In my last missive I bemoaned the lack of integrity amongst some leaders. The Oxford Dictionary has since declared its word of 2016 as ... 'post-truth'. The definition is given as 'relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief'. So it's clear to see why polititians embrace this. And at the same time we should consider their trustworthiness. Here are the results of the 2016 Ipsos Mori survey on trustworthiness of different professions:

1. Nurses

2. Doctors

3. Teachers

4. Judges

5. Scientists

6. Police

7. Clergy / priests

8. Hairdressers

9. TV news readers

10. The ordinary man / woman in the street

11. Civil servants

12. Lawyers

13. Pollsters

14. Managers in the NHS

15. Economists

16. Charity chief executives

17. Trade union officials

18. Local councillors

19. Bankers

20. Business leaders

21. Estate agents

22. Journalists

23. Government ministers

24. Polititians generally

The truth will out in the end. Maybe in 20 years' time the word of the year will be 'post post-truth'.

So, I promised to talk of some good leaders. Good leaders I think are only good when other people say they are. My example of two good leaders, working together, is Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett - Exec Chairman and President respectively of South West Airlines in the US. Southwest is a very successful airline, making profits when others have struggled to do so. Southwest has some unique ways of working. In both recruitment and in performance management, ability to work with people is important - they call it 'relational coordination'. It relies on clear, frequent, timely communication, on problem solving rather than blame, on shared goals, on relationships, on shared knowledge and on mutual respect. These principles were exemplified by Kelleher and Barrett. Leadership isn't the reserve of the heads of the organisation, and Kelleher expected all of his managers to exemplify these principles. Kelleher himself was the role model, backed up always by Barrett.

An operations agent in Phoenix said 'if I didn't work at Southwest I wouldn't work in the industry'. A ramp manager said 'They have both got so much credibility. It's taken a while to get to that point. They've created this level of honesty with us'. A pilot said 'He's the guiding light. He listens to everybody. If you've got a problem, he cares'. A flight attendant said 'Colleen and Herb are genuinely interested in creating jobs for people'. Kelleher said 'My mother taught me that. She talked a lot about how you should treat people with respect. She said that positions and titles signify absolutely nothing. They're just adornments: they don't represent the substance of anybody'.

I imagine there is little 'post-truth' at Southwest - just good leadership and truth.

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Leading with integrity - have we lost the art?

Posted by Steve Read on December 5, 2016

Integrity - the quality that makes people trust you. These were the words of Field Marshal Lord Slim, a military commander both respected and trusted by his troops - the 'forgotten army' of the Burma campaign in WWII. Now integrity is one of the qualities we look for in all our leaders. Integrity, from the Latin integer or wholeness when applied to people is something of significance. Peole with integrity do not deceive themselves or others, they do not manipulate the truth. As Oliver Cromwell put it in a letter to a friend 'subtelty may deceive you, integrity never will'.


So what are we to think of leaders today who don't not show us integrity? What do we think of people who are not 'whole'? If they are not whole, there must be something missing. I have quoted Bazx Luhrmann / Mary Schmish before: Accept certain inalienable truths, prices willl rise, polititians will philander...' (, and I think they are wrong. We shouldn't just accept these as truth. People who take these positions of leadership ned to be better than that. They need to become good leaders , not simply take the position (and title and salary). And there is a growing list of stories that make you question the integrity, judgement and motivation of people in poisitions of responsibility.


How far do we go back: Enron, Worldcom and by association Arthur Andersen (whose Country Managing Partner  - Steve Samek said in 1999 'The day Arthur Andersen loses the public's trust is the day we are out of buisiness'), any number of banks and bankers, companies who choose to (perhaps completely lawfully) avoid paying tax where it is due. The question for me is - how do organisations get to this point? Arthur Andersen himself said in 1932 'if the confidence of the public in the integrity of accountancts reports is shaken, their value is gone'. To preserve the integrity of his reports the accountant must insist upon absolute independence of judgement and action. The necessity of preserving this position of independence indicates certain standards of conduct'. The downfall of the Arthur Andersen business in 2002 was as a consequence of the opposite, and regardless of the final legal decision, the damage was done. 


Then there are the poitical leaders. Let's start (and finish) with President Elect Donald J Trump. Now I know that opinions vary, but when there is a very long Wikipedia page, with only one request for further citations or verification, ( detailing allegations and lawsuits (rape, assault, voter intimidation, links to organised crime, tactical use of bancruptcy laws, tax returns, destuction of documents and emails (what?!), breach of contract, fraud, construction and property matters (he sued Scotland!), sexual harassment etc) involving Trump and or his companies, then I am pretty certain that we have smoke and fire. And probably few mirrors.


We don't have too many good role models in global politics or big business. The leadership quality of integrity seems to be in short supply. And the leadership function (this is all Action Centred Leadership) of 'setting an example' is too often done badly.


And so to my next blog, I am going to write about some good leaders and leaders for good. They are out there...


Do call us for a chat if you think you might like to support and develop your leaders.


The sizzle or the sausage?

