Archives for posts with tag: Leadership

ImageI’ve spent the day deep in conversation with the Chief Executive of the Wilderness Foundation UK designing the course content for a leadership development programme we’re delivering later this year.

It was great to start with a blank sheet of paper – and a big pile of post it notes! – and brainstorm what we think would be the key areas for the leaders of tomorrow to focus on. As the programme is being delivered by the Wilderness Foundation, there is a heavy emphasis on nature based learning – using a variety of outdoor exercises to explore leadership skills and abilities. You might have seen in an earlier blog the fun I had hugging trees in an exercise on trust, teamwork and observation – it’s activities of that sort that we’ll be weaving into the programme.

After spending the day up to our armpits in post it notes and felt tip pens, we had an overall plan for the structure of the programme. We’d come up with some great thoughts for the detailed activities that will make up each day of the course.

Tomorrow we’ll be putting some meat on the bones of that structure, designing sessions and outlining activities. I can’t wait to use the opportunity to be creative, finding new and exciting ways to help the participants to discover the leadership potential within themselves.

Have you undertaken any leadership development training? What sorts of activities, tools, models or techniques really resonated with you? Are there any that you put into practice in your life and how effective have they been? Did any involve the great outdoors? I’d love to hear your experiences.


ImageMy wife and I are cat owners. We have three of the little rascals, each with very different temperaments and personalities. I thought I’d share a little about each of them with you today.

First, there’s Scooby. He has been with my wife since he was a tiny kitten, and was a very important (feline) person to win over when I first met her. He is absolutely devoted to her and follows her around the house all day long. He is a very sensitive soul and likes to stay close to home, climbing onto laps for a cuddle and a snooze. His favourite toy in the world is a folded up crisp packet that he loves to play fetch with. Yes, you read that right, he is a cat who loves to play catch. Having been the only cat in the house for quite a long time, he is also used to being spoilt and has developed a taste for some very un-cat-like foods, like Doritos and hummus, for example! He wants to share whatever you’ve got on your plate.

Then came Alfie, a little bundle of energy and fluff who we got as a kitten nearly two years ago. He is the smallest of our household and the one who is very much in charge – pushing the others off their food bowls so that he can eat what they’re having, starting fights with them both even though they’re twice his size, and curling up to sleep right in their personal spaces till they get fed up and move! He is the bravest of the three, venturing off quite far and spending as much time as he possibly can outside, often curling up under a bush for a snooze. He’s extremely independent and usually takes himself off into a different room for a sleep, popping back every now and again for a quick tummy rub. He’s a skinny wee thing, clearly a fan of the supermodel look, and is only really interested in actual cat food – he can’t usually be tempted by any scraps from your plate, perhaps making an exception for bacon fat every now and again.

Finally, Phoenix came into our world. He actually adopted us, showing up in our garden over a period of time, starving and petrified. To cut a long story short, it turned out that he had run away from his previous owner’s home 6 months previously and had been living outside on his own. He decided to move in with us and, by agreement with his previous owner, we kept him, and has been with us about 6 months now. He’s a big, muscly, butch boy, but he doesn’t seem to know it and he’s such a big softy and extremely gentle. He absolutely loves cuddles and enjoys getting as close as he possibly can to your face, including laying on your head in the night. He is extremely timid and doesn’t like it when you’re standing up or walking around, especially if you’re wearing shoes. He prefers you to be sat down and then he’ll come to you and climb all over you until he’s comfortable and ready for a tummy tickle, thank you very much. He’s got a big appetite, enjoying both actual cat food and scraps, but he’s become just as fussy as the other two, well and truly leaving his scrounging for food days behind him!

Before being a cat owner, I assumed that cats all sound the same. They go “meow”, right? What I didn’t realise was that they actually have very distinctive voices, to the point where I can tell them apart just by hearing them. Scooby is generally quiet, but when he does talk it’s a real heart-rending desperate cry. He knows how to get his way! Alfie is ridiculously talkative with a very high little squeak of a voice. And he uses it over and over and over again until he gets his way! Phoenix’s voice is quite unusual, best described as kind of a cross between Frankie Howerd and Marge Simpson. Yes, really.

So why am I telling you all this about our cats? Well, we have learnt that treating all three of them in the exact same way just doesn’t work. We have to tailor our approach to them, calling them in the particular way that works for them, cuddling them in the way they like, fussing those that like it and leaving those alone who are quite happy chilling out on their own. It strikes me that their little foibles are not just influenced by their personalities, but have also been shaped by their experiences.

I think that lessons can be drawn from this and applied in the workplace. It is very important to treat all your staff equally, but this absolutely doesn’t mean treating them all the same. If you are able to get under the skin of your staff and understand what makes them tick, you are then able to tailor your approach to managing them and communicating with them in a way that suits them. In this way, they will feel individually valued for their contributions, understood and appreciated. They will feel better able to meet your needs and understand what is expected of them, and will feel respected as individuals. Applying a one size fits all approach to management just doesn’t achieve the best results because – just like cats – people are not all the same. They have different personalities, experiences and preferences, and demonstrating an understanding of this will go a long way. Just don’t ask if they prefer Whiskas or Go-Cat, or give them a tummy tickle.

