Do we need leadership?

Do we need leadership?

It’s surely worth asking the question, especially on a leadership blog! Maybe it’s an age thing, but I find myself questioning more frequently whether I need anyone to “lead” me. I think I’m pretty good at getting on with work, life, a career and looking after myself without any sense of another person or persons leading me.

It might be a function of the lack of leadership globally right now that is part of this thinking. In the United States, past Presidents, who compared to the current incumbent, appear in hindsight to have been great leaders. But they’re mute right now.  In the United Kingdom, a Trumpish front runner looks like having a good chance of making it to the leadership of that country. Neither of these two individuals are leaders to me. Yes they might have that mantle, but if leadership is about vision, values, an ethical compass, respect and inclusion, I think we need another word for these sorts of individuals. Quite a few come to mind, but they’re not repeatable in this forum!

So, in my smug little world where I don’t think I need leadership can that be right? Probably not. Leaders around me have and continue to create the environment for me and my team’s success, with strategy, vision, purpose and an environment for personal and professional growth.

iStock-926404310.jpgSo you might not feel leadership all the time. But good leadership doesn’t need to be in your face, just providing the appropriate context is often sufficient.

Poor leadership, including ruling by division and clinging on to power at all costs, we definitely notice.

And rather than seek to just remove ourselves from the influence of such behaviour, as leaders this is the time to step up, be noticed, drive inclusion and values.

More than ever it’s needed right now.


Strategic thinking for small things

Twenty Seven client or programme projects on my plate at the Centre for Innovative Leadership. Number 28, Strategic Thinking for Leaders finished yesterday with some great work around some significant strategic issues on participant organisations.

Of course they were significant. Otherwise they wouldn’t be strategic would they?

Realising the 27 helped me last night understand the dull tiredness around my eyes and accept that there Continue reading “Strategic thinking for small things”


A simple concept, often used in troubling ways. I’ve just come back from the movie Fair Game, based on actual events which gave rise to the American invasion and war in Iraq. A simple phrase used by President George W Bush described as a fact that the Iraqis had purchased uranium from Niger. This was to support the proposition, now discredited, that the Iraqis were building a nuclear bomb.  Joe Wilson, a former Ambassador played by Sean Penn knew this to be a lie – not just something that wasn’t supported – but something that enquires had established didn’t happen. So what do to?

Amy Gallo in her ‘When you think the strategy is wrong’ lists three things to do before disagreeing:

  • Understand the big picture – use your networks to understand the political complexities and assumptions used
  • contextualise your concerns – what is it about me that gives me some concern? What am I feeling?
  • Ask others for input – look to your peers and others. Explain your concerns and get other’s perspectives

These events are tragic. Countless dead and I doubt the world is any safer now than it was 10 years ago. It seems trivial to say that getting as close to the truth as you can before starting a war, might be a good idea. And if you know that one has or is about to be started based on a lie, how far do you go? Especially if those you need to confront include some of the most powerful men on the planet.

Earlier this week as I was driving into my local cafe (well the carpark) a van being driven enthusiastically with some urgency drove out: Chinese Christian Truth Church  read the signage on the side.

In a leadership role dealing with the complexities of human behaviour, change and differing mental models makes dealing with the truth, well, not really the point.

Keeping your "truth" speeches in the right place

How a team is put together, performs, strategises, implements, deals with adversity are not simple right-wrong propositions. But if there is a truth: something indisputable, the results, the findings, especially if it’s simply communicated, it can be really important for leaders to express it. And that might mean expressing both up and down something quite unpalatable.

I feel a twinge of fundamentalism when I hear someone express their views as the truth. Occasionally it has a more Monty Pythonesque feel about it, like the van, but we need to take some care. Honest we must be, but pushing forward that your honesty is in fact the truth should be saved for mission critical moments. 

Strange thought really: be honest, but spare the truth talks. Like Joe Wilson did, when it mattered. John Lennon’s Imagine played soothingly on the drive home. Beautiful song. Now that is the truth!

Authentic Technology

During a workshop we hosted for the EMA last week two people from my on-line world approached me: “you’re active on LinkedIn” and “I like your blogs”. That’s nice I thought and I recognised them too, from their on-line profiles. It can be a strange thing sometimes when you interact face-to-face with people you’ve only dealt with on-line. I have a friend who refuses to do anything communication on-line – even texts are pushing the boundaries: “If I want to communicate I’ll speak to you thanks”.

I’ve come to quite like the on-line world. There is no doubt at all that we can connect with more people (if that’s what you want of course), but significantly, a range of different people with insights and knowledge that you wouldn’t ordinarily have easy access to. So you’ll find me on Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare, the Blog, LinkedIn, email, the CIL Website, my personal blog, Skype and I’m sure there’s more to come.

But I do challenge myself: is there an on-line person and a face-to-face person? Or are they one and the same. I hope you’d find me the same although there’s no proof-reading when you’re talking face-to-face so anything might come out, and often does!

