linear in nature in that our approach often doesn’t create the intended changes. It sometimes feels like we’re riding a wild river, where you attempt to make a correction but it takes you off in a different and unexpected direction! Our measure of success therefore may not be resolution, but just making progress. (For those interested in learning more, I wrote a book entitled Leadership Without Silver Bullets in 2009 (updated last year) which features many adaptive leadership principles, then I wrote about an immersive experience at Harvard in 2010). So adaptive challenges are more about the heart (values, loyalties, priorities) than the head (logical, well-known strategies), but both are important and shouldn’t be neglected.

A Simple Way to Kill a Dinner Party Conversation

I have found from experience that if you want to kill a dinner party conversation, simply mention the words ‘personal mastery’. Most people – sometimes even those who work in organisational development – either (a) don’t know what it is; (b) don’t care or (c) think it all sounds a bit weird.

Most people attribute the term ‘personal mastery’ to Peter Senge, who wrote about it in his 1990 book, The Fifth Discipline. While a little elusive to grasp as a principle, Senge described it as “the discipline of personal growth and learning” , but added that it’s more than just growth and learning. It starts by clarifying what really matters most to us. It’s about creating a desired future and moving toward it.

Introducing the 4C’s of Personal Mastery and Change

In my consulting, coaching and facilitation career, I have worked across almost every imaginable industry at all levels up and down and across organisations. I have worked with leaders who were ‘walking egos’; others who knew no other way to behave except in aggressive or passive defensive ways; and others who were introverted and trying to find their voice in the world. I have also been privileged to have worked with many, many extraordinary leaders who want to make a difference in the lives of people and their communities.

Regardless of which type of leader I have worked with, many continue to struggle to be effective in the core responsibility of their roles – leading change. I need to draw the distinction between what Dean Williams calls ‘counterfeit leadership’ and real leadership, with the former – counterfeit leadership – looking like we’re leading but we really aren’t. Instead, we overlay a technical solution (one we know how to do because it’s usually our default) over an adaptive challenge. There is enormous pressure to deliver in organisations today, so it is no surprise that we sometimes take the easy road rather than the messier, zig-zag road of adaptive leadership.

The 4Cs of Personal Mastery are not meant to be a panacea, but rather seeks to highlight four key areas that can help create meaningful, deep change. It helps create the type of change that brings people along rather than alienates them. It aims to balance the logical with the emotional. It can also help create the type of change that is enduring rather than wallpapering a technical solution over a much deeper problem. It requires a ‘go slow to go fast’ approach, where there are no simple answers. For most challenges, if they were simple to fix someone would have done it a long time ago. These are the types of challenges that will benefit from the approach (see model below).

A Deeper Dive

In theory, you can start anywhere in the model. For example, you may decide that you need to be courageous to highlight a significant issue in your organisation, or you might decide that you need to be compassionate to really understand an individual, team or indeed the challenges and pain-points in an organisation. For the purpose of this article, we’ll start at Connection.

Connection – it is important to be able to connect with ourselves and other people. We need to know what is important both personally and professionally. These questions can help to clarify your thinking:

  1. What is important (to me, my team / business unit, the organisation, etc.)?
  2. How strong are my relationships? How trustworthy am I in the eyes of others?
  3. What is my purpose as a leader / contributor?
  4. How self-aware am I? When was the last time I asked a broad cross-section of stakeholders for feedback?
  5. How much personal reflection do I do?
  6. What do I want for myself? My team? My business unit, etc.?

Commitment – A clear commitment usually starts with a clear intention. A clear intent helps pave the way forward for committed action. One feeds of the other. However, we shouldn’t have blind commitment to achieve the goal however as this doesn’t represent the flexible approach needed to lead change effectively. Yes, we must have tenacity and resilience, but not at the expense of everything else. To understand commitment, reflect on the following:

  1. What is my intention? Why is this important?
  2. How committed am I to this course of action?
  3. How open and committed am I to learning from the experience?
  4. What are my core values and do I have a sense of conviction about them?

