What makes a true leader? Fancy job title, fat salary or the courage to stand up for what you believe in?

Watching President Trump’s inauguration and the events that have followed has made me think about the history of the civil rights movement in America. It’s clear to see that civil rights and human rights in the US are at threat under the new president. His first day was marked by women’s marches in major cities throughout the world and he is already taking forward decisions that many people feared.

The first action has been to sign an executive order begin the process to repeal Obamacare. He has reinstated the Mexico City Policy known as the Global Gag rule which withholds US foreign aid money to NGOs that provide abortions and abortion counselling. He has signed two executive orders which will build that wall he’s talked so much about, boost border patrol forces and increase the number of immigration enforcement officers who carry out deportations. And today he has been advocating torture which has made me especially glad to be an Amnesty International donor!

All of this has driven me to rewatch films like Selma and The Help to remind me of how far America has come and how much it has to lose. In turn, these films have reminded me of a key leadership quality – the courage of conviction and willingness to risk everything to defend what you believe in. This is what marks out the great leaders of the world.

Nelson Mandela gave a 3 hour speech at the Rivonia Trial in 1964 where he and others were accused of sabotage. He concluded his speech by setting out his vision for equality and harmony. So strong was his belief that he finished his speech saying that he would give his life to achieve the ideal he dreamed of:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. Nelson Mandela, 1964

In the film Selma, directed by Ava Duvernay, we see the great Martin Luther King lead a march from Selma to Montgomery which had been prevented previously by state troupers by force of violence. During his campaign for civil rights, King was arrested many times, had his house bombed and was finally assassinated in 1968. He believed so much that what he was calling for was the right thing that he continued even though he risked his own personal safety and freedom.

Disney’s The Help portrays the same conviction when a budding journalist asks the African-American maids to tell their stories. In the film, the women she interviewed knew that they were likely to lose their jobs if they were identified, they could have their house burned down or even be killed for telling their story. They did it anyway and showed great courage in doing so.

And that’s it for me – a fundamental leadership quality – the courage to stand up for what you believe in regardless of the consequences. If we didn’t have people like that, we would never achieve any change. These leaders often are not the leaders with the fancy job title and fat salary. These are community leaders and individuals who are willing to put themselves on the line to speak out against injustice. Those people are the real leaders in our society.


5 articles that explore Trump’s leadership style

Just a couple of days ago, people all around the world tuned into watch Donald Trump become the 45th President of the United States. This was a moment that evoked strong feelings from hope to horror amongst those who looked on.

Those who have suffered from the loss of jobs as industry moved on and moved elsewhere hope for a new economic strategy with more jobs for local people. Those who care about issues such as climate change, gender equality, race equality, disability and gay rights fear that this is a leader who could set the nation back several decades.

The feeling of progress and unification that came with Obama’s in auguration was sadly lacking. Instead, an environment of uncertainty and unrest was evident in the protest marches that followed.

Love him or hate him though, as a Sky news presenter commented ‘there is no denying that this is a leader of some significance’. Over the last 18 months, there has been a great deal of analysis and comment on Trump’s style and why, despite his divisive approach, he has gained enough support to win the election and become the world’s most powerful leader.

Here are 5 articles that explore his style, tactics and his influence on the leadership debate:
1) 5 things Donald Trump can teach us about leadership
Recognising that he doesn’t appeal to everyone, the new President of the United States can still teach us a few things about leadership. This article explores what we can learn from him on decision making, goal setting, confidence and more.

2) The leadership tactics of Donald Trump

This Psychology Today blog looks at some of Trump’s tactics such as a strong leader persona; how he has used ‘them and us’ to create a strong position and get people onside; and how he ‘gets things done’. This article also provides some thoughts on what might be considered good and bad leadership.

3) Donald Trump’s leadership style in 5 words

5 words from Management Today which describe Trump’s leadership style. Set out as a charismatic leader along side other names such as Martin Luther King and Adolf Hitler, this article pinpoints some secrets of success that leaders could emulate in their own place of work. These are mostly self-serving such as ‘aggression’, ‘deals’ and ‘ambition’, concentrating on individual success.

4) Does Trump’s rise spell the end of empathetic leadership?

In recent years, much of the debate around good leadership has been about authenticity, vulnerability, compassion and integrity. This article from The Fast Company explores what Trump’s success might mean for leadership in general and whether it means the end of empathetic leadership.

