Thursday, 21 April 2011

Questioning Engagement

Here is a link to the latest e-book from David Zinger's ning - a set of brilliant questions for leaders to ask their staff, colleagues and bosses - in order to create more engagement.

There is nothing as powerful as a good question, in my view!

Monday, 18 April 2011

The 12 kinds of books on leadership

Often when I visit bookshops and browse the shelves for new publications (and there always many) on management & leadership, I am usually disappointed. The books seem to fall into a dozen broad categories (and I already have several in each):
  1. How to turn your life / new job / business around in 30 days
  2. Learn how to ride a bike / lead by reading a book about it
  3. The 5, 13.5 or 88 secrets of success to being a better leader
  4. The manual of how to lead in 297 easy written procedures with full index
  5. Leadership lessons of bloody ancient leaders or blooming marvellous present ones
  6. The myway by Vranson / Cricher / Jacoka / Saint / insert new name here
  7. How to whack the tribe and lose the cheese: creative recipes for success
  8. HBBRNOW 79! Top hits from hip business school academics
  9. Dig deep, really deep inside to find your inner dude / shaman / dervish
  10. 21 crazy games to get people talking with each other, sometime
  11. It worked in my business: it can work in yours too!
  12. New insight (again)! From the Blankcard, Hotter & Bovey book factory
Or have I missed a category?

Friday, 15 April 2011

Turning on a sixpence

Government, Local Authority & Third Sector 
IT Provision in Times of Austerity
Friday 10th June, Westminster Studios, Central London

The need has never been greater for public and third sector services to make the most of their existing IT infrastructures and systems, and harness the free and low cost options provided by the web. Options to procure new systems or expensive upgrades are now very much more limited due to fiscal pressures.

This 'open space' conference will offer you a unique and intensely interactive opportunityto investigate, develop and enhance your existing IT systems, and explore how web tools (such as dropbox, yammer and many other social media applications) can help you to achieve more with less.

The workshops will provide you with many opportunities to share, collaborate and devise shrewd strategies and deft innovations designed to make the most from the IT within your organisation and how you can harvest all that the net provides – often for free.

What is Open Space?

How many times have you been to an event and come away with two thoughts: the ‘break times were the most valuable’ and ‘how I wish we had talked about X subject’? How many events have you attended and discovered later that a colleague or contact was present but you never had the chance to sit and talk with them? How often have you wished to leave an elective workshop after the first few minutes and visit another, but felt compelled to stay?

Austere: IT’ has been designed with these experiences in mind: not only will you be able to create the agenda precisely around the issues that matter to you but also you will get to know all about what other discussions are going on as well. You will have the scope and flexibility to craft the day to exactly what you want it to be.

Or as Ken Eastwood of NOMADS ( has said “Having a conversational event around these issues will be most fascinating and helpful”

This event will identify critical ways in which existing central government, local government and third sector IT systems can be innovated to provide enhanced value for money with no or very minimal extra investment. As a consequence, the possible topics include:
  • Developing new ways in how to use low cost off the shelf packages, or free to use services on the web to deliver services to the public (such as, and
  • Using social media to ‘oil’ communication around public & third sector organisations (here is one example:
  • Redesigning the human processes to make more use of the IT systems 
  • Using unconferences, govcamps and other interactive means (face to face and web based) to create new applications with partners and users 
  • Making more flexible use of existing contracts with external suppliers to provide more for less 
  • Harnessing the insights, ideas and power of customers, users and other stakeholders 
  • Collaborating with neighbouring agencies and authorities 
  • Extending functionality to new areas and services 
  • Developing and adopting greater commercial leadership & ‘nous’ in negotiating with external providers
This is not just about making do, or even mending what we have (though those can help) – it is critically about harnessing all the resources at our disposal – which includes many low cost or free services already available

Register today and save £200 (All delegates registering by Friday 6th June will be entitled to a £200 discount. To register please follow this link.) If you have any questions regarding the event please email Katie Gilroy. (Account Manager- Local Government, Neil Stewart Associates. Direct Line: 020 7960 6852)

More information here


Brendan Harris - Interim Director of Knowledge and Innovation
Services Directorate Support Team Manager
Local Government Improvement and Development

will be giving an opening presentation

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

13 Questions: when is a consultation a consultation?

I have just had an article published in the Guardian today: prompted by the NHS listening exercise initiated by the Government, the article reflects on what it takes for a consultation to be genuine. There are 13 yes/no questions to test (or design) a consultation process.

