Thursday, 27 December 2012

Leadership in 3 words (2013)

It is that time of year again when I ask people to name the three words that people think describe the leadership we are going to need in the forthcoming year. (Previous posts are here and here). My three words are:
  • inclusive
  • bold 
  • focused
I have already posted this on twitter - and here are others' contributions so far:
  • @PaddyBriggs: competent would be progress...
  • @OpenEyeComms: innovative, aware, agile
  • @DorsetRachel: Brave, transparent, inclusive
  • @StitchMitchell: Stop Fiddling Expenses
  • @CCLeicsPolice: transparent, principled, energised
  • @LabourBroomhill: Judgement, Kindness, Challenge
  • @PW0559: Caring; Consistent; Comprehensive
  • @quakerpen: Truthful, imaginative, nonconforming
  • @OfficialSaundra: Sensitive, Informed, Decisive
  • @youcanrugby: communication , direction , brave (I'm also going to add a strong team)
Thanks to all those people who have contributed so far. But what are your three words? What three words sum up the kind of leadership we need in 2013?

Please post below or tweet at me with the hashtag: #3lship13. Thanks

UPDATE: here are some more contributions from this morning. Thanks to all
  • @JohnCharlesDyer: One For All
  • @SusanPopoola: Empathetic, Convicted, Wise
  • @Alanw47: Fair, Honest, Transparent
  • @Suzze05: Fair ( not driven by influential lobbyists), informed (based on evidence not ideology), listens!
  • @tsdpete: Understanding, humility and conscience
  • @betsypud: true socialist values 
  • @IanChisnall: Bold, Consensual, Inclusive (not we're all in this together LOL) 
  • @driveukmartin: industrious virtuous hardworking
  • @puppyjohn1999: Compassionate, Flexible, Autistic 
  • @RichardJMurphy: Courageous; Compassionate; Competent

Wednesday, 19 December 2012


Later on today, I am popping into Worktree in Milton Keynes for a mince pie and seasonal cheer. Worktree is a local charity that assists school students to understand and prepare for the world of work. Schools invite Worktree in to run events that give their young people experience of being involved in a work-type project, find out more about careers beyond what their family members do and generally help to boost their confidence and skills. I am one of many business people who help them to do this by helping to facilitate these events. (For the sake of clarity: these are not paid gigs!)

So as I woke up this morning, I was mulling on this part of my day and reflecting on my post from yesterday about the need for us all to play our part in creating a more 'child-liking' world.

I am no longer young but I can imagine that if I were, this year would have troubled me lots. Whilst I hope that what fills the lives of children and young people are good or frothy or educational things, I suspect much of the bad news will have filtered through to them. As TV and Radio celebrities are accused of child abuse, as children get murdered in their primary school classrooms and as young people find it hard to get jobs and pay for higher education the world might appear to be a very unfriendly place for children and young people. If I were a young person, this year probably will not have helped me to feel great about what the future has in store for me.

As adults, we can do something about this. We can of course try to be good parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles and friends to children and young people. But perhaps there is a little bit more we can do.

With the blog post, I would like to start a small campaign to encourage every adult to commit to doing one day of voluntary work next year in support of children and young people. This could mean helping to paint a local scout hut, clearing rubbish from a local park, spending a couple of afternoons in a local children's centre reading stories, assisting a local school to rewire its wifi system, taking part in a project similar to what Worktree does in Milton Keynes or a hundred other possibilities. I am also hoping that employers would support this initiative too, in some way.

This idea may go viral (a bit like Movember) or it may not. But if you have read up to here, please pause for a moment and consider how you might spend your 'one day a year for children and young people' (#1dy4cyp) in 2013.

And if you like this campaign, please write about it too, post the link to this blog post on your Facebook page, retweet it to other people etc, etc. Or you can quietly just do it, and be a part of making the future a little bit brighter for children and young people.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Childlike: my theme for 2013

Seasonal greetings!

As always at this time of year, I spend some time reflecting on the past 12 months and thinking about the year ahead. And as I have done for several years previous, I have ‘adopted’ a new word in support of the ‘I can’ charity which helps children to communicate (

This year I have adopted ‘childlike’

It did not take me long to choose this word. And I want it to represent two connected themes for me. Firstly the meaning of the word is about engaging with the world in a trusting, playful, creative and appreciative way. In my opinion, we need to do that more, far more. Sometimes, it seems to me, that people, corporations and governments persist in using old ways to solve knotty and wicked problems, even when those old ways make no real difference. With a tad more courage and innovation, more childlike ways might perhaps be deployed to sort out the problems more effectively. What do you think?

And secondly, but more importantly, we need a world that likes children more! Recent events in Newtown, Connecticut and Nangarhar, Afghanistan, though very different, just underline how our world does not look after our children and young people nearly as well as we should do. Children are simply too often the forgotten casualties of war, economic mismanagement, bigotry and plain ordinary abuse.

So I hope that 2013 will be a year when more children and young people get to live free from harm and full of the joy of growing up into amazing adults. Let us be more childlike (and child-liking) in how we create that world, a world that would be better for us all.

May I wish you, your family, your friends and colleagues a healthy, happy and prosperous 2013.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Imagine a meeting...

