The F Word

Unfortunately, one of the most prevalent emotions I see in organisations is fear.

A little bit of fear is self-preserving, but I have seen it plague organisations like a vicious disease.

Often it is seen in hefty doses – much more so than compassion, care and empathy.

It may not present as terror, but it can show in more subtle, insidious versions of this same base emotion.

Here are some versions of fear in other guises:

Anxious, avoidant, cautious;

Concerned, fearful, frozen;

Insecure, intimidated, guarded;

Overwhelmed, panicked;

Stressed, tense, terrified;

Trapped, vulnerable, worried.

When fear is commonplace in a culture – when people are afraid of speaking up, challenging, giving feedback, making mistakes, failure, making a fool of themselves, losing their jobs (the list goes on) – it’s bad for everyone.

Fear is the opposite of love.

That’s what John Mackey and Rajendra Sisodia say in their book Conscious Capitalism -

“Fear is the opposite of love. When we are completely grounded in love and care, fear is not present. Conscious businesses seek to eliminate fear.”

Why is it a disease?

It stymies big picture thinking, bold moves.

It’s the antithesis of creativity. Where fear lives, creativity does not.

Fear is limiting, it makes us smaller.  It is the opposite of expansive, innovative expression.

As a leader, how do you get rid of fear? 

First you have to identify it.  Here are 5 common red flags:

  1. No challenging. Do your ideas get challenged by those reporting to you? If the answer is “never” or “hardly ever”, it’s a sign to sit up and take note.
  2. People pleasing behaviour. Lots of yes’s and hardly any no’s in the common corporate repertoire. Lots of people pleasing by lots of people indicates fear.
  3. People scared to make mistakes or fail.
  4. An abundance of conservative and risk-avoiding behaviour.
  5. A lack of creative or innovative approaches.

Here are 6 things you can do to banish fear.  For a start, ask yourself, what behaviour/s could my boss demonstrate to reduce fear?

  1. Actively ask and encourage your direct reports to challenge you and speak up if they disagree.  More importantly, when they do, don’t jump down their throats, marginalise them or penalise challenging.  How do you feel about challenging your boss? What could he or she do or say that would reduce fear? See The Emperor’s Clothes post for more on this.
  2. Embody the mantra of mistakes being essential for learning, in addition to helping people to develop and grow from their mistakes. Repeated mistakes are a different kettle of fish.
  3. Encourage creative thinking and innovation. See here for tips on how to encourage creativity.
  4. If you see workplace bullying, name it and address it immediately.
  5. Have a policy which protects and encourages whistleblowing of unethical behaviour. Imagine what could have happened to Enron if this had been in place, along with less prevalence of fear.
  6. Most importantly, model expansive behaviour yourself. Show others you are willing to get into the red zone.

What other tips do you have for preventing fear in the workplace? Please leave your comments in the space provided below.

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How To Reconnect With Your Purpose

This week, I had to go away to ‘come home’.

In other words,  I had to leave my everyday life. My daily routine. My busy busyness. My must do’s, to do’s and should do’s.

I needed to leave the ‘doing’ in order to rediscover the gift of ‘being’.

This allowed me to reconnect with my purpose as a leadership coach.

It came in the form of a 10 day holiday in Fiji.

I don’t know if it was the seductive, heady lull of tropical heat, or the fact I just hung out with my husband, children and one of my best friends for a while.

Maybe it was the inspiration I received from reading two outstanding books – Conscious Capitalism and Essentialism.

Or the solitary morning runs along the beach.

Perhaps it was the long stretches of nothingness.

Or maybe it was a combination of the above.

Regardless of the source, the most significant lesson I (re)learned was the importance of regularly stopping and just being.

Stepping away from our everyday lives catalyzes the regaining of perspective, clarity and intention.  Most importantly, it helps us to reconnect with our purpose.

We’ve long known the benefits of having a higher purpose as an organisation. John Mackey and Raj Sisodia dedicate an entire chapter to it in their book Conscious Capitalism.

But great leaders also know their purpose; their ‘True North’.

Why is it important to know our purpose?

We are most fulfilled and happiest when our work is aligned with what makes us come alive.

Knowing our purpose means recognising our deepest motivations and convictions.

As Roy Spence and Haley Rushing put it in their book ‘It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For’ -

“If you have a purpose and can articulate it with clarity and passion, everything makes sense, everything flows. You feel good about what you’re doing and clear about how to get there.”

As a leader, knowing your purpose is asking yourself:-

“What is the contribution I want to make?”
“What do I want to stand for?”
“How do I want to add value to this world?”
“How can I bring my unique strengths to bear on the work I do?”
“What is my True North?”

Knowing your purpose is important because it:-

Inspires us.
Activates vitality.
Helps us prioritise our energies.
Cuts through the white noise, competing demands and exhausting dross.
Empowers us to say no to unnecessary things and instead focus on what’s essential.

It’s a definitive statement about the difference we are trying to make in the world.  And in my opinion, that’s kinda important.


