Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Leadership and Ethics

As an executive coach I often get asked what makes a great 'ethical' leader. The answer always depends of course. At we are often asked to produce them as much as define them. Of 462 executives who were asked, "What characteristics are needed to be an effective leader today?" 56 percent ranked ethical behavior as an important characteristic, followed by sound judgment (51%) and being adaptable/flexible (47%).

(Source: American Management Association, New York)

Interesting statistic this one. Not surprisingly it has gone up since ENRON and WORLDCOM fiascos. Executive coaching as a profession also developed significantly at this time. But being an anthropologist also my question is whether how ethnocentric this is? Would the same figures come out in different parts of the world and given that leaders are leading in international roles more frequently how 'shared' is their ethical behaviour and what happens where ethical systems collide. In much of the west we are proud of what we see as transparency in business and corporate process and operations and leaders have to legislate strongly. But in many other countries family ties and 'blood' are seen as sufficient or 'better' ways of deciding who should be a leader. I am not saying that one is better - though for obvious reasons I prefer the former - but that they are very different. How are 'ethics' judged and behaviour decided with respect to this potential conflict?

Books and Reality

At a coach asked me recently what management books do I buy and what could I recommend. To be honest there are some good ‘classics’ out there some of which I have included in the bonus with my e-book ‘How to be a Great Executive Coach’ at These are useful and stimulate thought and debate. But I much prefer, and therefore tend to recommend, the biographical ones, the ones about real leaders and managers dealing with the day-to-day running of their organisations. These are much more fun and ‘real’ than the dry, dull, strategic thinking stuff put out by many. The real stories – like the ones clients tell me about in training and coaching – are where it’s at! These, warts and all, are what managing and leading lessons are learnt – not from the books. If you want to write a book as a coach collect the stories you hear and write it from that perspective … real experiences – even the mundane stuff here is educational … I hope to reveal some of the stories that leaders and managers have told me over time so watch this space…

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Training Films and the Imaginative 'Leap'

Following my recent blog on using movies as 'homework' for the managers I train, I have had some very supportive comments sent to me at my website: about using movies in training and executive coaching. A few were about whether I use actual actual training films demonstrating management development techniques and what I thought about them. Well to be honest I don't often use them - a) because they are very expensive and b)because they often over-exaggerate the issue to be learned by making the point far too obvious - the learner is left with no work to do. Also executive coaching doesn't have a great need for these things. In films and movies where it is not obvious, observers are forced to make the imaginative 'leaps' themselves rather than be told directly as training films commonly do. The learning from this I find is much more effective and motivational than being spoon fed all the answers!

Friday, July 25, 2008

5 ways to a better website

The website this blog is attached to is one of four different websites that I have. It is intended to provide some thoughts on improving the visitor's experience so that you can build a better business relationship. I don't profess to be any kind of technical expert on this issue but these thoughts are just some things I've picked up from my own limited experience. As an executive coach, a practitioner of executive coaching and since I am involved in coaching coaches I have a need to be aware of the marketing devices that are necessary for business.

1. Research shows that when people go on the internet they are usually not seeking to buy anything they are seeking information or to solve a problem. So, indicate immediately to your visitors what problem your website responds to. Rather than having just your business title at the top, say what problem you are responding to and WHO your site is for. You need to address the problem your visitor is trying to solve in the first three seconds!

2. Have an ‘opt in’ form. Fewer than 1% of visitors will buy anything (product or service)on their first visit to a website, that’s why you need to get their details. This is so that you can contact them later with any newsletters you want to send or products and services you have. Imagine having a shop where all the people who came in gave you their name and address! Which you could then follow up by sending them your latest offers.

3. Don’t clutter Many sites have just too much stuff on them! This is confusing because the visitor is thinking ‘hmmm…where should I look, where do I want to go here?’ You know the feeling? Google’s success was put down to its sheer simplicity of its search website. People just loved using it – and still do. Give a simple easy to understand message so that your view is not confused.