Courage – Courage is acting despite our fears and (perceived) threats. It means understanding how the team or organisational system is working and challenging the status quo. Perhaps Winston Churchill said it well when he said:

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Reflect on the following questions:

  1. What do I fear will happen if I do ‘x’? What is my evidence to support that belief?
  2. How much is wanting to be liked getting in the way?
  3. How might I build my confidence to confront this challenge?
  4. How vulnerable am I being? Why? Why not?
  5. Who might I be able to partner with?
  6. Who can I confide in and use as a sounding board?
  7. What professional help (e.g. a coach) do I need?

Compassion – Compassion has been variably defined, but the version I connect with the best is Brenee Brown’s where she says, “Compassion is the feeling of wanting to ease the suffering of others. Self-compassion is the feeling and desire that we, ourselves, not suffer.” While the word suffering may sound a little dramatic, it can feel like that in organisations. You may connect better with thinking about alleviating pain or pressure points. Compassion is taking empathy to the next level. In empathy, I can feel what another feels, whereas compassion is feeling it and wanting to do something about it. That’s my interpretation anyway. And in terms of self-compassion, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that most people are their own harshest critics. We all need to practice a little more self-compassion.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What am I feeling in this situation? Why?
  2. How are other people feeling? Why?
  3. What will enable me to sit with the pain and discomfort long enough to truly understand it?
  4. How might I give myself a break?
  5. What boundaries do I need to communicate so I can be of service to others in this situation? Where have I allowed my boundaries to be weakened?

And So the Cycle Continues…

Once we have demonstrated compassion, we will connect more deeply with those around us, which then enables us to more fully commit to the right course of action. Our levels of courage demonstrated and compassion towards others may need to be amplified as our leadership work ‘levels up’ exponentially. As a result, it is reasonable to expect that as we follow the cycle in an upward motion, we will create more insight, influence and ultimately positive impact.

And one final comment if I may, don’t forget to demonstrate a healthy dose of self-compassion as you navigate the murky and rocky waters of change and experiment with different ways to bring the 4C’s to life.

View more articles like this:
The five keys to creating conscious change and restoring wellbeing

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Executive Coaching: Understanding the Coachability Index

image executive coaching

Understanding the Coachability Index

As an executive coach, a standard practice in assessing a fit between the coach and coachee is what is commonly called a ‘chemistry check’. As the name indicates, it allows a coach and coaching client to work out if there is a fit regarding trust, rapport and coaching expertise and experience.

Just as the coachee should be sizing up the coach, a good coach should be following a similar process – that is, making an authentic and congruent decision regarding ‘fit’. Even though the client is the customer and purchaser of a service (coaching), a coach will also be assessing whether they are the right coach for the prospective client. Where a fit isn’t obvious, a coach acting with integrity will be prepared to forfeit the coaching fee to make the right decision and introduce another coach.

I have been using an informal scale for some time now to help assess fit. I have mentioned my use of the scale to colleagues and clients, and several have said, “Love it. You should write about it.”

So here it is.

Introducing the Coachability Index (CI)

In our coaching practice, we use an informal (and might I say – highly subjective) tool to help assess fit. Rather than being an evidence-based tool, it provides a frame of reference for us to think about where we believe the coachee is ‘at’ regarding their changeability. While it’s not the job of a coach to change people, it is our job to help enable the client to change in the areas that matter most to them. These areas often cross into their personal life as well as their professional life. It is also the job of a coach to expand people’s awareness of how they see themselves in relationship to the world (colleagues, customers, family, etc.) which then often re-focuses them on the needed areas.

What is the CI?

The CI is essentially a continuum from 0 to 10 (see below) to help assess where an individual might be in relation to their openness to change and therefore what approach might work best.

Dysfunctional (< 2): Starting on the left-hand side, a score of zero (0) indicates the individual is in a highly bounded or restricted state. They are ‘frozen in time’ in terms of the way they see themselves and how they interact with the world around them. This ‘bounded’ reality manifests itself as dysfunctional behaviour in either a passive or aggressive way. In simplistic terms, the individual has created a range of responses they think are necessary to get by and keep them safe. At senior levels, this usually manifests itself in aggressive-defensive behaviours such as a command and control management style or micromanagement. Their choice repertoire is limited, and therefore they tend to deploy the same approach style, regardless of the scenario. People in this zone can be plain ‘hard work’ for a coach. This is where the client contact (e.g. HR Director) might say ‘good luck’ with a pained smile on their face after providing a briefing about the individual.