Yesterday I attended a meeting which was billed as a consultation. Many people (approximately 80 I reckon) had given up their own time to be there: to listen, learn and be listened to. A good array of sandwiches was put on and then at about 12.30, the chair of the event announced the start of the event.

We were then talked at for over 80 minutes solid, leaving less than 10 minutes (within the formal allocated time) for 'Q&A'. I was not the only one who a) highlighted that this was not a consultation meeting and b) it was a real & palpable lost opportunity. (I am being oblique here as I do not wish to name the organisation in question. But essentially a way forward was being described and the very people who could help with the implementation of that strategy were in the room but were not given the chance to offer their ideas.)

I was immensely frustrated! As were many others, I believe.

How many other meetings or events or conferences are just like this one? We are in the middle of a severe economic crisis in the UK and beyond into the world. If I am being bold, I regard it as immoral that meetings can still be organised to tackle some aspect of this crisis but the process of the meeting inhibits full debate, suppresses creativity and/or fails to harness the brainpower, expertise & commitment in the room. It is quite simply wrong, dammit!

Now I do not accuse the conveners of these meetings to be so wrapped up in their power & egos that they are malevolently constructing meetings to force their views of the world on to other people.

Instead I prefer to consider that people just do not know that there are a 1000+ ways to make meetings more productive for all concerned. However, they just slip into the usual way of doing things, usually with good intent. But we all know that if you always do what you have always done you will always get what you have always got...

And so I appeal again (yes I have written about this before - here for example), please if you are convening a meeting of any kind... if you think that:
  • the world is a scary, complex and fast changing place that needs new ways of organising / allowing more of the 'right' things to happen...
  • most meetings, events and conferences set up to find those 'right' things and take them forward just don't do it very well...
  • somebody's 'platform power' often means that many others lose power and voice, but that it doesn't have to be this way..
  • there is often so much attention paid to inputs/outputs that lasting outcomes (and the imagination to take us there) hardly get a look in...
  • you would like to find out more: learn, share and support other people who think like you....
... then contact me or a 1000 other good facilitators around the world who can help you make a real difference to your meetings. Please!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Supercharging the Power of We

Today is international Blog Action Day.

And the theme this year is the 'power of we'. In other words it is about what we can do together to change the world for the better.

As chance would have it, I have just returned from the World Open Space on Open Space in London. This was the twentieth WOSONOS and 140+ people from across the world assembled in Stoke Newington to examine and develop Open Space practice.

It was a blast!

Reports of most of the 80+ workshops convened and ran during our few days together can be found here. The reports are many and diverse. Please have a browse. (There will be a more accessible and edited pdf file emerging before to long and if you want a copy, please register with the site above.)

Open Space is a process designed to get out of the way of people choosing to have the conversations they need to have in order to grow, develop, learn and create (etc.) - as individuals, groups and communities. Often when people come together, someone somewhere has decided the agenda that needs to be followed. In Open Space, the agenda emerges from those present.

In this respect, Open Space is wonderfully able to allow, help and encourage people to discover their own power of we...

You will know how Open Space can work if you can imagine a meeting or a conference where people use their time to talk about exactly what they need to talk about with people who share a common interest and even passion, unshackled by other people's agendas and interests.

You can find our more about Open Space from here or here - and many more places (just Google the phrase...)

But if you really want to discover how Open Space can super charge the power of we - why not consider coming along to the next WOSONOS in Florida next year? There will also be regional Open Spaces on Open Space in Egypt, Norway and Italy coming up soon too. (I will post details as soon as I have them).

Or contact me - I would be happy to talk with you.

And I will record here my sincere thanks to organising committee for WOSONOS 2012 and everyone else who helped make it a success - it was a sublime, affirming, fun and challenging few days. Thank you!

Friday, 28 September 2012

How do you cut back?

Times are tough for everyone. Whether you are a business, a public organisation or some kind of charitable or community body, you will be having to cut back on your spending. Here are three ways in which it can be done:

Which do you think is the best way?

Inspirational leadership & the new Police & Crime Commissioners

On Thursday 4 October from 12pm to 2pm, the Guardian are hosting a live web discussion whether the elected PCCs can improve police morale at a time of privatisation, cuts and perceived political bias. (Do join in! I will be taking part.)

This got me thinking about what attributes a PCC will need to have to inspire the police (and others within their influence) towards improved morale and even greater results. So, last night, on the train off to see the Beach Boys at the Royal Albert Hall, I mapped out this list:

First and foremost, the PCC will need to show total respect for the work that police officers and staff do and the people that they are. Any hint that the PCC regards him or herself as being above other people is to be avoided... (yes, you know what I am referencing).

In my experience as a leadership development adviser, lesson 101 for leaders is have a crystal clear vision. People may not always agree with that vision but they at least know what direction is being taken. Uncertainty about direction is big downer. (I have written before about what makes for a good vision.)

Given the political nature of the job, I think it will be vital for the elected PCCs to engage in 'worthy politics' which might be best defined as not petty, point-scoring party politics. Nobody (least of all people in the police service, I suspect) is inspired by politicians who only seem to want do down the opposition or leap in front of the press camera at any given moment.