4. Say who you are You should say a little bit about who you are because Internet businesses are most often built on relationships. People like to know who they are buying from. This is why newsletters are important. These are designed to build relationships. You may even want to include a photo or a CV.

5. Good salescopy dives into the issue Your sales copy should be part of a conversation that your visitor is having in their own head. Look at some the sales copy in the sights that sell popular solutions… for example ‘TRYING TO LOSE WEIGHT BUT CAN’T?’ ‘WANT TO WORK AT HOME BUT DON’T KNOW WHERE TO START?' Okay, they are a little ‘in your face’ but it works! Also try to ask the questions that your visitor is asking themselves so that they get drawn into your conversation. Some of these can be long – you keep scrolling down the page until you get to the invitation to action. Some people don’t like long salescopy but the fact is – it sells! The only thing that sells better than this (believe it or not) is LONGER salsescopy…!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Fads, fashions and Thank you!

In case you didn’t know I am a management trainer, coach and consultant. But I am very sceptical of management ‘fads’ and the latest training fashions. There’s so much nonsense around it frustrates me that there seems to be such a huge app├ętite for fads. True, you can have fun with some of these things (and people like a workshop that’s fun!) but often they don’t really make a great difference in the organizations people work for. With some of the leaders I coach I am amazed at what fads preoccupy them. Since coaching is essentially about asking questions I love to question what they see as valuable in these preoccupations – I save them time and money.
I know so many have already bought the e-book on my site – and I’ve been delighted to receive your overwhelmingly positive comments about it – thank you!. And some good ideas for developing other chapters too! Again, Thank you!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Florence Nightingale (Management Consultant and Executive Coach)

Some people ask me 'who was the first real management consultant?' Researchers and gurus have long argued the point but I agree with Hugh Small at A.T. Kearney. It was Florence Nightingale - the English nurse who founded the nursing profession in the UK. Small concludes that her evidence-based approach, independence, work ethic and fearless challenging of those who thought they knew everything qualifies her for this position. She also asked a lot of questions which is key to good consulatancy and coaching -

He thinks that she should be held up as a model for modern consultants in many other fields but particularly management. So when someone from a top consultancy arrives at your door in the enlightened company you work for carrying a lamp and wearing a tunic it is not that he (or she) has come to free your organization of infection (of whatever kind). He (or she) is just working on improving their image and taking inspiration from the founding mother of the profession!! When coaching executives I love to use this example.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Is It Easy?

I am often asked if it is easy to become an Executive Coach. My answer is 'it depends'. Mostly it isn't easy and has to be learned and the skill built up. It can feel easy to practice its techniques and methods. But it only feels that way when you have done it for a while. Many of these skills and techniques come from simple life experience - learning to listen, being perceptive, seeing what your client doesn't see, asking challenging questions that help them to move on with their thinking. To some this can come easily to others it is more difficult. My eldest son struggled to ride a bicycle when he first started riding on that Christmas morning many years ago. But 2 days later he was going as fast as his little legs could carry him. My youngest son took about half an hour to get going with no help - he just took to it more easily. So my answer to the question 'is it easy?' is always 'it depends'.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Dance Floor and Balcony

When I coach leaders I often suggest they read a book called 'Leadership Without Easy Answers' by Ronald Heifetz. In it he creates the image of a dance floor and the balcony above it. His lesson is very general and can apply to ordinary situations we find ourselves in, not just big leadership issues. In particular, he discusses a way of seeing both the big strategic issues and the smaller immediate problems, the main challenge and the smaller immediate challenges to be met on the way to the big challenge. This perspective is a powerful one for the coaching relationship. He is a musician and talks about two perspectives. He calls the first, the view from the balcony – the big picture (looking down on the dance floor, a position of height from which we can see everything), and the second the view from the dance floor itself (a grass roots perspective where we are aware of all the small details and the smaller individual challenges that have to be met on the way to accomplishing the future goal). It is necessary to be familiar with and to ‘move between’ both of these so that a clear perspective and awareness of each view can be achieved all the time. In coaching, this translates to keeping a clear view of the long-term big goal and the smaller steps on the way to the big goal in tandem. That is, moving from one to the other so that the big goal is not lost sight of and the smaller steps on the way to it are also kept clearly in sight. This dual perspective, or dynamic way of looking is a helpful tool in the coaching process.

