Category Archives: Leadership

Early Symptoms of a Potential Corporate Collapse

With the recent demise of several high profile organisations, it is prudent to look at how organisations move from strong healthy thriving ventures on to the slippery slope that leads to collapse.

Some key behaviours that indicate potential management danger at board level include:

  1. Autocratic leadership with minimal consultation.  There are times for autocratic, ‘command and control’ style leadership within civilian organisations.  Such a leadership style can be very useful for crisis management, turnaround situations or when there is a need for realignment. This style, is however, less productive in an enterprise that is in a ‘sustained’ growth or ‘startup’ phase.  The leader needs to lead with a vision and gain input from the senior management team on how best to move forward.  Humility in a senior leader allows them to recognize that they don’t know everything just because they are called  ‘leader’ is really important.  If you are a leader surround yourself with great people, leverage their knowledge, experience and talent and lead the team with insight and compassion.
  2. Lack of ownership or accountability.  Senior management and leaders need to be accountable for their areas of responsibility, their actions, their behaviours and their performance.  Everyone should know who is responsible for a feature or factor in the business and that person must take action to meet the levels of performance expected and agreed.  Being accountable also means that poor performance can be assessed and someone helped in their pursuit of the target rather than no-one acting to resolve the issue.
  3. Unbalanced senior team.  If everyone is thinking the same way then no-one is thinking!  Having your best chums, your praetorian guard around you may feel reassuring but too much similarity in the senior team reduces any creative friction and frank debate, leading to ‘groupthink’ and thereby danger for the business.
  4. A weak financial director.  Cash is king, so someone needs to know the financial position really well and control the costs.  A weak financial person will be bullied, cajoled or ignored by the team, leading to financial danger.
  5. A combined chairman and CEO.  In broad terms, the chairman runs the board of directors and the CEO runs the business.  The CEO is responsible to the board for business performance so having a CEO responsible to himself as chairman of the board leads to a situation where there is no real governance of the business.  These 2 roles must be kept separate.
  6. A lack of management depth.  The senior team holds the business, its assets and its potential in trust for the owners.  To get the best return on this investment requires strong leadership across many disciplines.  A weak management team or one that has limited experience and depth will not be able to get the best performance from the business.  They will also not recognize that there is a need to act when things start to go wrong.  Even if they do act, the lack of depth and experience will limit their managerial options with potentially disastrous consequences.

As business leaders, we have a responsibility to the business owners, the customers and the employees to get the best out of the business and ensure that it endures.

Recognizing the symptoms that can lead to corporate collapse is critical in our stewardship of the company.

Dare to Aspire



Filed under Business, Improvement, Leadership, Performance

Book Review: The Intangibles of Leadership – The 10 Qualities of Superior Executive Performance

Book Review:

The Intangibles of Leadership – The 10 Qualities of Superior Executive Performance

As an Organisational Psychologist, Davis is routinely exposed to executives at all levels and so is uniquely placed to be able to identify which characteristics and behaviours result a superior leadership performance.




Davis’ conclusion from his years of research and experience is that there are 10 ‘intangibles‘ or characteristics that are the result of an individual’s underlying values and psychological mechanisms.  He suggests that, although intelligence, training and experience are important, it is these 10 characteristics that lead to some leaders, not only succeeding, but thriving.


Each ‘intangible’ is discussed in its own chapter, with case studies to illustrate and highlight the importance and relevance of each characteristic.
Each chapter is also structured in a standard format asking and answering some fundamental questions for each ‘intangible’:

  • What is it?
  • How do I know it when I see it?
  • How do I get it?

This style not only makes the information easier to absorb, but it also provides a practical approach that an executive can use to develop each quality themselves.
The 10 ‘intangibles’ are:

  • Wisdom – Experience borne of involvement in business, tempered by reflection and by putting each experience into context.
  • Will – The act of getting things done by purely applying oneself to the task diligently and consistently.
  • Executive Maturity – Having sufficient self control and awareness to control your emotional reaction to an event and the ability to evoke emotions in others for positive influence.
  • Integrity – Having a value system that is moral and consistently and visibly holding yourself to that value system.
  • Social Judgement – Having emotional awareness and intelligence and understanding people as a means to leading them.
  • Presence – A gravitas that allows you to be recognized.
  • Self-Insight – Recognition of what it is that drives you and the impact you have on others is a key way  to improve what you do and how you do it.
  • Self-Efficacy – A self belief that you can make a difference and control events to get things done.
  • Fortitude – The internal strength that you confront challenges with.
  • Fallibility – An understanding that you are going to get things wrong but will still attempt the difficult tasks.