Posted by Steve Read on January 26, 2015

I’ve had more Action Centred Leadership (ACL) in the last week than I could shake a stick at.  It’s a good problem to have though.  We were very privileged in that we had John Adair with us in Cambridge, doing a short tour of some of our clients, and talking to quite a wide audience through some more public events.

The feedback from all quarters was remarkable.  “I wish we could do this every Monday morning” said a Partner at one client following a morning with John.   Another said “It was a privilege to meet you and it gave us some very helpful insights and thoughts to reflect on. I will consider ways in which we could involve your organisation in work here”.  I very much hope they do.

In John’s words ‘you need the sausages before the sizzle’.  Absolutely right.  ACL is the core framework - the sausage if you like, and it is the effort of managers and leaders that provides the sizzle or the buzz about leadership in any organisation.  New is not necessarily better.

Thanks for coming John.  Let’s do it again soon.


Give us a call if you'd like to talk about your leadership development and how Action Centred Leadership might be part of it.

Michael Jenkins, Chief Executive at Roffey Park Institute will be talking about this at the Strategic HR Forum on Wednesday 21 May.   His talk is based on the issues of care, morality and ethics in the NHS and the banking sector.  Roffey Park hope that it has a broader application as we seek to place compassion centre stage in leadership studies, with a viewpoint that suggests we need leaders who truly care about people and who can engage them deeply and meaningfully.  At the same time, compassion has to be positioned for frontline managers in such a way that it is seen less as something pink and fluffy and more as something that is a critical component in achieving performance and results.

If you would like to join this debate and you are a senior HR practitioner employed by an organisation, please do consider joining us.  The venue is Madingley Hall, Cambridge and the timings are from 7.30am for a start at 8am, finishing by 10.30am. To attend as a guest the cost is £25 and you can book by emailing 

Leading the Dance

Posted by Steve Read on February 3, 2014

I’ve not commented on the death of Nelson Mandela.  Now the noise about the great man has died down, I thought I would offer a couple of thoughts on what made him a great leader.  And I believe he truly was.

I’ve mentioned it before - on every leadership programme, when we ask people to name the ‘great’ leaders, the same names come up.  Churchill, Gandhi, Thatcher (no dialogue will be entered into – opinions vary), and of course Mandela.  Then there is a debate: Churchill was great, or he was an arrogant drunkard.  He certainly had strong opinions, and clashed with another of the ‘greats’ – Gandhi.  In 1930 he declared that ‘that Gandhi-ism and everything it stands for will have to be grappled with and crushed’.  And Gandhi said of Gandhi-ism “There is no such thing as ‘Gandhi-ism’, and I do not want to leave any sect after me. I do not claim to have originated any new principle or doctrine. I have simply tried in my own way to apply the eternal truths to our daily life and problems. The opinions I have formed and the conclusions I have arrived at are not final. I may change them tomorrow. I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills’.  So there you go.  Churchill was great in many ways, and led the country through a war.  Gandhi toppled the British Empire and starred in a film.

Now, to Mr Mandela… He was a great leader because:

  • He demonstrated humility:  "One of the most difficult things is not to change society -- but to change yourself," he said in 1999.
  • He realised the value of learning from others, and from experience: "It is possible that if I had not gone to jail and been able to read and listen to the stories of many people. ... I might not have learned these things," he said after his release from prison.
  • He wasn’t trying to ‘win’ a battle, but fulfil an ideal: “During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”. Nelson Mandela speaking in court, 20 April 1964.
  • He knew when to step down.
  • He was a great dancer, and wore very pretty shirts.

His name was Rolihlahla Mandela.  He was named Nelson at primary school by his school teacher Miss Mdingane.  If you want to know how to pronounce Rolihlahla, look here.

My point?  More leaders should think about the example they set for others.

And wear pretty shirts.

Curious communications

Posted by Steve Read on January 13, 2014

Happy new year.  A little late I know, but fashionably so is how I see it. 

Some things have made me chuckle recently, and I thought I would share them with you. Niagara Falls have frozen over, and the images are amazing.  The same thing happened in 1909, 1936 / 7 and 1949.  What got my attention is how it has been reported.  In 1937, British Pathé news reported ‘Niagara falls frozen solid - mighty cataract stilled by winter's icy grip’.  This year, The Guardian’s website reported ‘Niagara Falls frozen – tourists flock to see icy spectacle (video) after the polar vortex causes the mighty waterfall to freeze’.  I don’t know about you, but we’ve lost something.  The romance has gone.  I clicked the video link, and watched tourists observing the ‘like totally awesome’ spectacle.  I would have preferred to see the mighty cataract stilled by winter’s icy grip.  It sounds much more impressive.  And I still don’t know exactly what a polar vortex is.  I chuckled.

On a similar subject, a BBC ‘yellow ice alert’ concerned me.  Yellow ice.  Disgusting.  Until someone explained that it is a yellow alert for ice.  I chuckled.

I chuckled when I read the article in People Management magazine describing how children of HR professionals don’t understand what HR do.  Why would they?  Many colleagues of HR professionals don’t get it either!  ‘My son thinks I’m a spy’ said one HR manager.  ‘I go into offices, give people files, take other files, and put secret information on the computer’.  Not so long ago, my own son asked me ‘who was I meeting today, in which hotel, and which games we would be playing’.  That got me thinking…  And I chuckled.

