Courage, positivity & agility – how Disney’s ‘Frozen’ inspires leadership at all levels

On a flight out to Hong Kong recently, I was flicking through the films in the online entertainment centre and decided that the ideal thing to watch on a long overnight flight is the Disney blockbuster Frozen. After all, who doesn’t want to sing along to ‘Do you wanna build a snowman?’ when they are jetting off to warmer climes? Clearly, I thought, this was a nice easy watching film to pass the time and relax me into sleep.

As I was watching, I couldn’t help but notice the leadership messages that were present in the film. The most obvious is with Elsa who offers a powerful message about authentic leadership as she is forced to open up to who she really is and with that, realises her full potential, building a spectacular ice palace. Once she stopped trying to hide her uniqueness, she discovered the true power within.

The character I thought had the most to offer us though was younger sister, Anna, who really comes into her own a she ventures out to find the new Queen of Arendelle and end the eternal winter that has been brought upon the kingdom. What we see from Anna is a willingness to take responsibility and she shows great courage in heading off into the icy unknown to save the day.

In Wales, the public service has developed a set of values and behaviours to encourage leadership at all levels  and Anna demonstrates a number of these in her efforts to find Elsa and coax her back to Arendelle.

Firstly, she acts with agility to adapt her role and purpose as she steps up to the plate in an attempt to make things right, an aim that she achieves after plenty of Disney drama! Anna maintains a realistic and positive attitude to challenges, adversity and change, encouraging others to do the same as she meets a range of challenges and obstacles along her journey. She also encourages and supports Elsa to think differently, to question and try new ways of doing things as she encourages her sister to use her power for good and shows others that there is nothing to be afraid of.

A report published by Deloitte a couple of years ago claimed that the need for leaders at all levels is one of the 12 critical issues for human capital. Particularly in relation to the public sector in the UK, they reported that ‘the challenge is to deliver services through a motivated workforce in an age of austerity’ and argued that this ‘does not require recruitment or development of more leaders but is about exercising leadership at all levels’.

At the time of the article, leadership was the number one talent issue facing organisations and yet only 13% of organisations believe they do an ‘excellent job’ of developing leaders.

Deloitte suggest that the whole concept of leadership is being ‘radically redefined’ with a need for people who can ‘inspire team loyalty through their expertise, vision and judgement’ . This is a long way from leadership typical of hierarchies where the individual’s position in the company gives them authority.

With new generations coming through, there is call for a different leadership style. Millennials feel disappointed and underutilised when they are not developed as leaders .

According to a survey from Virtuali and, the millennial generation isn’t attracted to the money or recognition associated with leadership positions. Instead, they want to be leaders to inspire others, make a difference in the world and lead companies that care about more than the bottom line.

Millennials care less about money, legacy and hierarchy, and more about being collaborative, empowering and transformational leaders. However, many are unable to access leadership training or demonstrate a new approach.

The challenge for today’s workplace is to harness the potential amongst this new generation and empower them to take responsibility and challenge the status quo.  Imagine what we would be able to achieve if we encouraged all staff to lead rather than making leadership something attached to promotions and power.



Thoughts from top women in Wales on increasing representation in leadership & decision-making

This week, I joined colleagues from across the Civil Service and Local Government in Wales to mark International Women’s Day at the Senedd (Welsh Parliament). An impressive line-up of leading ladies shared their own career journey and experiences to inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

Just a few days earlier, the Assembly Research Service published figures on gender equality. These figures show that slightly fewer women than men are economically active (72.4% compared with 83%) and a higher proportion work part-time (41.3% compared with 12.7%). Of those sectors prioritised for investment by the Welsh Government within their economic strategy, women account for just 32.7% of the workforce.

When we look at our public service leaders, we can see that despite accounting for 72% of Local Government staff,only 18% of Local Authority Chief Executives are female. Of our elected representatives, less than one-third of councillors are female and whilst women account for nearly half of our Assembly Members (41.7%), this has slipped from an admirable 52% during 2005 – 2007.

