Category Archives: Leadership

leadership matters

collborative leadership learning

Collaboration a Critical Leadership Skill?

In todays volatile, uncertain complex and ambiguous world is our ability to collaborate and outsource some of our thinking the most critical human ability to foster?

At leadership By Design we spend a lot of time working on leadership development interventions in larger organizations. So much of the development value people get from these types of programmes seems to be around how they see the world and perceive themselves and how much that drives them to change their interactions with others.

It really is how to get more done with others or in other words how to collaborate better.

Interestingly ” to collaborate” has some mixed meanings:

  •  to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor
  •  to cooperate with or willingly assist an enemy of one’s country and especially an occupying force
  •  to cooperate with an agency or instrumentality with which one is not immediately connected

Do these go some way to illustrate why collaboration is not always seen as positive or a high priority? In an organisation made up of silos do we sometimes compete for resources or recognition? Are there some other parts of the organisation we are not immediately connected with? When you also factor in a resource constrained busy environment with an understandable bias to urgency collaboration can be confined to “What has to be done” to get the work done rather than “What would like to be done”   if you had the time.

Being “more collaborative” features on just about every notable assessment of critical leadership capabilities for now and the future I have  had the opportunity to review from CCL to Deloitte and the CPD.

Forgive my hard-wiring I tend to try and make sense of the world referencing neuroscience and the act of collaboration raises a number of questions I find interesting to ponder.  If you will accept the following assumptions that all our brains are different and are being continually shaped by our perceptions of our experiences.

We are all bias about our own views of the world and will tend to try and confirm our “working model” of about things are in order to obtain the meaning we need in the world.  When we collaborate it is worth remembering that it is our brains that are collaborating. In light of that:

  • Is effective collaboration about developing the skills and knowledge and motivation to suspend our own views so we can take on others?
  • Is it is also about building new ways of thinking with others?

Both of these would seem to be good things that could foster engagement improve decision making and encourage  innovative thinking in our organisations. Areas where improvements could drive real value.

That being the case shouldn’t organisations be more purposeful about fostering collaboration?

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HR Leaders Conference in Auckland

Graham was a key note speaker at the inaugural HR Leaders Conference in Auckland last week .

The topic was HR Transformation and Graham decided to talk about  perceptions of HR and the role of HR Leaders in strategy  and leadership.

There was some interesting data from the UK and US on HR  leadership and if you are interested in some simple key steps to improving your Leadership (HR or any other type pf leadership) then you might like to flick through the enclosed presentation .


enhancing productivity

Thinking Clearly for Better Decision Making (Part 1)

In today’s really hectic workplace it is really important that as leaders we know how to think clearly.

Understanding a little about our psychology can be useful in ensuring we perform at our best when problem solving and therefore make better decisions. Bear with me here I am simplifying but you could consider there to be 4 main mistakes of thinking that are not uncommon in leaders and other human beings.  These are:

1.       Misled by assumptions

2.       Jumping on what springs to mind

3.       Being misled by others opinions

4.       Making false associations

I will discuss the first 2 here in part one of this article

Misled by Assumptions

“The human understanding once it has adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it” Francis bacon

Neuroscience informs is that we think in neural networks and for efficiency sake our brain tries to automate what thinking it can. We all develop a theory of how the world works and we need this to successfully navigate ourselves around in a changing world. This automation in thinking allows us to take many things for granted so we can focus our limited mental resources on the new and different and interesting.  Trouble is that once we have formed an opinion we have adopted a “Bias” and it can be hard to change this belief. Here is an example suppose your best friend up to now successful manager in another company is warned for poor performance. 

That probably doesn’t fit your view of him so first information that doesn’t fit is discounted there must be some mistake it will get resolved. Secondly it is distorted so you may assume that there is another agenda here like a personality clash…

We are not clinically evaluating all new information but what we see and perceive is so influenced by the filters of everything we have in our long term memories (values, beliefs, experiences etc.).

We all have our biases but we can reduce there effect by being aware of them and through an act of will choosing to look for evidence that disproves our theory, committing to memory those situations where our assumptions were incorrect, and trying to be open and flexible and reflective where we feel it might be more important to do so.

Jumping on What Springs to Mind

This is a kind of information retrieval theory; basically the first thing that comes to mind has a disproportionate effect on our reasoning and opinions. A classic experiment by Solomon Asch in the 1940’s asked people to form an opinion on someone who were described as “intelligent, industrious, impulsive, critical, stubborn, and envious.” If the word were presented in that order the opinions were more positive than if the words were reversed. The adjective presented first created a favourable or unfavourable impression.  Another aspect of this retrieval is recency. Things that we have experienced more recently have disproportionate impact.   Have we not experienced this in appraisals?)  Lastly strongly emotional events are tagged by the brain for easy retrieval and are more likely to influence our thinking depending on if we are feeling good or feeling bad.