My point?  How you say what you say is so very important.  Once you click ‘send’, the damage might be done.  And you might not chuckle!  Get your managers and staff a new year present – some communication skills training to get them thinking perhaps.

It makes me feel quite humble...

Posted by Steve Read on October 11, 2013

Listening to Radio 4 whilst driving home the other day, I heard Terry Waite talking to children and parents who were caught up in last month’s terrorist attack on the shopping mall in Nairobi.  Those people experienced and witnessed appalling things, but Mr Waite focussed on the future, and not dwelling on the past.  It is too soon to forgive he said, but that can come in the future, however  "that involves a relationship between the person who is forgiving and the one who is seeking forgiveness and that's unlikely to happen in this situation."  He also said "If you can help it, don't let that anger turn to bitterness, because it is like a cancer that enters the soul, and does more harm to those who hold it than to those against whom it's held."

Terry Waite speaks from experience.  He was held captive in a cellar in Beirut for 4 years in the 1880s by Hezbollah.  I met Terry in 2011, and he is an astonishing man.  I described him as ‘inspiring’ to my family.  When one of them asked me ‘what has he inspired you to do?’, I must admit, I was at a loss for an answer.

Two years later, I know the answer.  I do what I can to help those who have a stronger resolve than I, who are perhaps more courageous than I, who are truly inspired to act, to do great things.  By way of example, I have been privileged to work with the Psychosocial Support Team (PST) at the British Red Cross.  The PST goes to places where people affected by disasters need psychological and emotional support.  They were there for people in Haiti following the earthquake, in Ethiopia to help kidnap victims, and yes, they were there to help those traumatised by the attack in the Nairobi shopping mall.  Brave people, who have my utmost respect.

We are pleased to have Dr Sarah Davidson, head of the PST with us at the Cambridge Strategic HR Forum on 20th November.  Sarah will talk to us about the challenges of managing and leading such a team – volunteers, all clever people, going to dangerous places, with significant logistical demands. How do you keep them motivated? How do you manage their expectations? How do you ensure you provide the right support? How do you promote the safety and security of those wanting to help, ensuring they are adequately selected, trained, prepared and supported?

Contact Rachel for more details

Leaders step aside… and make way for new leaders

Posted by Steve Read on May 9, 2013

There seems to be a lot of it about: Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands did it on 30th April. Pope Benedict XVI did it on 28th February. Hilary Clinton did it on 1st February. Sir Alex Ferguson of the kingdom of Manchester United did it yesterday. They have all resigned, and are making way for new leaders.

This is one of the defining features of good leaders – they know when to quit.  They do the right things, and move on while things are good.

A couple of years ago, Sir David Rowland, the former chairman of Lloyd’s of London (in fact the man credited with saving the venerable institution from collapse) addressed the executive team of one of our clients, an insurance company, at a training event. He was asked by one of the directors why he didn’t stay on longer at Lloyd’s and enjoy the fruits of his labour. Sir David’s reply was along the lines of being like the Cheshire Cat in Alice In Wonderland. You need to know when to go he said, and the best way to go is to quietly disappear, leaving a big grin behind you. I like the analogy.

That’s it.  A short blog this time.  Get in touch if you would like to add your thoughts on great leaders.   

Great leadership, not cute dogs, is newsworthy...

Posted by Steve Read on March 12, 2013

The front page of the Guardian on Saturday featured a picture of a dog being pampered at Crufts.  Surely there are more important things to write about in a newspaper?

On Friday, I had the pleasure of working with John Adair in Manchester.  Amongst other things, John talked about the need for good leadership in so many areas of the world:  Leaders of countries; leaders in the United Nations; leaders in business; and leaders of great organisations like the NHS. This is newsworthy.

On Saturday I had the honour of working with the British Red Cross’s Psychosocial Support Team (PST) at their annual retreat at Roffey Park. These dedicated volunteers head off to dangerous regions of the world to provide emotional support to people caught up in events outside their control - earthquakes in Haiti, fighting in Libya, hostage taking in Algeria.  This is newsworthy.

I’ll get off my soap-box now.  My point is that some things are important. John Adair has identified what he says is the truth behind the role of a leader. Nobody has yet to successfully challenge him on this. The ‘body of knowledge’ behind leadership is such that we know what leaders should be doing. Yes, there are the qualities of leaders, and I agree that some people can do it more easily, and more comfortably than others. But to me, this reinforces the idea that we need more of the functional approach to leadership – what leaders actually do.

The British Red Cross understands this, and they work on the capability of their leaders, helping them understand the fundamental, generic role of a leader (who also has to be a manager… this is another old chestnut, but one for another day), and help them develop the necessary skills to do so. These people are brave, they are courageous, they are dedicated. They do their work without bravado and without taking unnecessary risk. They apply their technical and professional know-how, and demonstrate the behaviours of good leaders.

We need them on the front page of our broadsheets. What do you think?