5) Leadership lessons from Donald Trump

Love him or hate him, there is no denying he has displayed strong leadership skills. He is certainly ‘rock-solid confident’, certain of the vision and able to communicate it in simple terms, capturing the interest of observers all over the world. This article explains what leadership lessons we can learn from the new US President and how this contrasts with a feminine leadership style.
And if, like me, you don’t think this could ever be your style, you might prefer this article from Inc.com: 5 leadership lessons from Obama.


Rejuvenate 2017 with a personal MOT and some new goals for development and well-being

Each year, once the festivities are over and I’ve settled back into everyday life, I like to take some time to reflect on the personal achievements of the last 12 months before setting some new objectives for the year ahead. Doing this helps me to make sure I maintain momentum and retain my focus on personal and career goals.

Defining some clear goals and keeping them somewhere I can see them every day means I have a constant reminder of what I need to do and can hold myself to account by checking my progress on a regular basis. Over the years, this has really helped me to push forward with my personal development by setting out commitments that I can work towards to ensure I continue making progress.

Maybe this is something you have tried or perhaps you are still wondering what your goals should be.  Either way, here are some ideas for carrying out a career MOT and making 2017 a year for development and progression:

1) Assess your skills – Want to take the next step but not sure how to get there? Consider carrying out a skills assessment to review the skills you require compared with those you need so that you can identify areas you need to work on. Reviewing the job descriptions of the type of role you would like to move into will help you assess what skills you need to work on. Try this skills assessment questionnaire from Mindtools.com to help you get started.

2) Set objectives – Think about what you want to achieve for the year and set some SMART objectives. These should be specific in what you want to achieve, how you will know when you have succeeded and within what timescale. Set 3 objectives for the year and then put them where you can see them everyday so you won’t forget!

3) Book a course – Is there a clear area that you need to work on to progress your career? Or maybe you just want to have formal recognition of your skills. Continuing on a learning journey is really important so have a look what courses are on offer and book yourself a place. Your local college or university will offer a range of courses and lots now have distance learning options too. The Open University has a range of free online courses in a range of subject areas if you want a taster to get you started.

4) Get a mentor – Worried that you can’t approach someone more senior for advice? Don’t worry, there are lots of schemes out there which will match you with someone who has more experience either in your own industry or with someone who has complementary skills so you can learn and grow by talking things through and providing advice and support to tackle whatever challenge you are currently facing. Aspire Foundation currently offer free mentoring with the aim of empowering women around the world.

5) Don’t forget your SELF – One thing crucial for leadership and progression is your own well-being so make sure at least one objective is about how you will take care of your self. This could be to spend more time with friends and family, go for a walk, practice yoga (try yoga with Adrienne) or learn to meditate (Headspace). Whatever it is, don’t forget that nurturing your sense of self is crucial for resilience which is also at the heart of success.


Lessons from the ultimate women’s leadership role model in Netflix ‘The Crown’

As the longest serving British monarch, the Queen is one of the most prominent and powerful leaders in the world. She has reigned over the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand since 1952, is the Head of the Commonwealth and also holds the title of Commander in Chief of the British Armed Forces.

The ultimate role model, not only is she a prominent female leader but she was also a driver and mechanic in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service during the Second World War, paving the way for women in non-traditional roles. Such a fascinating woman, it’s no surprise that Netflix have decided to dramatise the early years of her life on the throne.

Beginning the series as a princess, we are introduced to Elizabeth after Phillip officially becomes a Duke. We first see her framed in a doorway which indicates her on the outside rather than front and centre where she moves to not long after. During this early part of the series, Philip seems very much in charge. For example, in one of the early scenes, the princess asks him to stop smoking and he continues regardless, clearly indicating power and dominance.

In Episode 2, they travel to Nairobi on official business. The princess has to give a speech and we see her nervous, supported by her now husband Philip nodding his encouragement. On the trip, she is depicted as girlish; a young wife on a fabulous adventure with a husband she admires.

Then things change as Elizabeth receives the news that her father has passed away. All of a sudden, she is catapulted into the spotlight and it is suddenly ultra important that she is able to show leadership.

She spends her first days as Queen looking shocked at being thrust into a role with such responsibility at an unexpected time. The weight of what is happening is communicated in her wide eyes and meaningful looks between her and her husband not to mention the way her body freezes when she first hears the words ‘God save the Queen’.

Leadership Lesson 1 – Always look the part 

As monarch, it is important to always dress appropriately for the role.  After the news is announced that the King has passed away, Elizabeth must return home from Nairobi.  It becomes apparent that no-one has packed a black dress and so something has to be delivered to the plane before she can disembark in England Obviously, a Queen has to look the part at all times and when the outfit is complete we can see an immaculate presentation with full accessories perfectly in place.