Friday, July 11, 2008

12 Angry Men

When I train coaches, managers and leaders - for years I have insisted they watch the movie '12 Angry Men' starring Henry Fonda. It is a classic! And hugely educational for Managers and Leaders. The film is about a jury that has retired to consider its verdict. It starts out with 11 of the men immediately deciding that the defendant (a young man) is guilty of murder. I won't spoil the movie for you but Fonda's character says little at the start. He is not so convinced of the others' insistence of guilt. He simply puts questions to his colleagues on the jury. These are questions of doubt. And each of them questions, challenges and provokes the other men to reconsider the assumptions and presumptions they make in believing they are making the right 'judgement'. The movie depicts beautifully the art of the executive and management coach...questioning assumptions and provoking clients to listen to simple but penetrative questions that cut through nonsense and 'groupthink'. I won't spoil the end but if you can make the connections between this movie and executive coaching you will understand what coaching is about. It's a great learning tool... Learn more about coaching at

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Future of Management and Leadership Coaching?

Bit of a large one this but it condenses some thoughts I’ve been trying to put down for a while. It comes from a part of my NEW BOOK 'How to be a Great Executive Coach' available at

There is no doubt that because the future of society is becoming more and more individually focused so too is management. Evidence already shows that business leaders and managers are concentrating not on their staff as an indiscriminate mass, or even as groups, but as highly individual people, each with their own background, personality and aspirations. Each person we meet is be motivated in a different way, inspired by different things and guided by different criteria. Leaders and managers who are not aware of this will need to be so very quickly.

Also, given the average period spent in a job in the West is around 2.3 years, organisations will have to get used to fast throughput of staff or learn better how to satisfy different individuals - and for longer. Either way, coaching, as a bespoke management technique, is probably the only thing that can meet this challenge. Yes, there are many coaches already, and a lot of organisations use it but the demand for them or the skill is likely to increase. Moreover, managers generally will have to develop sophisticated coaching skills that make workers feel that they are cared about as individuals and that their career aspirations are taken seriously and catered for in appealing and practical ways in order to attract them in the first place.

Which future?

Individual coaching is well established as an executive skill for the future of management. But when exactly is the future. And what future should we be preparing for? Is the future 10 years from now? Or is it 20 years from now? How about 5? Obviously the future is all of these and we need to be preparing for all of them. What ever we speculate there are a couple of things that present and future managers, leaders and professional coaches will need to be working on in the development of their coaching skills.

One of these is technology. The rate at which technology is developing and changing is likely to mean that many people may be communicating remotely via video conferencing technology. It is quite conceivable that we will be coaching people that we’ve never met in person. It is possible that we will be coaching people in different parts of the world over video connections and it is possible that will take place on big ‘three dimensional’ screens. This will likely change the dynamics of interpersonal interaction. The other thing we really need to keep an eye on is psychological and social research that informs us about motivation and what kinds of interaction influences people. The research that has spawned the success of coaching is all fairly recent but given new insights it is likely that we will become far more sophisticated in our understanding of the human person and therefore more complete in our ability to help and motivate them.

The future of work

The future of work will be an intriguing one. The 21st century will be one in which this awareness and fascination with the individual self is deepened further. While our knowledge of the wider universe is becoming increasingly sophisticated, our knowledge of the brain and psychology is still very limited – scientists say that we are aware only of about 2% of how the brain works. The 21st century is likely to provide insights that will revolutionize the way we understand interaction, motivation, influence, and how we measure personal achievement.

