Exploring leadership – one conversation at a time


For all the coaches out there:

Are you aware of the complimentary online Summit for Business and Executive coaches?

There is no cost to the Pre-Summit and as it is online, the time investment is flexible and sessions are available in all global time zones.

The event brings together many of the top thought leaders for the coaching industry for a series of high level talks, implementation sessions and panels, enabling all attendees to improve their coaching skills and be introduced to the tools, methodologies, frameworks and the thought leadership that is truly driving the coaching profession forward.

You can register for 47 complimentary sessions in June – with no sales pitches, just pure content and value.

To register simply visit www.wbecs.com

I do hope you are able to join me in attending some of the sessions.


Much is said these days about Millennials craving feedback (recognition, acknowledgement, praise) and some, especially those in the more senior age groups, resent this. In truth, we all need feedback, not only Millennials. Perhaps Millennials are simply more honest about this.

Our growth, maturity, emotional intelligence, achievement of goals – any forward movement in life – are all dependent, in one way or another, on getting feedback. Without feedback we do not know whether we are making progress toward where we want to be. We do of course need both feedback that confirms our course and that which will tell us when we are off track. I think Millennials know that too.

No one has ever achieved anything great without paying attention to feedback. “Feedback is the breakfast of champions,” as Marcus Buckinham has told us. If leaders are, in part, meant to help those they lead achieve great things, we should embrace this skill wholeheartedly rather than resent or fear it.

Feedback is in fact one of the most powerful tools we have in our toolkit, but it is one that can do harm as well as good. In a recent HBR article Jack Zenger writes, “Our findings suggest that if you want to be seen as a good feedback-giver, you should proactively develop the skill of giving praise as well as criticism.”

Given the power that feedback has, whether it be praise or criticism, it is no wonder that there is such a proliferation of articles and workshops on this topic. But where should we start in developing this skill?

Beyond all the techniques and rationale for the practice of giving feedback is one simple element – being a leader who cares. When we care, feedback that encourages real growth in others is something that comes a whole lot more naturally. Feedback that is built on caring first, rather than technique, is more likely to be authentic in both the giving and receiving of that feedback.

When we care we are far more ready to acknowledge great effort, encourage progress in others, and help them redirect when necessary. We are also far more able to give feedback that is constructive and nurtures their success.


In a recent HBR article Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman write:  “Our findings suggest that if you want to be seen as a good feedback-giver, you should proactively develop the skill of giving praise as well as criticism.”

As usual, the Zenger-Folkman article is backed up by research and the valuable insights they have gained from decades of working with leaders.

Check out Zenger-Folkman article here

Here is a worthwhile read: a thoughful article on an essential leadership skill – listening.

Leadership Is Listening by Jessica Johnson -Regional Managing Director – North America, Leadership & Strategic HR Consulting for The RBL Group.


David Nour consistently adds real value to the thinking and doing around the vital role that relationships play in the whole of life. His new book, Co-Create, promises to be another opportunity to learn from someone who has transformed the way we engage in strategic relationships with wisdom, humility and yet with true business savvy. More at CoCreateBook.com


What would happen if you thought of management as a process that is worked out through effective relationship? What would you do differently if you approached leadership as a relationship that seeks to empower the effective ownership and execution of process?

The shift required of leaders / managers to embrace the essence of this approach is not subtle at all; it will challenge some of our fundamental beliefs and behaviours as leaders.

It would imply abandoning any reliance on command and control styles. It would mean that we place a far greater emphasis on our ability to build effective relationships than on the position we hold, the knowledge we have or the skills we are adept at. It would mean that we view authority as something we exercise on behalf of those we lead rather than as something we have over those we have a management role toward.

We would have to become skilled in the art of effective conversations – and learn what kind of conversation is required in different contexts. One preferred approach would be to coach rather than always tell others what to do and how to do it. We would need to learn how to support development in those we lead so that they can truly deliver on the processes they own. We would need to learn how to confront when they do not, but to do so in a way that ensures that they take up the accountability for the solution – and in a way that they do not doubt our support.

This is an approach that means we have to ensure that we are trustworthy and are ready and able to extend trust to those we lead. That rarest quality of leadership – humility – is a core characteristic to embrace if we are to even begin to make this shift. It is certainly one we will need to guard if we are to maintain the right balance of boldness, self-confidence and unselfish leadership of the people we want to envision and engage.