You don’t need a tropical holiday to reconnect with your purpose – although it helps :-)

All you need to do is move out of action and into a more reflective place.

See here and here for simple ways you can build reflection into your life.

What was my purpose which I reconnected with?

To ignite better leadership.

To share the cornerstones of great leadership – self-awareness, listening, stillness, authenticity, consciousness, courage and compassion – with as many people as I am possibly able.

To enable in others, the ability to access these tenets of effective leadership and in doing so, influence workplaces to become the fun, successful and meaningful places they have the potential to be.

Now it’s over to you. How can you reconnect with your purpose?

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Time and Place

Today I’m excited to introduce guest blogger, Martin Fenwick, to The Leader’s Digest. Martin is an executive coach at Altris – a leadership development and executive coaching company based in Auckland, NZ. Martin is also a regular contributor to the Altris leadership blog.

My mum used to say “there is a time and a place for everything”.

This was her way of letting me know I had chosen the wrong time or place, following whatever I had just done.

The thing is, she didn’t always tell me (if at all) when the right time and place was. So, most of the time I was left guessing the appropriate alternative or outcome myself.

Feedback in the workplace is often similar.

You might not get told until it’s too late.
You might never get told at all.
And, you may get told what’s wrong but not what’s right.

My mum’s adage is a sound reminder of two key tenets of feedback – that of time and place.

Some feedback is not delivered at all because the ‘giver’ is worried about the ‘giving’.

Thoughts such as…

Will this make them dislike me?
Will this cause an argument?
Maybe they worked it out themselves?

…and other such concerns, can delay feedback at best and stop it at worst.

When it comes to time, late feedback is better than none. But, timeliness makes the feedback more useful.

Feedback on the spot is often just a symptom of annoyance. Irritation and lack of thought will come across in immediate feedback.

Feedback within a couple of days is still feedback.

Think about it, structure it, and make sure it’s clear, specific and unemotional. Ask if you can give it first, then the receiver will be more likely to value what you are presenting.

Add the element of place and the benefit of feedback is improved.

Never in a busy corridor or open environment.
Never in front of other people (that comes across as point-scoring).
Don’t summon them to your office (that’s a power play).
Don’t email them out of the blue (it’s not permissive).
Don’t email your boss and colleagues to tell them first (that’s setting up a whole environment of self-justification or damaging someone’s reputation).

Keep it just between the two of you.


Try and find a neutral location, with plenty of time (don’t keep looking at your watch) and  quiet surroundings (no distractions), before going through your well thought out unemotional feedback.

Then, listen to what they have to say. You have set up the time and the place and they get to seize the opportunity too.

They may not agree, and you may even find you were working through your own lenses and perceptions a little. But if done well, the relationship you have should be improved by the time and place for good feedback being adhered to.

Click here to read the Altris blog.

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The 7 Deadly Sins of Speaking

Do you sometimes find people don’t listen when you’re speaking?

If we want to speak in a genuinely engaging way, we need to avoid certain speaking behaviours.

Sound expert, Julian Treasure, highlights these in this interesting TED talk, so watch it when you have a few minutes. Not surprisingly, he’s easy to listen to!

Here are the 7 deadly sins of speaking:

1. Gossip. A bit like a massive feed of junk food, it might feel good at the time, but more often than not, afterwards you regret it. For some, it can be easy to fall into the trap of gossiping, particularly when someone else initiates it. When this happens, do your best to divert the subject.

2. Judging. This Native American proverb sums it up.

Grant That I May Not Criticize My Neighbour
Until I Have Walked A Mile In His Moccasin

As a leader always seek first to understand. For more on the topic see here.

3. Negativity. If you find your default position when faced with challenges and setbacks is to blame others and criticise, you may be suffering from the toxic cycle of negativity.  If you get known for this, people are likely to switch off to you and your messages. Don’t be that guy.

4. Complaining. I love Julian’s humour in describing complaining as the “national sport of the UK”. But in all seriousness, when you find yourself starting to move into complaining mode, ask yourself, “in this situation, what’s within my control?” – and focus on that.

5. Excuses. Passing the buck is the antithesis to accountability and responsibility. Can you imagine being engaged by a speaker who uses, as Julian so aptly describes, “blame throwing”?

6. Lying. If you’re prone to exaggeration, this can sometimes extend the truth to the point where it becomes a lie. This is the easiest way to lose the trust of an audience.

7. Dogmatism. The confusion of fact with opinion. Being bombarded with other people’s principles without any consideration of your own is a sure fire turn off.

By contrast, there are 4 cornerstones of powerful speech which form the acronym, HAIL.

Honesty – be true, straight and clear.
Authenticity – just be yourself.
Integrity – do what you say in order to build trust.
Love – not romantic love, just wishing people well.

Public speaking is never a breeze, but it’s an essential skill for leaders to master. Remembering Julian’s tips can help to provide a sound foundation when preparing for your next speaking engagement.

Do you have any points to add to the list above? If so, I’d love to hear from you – please leave your comments below.

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Don’t Force It

Roger Von Oech, one of the world’s foremost experts on creativity, tells the story of an architect who built a cluster of office buildings around a central green.