Work in the future will mean more flexibility. The 9 – 5 job is already changing with staggered work patterns and flexi-hours. People work not so much around the clock but at different times around the clock. They work times when it fits in with their other commitments such as their families. Short-term contract work is on the increase as is part-time work. It is possible that high ranking professionals and managers could have more than one job (provided there aren’t clashes of interest). This of course means there will be less long term commitment for many companies, but given the prevalence of fast movement in business development it is likely that new regimes of knowledge transfer will have to compensate for the decline in static workforces.

People may be moving around a lot more than they do at present. Shifting from job to job. Remote working (normally from home) is already a reality and quite common. This is likely to increase further for reasons such as road congestion, pollution and climate change (which petrol cars contribute to) and for reasons of time saving and fuel saving. Electronic and computerised video technology will advance hugely to make this a more viable option for organisations that need to have close contact with their people on a regular basis. Freelancing will become even more common than it is at present. As ‘being employed’ brings a little bit of security, this will be considered not as great an advantage as it is at the moment. It will be weighed up against personal and professional freedom, and the aspirations people have to ‘do their own thing’. All of these, and more, are likely developments in the future of work – a challenge that demands coaches begin thinking hard about them and the implications for the future of work –especially their own! These are scenarios you can also present to your clients – they will be impressed by your foresight and your ability to anticipate a range of possibilities.

The future of management practice

These future work scenarios will make for a change in the practice of management. It will mean a change in the way that managers think about what it is they are doing, it will also mean a change in the way bosses strategically configure the organisations and companies for which they are responsible. Given the high level of personal orientation to job roles and tasks management is likely to become far more person-centred than it is at the moment. Although we are more task-oriented at present, more and more evidence is emerging that suggests people will demand roles that align with their personal skills, personalities and preferences, and managers will have to find ways of accommodating this, which is likely to be a move toward more person-centered approaches. This will also occur because individual’s (employees) lives will be so complex (personally and professionally) that time and energy will need to be given to managing this and orienting this complexity to the benefit and the overall good of the organisation. This, as we have mentioned, will mean a greater, unprecedented levels of flexibility. It will also mean a more strategic approach to aligning individual talent and skill, personality and time when bringing people into organisations and providing roles that are more suited to the things that they enjoy doing or that they are good at.

Although this is a response to the demands for flexibility, it may in practice mean a greater level of control and strategic planning on behalf of CEOs. In order for individuality and flexibility to be fully realised this will need a concerted and carefully managed vision and a clear operational process to implement successfully. By then, coaches will be well positioned to act as consultants in such implementations. The issue of cultural diversity will also feature. There will be a requirement to understand and empathise with a variety of cultural views and different ethnic perspectives. This is already the case but as countries become even more ethnically diverse the greater will be the requirement to see how cultural identities can best be integrated. ‘Diversity’ training is already high on the agenda of many public sector organisations in the US and the UK.

How coaching the industry and skills will respond to this future

The full-time professional coaching industry will develop to cope with these changes and will also act as an agent in bringing about change. But initially it will need to develop and be flexible enough to fit in with people’s individual needs. My prediction is that competition among full-time professional coaches will become more intense with those that are truly outstanding in getting results becoming separated from those who are less so. But each should be able to develop their own niche. The profession will become specialised much in the way that sports coaching is and in the way that psychotherapeutic counselling is. This will mean there will be coaches for top leaders, others will cater for senior executives, middle managers will have their coaches and junior mangers will have theirs. Perhaps different kinds of activities such as team working, change and projects may have dedicated coaches too. Organisations may well develop teams of specialized coaches so as to share knowledge and good practice throughout the organisation. At the moment, while coaching is widely practiced and popular it is likely to be more organised. Already there are plans to regulate the profession so as to maintain a minimum standard of service throughout the industry.

Like many other aspects of management, coaching is likely to develop its own tradition of research and study. Academics will look into the various kinds of coaching techniques and how effective they are. This has already begun but with the growth in the industry as it is this can only develop.