You can read the article here:

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Prose & passion: Inspiring and sustaining leadership

There are many, many books on leadership: a search on Amazon just yielded a list of 165,621 for example. Nonetheless, I am editing a new one and I am looking for your help. This will be a different kind of leadership book as it will be almost entirely written by everyday people practising everyday leadership. My aim is to have a wide diversity of contributors from large and small organisations, public, commercial & voluntary, and from all levels with a wide variety of backgrounds and professions. It will be an anthology of articles by leaders for leaders.

Quite simply I am looking for what inspires and sustains people in their leadership? What book, or poem, or story, or quote, or film, or person or even passing remark has helped you become the leader that you are? And from this article, what strength of insight, what ethical tiller or what beacon idea sustains you when your leadership is tested?

For example a client who has become an old friend once told me that in his first job (in a medium sized engineering company) he observed that the managing director always came in the back door and walked through the workshops to his office at the front. He once got the chance to ask him why and the MD explained that this was his way of staying in touch with what was going on. This principle of ‘staying in touch’ stuck with my friend and he always made a point of either literally or metaphorically coming in the back door as he rose to become (and then retired from) being chief executive of a large organisation.

My intention is to collect and edit these contributions into a book that will inspire people. My aim is that it will be a book that people will treasure or want to give as a gift to friends, relatives and colleagues. All contributions will be duly acknowledged (unless you really want to remain anonymous) and I will obtain the necessary permissions to publish the passages and poems etc. that you cite. I will also be writing an introductory text, cataloguing the contributions, arranging for publication and commissioning images to go in the book.

To be considered for inclusion in the book, please email me with the answers to two questions:

1) What book, poem, film, speech, painting, quote, story, or person (or whatever) continues to inspire your leadership? (please note that I will need a copy of the text or image you are referring to, together with a reference from where it came)

2) What is it about this piece that inspires you and helps sustain you as a leader? In other words, tell me the story behind your selection. (I am looking for something around 300 to 500 words. And based on some of the contributions I have received so far, here is some further clarification. I am seeking personal statements about just how the piece from Q1 connects with your leadership. In other words, I am not looking for third party descriptions of someone else’s leadership – but a heartfelt declaration of yours. I am also not looking for pieces that read a little like adverts for your organisation or consulting practice! I am looking for, as I said to one person who got in touch: how the piece connects with your life/leadership... I want – and I believe the readers of the book will want – to hear why this article in particular and how the essence of it sits inside you every day...)

The deadline I am working to (now) is the end of January 2012.

My email address is I will reply to all emails sent to me and keep you in touch with what is happening next.

Finally, thank you for your interest and commitment to creating a book that will inspire & support leaders around the world


Monday, 11 April 2011

Leading as listening - what is your image?

The UK Coalition Government is beginning a two month ‘listening exercise’ about their proposed changes to how the National Health Service is managed (see for details). There is much that is being written about the politics of this decision (see here for a ‘Mills & Boon’ description: for example) – but I would like to focus on what we mean by... listening... and leadership.

Most of us know what good listening involves. When I pose the question to groups “how do we know when someone is really listening to us?” they have no trouble filling a flip chart or two with the most detailed descriptions of behaviour, body language, phrases used and so forth. But when I ask the question around how well their leaders listen to them, the response is very mixed. Many people report leaders who may say they listen but give little evidence of having done so. Some leaders just don’t listen very well, others do it well at the time but do not follow it up with any action. This all leaves me wondering why is it that most leaders usually know how to listen but often appear to fall short of doing it effectively?

Perhaps many leaders think that it is the job of their followers to listen to them, not the other way around. The images that many people have of leaders are either
  • someone ‘leading from the front’, with their ears turned away from their followers, or of 
  • someone at the front of a room presenting to people or of 
  • a general in a tent somewhere well behind the lines directing the troops like a chess game, or a 
  • a thought leader, researching and ruminating in dark laptop light filled room. 
None of these images conjure up an image of listening leader.
  • What picture pops into your mind when you think of a leader? 
  • Does this image conform to what kind of leader you are... or want to be? 
  • If you think deliberately of a listening leader, what image now comes to mind? 
But of course, leadership may only be about 10% listening... what do you think? Perhaps the Government is seeing their listening exercise is being much more about telling, selling & explaining than about genuinely taking on board the concerns of NHS staff and patients – time will tell.
  • How much of your leadership is about listening...? 
  • How much of your leadership would you like to be about listening? 
  • Does your image of leadership match this?