When construction was finished, the landscape crew asked him where he wanted the sidewalks.

“Just plant the grass solidly between the buildings”, he replied.

By late summer, the new lawn was laced with paths of trodden grass between the buildings. These paths turned in easy curves and were sized according to traffic flow. In the fall, the architect simply paved the paths. Not only were the paths beautiful, they responded directly to user needs.

So often we become fixated on how our plan is supposed to be or how we must follow it, to the point where we begin to unnaturally force matters.

Inflexibility abounds.

Rigidity and dogmatism rule.

Like a toddler trying to shove a star shaped block into a square hole, we grow increasingly exasperated – yet at the same time, even more determined to compel things to happen.

The irony is, when we ease off and let go, progress often moves into flow, like a river finding the best path to the sea.

Creativity erupts.

Solutions emerge.

The pause which occurs by taking a step back from constant pressure allows us to see a different and fresh perspective.

We see solutions more clearly than when we were enforcing our original, sometimes flawed plan.

Some examples of “forcing” in action:

The project which should be shelved (despite already considerable investment).

The brand which should have been left to die, instead of continuing to plough through marketing campaign after marketing campaign, due to the company’s emotional attachment to its once stellar success.

The idea the senior leadership team have been wedded to, but which is no longer suitable due to the changing external market, environmental or economic environment.

The latest cultural drive for OSH, driven by rule making and “thou shalts”.

The manager who is hanging on to a direct report whose performance is not going to lift, but whom he is reluctant to accept is in the wrong role.

So, this week, I encourage you to make like that architect.

Ask yourself -

What am I currently forcing?

Where can I ease off? Let go?

What can I let emerge?

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A Message From Bob Marley

Last Sunday I was catching up with my brother Andrew and we decided to pull out some of his old vinyl collection.

We listened to Bob Marley, drank some rum and reminisced about all the memories which the music sparked.

I’ve been thinking about Bob Marley ever since.

What an intriguing and wise man he was. What a significant impression he left upon the world, far beyond his music.

His words, his music, and the way he lived his life taught us so much about the importance of love, mindfulness and authenticity. He personified freedom and encouraged people to stand up for their beliefs.

As leaders, there is much to be learned from the messages this individual left behind.

Here are some of my favourite Bob Marley quotes. I hope you find one which resonates with you right now and enriches your day with a touch of Bob magic.


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Bad Habit to Break

A strong sense of self-awareness is one of the essential pillars of effective leadership.

Knowing our own trigger points, patterns of decision making, unique strengths and even what ignites us versus what dumbs us down is integral to leading well.

When it comes to self-defeating behaviours or bad habits, self-awareness really comes into play. You know the ones – where you regret your actions or curse your behaviour after the fact.

For me, it was talking over the top of people. Finishing other peoples’ sentences whilst having a conversation. As a leadership coach, becoming aware of this behaviour and subsequently learning some strategies to rectify it has been incredibly helpful.

How do you become more self-aware?

Generally speaking, there are four stages of self-awareness. It can be helpful to know what these are and the action steps to take at each stage – so you can help not only yourself, but your teams as well.

Stage one. Blissful unawareness.

This is the stage where we are (blissfully) unaware there is a problem. But more often than not, others are noticing the behaviour.

You may have a vague sense that a particular approach doesn’t tend to get the results you want. But the key is pulling what’s below the water to above the water, in terms of the iceberg analogy.

Reducing blind spots (which others see, but you don’t) is crucial to moving forward.

Ask for 360 degree feedback. Take notice of yourself in certain situations. Ask your boss and peers for their opinion. Look closely at your performance reviews. These are all ways to become aware of what needs to change before transitioning to the next stage.

Stage Two. Aware after the fact.

This is the “doh, I did it again” stage. Once we identify a potential developmental area or bad habit, we often become aware we are doing it after the fact, once we have already done it.

This stage is a bit like becoming pregnant and then noticing pregnant women everywhere you go. Or, buying a new car and suddenly seeing the make and model all around town.

Often times, once it is above the water line, we see ourselves doing it all the time.

At this point you can expect to feel frustrated at yourself for doing it again. You might even cringe as you start to see yourself through this new lens of awareness.

The trick is not to rush into ‘fix-it’ mode, but to instead focus on observation versus evaluation. When do you most often fall into the trap? What situations trigger this bad habit? Whether it be losing your temper, becoming too emotional, being too quick to make a decision, or avoiding crucial conversations.

Stage three. Awareness during the fact.

This is where you follow your normal pattern of behaviour in a given situation, but become aware of yourself in the moment - and consequently, stop doing it. This feels better and signals the start of true change.

The trick is to congratulate yourself when you notice this and then keep up the efforts when you don’t.

Stage four. Awareness before the fact.

This is when you know in advance those situations likely to cause the bad habit/s  and can prevent yourself from falling into the trap in advance. Congratulations!  You’ve broken the vicious cycle!

What tips do you have for becoming more self-aware and for breaking bad habits?

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