If there is one thing that I know that really frustrates police officers and staff is not having the equipment to do their jobs effectively, efficiently and safely. PCCs will boost morale if they arrive with a clear commitment to ensure adequate kit. Any PCC who thinks they can save money by not doing so does not really understand policing.

People in all organisations like to see their leaders being held to account. Whatever the PCC can do make their challenges (and support) to their Chief Constable open, transparent and accessible will boost morale.

That said, an inspirational PCC will always challenge constructively and remember that giving feedback often says more about the person giving it than it does the person on the receiving end. Having the wit to ask good questions, especially ones that have come from either side of the front line (ie from victims too) will be essential.

A PCC will boost morale by just doing one simple thing: listening. Sadly, in my view, too many politicians (of all hues) spend too much of their time in broadcast mode and seem unable / unwilling to answer straight questions... or even just hear what people have got to say. Listening is good and will help. Being available and accessible is good and will help.

Police culture has a lot to do with ACTION! (Sometimes with not enough circumspection and reflection, I would add!) And so to boost morale, the PCC will need to be seen as a person of action. I am not advocating some sort of manic inititiativitis (the police service already has enough of that) but I am saying that if a PCC gets to be known for always being at HQ, this will not go down well. Remember, police officers notice where cars go and where they park...

An inspirational PCC will understand that it is their job to earn respect not demand it... and certainly not create symbols (such as chains of office) to impose respect upon people.

Be funny and occasionally self deprecating. A PCC who cannot make people laugh or who is so pompous as they are unable to laugh at themselves will not do wonders for staff morale. Humour slices through reserve and opposition in a way that often rational debate cannot.

I think we have seen great examples of emotionally intelligent leadership from CC Peter Fahy and ACC Garry Shewan (of Greater Manchester Police) in the last couple of weeks after the murder of two young police officers. They were both rock solid but able to show emotion and understand how much emotion there was around. A good PCC will be able to do the same and will understand that the work of the police service (and the wider justice agencies) is often filled with highly charged emotion. Unfeeling steel automatons need not apply: PCCs must not be 'robocops'.

And finally, in my view, PCCs will need to practice ethical and authentic leadership that is marbled with integrity and clear values. If a PCC is perceived as saying one thing but doing (or deciding) another, this will damage morale. If a PCC uses principles like a drunk uses a lamppost (for occasional support rather than illumination for the journey), this will not work. One of things that police officers and staff are very good at, is spotting charlatans.

But what do you think? You are welcome to comment below and/or join the Guardian debate next Thursday.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Time for fewer nostrums

I will nail my colours to the mast: I believe it is outrageous when politicians direct a body under their control to begin or maintain a course of action when evidence shows that action to be (at worst) harmful or (at best) ineffective. Good politicians achieve a balance of ideology, popularity, science and pragmatism. Bad politicians allow this balance to get skewed too far in one or two directions.

Yesterday saw the publication of a report from Policy Exchange (a ‘Right leaning thinktank’ as it is often described) about electronic tagging. You can read it here. To quote the website intro “The report notes that in other countries, in particular the US, ankle bracelets have become smaller, smarter and more durable. The most advanced forms of tags are now GPS-enabled allowing the police to pin point someone’s exact location at all times. However, the lack of competition and the current nature of the contracts in the UK market means the taxpayer is losing out.

In the introduction to the report itself, Chris Miller (a former senior police officer) says “What we have been given instead is a sclerotic, centrally controlled, top down system that has enriched two or three large suppliers, that lacks the innovation and flexibility of international comparators and that fails to demonstrate either that it is value for money or that it does anything to reduce offending.

Not only does this report effectively damn the current commercial suppliers of electronic tagging but also proposes (remember this is a ‘Right leaning thinktank’) insourcing the process.

Meanwhile in Scotland last week it was announced that G4S (famed supplier to London 2012 and one of the suppliers of tagging in E&W referenced by Policy Exchange) have just won a contract to supply tagging to the criminal justice system north of the border. Admittedly, the tagging being provided is of the GPS kind referenced in the PE report.

But… nevertheless… on what planet did it make sense to award this contract? I would love to know whether the procurement process in Scotland included contact with Policy Exchange. Did they share data? How did due diligence ensure that the contract signed with G4S would not also lead to the kind of sclerotic lack of innovation that Chris Miller highlights?

Let me repeat, I am not (really I am not) against the outsourcing of all services. I am not some kind of Orwellian despot who believes that the public services should provide everything from Victory Gin to a telescreen in every home. But as I hope that my article in the Guardian from a few months ago made clear, outsourcing is a veritable minefield of hidden costs (both financial and human) that have often been overlooked. This needs to change. Now!

I really hope that the politicians vying to become Police and Crime Commissioners pay heed to the evidence & science when deciding on the shape of their policing plans. Policing already has far too many nostrums in its practice. Good PCCs will be in the vanguard of introducing more evidence based practice (including commissioning)!

PS But beware commercially sponsored research into finding out what works as Ben Goldacre (as always) highlighted at the weekend. A great, must read article for anyone concerned about evidence based practice in the public services. 

Monday, 23 July 2012

What keeps leaders inspired?

A simple question with many answers

I have just published a new blog which startes with a simple question: what keeps leaders inspired? This blog will be all about the answers that people give to that core question. It is through these intriguing and always very personal answers, that the simple aim of the blog will be realised. It is my hope that my new blog will prompt you to consider what inspires you as a leader.