Default Copy for the Blog excerpt, please replace this copy

Leading on a grand scale

Posted by Rachel Read on January 15, 2013

There are whole business sectors which would benefit from more effective leadership.  Banking springs to mind.  But how do you lead a whole market sector made up of a multitude of competing businesses?  And yet they are all doing the same things, so there must be a way… 

The NHS is another good example.  It is huge.  I believe it is the third largest employer in the world.  Loved by many; castigated when things go wrong. The NHS is now the target of Government spending cuts, but it must maintain its service levels.  So many attempts have been made to change the way the NHS is managed, and none of them have really worked.  This is what a Kings Fund report said in 2011: 

‘One of the biggest weaknesses of the NHS has been its failure to engage clinicians – particularly, but not only doctors – in a sustained way in management and leadership. Individuals within the service, and its providers, need to be given both the ability and the confidence to challenge poor practice. Management and leadership needs to be shared between managers and clinicians and equally valued by both’.

A quick bit of internet research this week revealed the following leadership development programmes currently available in the NHS: Leadership at the point of care; Leading in an empowered organisation; RCN Leadership Development Course; Leadership Qualities Framework; NHS Leadership Framework; Clinical Leadership Competency Framework.  They are probably good programmes but there doesn’t appear to be a long term, NHS wide strategy, for developing leadership capability. 

Good leadership can be developed in this kind of organisation though. There is a lot of good in financial services institutions.  But then ‘Banks do the right thing for their customers and avoid corruption’ doesn’t make a good headline.  The organisations that are well led don’t often hit the news.  But they do win awards (congratulations to The Cambridge Building Society by way of example).

Within the NHS we know of a number of larger Trusts who are grasping the nettle, and developing comprehensive leadership development frameworks that link together clinical, nursing and operational managers and leaders - with good results; Staff become more engaged, targets are met, patients are not put at risk, and costs are reduced.  These are local schemes, not national, but with time, effort, and the right investment, they can easily work at a national level.

The framework being used (and indeed by The Cambridge Building Society) is our old favourite, Action Centred Leadership (or ACL).  It is a tried and tested model.  It has enough structure, and enough flexibility to work in any organisation. It is being applied in the United Nations, and if it can work there, it can work anywhere!

If you’d like to know more about any of these case studies, drop me a line, and I’ll happily have a chat.


De-mystifying finance

Posted by Rachel Read on October 15, 2012

Are you intimidated by financial information? Have you ever been presented with a spreadsheet you simply don't understand? Lacking confidence with numbers and financial jargon is not unusual, yet it can be a real handicap when trying to influence within your organisation.

Let's take the terms margin and markup which are often confused.  If a clothes shop marks up it’s garments by 200%, it actually makes a gross margin of 60%. How does that work? Well, if a dress costs the shop £100, they aim to sell it for £300.  The £300 includes VAT so the net sales value to the shop is £250.  Now to work out the margin, if their sales are £250 and the cost £100, the margin or profit is £150. £150 as a percentage of £250 is 60% - the gross margin, or gross profit percentage is 60%. Still confused?  Our one-day Fundamentals of Finance course on Tuesday 4 December will address these and other confusing terms and common accounting myths.

Beginning with the basics of a profit and loss account and a balance sheet, the course will take you through to some more advanced financial analysis, to really build your confidence. Accounts needn’t be complicated. Paul Reid will deliver the course in layman’s terms and make it interesting.  Yes, I did just promise a finance course would be interesting... don’t believe me? Why not try it? Book a place on 01223 691 621 or

Success brings success...

Posted by Steve Read on October 8, 2012

Now it's getting autumnal, I'm remembering what a golden summer we had.   It’s not particularly my scene, but I did enjoy the Jubilee.  Lots of great parties in the park, and the young Royals at least seemed to enjoy the rock & roll extravaganza outside Buckingham Palace.  It lifted the nation’s spirits after another penalty shoot-out disaster.

 Then there was the Olympics and Paralympics.  The best, I think, in the history of the Olympic movement.  Apart perhaps from the early ones where they did it naked.  The best bit of course was the Queen picking her nails during the opening ceremony.  Oh yes, and all the sport and medals of course.  I have recently heard two Frenchmen commending the London 2012 organisers for a wonderful event.  In a year when a Brit won the Tour de France.

 I think success does indeed bring success, and I feel the country is in a better place than it was earlier in the year.  The summer involved some key ingredients – celebration, dedication, organisation, inspiration, determination, vision, objectives, teamwork, personal achievement, resilience, humility, success, failure, recovery, and some astonishing demonstrations of the human spirit.  We call this leadership. Occasionally people got it wrong.  But we can continue to learn if we choose to.

I’ve read a few articles over the last few months, all debating how employers should deal with staff who want time off during the Olympics.  One is on my desk right now - Is your boss a bad sport? By Martin King, The Guardian, 28/04/2012. This article I think typifies the sentiment in most of them: seven columns of mostly negative and alarmist concerns, surrounding a small panel with some positive ideas on ‘how to avoid falling out’.  Maybe I am naïve, but wouldn’t it just be so much better if everyone focused on the positives?  Even ‘avoiding falling out’ has a negative starting point.  The sage words from the employment lawyers clearly need heeding, but I am sure most managers and employees can sort out most requests for time off, with little effort, whilst accepting a few inevitable disappointments.

