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Four ways to make your organization live long and prosper.

Warp Field

Image by Trekky0623 (Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve been reading Arie de Geus’ The Living Company: habits for survival in a turbulent business environment. It’s somewhat tangential to my role at the Academy, but nevertheless contains some great metaphors and insights.

Arie de Geus spent most of his career working for Shell, the oil company. During his time there, Shell commissioned a study about what makes a long-lived and prosperous organization. They found the following were true of the longest-lived organizations:

  1. Sensitivity to the environment – this represents an organization’s ability to learn and adapt.
  2. Cohesion and identity – aspects of a organizations innate ability to build a community and persona for itself.
  3. Tolerance – de Geus’ term, but actually as much to do with decentralization. Both are symptoms of a company’s awareness of its ecology and its ability to constructive relationships with other entities (within and outside itself)
  4. Conservative financing – this enables an organization to govern its own growth and evolution effectively

To sum this up, de Geus talks about organizations being ‘living organisms’:

Like all organisms, the living company exists primarily for its own survival and improvement: to fulfil its potential and to become as great as it can be. (p.11)

In terms of the relationship of the above to educational institutions, although they are all (theoretically) applicable, the one most applicable to my mind is cohesion and identity. It’s really important for educational institutions to build a culture of inclusion and achievement as this helps towards both implicit and explicit reasons for their existence.

What would you add to the above list? Would you take anything away? 🙂

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Be more productive: take ‘caffeine naps’.

'A Little bit of Beethoven' by malias @ Flickr

cc-by malias

Seeing as this blog recently featured in The Top 50 Productivity Blogs (yeah, yeah) I’d better get posting a few more productivity hints and tips!

I first came across the idea of a ‘caffeine nap’ on Lifehacker a couple of years ago. The premise is simple:

HOWTO: Caffeine nap

  1. Drink a cup of coffee (‘the caffeine has to travel through your gastro-intestinal tract, giving you time to nap before it kicks in.’)
  2. Doze (‘you’ll get what’s known as effective microsleep, or momentary lapses of wakefulness.’)
  3. Wake up after 15 minutes (any longer and your brain’s prefrontal cortex – used for judgement, etc. – will ‘spin down’ and can take 30 mins to reboot)

The caffeine nap works by you using the time that it takes the caffeine to be absorbed into your bloodstream to nap. This ‘helps clear your system of adenosine, a chemical which makes you sleepy.’ (according to this source)

Scientific credence has been given to the caffeine nap through research done at the Sleep Research Laboratory at Loughborough University. Their study, inventively-titled Suppression of sleepiness in drivers: combination of caffeine with a short nap found that the mid-afternoon ‘sleepiness peak’

…was significantly reduced by caffeine and eliminated by the combined treatment, which reduced incidents to 9% of placebo levels versus 34% of placebo levels for caffeine alone.

I’ve found the caffeine nap to be a really effective technique to use when I come home from work to be more productive in the evenings. Coupled with the (Brian Eno-authored) Bloom iPhone app. it’s a winner! 😀

You can find a bit more about caffeine naps in Wikipedia’s more general section on Power naps and more about the wonders of caffeine can be found at the Coffee FAQ.

Related articles:

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Pure gold nuggets from Shirky

I’ve recently finished reading Clay Shirky‘s excellent book Here Comes Everybody. If you’re new to social media it explains why it’s important; if you’re not, it equips you to explain its importance to others. A must read!

Below are some quotations from the book in a Flickr set that will eventually grow to include quotations from other authors… :-p

HOWTO: Present using Cooliris (the basics…)

Regular readers of this blog and followers of my tweets will be aware that I’ve recently come across (via Alan Levine 1, 2) a great way to present to an audience using a plugin for the Open Source, cross-platform web browser Firefox.* Cooliris makes your presentations look like an interactive version of this:

(examples available in the Presentations section)

Why use Cooliris as a presentation method?

  • It looks extremely cool and engages your audience
  • It generates HTML pages for your images so you can quickly and easily put your presentation slides online
  • It’s free (if you use something like to create your images)
  • It can be controlled using a Nintendo Wiimote (I use Darwiin Remote with my Macbook Pro)

The purpose of this post is to show how to create a basic presentation with Cooliris, and then how to enable the more advanced features. 😀

Cooliris: the basics

The basic steps are: export your slides as images, import them into PicLens Publisher, and then upload generated folder to web server (optional, as you can run it locally from your hard disk)

1. Export your slides as images

Keynote (click to enlarge):

Keynote - Export (thumb) Keynote - filetype (small)

Powerpoint (click to enlarge):

Powerpoint - Save as Pictures Powerpoint - Image options (click to enlarge): - Export - export format openoffice03_small - HTML format - JPG quality Create

As far as I’m aware, although the options would suggest otherwise, there’s no obvious way to export all you slides to images in Instead, we can generate them by creating an HTML version of the presentation which will also create images. As a bonus, this can be uploaded alongside the Cooliris version of the slides for those without the plugin. 🙂

2. Use PicLens Publisher

Cooliris used to be known as ‘PicLens’ – hence the name of PicLens Publisher, a Mac/Windows program that does everything you need to convert your images ready for an interactive Cooliris-powered presentation!