This is where the client contact (e.g. HR Director) might say ‘good luck’ with a pained smile on their face after providing a briefing about the individual.

Fixed (2-4): While individuals in this zone exhibit similar behavioural tendencies as those in the ‘Dysfunctional’ zone, they are not as extreme. However, they do burn a lot of their time and ‘headspace’ defending their sense of self (ego) by guarding the perception of their competence and self-worth like a watch-dog. They have developed some unhelpful strategies to maintain their reputation. What people i

n the Fixed zone don’t realise of course, is that most people see straight through it. They are often seen as dogmatic, combative, difficult to influence and hard to work with.

Transition (4-6): In the Transition zone, people are more ready for change. While they have moderate levels of self-awareness, they are still somewhat stuck. This is where we see ‘false choices’, meaning that while the person appears to have a broad range of responses, they are still somewhat bounded by a narrow runway of possibilities. This is because they still see the world as a place where they need to defend themselves against various threats such as their sense of identity, status, or competence. People in this zone have the potential to make transformational changes through increased awareness and building skills in those areas. For example, I coached one such individual several years ago who was touted as CEO material. However, his leadership style was creating significant challenges, including a poor performing business. He had a ‘breakthrough’ moment through the coaching process and changed his approach almost overnight. He and his business unit thrived.

Growth (7-9): Those in the Growth zone have a mindset of learning, experimentation, and growth. They are motivated to improve themselves in a broad range of areas. While they sometimes second-guess themselves or the process, they usually get on board quickly and are willing to learn. They are ‘unfreezing’ or becoming less rigid about their beliefs, realising that sometimes multiple truths can exist concurrently. Their mindset is more ‘and’ than ‘either-or’. They are more able to deal with complexity and ambiguity.

Fast-Track (10): A ‘10′ indicates an individual who is completely open to possibility. They are curious, embrace learning, and are generally savvy about what they will take on and what might not be right for them. They are in a position where they tend to focus on other people’s development as much (if not more) than their own. They are givers, not takers. They have the potential to fast-track their progress – and almost without exception – do just that. They are generally already very successful and see becoming a better leader and colleague as a lifelong journey. They also know that leadership is an ‘inside-out’ job, meaning that our interior reality (mindset) drives our exterior reality (behaviours and impact).

Here’s the really fun part

A big part of why the CI was born came came from my ‘live’ experience of prospective coachees during the chemistry check meeting. Perhaps predictably, I met a full range of people from those who were wholly frozen or bounded, through to those who were completely open and ready to go. I sometimes fumbled to find the right language that would provide the coachee an understanding of my experience of them in that moment.

One time I was meeting with an executive who was experienced and reasonably successful, yet there was an arrogance that I knew would hold him back from getting the full value from coaching. So without giving it much thought at all, I said, “I wanted to mention that I use what I call a Coachability Index, where I rate people from 0 to 10 based on how ‘coachable’ I think they are.” After a long pause, he said, “I’m guessing you wouldn’t give me a 10.” Curious, I asked him why he thought that. He then proceeded to tell me that he knew he could come across as aloof and closed off. Bingo! Then the real coaching conversation began. He had moved beyond the push and pull of trying to prove to me how good he was and instead became more real, more vulnerable. He then shared that his relationships were suffering as a result of his approach – including in his personal life. It was a breakthrough moment.

I was sold on the idea and potential power of the Coachability Index.

Who Do I Prefer to Coach – a ‘0′ or a ‘10′?

You might think that I would say a ‘0′ because of the challenge. Or perhaps because you think they need coaching more than people further ‘up the scale’. Or perhaps you are thinking that the benefits of shifting a ‘0′ to a ‘5′ or higher would have a positive ripple effect on those in that person’s life. All of these thought bubbles might be true.