Leadership lesson 2 – once you’re in that leadership role, you have a duty to be a leader at all times

As she is dressed in her mourning clothes, her grandmother is reading a letter to her:
‘Elizabeth Mountbatten has now been replaced by Elizabeth Regina. The two Elizabeth’s will frequently be in conflict with one another. The fact is, the Crown must win. must always win.’

She then prepares to leave the plane and step on to home soil as the Queen of England. For the first time, we see that her husband no longer has the upper hand. In an exchange with the Queen’s Private Secretary as they prepare to disembark, Philip says ‘It’s alright, I’ll escort her down from there’ to which the Private Secretary responds ‘No sir, if you don’t mind, the Crown takes precedence’.

The look of fear and horror from Elizabeth indicates the magnitude of the shift. She then turns towards the door and walks through it, in to the light and down the stairs as her husband follows quickly behind her.

Leadership lesson 3 – know your weaknesses and take action to develop knowledge or skills when necessary

Lots of things change for Elizabeth and one of my favourite episodes finds her asking for a tutor because her level of education prevents her from making meaningful discussion with politicians and statesmen. She recognises her shortcomings takes the positive step to increase her knowledge so that she can do the job more effectively.

Leadership lesson 4 – never give your word and break your promise

Finally, a criticism of what we see of her as a leader is the many u-turns she makes and promises she breaks. What that tells us is the importance of seeking good advice before making decisions. Something I believe a good leader should never do is give your word and then go back on it.


Why settle for mediocre? Aim to make your people outstanding

It’s that time of year for me when I’m talking to people about performance over the last six months. 

Committed to helping people be the best they can be and also to delivering maximum value with public funds, this is a process I’ve spent much time considering in order to ensure it delivers for the individuals I support.
My quest for perfection in performance management, has led to a number of steps that can provide a framework within which individuals can develop and deliver for your organisation.

Setting clear objectives is the first task if you want to create an environment where people can succeed. This step should provide clear direction in line with the organisation’s aims and ensure that person can meet their goals in a timely manner and know when the objective has been achieved. In particular, agreeing objectives which are SMART brings clarity to plans and ensures they can be completed within an agreed timeframe.

After this stage, it is important to work with the individual to agree what ‘good’ looks like. I’m not sure it’s possible for individuals to really excel in delivering their priorities if you haven’t discussed exactly what is required. Setting out expectations clearly from the beginning allows people to go the extra mile to ensure a high standard.

In observing performance management in a number of organisations, I’ve noticed that reviews too often become a process that people have to go through with little awareness of what they are about (see what’s wrong with performance management and annual reviews). In many cases, managers set objectives and sign off progress without much thought or discussion.

For me, it’s about creating a structure for people to succeed with a focus on encouraging and supporting them to exceed expectations. It seems to me that managers should consider it a priority to ensure their people are encouraged able to become ‘outstanding’ and concentrate their efforts on achieving this goal. I’m sure all organisations desire to have high performing teams so let’s stop thinking that mediocre is good enough and give people something to aim for.

Finally, I don’t believe that performance conversations looking back over a six month period go far enough to provide focus and motivation. Whilst my objectives might be set annually, I set out my plan to achieve them by looking forward over a three month period and reviewing progress on a monthly basis. This ensures the thinking time and prioritising which is necessary to make an impact. I’m then able to look back and see if I have achieved my goals, ensure my time is spent on the right things and to know if my objectives are the right ones.

As the year comes to a close, I wonder how your teams have performed over the last twelve months and offer a challenge to all of you to make a commitment for the new year to adopt a system that allows your people to shine in 2017.


Governance principles are recipe for success

Over the last few years, I have become particularly interested in the way that charities ensure effective governance. Most of us are familiar with the disaster surrounding kids company and the blatant mis-spending of public funds. If you are based outside of Wales, you may be less familiar with AWEMA who had similar issues and Trustees were criticised for not having the right safeguards in place. These cases have helped to place a spotlight on the charitable sector and made it even more important that robust governance procedures are in place.

For those readers who are totally new to the concept of governance in this context, the term is defined by the Charity leader’s network ACEVO as ‘systems and processes concerned with ensuring the overall direction, effectiveness, supervision and accountability of an organisation’.

Achieving ‘good governance’ requires the appropriate systems to be in place and the right people to be around the table. The current governance code sets out 6 key principles which focus on individual performance, suggesting that a Board room of individuals that can contribute fully according to these principles is what is needed for success.