Simply follow the instructions given to you in the program:

PicLens Publisher

Once you’ve finished, go to the folder that you exported your files to and open gallery.html in Firefox (with the Cooliris add-on). You should see an interactive presentation like the ones I produced!

3. Upload your files to a web server (optional)

If you want your presentation to be online, do the following:

  1. Rename the folder containing your PicLens Publisher-created files to something without spaces (e.g. preso)
  2. Rename gallery.html within the preso folder to index.html
  3. Connect to your web server and navigate to where you want the preso folder uploaded to
  4. Upload the preso folder generated by PicLens Publisher to your web server

Upload preso to web server

That’s it! You’ve created your first Cooliris-powered, interactive presentation. Details on how link to websites from your slides, name them, customize the icon at the top, and use a Wiimote to present will feature in a follow up post. 🙂

* Cooliris is also available for Internet Explorer and Safari, but I’m not entirely sure why you’d want to use those… 😉

Raising achievement in History at KS4 using e-learning

SHP 2009 slides

Click here to go straight to the slides

I’m at the annual Schools History Project Conference for the fifth time this weekend and am presenting for the third time. This is the first time that I’ll be presenting without my partner in crime, Nick Dennis, as he’s unable to make the conference. It’s a shame, but it means I can focus entirely on what I did with my Year 10 History class this academic year at my previous school.

I’ve used the Cooliris presentation method, pioneered by Alan Levine, and which I piloted in my Open Source School presentation earlier this month. I’m not so sure he uses a Nintendo Wiimote (along with Darwiin Remote) with Cooliris, though. It’s an excellent presentation method – and free if you create your slides in (as I do!) 😀

The easiest way to share the link directly to the slides that go with this presentation is to go to:

Links (in order mentioned) to the websites mentioned in the presentation can be found below:

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How to Lead: Being Professional

how_to_leadThis is the last in a short series of posts looking at the ‘foundations of leadership’ section of Jo Owen’s How to Lead: what you actually need to do to manage, lead and succeed. My previous two posts can be found here:

  1. How to Lead: Focusing on People
  2. How to Lead: Being Positive

The third chapter of Owen’s book, and the last in the ‘foundations of leadership’ section is entitled Being Professional. Owen explains what he means by professionalism as follows:

Professionalism encompasses the core skills and values that define the character and potential of the organisation and the individual. It is central to the success of leadership.

He adds that professionalism should never be taken for granted and that it comprises four main elements:

  1. Learning to learn leadership
  2. Learning the local rules of the game: understanding professionalism in the context of the organisation
  3. Learning some universal lessons of professionalism
  4. Learning business survival etiquette.

The rest of this post uses these elements as section headings.

Learning to learn leadership

Formal education systems, says Owen, teaches people exactly the wrong lessons about leadership. In fact, this is probably why Richard Branson and Bill Gates – both ‘drop-outs’ of formal education systems – have prospered. Formal education teaches people to work in highly structured environments in an individual way looking for logical answers. Instead, it is the ‘tacit’ knowledge that is important, embodied in Japanese education and culture, for example.

According to Owen, leaders develop their capabilities in ‘two and a half ways’:

  1. Learning from role models
  2. Learning from experience
  3. Learning from structured observation and discussion (sometimes)

If you want to accelerate your path to leadership, the two best ways of doing so are:

  • Set up your own organization. You will have to learn very quickly and even if it fails you will learn a lot.
  • Structured observation and discovery – actively looking, listening and learning.

Owen suggests creating your own worksheets for reflection using headings such as ‘interpersonal skills’, ‘management skills’, ‘personal behaviours’ and ‘commuication skills.’

Learning the local rules of the game

Dress codes are a trivial but higly visible sign of the local rules of the game. They can fluctutate and be highly political. You need to learn the local rules fast, but no-one will tell you and will look at you as if you have asked a weird question if you ask. Instead, you need to pick up clues and hints. The most direct question you could ask to get a useful question would be How could I really mess up?

Learning some universal lessons of professionalism

When Owen interviewed 700 top leaders and asked them about their expectations of emerging leaders, the following came out top:

  1. Loyalty
  2. Honesty
  3. Reliability
  4. Solutions
  5. Energy (incorporating stamina, commitment, resilience, optimism, etc.)