However, coaching a ‘0′ is not my first choice. In two decades of coaching people across multiple industries and sectors, I have coached maybe five people who I would assess as a true zero. There’s no getting around it – they are hard work. Really hard. Despite irrefutable evidence that their approach and style are destructive, they defend their reality like their life depended on it. And maybe that’s the problem. They are so invested in managing the world’s perception of them or are so stuck that they can’t even see a need to change. In their minds, any promised future rewards don’t justify the pain and effort they would have to endure today.

In their minds, any promised future rewards don’t justify the pain and effort they would have to endure today.

A Message for Any ‘Zeros’ Reading This

I have an enormous amount of empathy for all the zeros out there – let’s face it, it’s not a great place to be living. However, I respectfully invite a future conversation with you when the self-induced speed humps become intolerable. When in your heart you know that there must be a different, more fulfilling way to lead, love, and live. I promise that the rewards are extraordinary. And I think you deserve it and those who are in your life deserve a better version of you.

And Finally…

In the meantime, whether you are a coach, manger or member of a team, the CI can be a useful tool to use – even if you don’t actually share the score with the other person. However, it is the conversation that provides the richness and power. Finally, the best place to start is with ourselves and own assessment of where we think we are. And a cheeky little tip if I may, if you rate yourself a ’10’, then you almost certainly are not. Good luck.

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Fine leaders, happy staff key to success

Phil in the Herald Sun newspaper
Source: Herald Sun by Helen Carter

I’d like to share with you an article that appeared in the Herald Sun newspaper recently:

When Phillip Ralph asks his clients what they think their number one priority is for their business or workplace, they usually say “getting results”.

“I suggest their top priority should be focusing on the development of their staff because your people are the key to your business success” Mr Ralph said.

“To quote (organisational consultant) Simon Sinek, if you look after your people, they’ll look after your business.”

Having happy, healthy and challenged workers with the right skill set was key, he said.

Mr Ralph is a leadership coach and facilitator, business consultant and author with qualifications in science, business management, psychology, health promotion and, from Harvard University, leadership development.

In 2007, he founded The Leadership Sphere, which specialises in leadership development, team development and organisational development through targeted programs, including workshops and coaching for senior staff.

My teams – of 12 in Melbourne and another 10 based globally – and I consult to some of the largest companies in the world in leadership development, team development and culture change.” Mr Ralph said.

He worked for 17 years with Victoria Police, including stints in the psychology unit. Mr Ralph also co-designed and co-led many leadership and change programs, including creating a safer culture by training 10,000 police in de-escalation and conflict resolution.

He later move to ANZ where he led a large consulting team in a program widely acclaimed as one of the world’s best examples of a successful cultural transformation program, responsible for 40,000 people in 40 countries.

“It was intense but after six years I felt it was time for a change and founded my own business, which continues to work with mainly medium-to-large organisations including banks, health care, infrastructure, mining and government and other sectors.” Mr Ralph said.

“We recently led a workshop for a global team which had fractured relationships, was unsure of its direction and had confused roles and expectations. We helped them find clarity and trust and they came out energised and clear about what they wanted to do and how to work as a team.”

Sustaining this enthusiasm can sometimes prove difficult.

“People get a ‘sugar hit’ from workshops but often go back to work and forget it.” Mr Ralph said.

“We support them in developing habits and practices focused on development, knowing that if practiced daily – they become established and efficiencies occur, so leadership isn’t just about monthly coaching or meetings with other leaders four times a year.”

The Leadership Sphere
Continuing to work with banks, health care, infrastructure, mining and government and other sectors.
Contact us to discuss how we can assist you.

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Teaming Reaches the ‘C’ Suite…..(Yawn)

In the latest edition of Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends (2018), the authors state:

“Senior leaders can’t afford to work in silos in today’s complex, dynamic environment. The goal is to act as a symphony of experts playing in harmony—instead of a cacophony of experts who sound great alone, but not together…..we call this new, collaborative, team-based senior executive model “the symphonic C-suite.” Like a great symphony orchestra, a symphonic C-suite brings together multiple elements: the musical score, or the strategy; the different types of instrumental musicians, or the business functions; the first chairs, or the functional leaders; and the conductor, or the CEO.”