Here are the 6 principles explained:

1) Understanding your role – the first requirement is that Trustees know what role they play in the process, what is expected of them and how they can make a full contribution.

2) Ensuring delivery of your organisational purpose – a charity Trustee must ensure funds are used to deliver the mission and that the very greatest value is achieved for every pound.

3) Work effectively as an individual and as a team – diversity has been talked about a lot in the ‘good governance’ debate and it’s not just about diversity of backgrounds but also a mixture of different viewpoints. To be effective, Trustees must be able to contribute their view as an individual but also respect the views of others and be able to support the overall decision.

4) Exercising effective control – it takes particular skill to exercise control without being controlling. The word ‘control’ gives an instant feeling of hierarchy which is not the aim here. What it means in this context is to ensure risk is managed effectively, financial controls are in place and the right questions are asked which hold those with responsibility to account.

5) Behaving with integrity – being honest and acting in a way that is guided by strong moral principles. As a charity Trustee, its likely that a strong sense of values is present and as such, decisions should be guided by a belief in what is right and proper.

6) Being open & accountable – this means to be clear about the decisions that have been taken and the reason for the board’s position. Being accountable might also require you to stand by your decision when challenged because you believe it is in the best interests of the organisation.

Building on this good practice, a new code of governance is out for consultation. The revised code reflects concerns about governance and responds to aspirations across the charitable sector to improve it. As a result of such high profile cases of mis-management, the new code places more emphasis on leadership, values, accountability, transparency and diversity. Its aim is for charity boards to maintain a strategic focus, ensure Board development and pursue charitable objectives.

To read the new code and respond to the consultation, click here


Adopting a coaching approach

Coaching is an important and valuable skill for leadership today and is a useful tool for developing people in your team.

I’ve found that by asking questions and helping individuals to think things through, they have a much deeper understanding of the issue. Compare that with a situation where you tell them the answer, you can’t be sure they have grasped the point you are trying to make.

This approach has been extremely useful in ensuring my team knows how their work fits with the bigger picture and what we are trying to achieve. Not what the job is that must be done but what the task is designed to achieve and how we can make this happen.

One of my main influences has been Myles Downey who sets out the GROW model in his book, Effective Coaching. To illustrate this model, I am going to explore an example from a time that I worked with a member of my team to develop a research project.  The individual, who I will call Lauren, needed to understand the importance of the project she was working on and the potential to influence change if approached in the right way.

GROW model
1. Identify the topic – you must first understand exactly what topic needs to be discussed. For Lauren, it was a research project she was working on.

2. Goal – this part explores what the individual needs to achieve. In my example, I wanted her to understand the purpose of the project so that she could ensure she developed the work to achieve the overall aim and bring about the change in society that we were looking to achieve. Having an understanding would ensure a better quality of work.

3. Reality – there were boundaries and constraints that would limit the project so understanding the reality would ensure the work concentrated on what was achievable within these.

4. Options – here we explored what actions she could take that would ensure the potential of this piece of work was maximised. It is important to say here that Lauren had previously been an academic researcher who would have explored a topic to add to a wider body of work. This work, however, was for a charity so I was keen that the budget was used to fund a project that pushed forward the agenda and influenced behaviours.

5. Wrap-up – after exploring a range of questions about the project, it was time to come to some conclusions so we recapped what Lauren understood about the project as a result of our discussion.  We then established a commitment to focus her actions on things that would ensure we maximised the value of the project and we agreed that I would support her going forward by meeting on a regular basis to discuss progress.

Exploring the project in this way had a significant impact on Lauren’s understanding. On a training course years ago, the tutor expressed a learning mantra which I have held close ever since. He said that in teaching others, you must remember the following –

I listen, I forget.      I see, I remember.      I do, I understand.

Rather than telling someone the answer or showing them how to do it (doing it for them), adopting a coaching approach ensures the individual does the work to think things through which means they are able to develop a real understanding of the issue at hand and develop a true commitment to taking things forward in an effective manner.


How body language might be holding women back

Recently, I blogged about non-verbal communication in the US Presidential election. A chance encounter today has made me think further about how body language might be impacting women who want to get on in their career.

At an event, I bumped into someone I’m keen to work with on a project and it made me think about something I have noticed before around that classic greeting – the handshake.

Have you ever thought about how men and women use this differently? I’ve considered many times how the handshake can create connection and wondered if women are disadvantaged as a result of social norms surrounding this classic greeting.

What I’ve observed is that men shake hands with each other a lot. Every time they see each other, even informally, they tend to shake hands.  This creates a physical connection which is strengthened each time they meet.