There is some excellent practice. SHL recruiters are ready, with staff being allowed to work flexibly wherever possible. It might be something to do with the fact that their MD is called Stephen Read. Clearly an advantage when it comes to good judgement…  However another employer informed all staff, via email, that lateness during the Games will not be tolerated, despite the fact that traffic in London is predicted to be significanty disrupted. Now I understand fully both the legal implications and the impact on a business of staff being late, but this could be handled so much better.  Firstly, wouldn’t a verbal briefing by a manager be a more appropriate form of communication?  Secondly, rather than a veiled threat, this employer could have used this as an opportunity to work with managers and teams to ensure both business continuity, and high morale

Sitting in a taxi in London the other day, the driver vented his spleen about the Olympics, bemoaning the fact that London would be busy, full of foreigners, and nothing would work. Sounds ideal for the taxi trade… The man should get a new job methinks.

I’m going to enjoy the Games, and I salute all employers who do as much as they can to allow as many of their employees as they can to watch as much of the Games as they can.


Return On Investment for L&D – a tough nut to crack

Posted by Steve Read on April 5, 2012

Bill Parsons, Executive VP for HR at Arm Holdings (one of Cambridge’s finest) writes a great piece in this month’s People Management magazine in his capacity of CIPD Vice President.  In ‘Learning To Leap’ Bill describes the problems of searching for ROI of a learning intervention or initiative. 


Attributing financial benefits to L&D activity is notoriously difficult.  Making the correlation between the L&D activity and the bottom line will probably yield a low statistical result.  However, if you know what you want to achieve (outside of the financials) then you are more likely to detect results. This is often referred to as Return On Expectation or ROE.  Kirkpatrick Partners talk of ROE as being ‘the ultimate indicator of value’. This measure forms the basis of the widely used Kirkpatrick model comprising  four levels of evaluation. Return on expectation works for me.


Bill Parsons suggests that if we focus instead on ‘L&D’s capacity to provide opportunities to build human capital’, the economic results will be easier to find.  Our good colleague Anthony Stanton makes a similar point.  In his forthcoming book People Power: how great people management drives the bottom line he describes two organisations. One is good at developing social capital, where people are encouraged to forge positive relationships, to support and give feedback to each other, to work together within their teams and between departments. They are a community. The second organisation does none of this. It is parochial in nature; teams work in isolation, there is little interaction, and people operate with little understanding of what other staff and teams are doing. The results are as you might expect, and it translates to financial results. Anthony’s book is backed up by all the research data you could hope for.  At a recent meeting, an NHS Trust described the positive results gained from running Action Centred Leadership programmes across the organisation. The trust has indeed been very successful at realising efficiencies without detriment to service delivery. Indeed an assessment by IIP revealed notable improvements in leadership capability, and cross-functional interactions.  The direct correlation between leadership development and efficiency is hard to make, but you can make a link between improved leadership behaviour and the economic results.


At Helix, we work hard to help forge the social and psychological relationships within our client organisations, and the behaviours that build social capital.  From this, the financial benefits will flow.  Not in isolation I hasten to add.  Other mechanisms like performance management and appraisal systems need to be aligned, and must deliver appropriate consequences for the teams and individuals concerned. Therein lies another blog.


Now, when Anthony publishes his book, you can all buy it, and you’ll know what I am talking about.  Over to you Mr Stanton…

They're at it again...

Posted by Steve Read on March 26, 2012

My ramblings today have been prompted by the latest ‘cash for something’ scandal emerging from Whitehall.  I must say, the ‘scandal’ part has put a smile on my face.  Why on earth is anyone surprised?  There is always a tory / liberal / labourite (and all the other flavours I can’t fit in here…) willing to take some cash for a question, for an honour, or in this case, for a spot of lunch.  I make light of it, but it is such an old and hackneyed situation.  The breaking ‘news’ over the weekend is frankly not news.  Imagine the headline ‘Government runs full term with no scandals’.  Now that would be news!  Mind you, in reality, it would have to end with the word ‘allegedly’.

Then this morning I heard Baz Luhrmann’s 1999 ditty ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen).  This of course was based on Mary Schmich’s 1997 column in the Chicago Tribune titled  ‘Advice, like youth is probably just wasted on the young’.  But Baz is more famous, so he seems to get the credit.  The song contains the wonderful lyric ‘Accept certain inalienable truths, prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old, and when you do you’ll fantasise that when you were young prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders’.  Now I’m not old, but how true that is!  Add to that the facts that it was all once made of wood, everything cost a penny, and the summer holidays were long…

My point?  Leadership and learning are my two points.  We know enough, we have enough experience, enough people have made enough mistakes that we don’t need stories like this anymore.  In ‘The Fifth Discipline’, Peter Senge describes The Delusion of Learning From Experience.  Misguided actions and outbursts from people in positions of leadership need not happen.  I think it was Winston Churchill who said it is best to do the right thing. Firstly because it is the right thing. Secondly, because the buggers will find out anyway.  Whoever said it, they are right.  Businesses, communities, political parties and governments need leaders who learn.