The slightly tongue-in-cheek title to this article (yawn) stems from this question – “When was it ever acceptable for the top team to not be a team?” How is this a “new, collaborative, team-based senior executive model?” Of course in today’s environment working as a real team is critical, but it has always been important. By default, a team is a group of people who come together with a shared purpose. This is the glue that holds the team together. Could you imagine a sporting team taking to the field of play where some team members wanted to win while others wanted to lose? I would imagine it would be very funny to watch.

“When was it ever acceptable for the top team to not be a team?”


To be fair to the authors, I’m assuming their intention is to highlight the observed trend in the data (right) when they say, “In the last two years of our global research, the most important human capital trend identified by our survey respondents has been the need to break down functional hierarchies and build a more networked, team-based organization…The urgency around this issue is clearly reflected in our survey results. Fifty-one percent of the respondents we surveyed this year rated “C-suite collaboration” as very important—making it the most important issue in our 2018 survey—and 85 percent said that it was important or very important.”

More of a Re-Calibration

calibrationn photo

So perhaps we should see the survey result as more of a re-calibration towards where it should be anyway? Although the authors point out that C-suite teams have been undergoing an evolution which started with the CEO being the all-powerful authority figure at the top, being a team is not a “new, collaborative, team-based model.” It has always been what teams are about, whether the team is a relatively junior team or sitting at the top of the organisation. The problem has been in the way C-suite roles are framed.

Why the “Team as a Symphony” and “CEO as Conductor” Metaphor is Flawed

While thinking about a team as a symphony – and the team leader (CEO) – as the conductor, playing beautiful music together is seductive – it is a flawed, overly simplistic metaphor. Why? There are three reasons why we should steer away from this metaphor: (1) Individual performance is emphasised first and foremost (a violinist isn’t thinking about the whole, they’re thinking about getting their bit right); (2) Members of an orchestra (usually) play one instrument only and dedicate their lives to playing that instrument flawlessly; and (3) Conductors are the authority figures who are suppose to bring it all together through precise control and instruction. These three areas can be fatal to teams working effectively together.

Individual Performance Over the Collective – While functional expertise is important, it can also constrain a team and shouldn’t be seen as the most important criteria for entry to a senior team. Yes that’s right. Senior teams are usually formed based on organisationally convenient lines and boxes on a chart (usually just reflecting all of the major functional areas thrown together), rather than what constitutes an exemplary team. With this first structure mentioned, people usually place more energy and emphasis downward (the team that reports to them) rather than to the team in front of them.

music photo

A question I like to ask teams I work with is, “Which is your first team?” Most find this to be a challenging notion to get their head around. Running a bunch of functional silos well doesn’t guarantee organisational success! Effective teams must focus on doing the work that no other area can do alone – and be prepared to make decisions that benefit the whole, sometimes wearing a cost in their functional area.

Team composition should reflect the best group of people we can assemble for short, medium and long term goals and so may change as the need arises…

Playing One Instrument: This perpetuates an old model that we need to move away from. Team composition should reflect the best group of people we can assemble for short, medium and long term goals. And so composition may change as the need arises (perhaps with a very small consistent core of no more than 3-5 people). Truly effective team members don’t derive their power from playing their respective instrument (function) flawlessly, they gain their power from working together to solve large organisational challenges first – with their respective functional specialisations playing a distant secondary role. Leadership is leadership, not leadership because I know a lot about HR or IT or Finance. The transition from proudly wearing a shiny badge that reads “functional specialist” can be enormously challenging, with many senior people never making it. Perhaps a more apt badge should be “I’m a leader first and foremost”.

The transition from proudly wearing a shiny badge that reads “functional specialist” can be enormously challenging, with many senior people never making it.

CEOs as Conductors – The metaphor used by the authors smacks of a classic ‘hub and spoke’ model where all guidance and direction comes from the person at the front (the CEO). In this model, a symphony is created by the conductor “orchestrating” every move, every play, in a precise, controlled way. This approach works when the task at hand is of a technical, reproducible nature. Organisations and teams don’t work in that way. The authors observe (as many have done) how dynamic and fast-paced our work is today, yet the conductor metaphor is straight out of 19th century management theory – “I have all the answers and so to be successful you need to do exactly as I say.” This doesn’t reflect the real world and takes us backwards.

conductor photo

Where to from Here?