So take your time for important decisions use a structured approach to weigh up pros and cons, check out your decisions with others using 2 minds is usually better than one for reducing biases

Check in next week for part 2 of this article where I will talk about the remaining 2 main thinking mistakes plus 4 simple principles borrowed from statistics to bear in mind if you want to think clearly.

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Business Acumen

Business Acumen – who needs it?

Business Acumen – who needs it?  Well apparently NZ Inc. does according to research presented by Cynthia Johnson of Muritai Consulting at a recent HRINZ event.

According to a survey carried out by NZ Trade & Enterprise, our key trading partners, such as China, Korea, the US, UK and Australia see NZ businesses as being high in human value but low in business acumen i.e. we are seen to be ‘nice’ but not that business savvy – the ‘bach & boat’ syndrome?

Cynthia became interested in trying to identify what actually constitutes business acumen when she was working at Fonterra and they also became interested in looking for an agreed definition which might help them to recruit, select and develop an attribute which would seem to be pretty important in a global business context.

Cynthia proposed Ram Charan’s definition as a starting point: “the ability to position the organisation to make money”.  After interviewing 200 senior NZ managers, it is suggested that they view business acumen as consisting of 3 main constructs:

  • Factor 1:       Understanding how the organisation works to make money
  • Factor 2:       People focus – attention to the people side of the business,  internal & external
  • Factor 3:       Energy – the passion, drive & optimism of people with business acumen

As I was listening to the presentation, I began to recognise the attributes of one of my clients.  The female MD has taken the business in 5 years from a failing situation to a year on year 36% increase in sales and profit, all in a market where her competitors are falling by the wayside.  The really interesting question for me is:  how much of this has she learned to do through experience or development and how much is intuitive. She just seems to ‘know’ when something is not right from a financial perspective and has an incredible ‘nose’ for opportunities that others just don’t pick up on and still operates on a gut feel often with her people.

So……… can Business Acumen be developed?  This question was raised at the session and hotly debated but without any definitive answer – what do you think?

If you are interested in a summary in a 1 page summary of the findings, please follow this link.

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Some Thoughts on The Refining NZ Leadership Story

So what do the top companies do differently in the leadership space?

Following up on our recent article asking how our Australasian companies stack up against Global Best People Practice, we are delighted to share with you that in one of the most critical areas that impact on people, we have a world leader!

We recently attended a fantastic session hosted by the Human Resource Institute of New Zealand (HRINZ) that told the story of Refining NZ, who have recently been awarded an Asia Pacific top 20 spot in the 2011 Aon Hewitt ‘Top companies for Leadership’ study.  Having fought it out with 500 of the world’s best companies to even get the opportunity, the proudly Kiwi company sits amongst some of the icons and gurus of the Leadership space, such as IBM & GE.

Get our free 22 page E Book: Leadership Strategy Demystified here

So what do top companies like Refining NZ do differently to become the cream of the crop in an area that the majority keep searching for the key to?  Well, the survey identified 5 key things that made the top stand out:

  • Building a Leadership brand to attract and retain top talent – too often we see organisations who haven’t given enough thought to ‘who do we want our leaders to be and what do we want them to do?’
  • An unrelenting focus on talent assessment – there is much talk about talent management systems, but again in our experience, there is often too much focus on the process rather than what it is trying to achieve – who are our leaders of the future?
  • Customised learning opportunities for leaders – we at Leadership by Design would wholeheartedly agree that leadership development happens one person at a time.  Many of our articles have reflected this belief and much of the current research shows that leaders having a focused development plan is the No 1 tool to support their growth
  • Taking top talent out of their comfort zone – I heard a great quote the other day – “The best things happen at the exit ramp of your comfort zone.”    Any leadership development initiative worth its salt should encourage this
  • Focus on a variety of thought and thinking – challenging people to think and then think differently is at the heart of change.  The latest neuroscience findings are increasingly playing a part in understanding what makes great leaders ‘tick’

BUT the one main differentiator that underpinned the success of all of the top companies was ’an almost maniacal approach to execution’ of strategy.

Getting the strategy right is a great start but too many companies we meet start with a hiss and a roar but for a whole raft of reasons, seem to lose the momentum over a 2-3 year period.  Leadership development cannot be a one – off; as was clearly demonstrated by the survey, getting clear about who and how you want your leaders to be and then finding the ‘right’ opportunities and development for them needs to become how your organisation ‘is’ rather than implementing one-off development opportunities

Excellence is worth reflecting upon and we intend to do another article on our perception of the senior leadership capabilities being demonstrated at Refining NZ.
If your Leadership team needs help in working more effectively together to deliver on stakeholder expectations, we are happy to offer you a free no obligation white board and coffee session to help you get clearer on your thinking.You set the agenda (and supply the coffee) and we’ll bring some good collegial discussion and an idea or two contact us here

Aligning Leadership Development and Talent Programmes

leadership development prgramme and talent According to Bersin and Associates 2012 leadership programme is fully integrated with other talent processes. The impact of that is the same as any other strategy;  the dots are not joined up and the leadership development business impact is diluted or non-existent.  Just a reminder by business impact we mean key business outcomes  and dollars.