For anyone that is well read in the Leadership field, many of these characteristics will be familiar.  What Davis has achieved in this book is to present each characteristic in a clear and easily accessible manner so that an executive or aspiring leader can indentify ‘the differences that make THE difference’.  He has essentially made these ‘intangibles’ tangible and provided an action plan for leaders to develop the characteristics that can improve both their individual career and the performance of the organisations they are leading.

A valuable addition to any library on leadership.



Filed under Book review, Business, career, Coaching, Improvement, Leadership

New Book Summary: Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done – Larry Bossidy et al

Braincram has a new summary of the book ‘Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done’ by Larry Bossidy et al.

You can find it here.

Highly recommended!

Dare to Aspire

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Pilot Change Project Checklist

If you have a large organisation or wish to undertake a number of change projects it is prudent to consider running a pilot change project. A short change event that is aligned to the larger strategic goal but small enough to be an initial excursion into the overall change programme without being fully committed.

This will allow you to:

  • Gather feedback on how change will be accepted within the organisation
  • Assess if the culture will accept and integrate the change
  • Establish credibility with a ‘quick win’
  • Ensure that there is appetite for further change.

When running a pilot change project, it is useful to have a simple but robust plan of what you are going to do, who will do it and how you will sell it to the significant stakeholders.

Here is a checklist of things that you may want to consider.

  1. What is the right mix of people for the change team – What knowledge and skill will you require and who has the sort of tenacious attitude to carry the project to a fast and successful completion.
  2. Who has the credibility, the knowledge and the drive to lead the project? Is this someone in your own organisation or is a consultant a better choice. A member of your team will know the processes, procedures and people within the team which could be an advantage but exposes them if the event fails. A consultant has a fresh view, will have the skills to implement the change and can be the scape goat who takes the blame if things go wrong of the culture resists the change.
  3. What is the aim of the project? What does ‘a good job look like’? Have a clear idea of the success criteria and ensure it is communicated to the team so there is a shared understanding of the outcomes.
  4. What are the achievable stretch goals? Is there more that can be delivered than just the basic project?
  5. What are the achievable deadlines? Is it better to have a successful project delivered a little late or to have a project delivered on time but without the ‘bells and whistles’.
  6. What project methodology will you use? Is an agile approach like DSDM useful or do you need to use something with more governance such as Prince 2?
  7. When you run into uncertainty, what framework will you use to guide team decision making and problem solving? Do you want to formalise the approach to provide rigour and an audit trail or is flexibility more important?
  8. What resources are necessary for success? Allocation of resources is critical both for delivery of the outcomes you desire and to demonstrate that senior management are committed to the change event.
  9. How will you hold people accountable? With accountability comes a degree of commitment and a mechanism to allocate both blame and rewards for performance.
  10. How will you reward success? Team or individually? Based on effort or outcomes? As a result of success alone or of benefit for the organisation as even a failed change programme can be beneficial? Understanding what motivates your team, and the rewards that create that motivation will help you achieve the best from your team.

With this short checklist you can begin to plan the change event. There are, however, a number of things to consider.

Beware planning in too much detail as things will often change and planning too early means you ‘plan twice’. Detailed planning can also become reassuring even if there is no progress but it will not move your towards our outcomes. Activity isn’t progress.

Beware predictable surprises which you can identify with a little forethought.

Changes will often generate second order problems (problems that you hadn’t initially identified but arise because of the influence the change has over the system). Be prepared to deal with these and ensure you have a level of contingency because such problems use up your time, effort and resources.

It is tempting to believe that you are so familiar with your organisation that research isn’t required but this isn’t always the case. Indeed, it is rarely the case and you should understand where you have limited knowledge.

Your change initiative may cross organisational boundaries.You will need a way to access different knowledge silos within those organisational stovepipes.