Back to the lyrics – as Edwyn Collins and Orange Juice said in 1983 – Rip It Up And Start Again.  Or am I just showing my age?


Posted by Steve Read on January 18, 2012

We’ve been using this word a lot recently, probably all triggered by the forthcoming talk by the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership at the Cambridge Strategic HR Forum on 8th February.  In their words, sustainability is concerned with meeting the needs of people today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainable development therefore involves:

  • A broad view of social, environmental and economic outcomes
  • A long-term perspective, concerned with the interests and rights of future generations as well as of people today
  • An inclusive approach to action, which recognises the need for all people to be involved in the decisions that affect their lives

We’ve been using the word ‘sustainable’ in other ways – our own business needs to be sustainable, and we, like many other businesses have been looking to secure a client base to make us sustainable. When we are doing well, we create pressure that we have to deal with.  Our physical and mental well-being is important if we want to remain healthy whilst dealing with this pressure, and sustain activity levels. Then our children come home from school and add another dimension to that pressure, and nothing should get in the way of making that sustainable! We would like our clients to have sustainable businesses, and our leadership and management development programmes are designed to help their leaders and managers to achieve this.

All in all, sustainability is a pretty important thing, so I hope the word doesn’t get degraded by over-use like others do.  ‘Authentic’ for example.  Or ‘fantastic’.  I recently heard two television presenters squeeze ‘fantastic’ into a two minute slot 17 times. But then as Vic Reeves says "88.2% of statistics are made up on the spot”.  It may well have been 21 times…

So, to keep this blog sustainable – I’ll stop right now, but please do add your comments on the subject.  

Are we driven by events?

Posted by Steve Read on January 5, 2012

Happy new year everybody.

So, now we’ve left the season to be jolly, and we’ve entered the season of good intentions.  I do find it intriguing how we compartmentalise our lives.  For a while, the gyms will be busier, the healthy cookbooks will be off the shelves and shopping lists will be defined by them.  People will be doing good things around the home, being more tidy, more polite, managing behaviour, and resolutely following resolutions.

But for how long?

The new year trigger for making resolutions and doing these things is great, but not many of us are good at sticking to them long-term.  We associate them with the new year, and by the end of February, the year doesn’t seem so new anymore, so we go back to more familiar ways of working.

We adopt this sort of behaviour pattern at work too.  Appraisals might be the trigger, or the office move, or the signing of a new deal.  In ‘The Fifth Discipline’ Peter Senge calls this the fixation on events. We lose sight of the gradual progression of things, and focus on the obvious events – share price dropping, quarter 4 results, Interest rates etc.  We even use these events to explain things (business is quiet because it is Christmas), and whilst the essence of this might be true, we lose sight of the bigger picture incremental changes that are happening.  For example the quality of our product or service delivery will change over time, especially in relation to our competitors.  If we lose sight of this and focus on each individual transaction, we won’t be able to react appropriately.

Our leadership development strategies need to take this into account. We need to train our people to think strategically and, concurrently, to manage the shorter-term events. And importantly, our managers and leaders need to look at the relationship between the events and the gradual and incremental change that will happen regardless of what we do.

So, heads up. Christmas is over, so is new year. And it doesn’t really matter. Time ticks on…

And now I’ll wait for the emails correcting me on that point.  Clocks tick.  Time is the fourth dimension and space is curved.  I know, I know….

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Posted by Steve Read on December 22, 2011

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me a demand that I address her properly, and that calling her my ‘true love’ was perhaps a little out-dated.

On the second day of Christmas my true… erm, colleague sent to me two emails. Yep. Just two. I know my place.

On the third day of Christmas my business partner sent to me  three circles. ACL… get it?

On the fourth day of Christmas a spammer living somewhere in Asia sent me the price list for bulk rice shipments. Four times.

On the fifth day of Christmas I went out for a Christmas lunch, and I can’t remember the rest of that day.

On the sixth day of Christmas one of our associates sent us a voucher for lunch at Hotel Du Vin. We said thank you six times each. He’s a lovely man!

On the seventh day of Christmas our Marketing Director sent to me seven swans-a-swimming. Only joking, but I’m running out of ideas.

On the eighth day of Christmas Rachel sent me to make eight cups of coffee. At least eight.

On the ninth day of Christmas my accountant sent to me a reminder to sort out all my information so he can process my personal tax return in time for the January deadline.

On the tenth day of Christmas John Lewis sent to me the ten parcels that I was beginning to worry about.

On the eleventh day of Christmas Amazon sent me the one I’d completely forgotten about. How cool is that?

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me another demand that I revert to ‘true love’ as she quite likes it really…

Happy Christmas everybody.

Labels, models and initiatives do HR no favours

Posted by Steve Read on December 12, 2011

I had great fun in London on Tuesday this week at a networking event. I was sharing the speaker slot with Michael Jenkins, CEO at Roffey Park and the event was titled ‘Future Proofing HR: Ulrich and Beyond’. The audience were all senior HR practitioners, the debate was lively, and I learned plenty. Amongst the learning points was that Dave Ulrich’s surname is pronounced Ulrich, not Ulrick. Now there’s a thing.