Everyone who has contributed to this blog was asked this question:

What book, poem, film, speech, painting, quote, story, passage, or person (or whatever) continues to inspire your leadership?

And then I asked them a second question to go a little deeper and tell more of their story:

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.

As you will read on the blog, the answers were rich in thought, reflection and feeling.

Of course, we all have many sources of inspiration and people were asked to select just the one. But in so doing, I believe that people chose the one story / film / book / idea (etc.) that really mattered to them.

How would you answer?

The importance of inspiration and inspirational leadership

The root of the word inspiration lies in the Latin for breathing. Inspiration is the act of breathing in, something we do when are about to say something, or make a decision or take action. All leaders need to breathe in. All leaders need inspiration. Inspiration is what can make people become breathtaking leaders.

Perhaps inspirational leadership is also about first breathing in for oneself and then helping others breathe in as well. This is leadership which enables people to take action. But this is leadership that first invites people to draw breath, to pause, reflect and deliberate on what is the next best thing to do.

Being a leader is often hard, very hard. Inspiration keeps us going when the wind is against us or the next goal is not quite just round the corner. Our inspiration can guide us when we are not quite sure what to do next or when we are facing a tough choice.

We can use our inspiration to infect others when they too are facing hard choices or stretching goals. Indeed inspiring people is often a much to do with re-kindling hope in the future. Leaders with inspiration can help people to 'aspire' once again.

Inspirational leadership is perhaps the opposite of 'expiring' leadership! To expire literally means to breathe out – but has come to mean to die. And so on this basis – leaders with inspiration can breathe life into an organisation. All organisations need leaders who can inspire, especially when those organisations are suffering troubled times. Leaders can bring new inspirations when a breath of fresh air is needed.

A key theme that emerged from several of the contributions I have had so far was the way in which inspiration helped people connect the past with the future, not just for themselves but also for the people they worked with. This connection provides both hope and stability: a sense that an inspirational past experience can provide a hopeful foundation for the future.

Inspirational leaders nurture hope in the future in many ways: Drawing on their past experience, they paint a vision of the future. They make this vision broad enough and narrow enough so that people can see themselves in it and plot a path towards it.

Moreover this vision is believable: it is a vision in which people can have confidence and believe is possible to achieve with determined effort. These leaders communicate this vision well by using their own stories to bring the vision to life. As a consequence, the vision begins to take on a life of its own. The vision is used to make decisions about priorities. Inspirational leaders use their vision to create collaboration where there may have been conflict and dissent before.

Crucially, the leaders make the vision an attractive one, one that inspires people because it resonates with people's deeply held beliefs about what is important and worthwhile. Inspirational leaders invest time in understanding what matters to their stakeholders.

Inspirational leaders recognise and work with the emotional side of organisations, understanding that change and improvement are rarely about logic alone. They know that change creates feelings and look for ways to harness these feelings in support of overall goals.

Inspiration gives leaders the strength and substance to shake organisations up. They make the space for people to experiment and try out new ways. They give permission to get things wrong in pursuit of improvement (so long as learning is captured). They do this by including people, by demonstrating that people can help to shape the future. Inspirational leaders make it possible not only for colleagues to impress each other, but also make it OK, critically, for people to impress themselves.

Inspirational leaders build confidence and foundations for the future in this way.

Architects often put 'spires' on buildings to encourage people to look upwards rather than down, to dream of better times and admire what has been built. Inspirational leaders do something similar, they help people make the connections between humdrum and lofty goals – they help people to look up, to look around, to look beyond...

These are all the reasons why inspiration is so important to leaders. On this blog, you will read about how leaders like you are using their inspiration to make things happen. These are breathtaking leaders.

The core themes: be inspired

This blog will be a rich mix of stories, insights and ideas about leadership and inspiration. Do be inspired to dip into this blog and read the contributions. So with this as a purpose, here is a trailer for some of the key ideas contained in the chapters to come.

For several people, being an inspired and inspiring leader means having the courage to be your own person. This is partly about a combination of boldness, confidence, knowing oneself and keeping on with an idea when you are surrounded by doubt… and partly about something that cannot be bottled or perhaps even described. It is about being sure sighted and sure footed, being rooted in a solid sense of one’s own map of the world. When you have read a number of the blog posts, you will spot this theme cropping up in many places.

Many analogies are drawn about leadership and this blog is not short of few more. There is one that shines through in one chapter but which is implicit in several others: the leader as sculptor. In this analogy the role of the leader is to draw out the form that is hidden within the stone, to create a smooth and elegant shape that draws attention and thence action. It is about taking a mess of ideas and materials and bringing forth structure and direction. And with this direction a path is found and people follow and a leader practises their art.

An idea that has inspired me particularly over the years is the role of leaders as people who expect more and delight in more when the people they lead deliver more. I have a video in my head of Tom Peters talking in his breathless and passionate way to an Albert Hall full of managers. He entreats them to want people to develop, to want people to grow, to spend time helping people learn and thence to enjoy the fruits of those actions. I can hear him saying “if you don’t get a buzz from seeing your staff grow and develop… don’t be a manager, be something else!”