The authors finish this section of the report by stating:

The movement toward the symphonic C-suite is proving to be one of the most powerful and urgent trends for organizations worldwide.” And that, “CxOs at leading companies understand that working, collaborating, and interacting as a team is now essential—and they are reorganizing around this model. We expect this trend to accelerate as organizations begin to recognize that the symphonic C-suite—teams leading teams—is the most effective way to tackle the complex issues businesses face today.”

I’m not sure teams are – or should be – re-organising around the “symphonic model” suggested. While we can’t dispute that change is required, we must be careful not to re-create the glory days of the all-conquering team leader/CEO who always felt the need to be holding the baton – to be the one in charge. While senior people always need to be accountable, it is the antithesis of good leadership to be always directing. We should be supporting senior people in a way that makes it okay to say “I don’t know”. They need to be taught how to be present, vulnerable and real. A leader’s actions need to be less ego-driven and more service-driven. Perhaps we can help them most by not using archaic metaphors about leadership and teams that don’t move us forward collectively.

Learn more about our programs

We have just launched two brand new team development programs:

(1) Leadership Team Wellbeing Assessment & Development Program (WADP)

(2) Leadership Team Culture Assessment & Development Program (CADP)

Learn more about leadership development programs.

Watch the video “Top 10 Leadership Skills 2018

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Top 10 Leadership Skills in 2018

In our video, we cover our TOP 10 LEADERSHIP SKILLS that every manager should know about.

As a manager and leader, what are the most important skills that will help future proof your career? In an environment of rapid change, digital transformation, and ever-present pressure to deliver results, what are organisations looking for in their leaders to be able to take them forward?

While each of these leadership skills requires continuous attention, investment and support, the results for organisations and the communities they serve justifies the effort.

Which ones are you strong/weaker in?


Here are the first Top 3 from our featured video:

1. EYES ‘UP & OUT’

So what do I mean by ‘up and out’? Firstly, good leaders have the ability to LOOK UP – that is, BEYOND the cut and thrust of their day-to-day roles. They’re able to see things around them that others miss. And they’re able to see the risks AS WELL AS the opportunities. They do this by looking beyond their own team or area and have a good awareness of the broader organisation. They also have an idea of what’s going on outside their organisation like what their competitors are doing.

POWER TIP #1: Practice how to ZOOM IN and ZOOM OUT – whether it be a particular challenge or opportunity or relationship. ZOOM OUT to see the big picture, the patterns, how it all fits together. Or what Ron Heifetz describes as ‘Broadening the Canvass’ so we can see the whole system. And conversely, ZOOM IN to be able to effectively understand what’s happening closer to the ground.

POWER TIP #2: Build time in for reflection. Create some space to think.


Leading change is complex because it demands so many different qualities and skills of a leader (these top 10 leadership skills for example!). If leaders aren’t leading change in some shape or form, then they’re probably doing an excellent job at managing the status quo. While managing ‘what-is’ is important in terms of producing high quality, reproducible results (think customer service), it is not the main game. True leadership involves MOBILISING people who are closest to the problem or opportunity and then supporting them to make the necessary changes.


Many tasked with leadership are too focussed on what’s in front of them rather than being able to think in a ‘joined up’way. Leaders need to be able to ‘see’ the whole system and understand how it operates in unison. Being savvy means being able to see how the human and mechanical systems (i.e. policies, processes, systems, and structure) work together to create a state of homeostasis – or no change. Being ‘network’ wise will become even more important.

As someone once said….Organisations are perfectly aligned to get the results they get.


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Ten Features of World Class Development Programs

The times are changing but…

While our world is changing rapidly, it could be argued that our management practices have not kept pace with these changes. In fact, I think we’re trailing badly.

In reality not much has changed in 100 years. The training and development industry largely rehashes old theory and practices and makes the same mistakes. At the most fundamental level however, our overall quality of management and leadership is poor and is based on archaic notions based on the industrial age.