The Deputy Presiding Officer, Ann Jones AM, welcomed delegates and reminded us that the Welsh Assembly has a history of leading the way on gender equality. Despite this, she noted that everything that we have achieved as women has been achieved because we have been willing to stand together and fight for women’s causes.

The figures above show that there is still a great deal of work to do if we are to achieve gender equality in Wales.

A number of prominent women addressed the audience from the HR Director of DVLA to the Chief Executive of the National Assembly for Wales. Here are some of the things suggested throughout the event that would help to increase the number of women at the top:

1. Appoint a gender champion – change comes from the top and someone needs to take the lead to ensure gender is on the agenda in your organisation. Consider finding someone senior to take on the role of gender champion to push for fair representation of women.

2. Develop a positive intervention – sometimes the pace of change is too slow and we need positive interventions to accelerate progress. In particular, organisations in receipt of public money should be leading the way.

3. Create an inclusive environment – typically, women have a different style and the workplace should encourage everyone to contribute to the best of their ability and in their own way.

4. Pay attention to language – language shapes the world around you. If you are using ‘Chairman’, ‘guys’ (to mean everyone), or ‘he’ (to refer to a person male or female), then just stop. Right now.

5. Job advertisements and interview questions – evidently, boys associate more with verbs and girls with adjectives. Jargon and any language of power possibly put women off so consider getting a specialist to ‘gender lens’ your recruitment processes to make sure you aren’t unintentionally excluding women in this way.

6. Role models – you can’t be what you can’t see. Women need access to inspirational role models who are visible to encourage women to follow in their footsteps. And I don’t mean those women who conform to masculine norms and/or pull the ladder up behind them but those who have managed to succeed whilst staying true to their own identity and maintaining their integrity.

 7. Challenge – if we don’t challenge when we see actions or hear views that disadvantage women or reinforce stereotypes then change will be slow to happen. If you think something is wrong or unhelpful then say so. This will help to raise awareness and hopefully lead to better decisions.
Think I’ve missed something? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Want to read more articles like this? Subscribe to the blog.


It’s just like a magic penny, hold it tight and you won’t have any

At the end of last year, I finally got the one thing I’ve wanted for absolutely ever – a four legged furry friend otherwise know as a dog! As we had our first few walks together, I observed the importance of trust in our relationship and considered how we were managing to build this.

I noticed the process we were going through as I first let her off the lead in an enclosed space where I knew I could reach her if she didn’t come back to me. As we played together with our ball, I was able to see that she wasn’t looking to get away and so I could move the boundary to give her more space. Now, I don’t worry at all, I feel confident to let her off the lead in the park because I know she will watch for me and come back if I call.

In my view, it’s similar in all relationships including those at work. The best way to build trust is through trust itself. Leaders and managers must offer some space for people to show they are trustworthy. Set the boundaries and be clear about expectations.  After that, you only need to keep a watchful eye in case they need your support but otherwise, you can let the team get on with it. This way, you allow people to show you that your faith is well placed.

When I interviewed someone a few years ago about agile working she said something which has stayed with me ever since: ‘why would you hire someone you don’t think you can trust?’.  She also made the point that people have families to take care of and mortgages to pay so why on earth wouldn’t they be able to take responsibility for their work? If there are performance issues, it’s far more likely to be a problem with management than anything else.

In the workplace, trust has been a key theme for organisations over the last few years. In 2014, HR magazine said ‘trust – or lack of it – is going to be a big issue this year’. Why? Because a command and control style of management and a theory X point of view creates an environment of distrust. As a new generation joins the workforce, the leadership debate has developed and new management styles are emerging.  Millenials expect some thing different and trust is a central part of the deal.

According to the CIPD, 37% of employees do not trust their senior managers and 33% think trust between employees and senior management in their workplace is weak. If this is your organisation, you probably notice low morale and a lack of employee engagement. It’s also likely that performance and productivity are suffering as a result.