And so it is no wonder that you will find in a number of the blog posts, lots of similar ideas about how critical it is for leaders to see potential in people, to expect more (and get it) and to delight in how this yields people who are extended beyond what they thought was possible.

Other ideas you will discover include the value of knowing where you stand, the importance of people being more likely to remember how you made them feel (rather than what you said), the need to act not just think, the difficulty but the necessity of being able to cradle contradictions. You will read how determination continues to help people be leaders, how taking responsibility also means letting go, why plans are better made of loose knots than fixed rivets, and how humour lubricates and enthuses.

This blog is an emerging cornucopia of snippets about what it means to be a breathtaking & inspirational leader. On these pages, I suspect, you will find ideas that you already know and have made part of your practice. There will be other ideas that may leave you cold. And still there may be other ideas that hit you like a hammer and perhaps make you question all that you think you know about being a leader. You won’t know which they are until you read them.

The central thread

At its heart, this blog is about keeping on keeping on.

In other words it is about leadership as being essentially about defiance: defying the rocks and stones on the path and keeping on. It is about bracing and moving through desolate times when support is difficult to find. It is about breathing in and focusing on the goal even when you look back and your followers are somewhere in the distance. It is about keeping the people with you inspired, even when there are many trying to do the opposite.

It is about proudly, solidly and compassionately staying inspired even when you feel just inches away from a trough of cynicism, despair and hopelessness.

It is the stuff that great leaders have, the famous leaders we all know about and admire. But they have it because of who they are, not because they are famous. The fame came after their ability to remain inspired in courageous defiance of the many pressures and challenges they faced. We can all be that inspired. We can all be great, breathtaking and inspirational leaders!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Being true to your (rock) roots

I had the delight of seeing Rock of Ages last night (IMDB review and details here) I am not sure if there is such a thing as a schlock musical, but if there is, this is a pure example. Delicious OTT performances which just about stay within the bounds of good (not over) acting. But still, as I say, this space is not about reviewing the film - but is about the leadership lesson...

And that would be (again this comes up): authenticity. If the film is about anything it is about being true to yourself and in the case of this movie: true to your rock roots. Most of the main characters have epiphanies of one kind or another brought on by a combination of hormones, alcohol or (this is a musical of course) falling in love.

In the film, people are impelled, if not propelled, to face up to themselves and to see what they really are. But how much of this do we experience in real life? As leaders, for how long do we pretend to ourselves that we are something that we are not. Perhaps some people manage to do this for a whole career while others just never do it all.

I suspect for most people, and I include myself here, it takes a long time to really and deeply confront who you actually are and what you really want to do. Given that leadership can often be about putting on something of an 'act' (one of my favourite film lines comes from All that Jazz: "It's showtime!"), I wonder whether it takes leaders longer to confront who they are, or maybe it takes leaders less time? What do you think?

As a leader, have you met yourself, really met yourself?

Monday, 18 June 2012

Snow, fire and water

I saw Snow White and the Huntsman last week (IMDB review & details here) which is fairly obviously a reworking of the age old story. As always, this blog post is not a review of the film although I will say: this is not a film that I suggest that you spend your pennies upon.

But as always, when I see a movie, I seek to find a leadership theme within it. There are many themes in this film (arguably that is one of its problems) including loyalty, vanity, courage, jealously and revenge. It is quite a ‘dark’ film: even the fairies look a little scary. And so it has got me thinking about how leaders should tackle shadow side emotions, perhaps their own or in others.

I will focus on how leaders may handle emotions around them, emotions that are corroding team work, innovation and high performance. What can a leader do?

In my time, I have observed leaders who tackle deviousness and subterfuge (for example) with greater levels of both so as to out-manoeuvre the original perpetrators. Meet fire with fire are their watch words. This only serves to embed such behaviours even more deeply into the culture of that organisation or their part of it.

Other leaders (not unlike Snow White in the movie, as it happens) source their power from positive emotions and confront the perpetrators honestly and tactfully with integrity, strength and a focus on key values. They fight fire with water instead.

So when you see such negative emotions and associated behaviours arising in your organisation (or perhaps even in yourself), how do you react?

With fire or water?

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

13 more questions for potential police and crime commissioners

Guardian Public published this article today - and you can read it here:

This is a follow up to my earlier article - mentioned on this blog here (with added comments) - and available on the Guardian site here.

If you would like to respond to the latest article here - please post them below. I will be interested to read what you say. Many thanks

Monday, 30 April 2012

Comparing Open Space and Unconferences

A couple of weeks ago (as my post below outlines) I attended my first unconference. I was interested to see how it would be different to the Open Space process that I know so well. What follows is my comparison - and it is after only one unconference. But here are my reflections - please add your thoughts too:

OS: Harrison Owen book 1993 (born 1985)
Unc: Bloggercon 1998

OS: Participants shape the agenda
Unc: Participants shape the agenda

OS: Native American
Unc: Sci Fi Geek

OS: 4 principles + 1 law: worked / explained
Unc: 4 principles + 1 law: mentioned / minimally explained

Social media
OS: Peripheral
Unc: Central

OS: People can read paper easily - put agenda on the wall
Unc: Everyone has a twitter account and knows how to use it - put agenda on twitter/social media

Topics / agenda
OS: Written in first hand by person suggesting the idea
Unc: Interpreted onto a spreadsheet by facilitator

OS: From the floor of the event
Unc: Both from the floor and predetermined (perhaps via social media)

Agenda scehdule
OS: Negotiated by individual sponsor / whole group
Unc: Set by facilitator

Follow up
OS: Whatever happens... and when its over....
Unc: Debates continue via social media

Have I been fair to unconferencing - indeed is my description of OS one that you would recognise?