A little online research told me that the handshake is linked to hierarchy and can be used to indicate power. Thinking about the gesture in this way made me wonder if this is a subtle reinforcement of patriarchy which unconsciously puts women at a disadvantage.

It seems that women might use this gesture when they are in a position of authority and want to indicate this. Interviews are a good example or also in a meeting with clients. In more informal situations, women are far less likely to use such a greeting unless responding to an offered hand.

So if the seemingly innocent handshake has this kind of impact, what else should we be looking out for?

Here are a few non-verbal messages that women should be aware of:

1) Space – men naturally take up space. They spread themselves out using arms, legs, paperwork and anything else to ensure they put their stamp on the environment around them. Women should be aware of this and mark themselves out in a similar way. For example, keeping arms above the table and keeping them open so that their presence is also known. [Amy Cuddy, Your body language shapes who you are]

2) Nodding – when a man nods, it means he agrees but when a woman nods, it means she is listening and empathising. Have you ever been in a situation where a man is saying something you disagree with and you are nodding politely to show they can go on? Try not to do that in future or your male colleagues might take it as the royal mark of approval. [Psychology Today, Nodding doesn’t mean ‘yes’]

3) Waiting your turn – women tend to be very polite in waiting for their turn to contribute or find a gap in the conversation to say their piece. Men are often more comfortable with interrupting and will hold the floor for as long as possible so assert yourself and make sure your voice is heard. [Deborah Tannen, You just don’t understand: men and women in conversation]

4) Failing to sit at the table – one of the key messages from Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In was to make sure you are at the table. Whatever happens, never sit around the periphery. You have every right to be there and should never allow yourself to take a back seat. [Sheryl Sandberg, Why we have too few women leaders]
Other relevant articles: How Donald is Trumping Hillary in the ultimate leadership race


Halloween, fancy dress and the ‘Trumpkin’

As Halloween approaches, many of us will be planning for parties and wondering what costume to wear. The festival marks the religious feast of ‘all hallows’ eve’ which is more commonly known in Christian communities as ‘all souls day’. It’s a day to remember the dead which is why it is linked to ghosts, ghouls and all things spooky.

It’s not clear whether this day has arisen from harvest festivals and pagan roots or if it was Christian all along. Celtic customs and beliefs are said to have had an influence – for example, the Welsh used to hold a festival called ‘calan gaeaf’ which was held on the 31st October to celebrate the beginning of winter. However it came about, this is typically the time of year that we enjoy activities such as pumpkin carving, apple bobbing, trick or treating and costume parties.

You might wonder what Halloween has to do with leadership but there a number of things that we can learn from this celebration of the supernatural.

1. Be yourself – Halloween is about dressing up in a clever disguise. This is great for a night of fun but if you are constantly pretending to be someone else as a leader, this will be noticed by others and impact your credibility, hindering your ability to develop trust in relationships. It takes a lot of energy to pretend so the mask could slip, revealing you as a fake. The best thing you can do as a leader is be yourself – even if you are a little ghoulish! People will respect you more for letting your imperfections show.

2. Be vulnerable – Dressing up in a silly outfit and leaving the house takes confidence. Leaders should have the confidence to be vulnerable. This is the very heart of authenticity as it takes confidence to reveal a part of you that might usually prefer to keep to yourself. Your team will respond well to you as an individual if you are able to reveal a fun centre and allow yourself to dress up in a Halloween costume.

3. Be engaging – an engaged team works harder because they want to achieve and succeed. The great thing about Halloween is that many people do engage and participate. If you can bring in a little Halloween magic into the workplace, you can develop a high performing team.

4. Be fun! – I’ve written about this before and I believe in it fully. Having fun for me is a central part of leadership. I want my team to enjoy their work which means finding the fun in the job that must be done (remember Mary Poppins?). If people enjoy what they do, they will do more of it and I certainly want my team to do as much as they possibly can! Fun is a great morale booster so celebrate every festival and allow them to loosen up from time to time.

A life size ‘Trumpkin’


Finally, another Halloween trend taking the U.S. by storm is the creation of a ‘Trumpkin’. In the run up to the election, pumpkins everywhere are being carved in to replicas of the man himself. We also saw a few carved Clintons during our recent tour of Massachusetts. Perhaps this is a trend we can adopt here in the UK with imitations of Theresa May, Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn. If you do decide to recreate your favourite leader in a pumpkin fashion, be sure to share with me on Twitter @ChristineB_OS

You may also be interested to read my post Leadership is… which considers the importance of fun in leading others.


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