So what exactly do we mean when we talk about trust in organisation and how can we get more?

An article on the traits of trustworthy people suggests that they are authentic, consistent, compassionate, have high levels of integrity, are kind, resourceful, humble, available and connected.  Research from MIT also identifies integrity and consistency as ‘the key differentiator between companies that violate trust and those that sustain it’.  In the popular book, The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Lencioni cites trust as the number one reason why teams (and, in turn, organisations) do not succeed.

The solution for organisations, I believe, is to demonstrate trust so that it can be seen in return.  Put the right framework in place to monitor what’s important and ensure you appoint leaders who are able to live up to the values that allow trust to develop.  It is also useful to make your leaders open to feedback from employees and other stakeholders by practicing listening on a regular basis.

Overall, the concept of trust and how it is built reminds me of a song I learnt in primary school:

It’s just like a magic penny, hold it tight and you won’t have any. [Trust] is something if you give it away, you end up having more.


For more on listening, try ‘Listen hard, even to what they are not saying’.

Want greater staff retention, less sickness absence and increased productivity? Join the results-based revolution and unleash the power within.

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Racing around trying to get the dog organised, kids sorted and self looking presentable to arrive at the office for 9am like that’s all you’ve had to worry about.  We’ve also all most likely heard that tut when you’re two minutes late or had a poor attendance record because it keeps on happening.  And we’ve probably all had time off work to let in the heating engineer or be home for a sick child or get to the hospital for an appointment.

So what if it was possible to have a happier and more productive workforce by ripping up the policies and letting people decide for themselves when, where and how they work? Would you do it? You should definitely give it some thought.

This is on my mind right now because I’ve had a hectic start to the year. With a new dog, hospital visits for my mother in law, surgery for myself and the pooch, I’ve been dashing from one place to another trying to make sure everyone is ok and then arriving at work pretending everything is normal.  It’s made me miss my previous workstyle (not lifestyle) where the focus was on what I delivered and not whether I was there or how long I sat at my desk.

In my former role, my team had cast away the shackles of time and space and embraced a results-based approach.  This idea was developed after reading work on the Results Only Working Environment (ROWE) which has become prominent over the last few years. We didn’t follow it in its purest form but based our own model on the general premise of results not time.

How it worked in practice was to agree with each individual what they were expected to deliver and what ‘good’ would look like and we caught up on a regular basis to make sure everything was on track.  It meant that my team was empowered to get on with the job and trusted to get it right which in turn meant they were motivated to succeed and delivered above and beyond what was expected of them.

The first time I heard this idea, it was in the news that Virgin were letting employees have unlimited annual leave.  It sounds unrealistic but actually is manageable when individuals start being accountable for what they have done and not how long they were in the office.  It also means you can get all your tasks completed whether in the office or at home or elsewhere! Does someone need to finish early to go to the vet? No problem. Do they need to work from home to keep an eye on the sick dog? Sure thing. Do they want to work at the in-law’s so they can get to the hospital for visiting hours? Absolutely. People can manage their time however they see fit, providing they deliver the agreed results.

You might still be thinking ‘but if they are not in the office, how do I know they are working?’ You know because they will do the things they agreed and if they don’t then it’s a performance issue. How do you know they are working when they are sat at their desk? You don’t generally, you just feel better because you can see them in front of you. Maybe you are also thinking that if you let people just do what they need to then they will do as little as possible. My experience of managing a team in this way taught me that providing you have empowered and motivated them in the right way, when they run out of things to do, they will find more.

Many employers think that allowing employees to work flexibly is a nice perk but actually, it can remove stress, reduce sickness absence and increase productivity which means that employers get more for their money.   My experience with results-based working found that it encourages people to work smarter and think more about what they are doing and how they can invest their time on things that will deliver the best results.  What’s not to like?

Get your own copy of ‘Why work sucks and how to fix it’or hear how it works at GAP by watching this video.

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 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 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.

Blog at

Up ↑