Michael introduced some of Roffey Park’s research into the differing outlooks of the currently employed generations (Boomers, Gen x, Gen Y etc), and I put forward some of our observations from working with our clients.

What struck me was our need to give things labels, call them ‘models’, create ‘initiatives’ and ‘roll them out’ into the business. Dave Ulrich’s ‘Business Partner Model’ is a case in point.  What Ulrich says is all good stuff and makes absolute sense. The four key roles described by Ulrich – Strategic partner, Administrative Expert (Shared Services), Employee Champion and  Change Agent sound to me like the roles of modern HR function.

When I hear HR professionals talking about Business Partnering, or the ‘HRBP’ model, I sometimes wince. I really believe that the rest of the business (I say rest of the business because I believe HR is a part of the business, not a partner to it) doesn’t care about a model devised by Dave Ulrich.  They want to see their colleagues in HR being strategic, providing excellent administrative frameworks and advice, championing the needs of employees, and helping the business to change.

I beleive Dave Ulrich makes a useful contribution to the world of HR, but let’s not get hung up on titles.  HR professionals need to get out there and do it.

And I hope I haven’t offended Dave Ulrich or any of my colleagues in HR functions who call themselves Business Partners!

‘Biffing’ for those difficult conversations

Posted by Rachel Read on December 7, 2011

Giving feedback is a key skill for managers. Giving positive feedback for a job well done is relatively easy (although most us could do more of it more often). Much more tricky is giving ‘developmental’ feedback following poor performance, poor attendance, failure to do things that have been promised, behavioural issues, and so on. It’s all too easy to put this off because it can seem awkward or confrontational.

On both our leadership programmes and our public training courses individuals tell us how useful they find the following tool.  It’s a simple, structured approach and gives people the confidence to have that difficult conversation, to give people a ‘BIFF’; a timely challenge which is both justified and fair, and will lead the way to performance improvement:

Behaviour:  When you do x it has the

Impact of y  Which makes me / us

Feel… frustrated… let down… and in

Future I would like you to do z

Try it with other members of your team, your boss and your kids too…

Read more on the art of giving good feedback or call us for a chat. 

There is great Customer Service out there!

Posted by Rachel Read on November 28, 2011

Congratulations to Scotsdales Garden Centre who this month won a Best Customer Service Award! We’re particularly chuffed at Helix, as this year we’ve delivered 4 customer care workshops to their staff. Last week I received some great customer service when I reported a fault on my phone line.  The process was slick and the 3 individuals involved were well briefed, polite and efficient. Virgin Media Business got it right. It’s clear to me that managers and leaders have a key responsibility for the delivery of good customer service, whether they are directly customer facing or not. Here are some tips that we see work no matter whether the organisation is dealing with the public, business customers or internal customers:

1. Create a customer service blue print. Once you’ve segmented your customers, identify who the different groups measure you against. Be prepared to adapt, update and adopt new ways of doing things. Make sure all staff (no matter how much customer contact they have) understand what good customer service means for different customers for example in a hotel which is regularly used by both SAGA holidays and BBC film crews.

2. Develop the skills and confidence of individuals to interact well with customers. Some individuals are naturally great with people but leaders need to take ownership for developing the product knowledge, communication skills and confidence of the whole team. This may include technical training, job shadowing, coaching by more experienced staff, role playing handling of complaints and difficult customers. Crucially it means positive feedback at team level and to individuals; passing on the comments of satisfied customers, recognition of a complaint well handled, and a timely thank you.

3. Be a good role model. Senior management must all buy in to customer service – use the language, demonstrate the required behaviours and follow the procedures. 

Give us a ring to talk about tailored customer care training or as part of a management development programme.

Behaving Out of Type

Posted by Steve Read on November 17, 2011

We are all ‘of a type’.  We have preferences, which psychologists are good at describing and grouping.  They have developed plenty of tools which are immensely useful in our line of work.  Our leadership and management development programmes invariably use of one of the main psychometric tools (Myers Briggs and the like), which really helps each individual understand themselves, and their interactions with others. What fascinates me is the varying degrees to which people are able to behave ‘out of type’, and do something other than their automatic, preferred behaviour. I have recently seen examples of people demonstrating a clear ability to operate out of type and a seeming inability to do so. 

The first example involves Fred who has a liking for detail.  She enjoys spread-sheets.  She has a tendency to take them to meetings and show people the contents, whether they are interested or not.  I recently heard one of Fred’s colleagues (we’ll call him George) muttering to himself, about what he would do if Fred brought one of her spreadsheets to the next meeting. Sure enough, Fred did, and took delight in showing all her colleagues it’s functions, layout, attributes and colour coded cells.  George behaved true to type and told Fred exactly what he thought of her spread-sheet.  Fred behaved true to type and told George that he “simply didn’t understand…”  The resulting altercation wasn’t pretty, and was completely pointless and unproductive.  George’s preference for the big picture and Fred’s love of detail are equally valuable, but neither of them were giving any leeway.