When designing leadership development strategies and programmes it means identifying your talent processes and factoring them into your leadership development programme design.


 For our purposes here by talent processes  we simply mean 4 main things:

  1. Recruitment and selection
  2. Performance management,
  3. Succession planning and
  4. Individual leader development

Yes recruitment and selection is most certainly a talent identification and acquiring  process. Organisations need to understand and balance the specific job needs with the wider organisations talent needs. Recruiters need to be aligned  and supported with how to identify and select the right talent

Get our free 22 page E Book: Leadership Strategy Demystified here

Performance management has to be more than keeping score and providing indigestible feedback. It has to be about creating some sort of constructive change. For us that means making it more developmental for the participants. The resulting developmental plans provide great input for the organisations leadership needs assessment and provide useful data at the individual and group level on where to best invest.   

Succession Planning has to be more than performance potential grids that display data but fail to inspire new developmental activities. Identifying the high potentials is a high value activity as they often create a disproportionate amount of value as leaders. But it has to be backed up with the developmental learning and business opportunities required to engage and grow the high potential leaders.

Individual leadership development is tapping into the reality that learning is largely self-directed. A much more individualised approach is required to help leaders clarify their career  and developmental interests.  Often people are unclear on future directions and organisations could be offering more support to help leaders get motivated and tactical about their own development.

Common sense I hear you cry! Well I suppose it is for the 7% of those organisations that  do join the dots on their leadership development programmes and strategies.

If your Leadership team needs help in working more effectively together to deliver on stakeholder expectations. We are happy to offer you a free no obligation white board and coffee session to help you get clearer on your thinking.  contact us here

5 Global Leadership Development Trends from CCL

brain approach to learningThe new annual report from the Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL) is out commenting on global leadership development trends.

We know you are busy so here are the headlines of the 5 significant trends

Get your brain in the game

Discusses advances from neuroscience on the impact of perceived threats and stress on brain function

“The connection between stress and brain function is one area of neuroscience that will “change the landscape of leadership development,” predicts Marian Ruderman, senior fellow and research director. “Advances in neuroscience are giving us insight into how people learn and remember, how we manage our emotions, how we behave in the moment, and how we build long-term resiliency.”

Interested in reading more on this check out Grahams article on brain function and fostering resilience here

Expand the Leadership Equation

Is about the democratisation of leadership development training and opening up wider access particular to those that traditionally can’t afford it. It asks the question what would the world like if all who wanted to could get access to leadership development?

“The truth is, investing in leader development isn’t an exact science,” says CCL’s Joel Wright. “Often a leadership program has a way of waking someone up to their own potential. When you find ways to get leadership development to a broader group, you’re guaranteed to have some surprising wins!”

Check out our free 22 page E Book: Leadership Strategy Demystified

Nurture Your Networks

This is about interdependent leadership.  A nice quote from the report is “Consider this: Five percent of the people in your organization hold 30 percent of the relationships. Even fewer hold the ties that bridge organizational roles and functions. And most of your relationship “brokers” aren’t considered formal “leadership.”

Networks of  relationships  hold together strategic initiatives and projects and its time we got more focused on supporting these networks in the organisation that are responsible for getting things done.

Power Up Non-Profit Partnerships

This is about the under investment in leadership development in the non-=profit sector. The non-profit sector is growing and the environment is demanding leaders that can help their people and organisations navigate through change. The report outlines a current capacity gap in non-=profits in North America a telling statistic is “46% of non-=profits only have cash reserves for 3 months” and calls upon organisations to foster non-profit partnerships to help develop much needed leadership capability.

Elevate Coaching Impact

This is about using coaching more strategically in organisations. Coaching works and one of the key reasons is that it is individualised and personal which permits self-directed learning. The trouble is how to organisations evaluate the impact of coaching? Most coach training organizations do not evaluate their trained coaches after their training.

“In the current economic environment, executive teams have to accomplish more with fewer resources,” says Corrine Ferstad, an executive coaching consultant for CCL-EMEA. “Coaching is seen as a good investment for developing key leaders to work smarter, build leadership skills and handle complex challenges.” Coaching approaches can create huge impact but to be used more strategically and creatively we need to find smarter ways to measure this impact.

You can read the report in full right here.