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Social Media and Police & Crime Commissioners

The Blue Light Camp unconference ( description here) met on Sunday 15 April in Manchester just ahead of the BAPCO event. To quote the website: BlueLightCamp was born as an idea by Sasha (@sasha_taylor) from the ashes of an online #nhssms discussion in relation to how social media was being used during the 2011 disorders in some UK cities.

I went along, as did many others, to discuss the role that social media can play in assisting the blue light services do what they do - only better. I ran one session entitled

"Should Police & Crime Commissioner candidates use social media (SM) during the election - and once elected should the new PCCs employ SM? And if yes and yes - how? What are the opportunities and challenges?"

The first answerers almost shouted "how can the PCCs not use SM?!" Social media is a key way (perhaps even now the prime way) to gather people's ideas and concerns. Even though social media users are a subset of society - other mechanisms also represent a sample of society as well. One contributor (and I won't name people) made the important point that when you consider what is termed the 'fire hose' of information now being produced by the social net (twitter, and facebook, and google+ and you tube and and and...) there is a wealth and wide diversity of what the world is talking and thinking about. Strategy now needs to be informed by analysis of this fire hose of information.

So given that the resounding answer to my initial inquiry was that SM is a vital way for PCCs to listen to their publics, the discussion then moved into what are the lessons to be aware of, and what are the challenges. Here are some of the points made: 
  • Social media is just that - be social, be real, be interesting - and people will want to engage with you
  • Consider whether one or several accounts is needed - perhaps one for the 'office of' and one for the PCC her/himself
  • Be clear on what can be promised in response to messages in terms of speed for example and do not overlook the huge issues around confidentiality
  • Social media is an ideal way to engage with third sector organisations as well
  • Don't be na├»ve (such as pretend a mistake was due to someone hacking your account...)
  • Note that the volume of material that SM channels can assemble can grow and grow - so do not underestimate the need to curate and archive the material
  • Keep the debates focused and have one place in which several sources can be brought together
  • SM will be able to raise awareness of the PCC elections and the use of virals is not to be underestimated in boosting democratic involvement in these new elections
  • SM is boundary-less whereas PCCs are focused on a geographical space and so this has to be factored in (although perhaps PCCs should also be thinking about the people who work, play or study on their patch even though they are not resident there - the police have to after all)
And finally, one issue was raised about what role the Police Authorities have in organising hustings for the PCC candidates. One view was put that why should the PAs be involved in this at all as this is beyond their interest. On the other hand, others said that if the PAs did not arrange these hustings, who would? This is a debate that is set to run. What is happening in your area?

So all in all a very useful discussion about social media and its application to the new political leaders on the block. Watch this space!

(PS I will blog separately about my impressions of 'unconferencing' as this was my first one, particularly how it relates to Open Space.)

Friday, 13 April 2012

It's not that I am not here...

... but I am busy with other things.


But the good news is that this blog has now had over 20,000 hits since I began it back in April 2009. I am quite proud of this.

So I will be back when the other matters let up a little!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Commissioning - what are the differences that make the difference?

I had another article published by the Guardian this week:

Is increasing public sector commissioning a good thing?
Creating dynamism or a race to the bottom? The questions we need to ask about commissioning from the private sector (You can see the article here)

The broad issue for me is how to structure commissioning so that it is a worthwhile use of public money in the short, medium and long term - taking into account all the various costs and benefits (and I don't just mean the ones that can be counted and turned into money). 

What the key ingredients for you - what are the differences that make the difference between good commissioning and bad commissioning? 

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Free networking & boosting event

Spring clean your CV and find new business opportunities!

Many independent consultants, management development advisers, trainers, researchers and other knowledge workers are feeling the pinch right now. There are far fewer business opportunities in both private and public sectors than there were a few years ago. Moreover there are many people who have recently entered the market and set themselves up as independent advisers / consultants etc. Times are tough.

We have arranged this FREE day to help you stay (financially) afloat and (psychologically) keep your head above water. The focus is on revitalising your CV, taking a fresh look at your business development plans and exchanging ideas on where to find business opportunities. If you are like us, you will have realised the value of having someone take an objective look at your CV and other aspects of your business – and ask you some questions and give you some straight, supportive feedback.

We are planning to hold an informal workshop for seasoned self-employed, local consultants, researchers and management development professionals to provide a CV ‘carousel’ where each person's CV (and other plans) will be reviewed by at least two others to offer advice and ideas about improving content and also discuss possible areas of work that you may not have previously considered. And of course there will be time and space to network, grumble about business and share ways to keep on keeping on!

We have booked a village hall in North Buckinghamshire on 30th March from 10.30 to 14.30.