The second concerns Alex who has a strong tendency for introversion (using the Myers Briggs Type Indicator).  Alex works with a team who all have a preference for extroversion. Alex gets good results, and interestingly, his colleagues are unaware of his introversion.  This is because of his ability to operate ‘out of type’ and take steps towards extrovert behaviours (for example forcing himself to join in the lively discussions and debates that develop during meetings).  Alex describes this as “absolutely knackering, but necessary if I want to influence my colleagues”.  He makes time for his introversion preference though, to reflect, internalise and organise his thoughts.  The results of this he brings back to the team, which would be less effective without it.

Teams need difference, but difference creates the possibility for tension and misunderstanding.  When we learn to be flexible, to understand the needs and preferences of others, and to behave ‘out of type’,  we can often achieve even more than when we use our automatic, preferred behaviours. People like Alex impress me, and as a result, I’m going to use more spread-sheets.  Completely out of type.

What makes an inspirational leader?

Posted by Rachel Read on November 9, 2011

Are leaders born or made?  What are the key behaviours shared by great leaders?  Find out what Steve Read thinks in a recent interview for the Institute of Clinical Research. Download the podcast here.  We'd love to hear about leaders you've been inspired by - leave us a comment below. If you'd like to know more about Action Centred Leadership, give us a call and take a look at the Mitsui Case Study to read about ACL in action. 

I’ve just watched 71 Degrees North on ‘watch again’ .  It’s a bit of a giggle really, watching ‘celebrities’ run around in the cold, being challenged.  But that’s all it is for me – a bit of a giggle.  There is a theme running of course; celebrities, a series of challenges, a vote, and an expulsion.  It fits a format that viewers recognise, so viewer numbers will be satisfactory.

 But there is so much more they could get from the programme. If you watch the people, you can see them struggling with the daily dilemmas any manager or leader faces in any organisation.  They need to utilise the skills and characteristics of the individuals, bring them together to work as a team and to get a task completed. There, in a nutshell, is the core of one of our favourite models – Action Centred Leadership.  The balancing act of meeting the needs of Task, Team and Individuals.

 There is clearly much more to management and leadership than this, and I think that this type of programme would be far more interesting if these issues were discussed.  In this way, we might enjoy the helicopters, freezing fjords, sledge races and celebrity egos even more.

 Anyway, keep it up.  I’m sure the world will be a better place when the 71st Parallel North is briefly populated by celebrities...

Leave us a comment - tell us what you think.


Steve Jobs - One of the great business leaders

Posted by Steve Read on October 6, 2011

My sympathy and thoughts go the family, friends and colleagues of Steve Jobs.  His name crops up so often when we talk to people about leaders and leadership.  If we ask people to name ‘the great leaders’, we get a list beginning with political and philosophical leaders – Churchill if we are in the UK, Ho Chi Minh if we are in Vietnam.  Ghandi is a regular contender as is Nelson Mandela.  Next come the explorers and sports people – Scott of the Antarctic, Edmund Hillary, Alex Ferguson and the like. 

When we ask for business leaders, Steve Jobs invariably comes in the top five (along with Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Sergey Brin).  And I would concur with this.  He led Apple from a fledgling organisation with some crazy ideas, through significant financial struggles,  to become a global giant. 

I like the idea that someone who used to scavenge empty Coke bottles for the re-fund to get cash for meals, and got free food from the local Hare Krishna temple, can create something like Apple.  I wonder, when he enticed John Sculley away from Pepsi saying “Do you want to sell sugar-water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?”, if he had any idea how true that would be. 

From the way our GUI computer screens look (both Mac and PC), to the now ubiquitous mouse, to Pixar animated films, to me being able to play Angry Birds on my phone – Mr Jobs did help change the world. 

He might have been a micro-manager, he might have been irritable and temperamental, he might have looked a bit scruffy on stage with his roll-neck shirts, faded jeans and worn out gym shoes.  But he was, without doubt, an inspirational leader.  I might go and buy myself that MacBook I’ve been promising myself for years…


Getting the fundamentals of management training right

Posted by Steve Read on September 13, 2011

I had one of those ‘what do you do for a living?’ conversations yesterday, and it got me thinking.  The person I was talking to has a job which fascinates me.  He is a carpenter by trade, and runs a building company.  He enjoys his time by letting his creative juices flow to create wonderful living spaces in other people’s homes.  That sounds great to me. But then the grass is always greener on the other side, and I expect bad weather, sub-contractor relationships and dwindling customer budgets create their own unique challenges.  In return, we talked about what I do - management and leadership development training programmes.  My carpenter friend has been on many of these during his career, and it fascinated me when he said how little he had enjoyed the process.

Doing our bit for EACH

Posted by Steve Read on August 17, 2011

Quite how it came to be, I’m unsure, but I think it was one of those networking connections where someone spoke to someone who spoke to someone else and we ended up volunteering to provide some training to Stable Trading – the retail division of East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH).  So on Tuesday this week, Paul Reid (our finance training expert) and I went along to EACH’s Education Centre located at the back of their hospice in Milton.


Marketing HR to the rest of the business

Posted by Rachel Read on August 4, 2011

How often is HR viewed as merely a support function, a cost, not part of the real business?

You don’t have to be a marketer to sell the value of HR to your business and the following tips will certainly help demonstrate the credibility and value of the function.

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