And there’s a business reason for doing it. At the Leadership Centre I look after we need customers and so I need to keep communication as easy as I can.  I do try to keep the communication honest and authentic which sometimes means asking for business. If we didn’t, I’ll soon be looking for something else to pay the bills, which reflects what I heard Jonathan Ling, the CEO of Fletchers say once: I need managers that firstly, can make a profit. David Silverman in his “4 tips for writing better email” says you should:

  • ask for something – a call to action if you like
  • say it up front – the purpose should be clear
  • explain – don’t expect your readers to know what you know about your products or business
  • tell them what you think – don’t ask for ‘thoughts’ without giving yours

I think that these tips can be applied to more than just email, but can form a wider strategy of on-line engagement. I’m sure, if you’re a regular reader here you know that I’m doing plenty in the last category, but I intend to challenge myself about the first one. That’s authentic. We all need to prosper to be able to grow. So like my friend, I’ll speak, but in many different ways that will hopefully work for all of us.


Marketing a Marathon

At 34 kilometres I stopped at Okahu Bay for three drinks and my last carbo squeezie. The ‘Why?’ question. It always comes up at some point on a marathon, and this time, having been prescribed steroids to get me through a throat infection and the run, it was later than I thought. People refer to it as the wall. It’s real and it hurts. But 34 soon becomes 37 and suddenly it’s 40 and I’m smok’n to the finish line. I remembered to tell a few people “Marathons hurt”.  To be honest, I’ve kinda forgotten already.

We’ve got our 4th Authentic Leadership Course coming up and we’re near the finish line – or is that the starting line? Feels a bit like the finish line as the intensive marketing comes to a close and we can get ready for the really good stuff.  It will have been a year almost to the day since our first course and each one is special. They are big weeks and the start of a journey for the participants.

I enjoy marketing strategy – aligning the products, the pricing, the promotion, our processes and so on with our authenticity. Selling I’m not so keen on, I prefer buying! Well someone buying anyway. I really enjoy meeting our clients on the way – I consider myself fortunate to get the rich texture of life from so many really neat people up and down the country. But sometimes promoting a course is hard.

Just like 34 ks on the Auckland Marathon.  Next year I’ll have my permanent unique number for having completed five Auckland marathons. I’ll have it for life. Not sure how many punters sign up for the first one thinking “now that’s one hell of a good incentive to start!”. Just like I’m not sure that all our clients start off on the Authentic Leadership Course thinking that a year down the track they will be noticing the impact. But they have and they do. We’ll have participants from the previous courses check in on this anniversary course and we’ll find out how their journey in authenticity is going.

Bet they’ve hit the wall occasionally, some even on the course. But they’ll have their permanent unique number.

Like we all do. Can’t be copied. You’ve got it for life. But you need to find it, your authenticiy.  And that can take work. Will you ask why? Maybe, but once you’re up and running again, you’ll never look back. Any hurt will be subsumed by delight.

Can you market that do you reckon?


ps check out one of my photos on the promotional banner for our course on

Integrative thinking with Judith

Everything can be understood and is explainable. Cause and effect will explain everything we do. So if we put guns in all the police cars then that will deal with the apparently permanent increase in attacks on police. Just as more police officers, tasers, harsher sentences, more prisons, less parole have all reduced crime. Excuse me a modicum of sarcasm. Could it be that these measures actually don’t do anything? Has the crime rate reduced? The uncomfortable demeanour of the police commissioner fronting media on the proposal and John Key’s caution contrasts starkly with the forthright, simplistic “they’re armed more so we have to be” approach of the police union and our minister of police Judith Collins. Why?

The mental models that determine our world view are deeply rooted in beliefs from the last several hundred years where at times we as humans have thought that we were the centre of the universe (literally!), that the solar system was akin to a clock with moving parts, all of which were understandable, that we would eventually understand all things and that cause and effect answer all problems. If that sounds odd ask yourself: have you recently addressed an issue at work with confidence that your understood the problem, and that all was required was some creative thinking around the solution. You might even have congratulated yourself on your creative thinking.

Our police minister has said that she simply waits on a recommendation from the police commissioner and a decision will be made. Well, we know what that recommendation is going to be. So advocacy (sort of) and implementation.

Were any counter views sought or listened to? The prime minister, I would say, but for political reasons he doesn’t want to appear weak on crime. But none are asked for publicly.

So what is wrong with all of this? Integrative thinkers understand the concept of mental models – the world views that shape their thinking, they are open to other world views, in fact, they openly acknowledge that there will be conflicting systems at play. Paradox is embraced. Advocacy is eliminated and replaced with open enquiry. Integrative and strategic thinkers focus on understanding the real problem which may not be linear – in fact it almost never is in intractable problems. If it were, it wouldn’t be intractable.

In government circles there is a phrase “whole of government” which if used properly might head a government to think integratively. Imagine seeing the head of the Ministry of Social Development with the police commissioner at a press conference announcing a series of changes that were to attack crime and disrespect to the police. Maybe that sounds all soft, liberal and do-gooder to you. Maybe it is. But just maybe we might start to resolve something so serious as increased crime. Because so far, we’re doing nothing.

It’s a line of failures brought on by linear thinking and a belief that we know everything so we only need to find more solutions. What’s the problem I say.

If you find yourself thinking: well what would you do about it man?, you’ve done it. Straight to solution.