ImageI can’t think of many people who have polarised public opinion in the UK in my lifetime quite as much as the late Lady Margaret Thatcher, who it has been announced died today of a stroke at the age of 87.

She was, lest we forget, the first ever female Prime Minister of the UK, reaching power as relatively early in history as 1979. As a strong supporter of women striving for and ultimately achieving an equal footing with men in the world’s leadership positions, I have to respect the strength, commitment, talent, resilience and many other attributes that she must have had in spades in order to secure the post back in the 1970s, and retain it all the way through three terms to the 1990s. What a fantastic advertisement to young women that they can achieve whatever they set out to.

Her time in power spread from when I was a mere babe in arms to when I was just starting secondary school so I have very little first-hand understanding of the actions she took whilst Prime Minister. However, like many people of my age, I was aware of the effect that she had on my school days. Many of my peers talk primarily of her decision to remove free school milk, and whilst I love the white stuff as much as the next person, for me, it was her Government’s introduction of the offensive, oppressive, discriminatory and (in my opinion) utterly ridiculous Section 28 that had the biggest, and most negative, effect on my school days.

For those who are unfamiliar, Section 28 was an amendment to the Local Government Act 1988 that stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. This rule was in place until as recently as 2003 (2000 in Scotland) and utterly coloured my experience of school, coming out, and coming out at school, which I did in 1997.

I know that for many people, Margaret Thatcher carried out far worse acts: the closing of the mines, the introduction of poll tax, privatisation of state owned services, reduction of the power of trade unions, her handling of affairs in Northern Ireland and the sinking of the General Belgrano in the Falklands war. However, most of these (and more) have had significant coverage in the news reporting of Mrs Thatcher’s death and on social media. Meanwhile, Section 28 has (at the time of writing) received around just 40 hashtag mentions on Twitter in relation to Mrs Thatcher. And to make it worse, a number of those are either asking what it is or exposing a misunderstanding of it.

I also know that for many other people, Margaret Thatcher was a fantastic ambassador for our country and made many changes for the better, including improving its economic standing, reducing the amount of tax on income, improving private individuals’ ability to own their own homes, ending the Cold War, liberating the Falklands Islands, to name just a few.

Doing my very best to take my personal views (in particular with regards to Section 28) out of the equation and putting it as simply as possible, it seems to me that Margaret Thatcher – in common, I’d suggest, with every other person who has ever lived – did some good things, and did some bad things.

What has really struck me in the immediate aftermath of her death is that in the reporting and social media discussions, there seem to only be people who “love” her and people who “hate” her. I’m sure that, if they were really honest with themselves, not everyone who “loves” her agreed with every single act she ever carried out, and not everyone who “hates” her disagreed with every single act. It seems to me that, for the most part, people focus on the one or two key acts that struck a chord with them most and as a result painted her as either a “bad” person or a “good” person.

For example, “she was instrumental in improving the economy of the UK and ending the Cold War” and therefore is a “good” person, or “she stole my free milk and introduced Section 28” and therefore is a “bad” person. Of course, the reality is far more complex than this. For example, were you aware that, before her political career, she helped to invent soft-serve ice cream? In my view, none of us – Margaret Thatcher included – are entirely good or entirely bad.

She has left behind an enormously powerful legacy, with both positive and negative connotations all bundled up within it. Life is not simple, straightforward and black and white. What almost nobody disputes is that she was a hard-working, committed, passionate woman and an immensely powerful leader. What we should also not forget is that she was a mother who leaves a family behind.

virtuous circleYou know those meetings where everything seems to go according to plan? No? Well I have to admit that they don’t always come around quite as frequently as I might hope! But today, I had one of them. My lovely wife and I were meeting with a prospective candidate for the leadership development programme for young women that we’ll be delivering later this year.

In response to yesterday’s blog about the importance of allowing your personality to shine through in an interview, a wise woman (hello, Suzy!) commented that she had found that the interviews where she was “prepared to wing it a little actually go a whole lot better”. I think that the same is true in many situations in life, including in meetings.

Don’t get me wrong, we were prepared for the meeting in that we knew the information we needed to convey and why we felt that she would be such an excellent candidate, but we hadn’t planned it out in such a level of detail that we were unable to read the response we were getting and adapt our approach to match. So, for example, giving more or less detail about a specific element of the programme depending on her reactions to certain things.

We felt that she’d be ideal for the programme and hoped that she’d be as excited about the opportunities it will present her with as we are. But you never know how somebody else will view something; whether it will be what they are expecting, whether it fits in with their priorities, etc. On this occasion, what do you know, she exceeded our expectations! She was positive, excited, and raring to go!

In response to her positivity about the programme, we gave her lots of information about all the aspects we could, which reinforced her keenness to be involved. A real virtuous circle in action!

In turn, this re-fuelled my own enthusiasm for the programme and its possibilities, and excited me with the thought of what she will be able to achieve by entering into it with such excitement and commitment. She was even excited about the prospect of, after completing the programme, continuing to be involved in it by working with and/or mentoring future cohorts of participants. Now that’s the sort of candidate I like to attract!

We’re getting ever closer to the start of delivery of the programme and I look forward to being able to share with you more details of what it will entail and, I hope, some success stories from the participants’ point of view.