The Internet is not only likely to be a dominant advertising medium for coaches it will also be a medium for its practice too. The growth in the development of video technology and web cam technology means that coaching face to face may become less frequent. Distance coaching will probably be far more common and electronic interactive coaching is a distinct possibility – perhaps even with computer-generated responses to standard client needs, questions, and goals.

I’d be interested in hearing any responses to this article at

This comes from my new book 'How to Be a Great Executive Coach' available at

Monday, July 7, 2008

Dealing with Perfectionists

Many of the people I coach are perfectionists and some coaches are too. This can be problematic! I don't meant that we shouldn't strive to get things as right as we can I mean that the fear of getting something wrong can freeze your progress. I hardly ever 'advise' people when I am coaching. But if the situation demands it then there are messages I try to get across to my clients. Here are five strategies by Derek Gehl I use with clients to overcome their perfectionist impulses:

Strategy #1: Be realistic about what you can achieve

Many perfectionists set themselves impossible deadlines, or take on tasks they can't reasonably hope to complete on their own.

Then, when they inevitably fail, they beat themselves up for not being perfect, which just makes them procrastinate further, or be even MORE obsessive with the next task.

So take a long, hard look at what you want to accomplish during any given day. Ask yourself if your goal is reasonable and realistic. Is it something somebody else would be able to accomplish?

If the answer is no, then break the goal into smaller "chunks," and focus on completing one small piece at a time.

Strategy #2: Set strict time limits for each of your projects

A great technique for heading off the endless wasted hours working on trivial things is to give yourself a limited amount of time to complete any given task.

Decide how much you want to spend on a certain project, and then STICK to those limits. Be firm!

This will keep you from burning up an entire day hunting for that "perfect" image you want to add to your site, when you could have been doing something with that time to complete tasks that would add considerably more value to your business.

Strategy #3: Think of failure as a learning experience

It's inevitable: some of the things you try with your site simply won't work!

So instead of thinking about a sales pitch that didn't convert the way you wanted it to as a sign that you're a failure , look at the failure as the perfect opportunity to understand your market better.

By evaluating why it didn't work, you'll gain a better understanding of your audience, which will help you in many other aspects of your business as well.

Strategy #4: Celebrate your successes

When you're a perfectionist, it's easy to focus on the fact that you haven't yet achieved some of the goals you set for yourself, which can feed into your fear of failure.

So, rather than taking a negative view of what's NOT done yet, take some time to look at all of the smaller things that you HAVE accomplished while working toward your goals.

Remember that it's not just the end goal that matters. The smaller milestones you complete along the way are successes in themselves.

Strategy #5: Don't be afraid to admit you need help

Believe me, YOU (or the client) are the only person who expects you to have all the answers!

I know from personal experience that taking advice and direction for your Internet business from people who have already figured it out, is a HUGE advantage...

... and NOT a sign that you're a failure!

By recognizing that YOU are your biggest critic, and understanding that 'good enough' is BETTER than perfect, you'll be well on your way to a stable, successful -- and more importantly -- HEALTHY and HAPPY business!

Training and Coaching

I spend most of my time training managers and leaders to be better in their roles. I'm always curious about how people want to take what they learn in their training forward into one-to-one coaching. They will pick on something very specific in the training (such as dealing with a difficult person or taking a strategic leadership decision) and then the coaching will become almost completely swamped by that one issue. This is fine in one respect as it can focus on an issue that needs resolution but it can also make for a narrow perspective in which the client starts getting that difficult person on issue out of perspective. This is important for the coach to control especially if you take a client led approach! You really have to ask perceptive and sometimes difficult questions so that the client doesn't get too bogged down in this.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Elevator Pitch

You know how it goes ... you are in the elevator and just as you are about to close the doors the CEO jumps in (or someone senior in the company). They say something like the following:
'Hi I don't think we have met before... who are you?
You've got just about enough time to say:
  • who you are
  • what you do
  • why you are there, and
  • the value you bring
The last one is the critical one. You leave them with the information you want them to have. Think about how you come across as a coach, trainer, or any business person providing solutions. Credibility in a nutshell is critical...