Finally, the culture of the organisation has developed over years and will be deeply rooted. The change will need to overcome this cultural resistance and offer the same reassurance that the old state did.

To gain best value and quick wins, you may want to consider change as guerrilla warfare. You will need to carefully select your key points of leverage and get maximum value for minimum effort.

Dare to Aspire

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7 Reasons Businesses Struggle to be Innovative

It a truism in business that if you are not developing and improving, then you are falling behind your competition.

Innovation is critical to the sustained growth and competitive edge of any business. So why do businesses struggle to be innovative?

1. Lack of time – As Michael Gerber says, ‘we are too busy working in the business rather than working on the business.’ When people get busy, they focus on delivering the product or service they are contacted to deliver. No time is available to look to the future of the business.

2. Lack of resources – Innovation takes time and money and relies upon the capacity of an organisation to allocate resources to innovative thinking. During tough economic times, cost saving and redundancies reduce these resources to a minimum, often too few for innovation to thrive.

3. Fear of failure – In Richard Branson’s book, ‘Screw it, let’s do it!’ he has a ‘can do’, risk embracing attitude. Branson recognises that even if the innovation isn’t a thriving success, the team and the business have still benefitted and improved. Risk averse organisations can miss the opportunities because failure is perceived by that organisational culture as a bad thing and a ‘career stopper’. Thomas Edison is often quoted as saying ‘A man that never failed, never achieved anything.’ Risk aversion kills innovation.

4. Unclear Leadership – Without guidance and authority from key leadership figures in the organisation, innovation will not be recognised as a priority. A figurehead or focal point for innovation helps people to understand that innovation is a company priority and gives people someone to give their ideas to.

5. Insufficient incentives – What is measured is achieved and what is rewarded is repeated. People often need an incentive to offer their ideas forward, so reward those that do. The message will soon spread and the ideas will begin to flow.

6. Insufficient talent – Talent acquisition and talent management is a key reason that the recruitment industry thrives. Talented people provide additional perspectives and alternative views. If supported, recruited talent can drive innovation and the future of the organisation.

7. Lack of Autonomy – Too much control stifles creativity and hinders innovation. Being free to think and try new things provides the innovative person with the opportunity to explore new options. Being asked to report on the potential of those opportunities too early in the exploration can make the innovator feel as though they are just time wasting or chasing a whim.

Innovation is important for the future of any organisation.

Whether that innovation iss a ‘short walk’ away from the current products or services or it creates new and diverse product lines, innovation generates future revenue streams and grows the knowledge base of the team.

Dare to Aspire

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Ladder of Inference – Peter Senge

Although we like to think of ourselves as evolved thinkers, we have actually evolved to make decisions that shortcut most active thinking.

Consider our ancestors as they walked across the savannah, looking for their next meal, they too were being hunted.

The bushman that waited to consider if the moving shadow was actually a lion rather than a gazelle often became the lion’s next meal! It paid us to assume things and the bushman that believed all moving shadows ‘could’ be lions often survived b running away to hunt (and breed) another day. They also often missed out on a meal too!

So we, as a race, have selectively bred ourselves to make shortcuts in our decision making bast on our beliefs.

Beliefs therefore  are a significant factor in how we see the world. Our beliefs and values constrain our thinking so that we can make judgements more rapidly. The verb for this is ‘to prejudge’, and it is the root of the term prejudice. We make decisions with a much of the thinking already completed from our previous experience.

Having recently re-read Peter Senge’s ‘The Fifth Discipline’ I came across the Ladder of Inference.

This model describes the thinking process that we go through, often without realising it, to get from a fact to a decision or action.

Figure 1 shows the ‘thinking stages’ as rungs on a ladder.

Inference Ladder

Figure 1.  The Inference Ladder

The model highlights the thinking steps that can lead to jumping to the wrong conclusions.

Starting at the bottom of the ladder, we:

  • Observe things from reality and identify facts
  • From these observations we select specific data based on our beliefs and prior experience
  • Interpret what the data mean
  • Apply our existing assumptions (sometimes without even considering them)
  • Draw conclusions based on the interpreted facts and our assumptions
  • Develop beliefs based on these conclusions
  • Take actions that seem correct because they are based on what we believe

The value of this model is that it gives us a model that helps us recognize that our thinking process can be flawed and often brings us to conclusions that are often prejudged rather than carefully considered. We naturally skip reasoning steps. If we are aware of this thinking shortfall, we can force ourselves out of the habit and take a more objective, step by step reasoning process and so reach more effective decisions.