Please contact Marion Cole ( or me ( to find out more and, indeed, book a place. The session is free although we would appreciate any contribution you can make to covering the cost of hall hire. We will provide some milk, instant coffee and tea bags. Please either bring your lunch with you or there is a good pub just across the road from the hall we have booked. Thanks.

We look forward to seeing you. 

And please do forward this link to people in your networks who you think might be interested also. Thank you.

Marion & Jon

Saturday, 18 February 2012

A Chronicle of power corrupting?

Chronicle is the latest in that sci-fi genre which concerns people gaining super powers and then documenting the consequences. They don't usually have happy endings. This film is about three American lads who discover something mysterious and then use their new telekinetic powers to do miraculous things like building a Lego space ship. It then gets more complex. It is reasonably gripping but I won't be buying the DVD to see it again. But if I come across Chronicle 2 on ITV 3 in a few years time, I might watch it out of curiosity.

So does power always corrupt? Just as in life, there is no clear answer in the movie. It can do both.

The phrase "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" is often quoted on its own. But the second part is less well known: "Great men are almost always bad men". (Attributed to John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton: with more information here) The second part could well be a nod towards believers in an omnipotent God who might challenge the idea of absolute power corrupting all beings absolutely.

Or is it the other way around: do you have to be bad to gain power? 

Leadership brings power by its very nature. I would assert that all leaders need to understand the power and influence that they wield. 

So my questions to you: 

How well do you understand the intricacies of the power you have? 

How do you know that you are using your power wisely and fairly? 

What do you have to stay hold of and give up in order to use your power well?

Friday, 17 February 2012

Finding an eye in the storm

Predictions by public bodies and economists warn that 2012 will be even more austere than 2011. The Economist Intelligence Unit ( is predicting with very high probability and very high impact that the global economy will fall into recession. They declare that “lacking the scope for more fiscal stimulus, developed countries could level off into a lengthy period of deflation and stagnation”.

The skies are darkening: there are turbulent and stormy times ahead. At moments like this, all leaders make a choice. Leaders can choose gloom and (to continue the metaphor) batten down the hatches as the bad weather approaches. Other leaders will choose to look beyond the clouds and acknowledge that whilst this will be a time for careful action, it is still a time to look forward. And it is in these moments that these great leaders paint pictures of what can and must be.

Pictures are very powerful. It is said that when Turner painted “Slavers throwing overboard the dead and dying — typhon coming on" he was assisting the abolitionist cause. Equally there are many pictures that have inspired people to do more than they would ever thought possible. And these can be word pictures as well: “we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches...”

My suggestion is that it is your job to paint a picture (in words or colours or both) of where you expect your team and organisation to be once the storm has passed. It is our view that having such a palpable vision will help you and your colleagues weather the storm and emerge stronger on the other side.

What is in your picture?

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Tender: Create amazing leaders in a day!

Advanced Leadership Skills Training Course

Blankpolis City Council invites organisations to provide a quotation for delivering a one day “Advanced Leadership Skills” for senior managers in the ‘Making a Positive Difference’ Directorate (for 26 delegates).

Learning outcomes: by the end of the workshop delegates will
  • Refresh current skills.
  • Be able to develop their empathy, trust, strategic insight, communication, candour, resilience, patience, ethics, personal hygiene and time management skills.
  • Move to higher level leadership skills to engage, influence and/or reach agreement or compromise without upsetting anyone including local councillors, community activists and the Daily Mail.
  • Use more creative leadership techniques (including juggling, high wire walking, appropriate clowning about and diving into a bucket from 20m high).
  • Handle awkward situations such as having to be candid and self-disclosing about leadership with a group of relative strangers in a crowded room.
  • Present confidently to large or small groups, using videoed role play with detailed feedback for each delegate.
  • Lead with style, flair and presence (via intravenous transfusion).
  • Practise a range of techniques.
OK. I admit it, this is not a real tender specification. But it is fairly closely based upon one I saw today asking for a one day course in advanced facilitation skills for sixteen people. Speaking as someone who has spent most of his adult life honing his facilitation skills (and I am still learning loads), the advert roused me (shall we say) to create this parody. 

But it also saddens me as well. Here is a large public authority, needing to help some key people become better facilitators but all that the budgets will allow is a one day course... In my view, more than a quart is being poured into a pint pot. 

And in the end, will value for money be achieved? Resources are tight I know. But, is this the answer?

What do you think?

Sunday, 5 February 2012


There has been a rather irritating trend on Twitter of late to list the day of the year in this format. I am really not sure why. It feels rather intrusive - as if we counting out the year already. And we have only just begun it.

This is especially irritating to me as I made a resolution at New Year: I have resolved to live life in 2012 in a way that means it doesn't zip by in the way that 2011 did! I am not sure how to go about doing this. But one thing for sure - I do not intend to count the days of the year out!

In this context, I came across an interesting article the other day which was referred to me by someone who was on a leadership programme that I ran last year (thank you Chris). The article can be found by clicking here. It is called:

Making our minds more agile - The implications of 'thinking fast and slow' (written by Daniel Kahneman)

It is a great article and I commend it to you.

One of the messages I took away from it was the importance of both kinds of thinking. Yes there are times when leaders need to think fast, on their feet, intuitively. But there are also times when we need to go a little bit slower and think in longer loops. The article says we also need to think about our thinking too.