“We should stop trying to make people happy and instead make them better equipped to deal with the challenges of today’s organisations.”

While more than 75% of learners report high levels of satisfaction with learning programs, in our heart of hearts we know that there is no correlation between ‘happy sheets’ and the successful application of program learning and subsequent performance. We should stop trying to make people happy and instead make them better equipped to deal with the challenges of today’s organisations.

We think we’re driving a Ferrari but we’re really driving a vehicle from the 1900’s

Our Top 10 Features / Practices

Our research and practice in learning and development over two decades has allowed us to assemble a ‘top 10’ list that all development programs should at least consider integrating. I’m not suggesting that programs should have all ten, although that goal is certainly achievable (see Actionable Conversations for example). Programs that manage to incorporate many of the practices are more likely to be effective, sustainable and cost-effective.

So here are our top 10….

1. Solid context

Ensure that programs are framed and positioned in a strong context that includes an assessment of the market / external environment, strategy, the customer and the organisation’s vision for the future. Only then can an organisation determine the type of leader it needs and therefore the type of program it should invest in. We should dispense with generic competency based models and generic programs that are not targeted.

2. Just-in-time & strategic

If point #1 is true (above), it also holds true that training should be more agile, responsive and ‘just-in-time’ to meet the specific development needs now and in the short-term. Too often organisations get caught in the trap of looking too far in to the future to try to determine leadership needs. A more pertinent question is to ask ‘What do we need right now and in the coming 12 months?’

3. Leader-led / expert-driven

Developing people should be led internally – harvesting every opportunity, everyday. This should be a blend of informal in-the-moment; semi-structured (e.g. monthly leader-led conversations around a mission critical theme); or more formal training provided by outside experts who can bring a perspective and skills sometimes not present internally.

“Developing people should be led internally – harvesting every opportunity, everyday.”

4. Real-world & practical

Please don’t read ‘real-world’ and practical as just being focused on skill building or superficial training that doesn’t challenge people around their mindsets and behaviours. The most effective development programs invite people to play at their edge. The best programs are transformational, where participants can never view themselves or the world in the same way again (the ANZ Breakout program was a good example of this where I was the head of program delivery between 2001 and 2007).

5. Transfer of learning is primary

Learning can suffer three fatal flaws: (1) it occurs in a vacuum; (2) is not linked to a learner’s role or business unit objectives or (3) learning remains in the classroom. Research tells us that the most important factor in program participants being able to apply their learning back in the workplace is their manager.

6. Supports both leader and learner

We tell our program participants that their 1-up manager should almost feel like they’re going through the program, such should be the level of communication, sharing and support that happens in that relationship. Unfortunately this is more aspirational than fact. Secondly, programs that are leader-led have the added benefit of developing both the team member as well as the leader running the session.

7. Mechanisms to support accountability

I like to call this the ‘scaffolding’ that helps support learners. Examples include regular development meetings with their manager; scheduling time for reflection on behaviours and approach; formal or informal coaching / mentoring; and perhaps most importantly, developing habits and practices (see # 9).

8. Doesn’t break the bank

This perhaps goes without saying, however if programs are going to be rolled out in large volume then they need to be cost-effective and provide a measurable return-on-investment.

9. Focuses on the pathway to get there

One observation I have made repeatedly is that we over-invest in goal setting and under-invest in the pathways to get there. In other words, you can set all the goals you want, but if you don’t have a plan to get there, the goals are useless. And the pathway to get there is through developing habits and practices that move you toward the goal everyday. Read my post on LinkedIn on Habits and Practices.

10. Reinforced & Rewarded

Accountability is an over-used word in organisations, however if you want people to do something different, there has to be accountability built in to development programs. Also, we are all human. In a world that is quick to criticize or cut-down, the basic human need of support and acceptance is enduring. Reward the right behaviours – and oh, don’t forget to reward the right intention and effort.

By at least considering all ten features in this list and how they might be incorporated in your development programs, you stand a very good chance of delivering what you set out to do in the first place, develop people in a way that makes a difference to them and to the organisation.

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