Dare to Aspire

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10 Tips for Successful of Entrepreneurship

Starting your own business can be an exciting and exhilarating challenge.  It can also be an overwhelming and somewhat daunting experience for anyone.  Here are 10 tips that will help you think about the more strategic level things you need to think about.  Don’t forget that you will also need to look after the more detailed part of the business too, delivery, marketing, accounting, cashflow management etc.

Have Goals

If you don’t know what you are going, how will you know if you are moving the right direction and how will you know when you get there?  Goals need to be clear and compelling; a vision so appealing that it pulls you out of bed in the morning and keeps you driving on into the small hours of the morning.

Work Hard

Building a business is hard work…Busy, busy, busy, hard work, hard work, hard work.  You will need your compelling vision to keep you motivated and ensuring that you persist even when you are struggling to find the energy to keep going.  Persistence is critical.  Make just one more call, write one more email, do just 10 more minutes work and you will be that much closer to your goal.

Know your Market

Whatever you are doing, you need to make sure that someone is interested in paying you for it.  You need to know what you target market wants and how they want it.  You will also need to know how to approach them and how to sell the benefits of your service or product to that market.

Be Innovative and Differentiate

If you don’t differentiate, then you are only doing the same as many others and you can only compete on price.  All you are offering your customers is another choice in a market of businesses saying ‘Me too!’

If you are doing something different, then you have another way to compete and can offer your customers something that stands out from the crowd.  Mercedes Benz cars don’t cry ‘me too!’ to their customers.  So should you?

Believe in What you are Doing

People only buy what they know will meet their needs.  They will also only buy when they have a level of confidence that a product of service will meet that need.  So the sales process is a way to ensure that your customer develops confidence in what you are offering and then commits to buying it.

How will you persuade them that what you are offering will meet their need if you don’t have at least the same level of confidence in what you are offering?  The sales process then becomes a conversation aimed at building and sharing your confidence level with your customer so that they are convinced and buy.

Stay Focused

You will achieve more if you are focused on doing one thing at a time. One task, one goal, one business idea.  I recommend reading Jurgen Wolff’s book ‘Focus’ to give you some ideas and techniques to help you focus more effectively.

Develop Relationships

All businesses are people businesses.  People take the actions, people make the sales, people buy the product, and people promote you business with endorsements and recommendations.  The more time you spend developing relationships, the more effectively you will be able to manage and build your business.

Surround Yourself with Great People

As an entrepreneur, you will very soon recognise that won’t be able to do everything yourself.  Indeed the very characteristics of being an entrepreneur means that you are better at building a business than achieving the individual delivery tasks within that business.

So ensure you hire or work with great people, especially people who are better at doing key tasks than you are.

If you hire people that are not as good as you, then you will build a company where you are continually checking on people and being disappointed with their output.

Hire great people and then set them free to achieve.

Lead Your Team

Part of being an entrepreneur is giving your team the guidance they need to fulfil the vision.  Sharing your vision is not enough.  You also need to ensure that the team is continually supported in the delivering that vision and are rewarded when they make significant progress towards achieving it. There are many models of leadership and leading, but the simplest form is to’ know the way, to show the way and to go the way!’

Cheesy perhaps, but it captures the sentiment of leadership in very simple terms.

Never Stop Selling

Never forget that you are running a business and that you need revenue to survive.  Let your mantra be ‘Customer and Cash’.

You must, at a bare minimum, satisfy your customers.  I would suggest that your best approach is to make them raving fans.  But you must always be thinking of how to make the sale.  Sometimes you can sell at the first opportunity.  Other times you will need to make a continual investment in the relationship in order to establish credibility and have your prospect believe enough to become a customer.  Always be building the relationship and the selling will take care of itself.

These are just 10 of many tips that you will read about and learn from myriad sources. Although not exhaustive, they are useful to have in mind when you are building your business.

Dare to Aspire


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