So maybe this is part of my solution to ensuring this year does not rattle by... I need to make time to think slowly, to mull, to cogitate and chew the fat. Sometimes I don't give myself enough time to do this...

Do you?

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Ten questions for potential police and crime commissioners

Guardian Public published my article on this a couple of days ago - and you can read it here:

If you would like to respond to the article (as the Guardian article is not open to comments) - please post them below. I, and perhaps others, will be interested to read what you say. Thanks

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Productive Workplaces: Dignity, Meaning and Community in the 21st Century

In my opinion this is the best book on organisation development. You can read more about it here:

This is the3rd and 25th Anniversary edition. Do get a copy!

And I must declare an interest - I'm on p334 telling my story about how I came across the book:

I Already Had Huge Misgivings About Traditional Consultancy…

In the early 1990’s I was just starting out as an OD consultant. I read widely, trying to find the essence of what being an excellent OD practitioner meant. Books by Schein, Bennis and Beckhard helped. And then I stumbled across Productive Workplaces in a bookshop in my home city of Oxford. The book had the same affect on my brain as space dust sherbet has on my tongue. There was almost an audible pop in my brain when I came to the chapter on whole systems working. I must have read a quarter of the book sitting on the floor before I went to purchase it.

I contacted Marvin for more information about Future Search, and he sent me a draft of the first few chapters of his forthcoming book with Sandra Janoff. The idea that my role was to assist whole systems find or rediscover their own way forward was utterly compelling. I already had huge misgivings about more “traditional” consultancy models which sought to do change to an organization (or system) rather than work with the people involved. Marv’s book helped me know that I was part of a growing community of people who believed this too.

Productive Workplaces continues to influence my practice as a leadership coach and tutor, change facilitator and (now) blogger. Moreover, there is nothing I value or enjoy more than working with a client to implement a “whole system in the room” approach to organizational development. I have used ideas and practices from PW many times to tackle such issues as reducing gun & knife crime in the UK, the development of women within a large public service organization and assisting an association of psychotherapists renew their voluntary association.

Recently, I designed and facilitated a process to help integrate a range of professional agencies who are about to move into a single building. The client wanted to make sure that the co-location was not just physical but also resulted in some significant partnership building and streamlined inter agency processes. The agenda I developed for them was centered upon the idea of helping a system improve itself.

Monday, 16 January 2012

War Horse: leadership as an act of waiting

Having seen the stage production of War Horse only a few months ago, I had to make a very deliberate decision to go and see the latest movie directed by Steven Spielberg. I knew it would be impossible not to compare the two productions. Whilst the film has it merits, the stage show using puppets and minimal sets is more realistic and moving, and ultimately tells a more integrated story. The film is worth seeing - but also find the money from somewhere to go and see the play. You will not regret it.

But as to my leadership 'thought from the film' - there is much that could be said about courage, perseverance, loyalty and compassion. However, what I will highlight is the role of the main (human) character's mother. She displays a quiet patience that is breathtaking. I don't want to spoil the story by describing the events where this patience shines through - but if you see the film - watch for this.

So I will say that leadership is often about waiting, quietly, patiently for change happen and events to unfurl. Often we are 'sold' the image of action leaders, out there, driving change, making things occur. But I would contend that sometimes it is entirely appropriate to just wait and see. Such pausing patiently can be a supreme leadership act. Sometimes it is all that you can do. And sometimes it is the best thing to do.

When was the last time you patiently waited as a leader? Was it the right choice? 

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Leadership in 3 words (2012)

After my post last year, which gained a diverse and fascinating selection of ideas (see this link), the time is ripe again for this question:

What three words sum up the kind of leadership we are going to need for 2012?

Please post your suggestions below. Thank you. (Mine are: circumspect, determined and creative)


STOP PRESS: I have put all the words from this blog, and linked in, and the Communities of Practice blog as well - into Wordle. Click here for the result

Mission Impossible: acts of derring-do

Continuing my series of using contemporary movies to illustrate leadership principles, I had the pleasure of sitting on the edge of my seat for over two hours the other day watching MI4: Ghost Protocol. As always great special effects such that I now worry that several Muscovites will have kittens watching the Kremlin being blown apart.

The film prompted me to consider morale and what leaders do to encourage it. The IMF team plainly have buckets of it since they can jump out of high windows, onto pointy objects and from moving vehicles without a backward glance to H&S procedures or employment conditions. Throughout the film I kept wondering, what keeps them motivated? It certainly can't be their pension plans...

Back in the real world, people don't take such risks, of course. But perhaps, relatively speaking, many do. People have to put themselves out there: talk to complete strangers and keep calm, pay as much attention to the first bolt being tightened in the day as the last one, or keep your eye out for other white van drivers also eating sandwiches. All of these jobs (and many others) carry risk and responsibility - and morale is a key ingredient. Moreover, without morale, there is often little innovation and not enough of the straight oomph needed to stay afloat in these austere and troubling times.

So as a leader, how do you know whether what you are doing is boosting morale, or making it worse? Some way of measuring this is critical. As without measurement, how will you know, whether any of you do is having a positive effect.

Within your team or organisation - how do you assess the level of morale?