How much of your time and energy in the workplace is given to doing the thinking that belongs to someone else? How much would be too much? It does not take long to realise that using even 5% of our time to do someone else’s work would be too much. And yet, most of the leaders I ask this question have said that they spend more time than this thinking through things that someone else actually has ownership of – many of them significantly more.  A crucial question that I encourage the leaders I work with to develop a habit of asking themselves has thus become, “Who should be doing this thinking?”

The answer to this question does not, on its own, create the shift required to ensure that we are able to work more efficiently. It does, however, open a window to thinking about some of the elements that are necessary to do so, and there are a number of these. We will explore a few in the following paragraphs.

Shifting Beliefs

To begin with, what role do our beliefs about what works in order to get things done play? What role do our beliefs about the capabilities of those I lead play? We know that beliefs drive behaviour, but we seldom spend time interrogating the validity of our beliefs. Where do our beliefs about what works in the workplace come from? I find that too many managers are stuck in paradigms that worked quite well 15, 20 and more years ago when the workplace was less complex, change did not happen quite as fast and the workforce was more compliant. Right or wrong, more autocratic styles which required little thinking from anyone but the person being reported to achieved fairly acceptable results in those contexts, and to some extent they still do.

Most managers in the workplace today have either always worked this way or have only seen this type of style in their role models. The truth is that we are still able to hit deadlines and targets with these styles, but at what cost? Besides the stress of constantly having to drive productivity and solve others people’s problems, we will seldom enjoy the benefit of the kind of performance that truly engaged people are able to deliver. Despite the fact that we have a deluge of books, white papers and dissertations that cite research showing  that today’s workplace calls for a very different approach in order to motivate employee engagement, the shift is slow. The underlying beliefs that drive our way of doing things are not challenged unless we actively engage in thinking to surface these and explore them honestly.  What will it take for you to do so? How will you follow through to make the shifts that will lead to better efficiency?

Create the setting

Another element that requires examination is what it will take to create the right kind of setting to ensure that everyone does the thinking that belongs to their role. At the top of my list here is the question of ownership. Only in a setting where there is both clarity and accountability with regard to the processes, etc. that everyone owns will it be possible to ensure that everyone is doing their own thinking. Questions that we as leaders need to explore here include: Who has ownership of which processes? To what extent does each person have clarity on what they have ownership of? To what extent are they clear on when and how they are required to give account for that ownership? To what extent are those processes aligned with our business objectives and how aware are those who have ownership of this alignment?

A vital aspect of creating the right setting is to make sure that we have truly entrusted others with that ownership. This implies letting go of any need or desire to control, resisting the temptation to solve other people’s problems and resisting the temptation to ‘do it myself’ to make sure it is ‘done right’. There is a real leadership challenge wrapped up in this as it calls for different behaviours to what many of us may be used to. We opt too often for managing people in an effort to ensure things are done the way we want them to be. What we really need to be doing is leading people and creating a setting that both empowers others and ensures that they are held accountable to manage those things that are theirs to manage.

Leadership conversations

A third element emerges as we explore all of this and that is the need to change the nature of our conversations in the workplace. I believe that a large part of the reason that we do not see significant shifts in style and culture in the workplace is because authentic leadership conversations are missing.  One mindshift that helps to correct this is to think more about the ownership we have entrusted others with than the tasks we want to them to complete. The days in which leaders knew everything that was necessary are gone. We are now called on to lead in a way that ensures that everyone is doing the thinking we need them to. An important part of our role is thus to make sure they are equipped and willing to do the thinking about the tasks.

What would an ownership conversation look like? As we explore this question it helps us to think about what truly belongs to our role. It will also help us to decide on what conversations are required in that role, when they are required and what approach to take. If we are not going to do the thinking that belongs to someone else then those conversations are likely to be far more about asking than telling. To what extent are you skilled in conducting that kind of conversation? What will it take to get there?

The question is…

What would happen if everyone who reported to you truly took ownership of their roles and you knew that they were carrying the accountability for every aspect of what had been entrusted to them? I hope that the picture that emerges as you contemplate the answer to that question will inspire you to take up this leadership challenge. The next time someone walks into your office and says, “I have a problem,” ask yourself, “Who should be doing this thinking?”