Unclear on your best leadership development approach? We are happy to offer you a free no obligation white board and coffee session to help you get clearer on your questions and possible solutions. Click here to contact us

Is Investing in Leadership Worth the Hype?

leadership impactOk a slightly provocative question perhaps?  But do we think of leadership development as a necessary “retention cost” or an investment in culture and organisational performance?

Comprehensive research presented at the Future Jobs Forum in Australia in October 2011 identified that positive leaders and progressive management practices are central to increasing productivity in the workplace.

An 18 month Australian landmark study by the Society for Knowledge Economics, found that companies with strong leadership and a positive workplace culture are significantly more productive and profitable than their less progressive peers.

The report – Leadership, Culture and Management Practices of High Performing  Workplaces: The High Performing Workplace Index –followed 18 months of research involving more than 5,000 employees. The report found that High Performing Workplaces (HPWs) have 12 per cent higher productivity than Low Performing Workplaces (LPWs) when ranked in terms of their innovation, employee engagement, fairness, leadership and customer satisfaction.

What’s more, it found that the quality of an organisation’s leaders and their ability to innovate and create positive employee experiences was directly related to the organisation’s financial performance and productivity –

the average profit margins of HPWs are three times higher than those of LPWs.

The study demonstrates that leaders in higher performing organisations prioritise people management as a key priority, involve their people in decision making processes; are more responsive to customer and stakeholder needs;  these more effective leaders also encourage a high degree of responsiveness to change and learning orientation, and enable their staff to fully use their skills and abilities at work.
The identified high performing organisations are not just much more profitable and productive, they also perform better in many important “intangible attributes”, such as encouraging innovation, leadership of their people, and creating a fair workplace environment.

This was a landmark report when it was released and it provides some interesting measures of leadership impact .

Check out the full report here

As someone who has been working within or consulting to organisations for many years, it still astonishes me that the concept of Leaders and the environment they create having an impact on the performance of their organisation is seemingly a revolutionary idea.  Talk to any employee of a large organisation for any length of time and they will be very clear for you what impact their Leaders and Managers have on them and their motivation and capability to be successful.

So why aren’t more organisations focusing on the key leadership attributes and management practices that improve productivity and profit?

Well there are probably a number of reasons from budget pressures to competing priorities or a lack in confidence in training and development return on investment.

Whatever the excuse, under investing in your leadership capability carries a huge opportunity cost. I  passionately believe (and always have) that building leadership capability through properly designed leadership programmes has a huge impact on  change agility, engagement, organisational and team performance, it looks like the research continues to back this up!

Not sure on how best to develop your leaders’ capabilities to turn  your organization into a High Performing Workplace? Well we are happy to offer you a free no obligation white board and coffee session to help you get clearer on your questions and possible solutions. Click here to contact us


How Well Do We Learn From Success?

We hear a lot about learning from failure but what about learning from success?

How  clear are leaders about the reasons for success  and are peoples judgments about what has generated success accurate and realistic?

Are we doomed only to pay attention and collect the learning’s and insights when we fail?  Well post GFC hindsight is now suggesting that many firms enjoyed their successes rather than learned from them in the boom times.

If you adopt the view that leadership and adaptive learning are strongly related, then a misunderstood success is a leadership as well as a learning failure. By not reviewing systematically we are breeding future failure .

Check out our free 22 page E Book Leadership Strategy Demystified here

Much research seems to indicate that as leaders we tend to overestimate our impact and give more credit too our talents than warranted and give less credence to things outside our control like luck or other external factors. The implication here is that they fuel our success and status hard-wiring meaning of course we tend to reinforce our existing behaviours making it less likely for us to feel the need to change anything. Recent research from the University of Washington confirms this view. When we feel confident we tend to place more weight on own opinions as compared with others

Check out this TED Talk which has an interesting take on learning from failure

We are also hardwired to look at the “squeaky wheel” and deconstruct it or at least worry about it, leaving little time or perceived benefit for reviewing the causes of good performance.

So being too busy and not reviewing successes is akin to leaving money on the table. 

We need more systematic ways to review our activities. So action learning approaches, after action reviews and 6 Sigma can be helpful disciplines in testing the assumptions about what is needed to achieve and reproduce great performance.


Check out our free 22 page E Book Leadership Strategy Demystified here

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Critical components of developing leadership capability :CCL

When you are designing and developing leadership development programmes here are some key design components from the Centre for Creative Leadership

  • Balance content between understanding complexity /quick action
  • Create job-related activities
  • Emphasise immediately-applicable skills
  • Focus on implementation skills as well as problem-solving and decision-making
  • Make participants accountable for their learning progress
  • Structure programs around short ongoing sessions rather than long one-time events
  • Use practical, concrete content, not theoretical or academic material


Not sure on how best to develop your leaders’ capabilities?  Well we are happy to offer you a free no obligation white board and coffee session to help you get clearer on your questions and possible solutions. Click here to contact us