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.

What to do from here:

  1. Find out more about our programs.
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Influencing Without Authority – Masterclass

Learn how to influence key people
to achieve your goals

To be successful at your job, you must be able to:

(1) “sell” an idea or project,

(2) persuade coworkers or peers to provide support and/or resources, or

(3) get people to do something that they may not necessarily want or need to do.

However, in our experience, influencing others effectively remains a key challenge for many managers and leaders.

We are pleased to release places for our one day workshops that will provide you with a tried and tested approach that works.

Workshops are to be held in:

Melbourne – Wed, 24th Nov 2017
Sydney – Thur, 7th Dec 2017
Brisbane – Tue, 28th Nov 2017
Adelaide – Fri, 1st Dec 2017
Auckland – Mon, 4th Dec 2017

Click on the link to find out more – Influencing Without Authority Masterclass



Book Now! for early bird special:
(Pay before 9th Oct)
AU$1,295 (plus GST)

  • Influencing Assessment Profile
  • 1-on-1 personal debrief
  • One-day workshop
  • All materials
  • Follow-Up

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Leadership Skills – My Top 10

The Skills Employers are Looking For Today

What are the top leadership skills sort after by employers? To make this assessment I need to reflect. In 2013, I wrote a chapter in the book “Emerging Trends in Leadership Strategy” entitled The Challenge of the Leadership Gap.

Why the ‘Leadership Gap’?

The reality is that strategy, the execution of strategy and the decisions associated with both functions have become much closer operationally than they were under a more traditional model of management. As strategy has become integral to a leadership / management role, two other things have happened:

1. The context in which strategy is developed has taken on a different shape and is far more complex than in previous times.

2. The responsibility for the execution of strategy has shifted.

Strategy is no longer simply about gathering data on products, customers and competitors. The wider context of the operating environment is now critical to strategic thinking. As well as thinking about industries, markets, competitors and customers, more global and less tangible considerations have become critical to organisational success and profitability. Considerations of the physical environment, political implications and impacts on communities and society more broadly are now just some of the essential elements of the context in which strategy is formulated today.

Furthermore, as middle management has disappeared and employees have begun to look for meaning in their work, the role of alignment between strategy formulation and the execution of strategy has become a shared responsibility of the senior management team (including the executive) and the rest of the employees in the organisation. As hierarchy has devolved, communication between organisational members – at all levels – has taken on far more complexity and far greater importance. This has led to what I called the ‘leadership gap’ (see figure below).
leadership skills gap

The (New) Top 10 Leadership Skills Employers Want and Need

Based on the ‘Leadership Gap’ and conversations with dozens of organisations across multiple industries, here is my assessment of the top 10 leadership skills needed (from the ‘outside-‘in’):

1. Eyes ‘Up & Out’

Good leaders have the ability to look outside their own organisation to understand trends in their industry and more broadly, society. They are then able to create a vision (a picture of the future) and mission (purpose) that best serves customers and supports building a strong organisation. Both vision and mission are important. As one of my clients put it (a Catholic-based not-for-profit)…

If there’s no money then there’s no mission!

2. Change Leadership

Leading change is complex because it encompasses virtually everything in our top 10. If leaders aren’t leading change in some shape or form, then they’re probably doing an excellent job 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.

3. ‘Network’ Savvy – Seeing the Whole

leadership skills image
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.

4. Politically Savvy

Note that I said ‘politically savvy’, not ‘political’. There is a difference. Building on Leadership Skill 1 (Eyes Up and Out), being politically savvy means understanding the direction and depth of relationships, understanding people’s loyalties (e.g. people, history, ways of doing things, etc.) and finally, understanding the losses we’re asking people and teams to sustain as a result of our change or initiative (e.g. status, resources, money, stability, autonomy, being part of a tribe, etc.).

5. Leading Teams

leadership skills image

In the future, teams will become even more important. Leaders will need to be able to quickly form a team, separate and re-form faster than ever before to work on discreet parcels of work. Leaders will need the know-how to create a climate of performance and health quickly. In a previous post, I talked about our Team Charter Canvass (right) as a guiding document to do this effectively.

6. Developing People

Developing people could be the most important skill needed for the future. Today, the bias is for action and task completion, rather than growing and developing people. Learning and people’s everyday role functions are still too separated. Leaders will need to think differently by providing learning opportunities at the same time as getting the job done. What would it look like if a minimum of 50% of everything employees did provided a genuine development opportunity? What would be the benefits over time?

7. Building Relationships

It might sound obvious, but the ability to build relationships across functions, silos and diverse interests and agendas can be tricky business. The best build a platform of credibility that comes from being able to achieve results while fostering positive relations. The qualities and skills needed to do this successfully include genuine care for others, empathy and warmth.

8. Trust

Trust is as old as time, but remains fundamental in shaping how we work, live and love. Effective leaders are able to build trust and be trustworthy. Nothing facilitates the speed of business like trust. Good leaders strike a balance between company and personal objectives by being open and transparent, but in the right amounts. It must make sense for the prevailing culture, mood and operating rhythm (e.g. sharing too much information that unnecessarily burden’s people for example).

9. Resilience

Effective leaders have the capacity to bounce back from set-backs and challenges. While they’re not robots by any stretch of the imagination, they have developed personal strategies that move beyond mere survival. In a world where more people are prone to a sense of overwhelm, developing the skills of resilience, particularly a balanced approach to life is vital.

10. Self-Mastery

leadership skills image self-masterySelf-mastery is a term that may not be commonly used in business, but it really separates average leaders from the best leaders. While we are tribal in nature as a species, this doesn’t mean we always get along with each other. Unfortunately, we all have egos – and it is our ego that gets in the way of effective leadership. Brenee Brown’s research and commentary on vulnerability is insightful. Brown suggests that in a culture of scarcity (that is, feeling we’re not smart enough, thin enough, wealthy enough, etc.), we constantly feel the need to prove to ourselves and others that we are in fact smart, competent, have it all together, etc.

So there you have it – my assessment of the Top 10 Leadership Skills that will best serve organisations now and in to the future. While each of these leader skills requires continuous attention, investment and support, the results for organisations and the communities they serve justifies the effort.

Find out More

We are specialists in powering teams through leadership. If you’re interested in learning more about these programs and how we may be able to work with you to achieve outstanding results, then you can:

Call us on 1300 100 857

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Connect with Phil

The Office

Phillip Ralph
Level 2, GPO Building
350 Bourke Street, Melbourne
Office: 8:30am - 5:30pm
Ph: 1300 100 857