These are all closely linked traits and tend to go together in people.

Turning to the most common complaints co-workers make about their colleagues in 360° feedback, Owen lists them as being:

  • not communicating
  • public, not private, arguments
  • game playing and politicking
  • bullying
  • bad habits (turning up late, poor dress, etc.)
  • personalising feedback and comments

Finally for this part, Owen makes the Prisoners’ Dilemma relevant to business. If you’re not familiar with this, read about it at Wikipedia, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, or play the Open University’s game. It turns out that tit-for-tat teaches people a lesson. If they offer conflict, offer conflict back, but always then go back to an ‘offering cooperation’ model. This teaches them appropriate behaviours. :-p

Learning business survival etiquette

Owen begins the section by stressing the importance of etiquette and what it means in practice:

Etiquette is fundamentally about putting the other person at ease and making them feel valued, respected and important.

Basic etiquette therefore involves

  1. Promptness – respecting the other person’s time (you don’t lose friends or clients by arriving early!)
  2. Focus – good leaders have the habit of making you feel like you are the most important thing in their lives at that moment. How?
    • no interruptions from calls
    • mobile phone off
    • no playing with PDAs in meeting
  3. Courtesy – say ‘thank you’ a lot. And smile. :-
  4. Responsiveness – things like answering the phone within three rings, replying to email quickly and following up on commitments promptly shows you are in control and minimises effort.
  5. The Personal Touch – for example:
    • escorting people out yourself (perfect for that Columbo ‘one more question’ moment)
    • handwritten notes (valuable in an email culture)
    • learning names and using them.


I thought that the most valuable insights for this section were ‘learning the local rules of the game’ and the important of ‘the personal touch’. Of course, in a new Academy, the ‘local rules of the game’ will be in flux and it will be up to me, in part, to help set them! 😉

How to Lead: Being Positive

how_to_leadThis is the second of three posts outlining my notes and thoughts on Jo Owen’s excellent book How to Lead: what you actually need to do to manage, lead and succeed. I encourage you to buy and devour it if you’re in, or are likely to soon be in, a leadership position.

You can view my previous post on this book here: How to Lead: Focusing on People

The first section of Owen’s book is entitled The Foundations of Leadership and this second post outlines his thoughts on Being Positive.

Owen begins by re-iterating what the surveyed 700 top leaders look for in emergent leaders: adaptability, self-confidence, proactivity, reliability, and ambition.

He believes that these can be summed up by being positive. By this Owen means:

  • seeing opportunities instead of problems
  • learning to be luck consistently
  • moving from analysis to action
  • living better

Owen states that there are six aspects of being positive, which will form the section titles of the rest of this post.

The art of being positive in everyday life

In order to come across as a positive person, emergent leaders need to:

  1. Focus on strengths rather than weaknesses
  2. Manage your feelings
  3. Visualize (focus on your goals)
  4. Do something worthwhile (work or elsewhere)
  5. Move to action (look to the future, not the past)
  6. Wear the mask of leadership (look professional, don’t be negative)
  7. Take control (focus on the things you can do)

The art of being positive in business life

To be seen as someone valuable to the organization and your boss, Owen recommends the following:

  1. Bring solutions to the table, not problems.
  2. Respond to new ideas by looking for positives, not negatives.
  3. Volunteer for special projects.
  4. Take measured risks.
  5. Don’t whine when given menial work (it’s a ‘right of passage’ and you get to see how the organization really works)
  6. Don’t gossip about the boss or colleagues.
  7. Don’t duck responsibility.

The art of being consistently lucky

Owen attributes the quotation, “I find the harder I work, the luckier I get” to golfers, but I’m pretty sure it was originally from Thomas Jefferson. In any case, it’s a sound guiding principle and adorned the wall of my previous classroom! :-p

Making your own luck, says Owen, is down to the 3P’s:

  • Practice (‘experience is to the leader what practice is to the sportsperson’)
  • Persistence (‘if you have never failed, you have probably never tried hard enough’)
  • Perspective (it’s one thing to see an opportunity but quite another thing to act upon it)

Being smart vs. being positive

Emerging leaders respond to challenges with one of the 4A’s:

  1. Apathy (never going to become a leader)
  2. Analysis (needs to be fused with experience)
  3. Answers (brings solution to the table)
  4. Action (‘easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to seek permission’)

I don’t think this is Owen’s strongest section, to be honest. I can see why apathy isn’t a good reponse (obviously!) and I don’t think the other A’s are insightful. 🙁

Problem-solving positively

Problem-solving is not – or should not be – a purely intellectual exercise; it should drive action. ‘The perfect solution,’ says Owen, ‘is the enemy of the practical solution.’ A structured and mechnical approach to problem-solving will only get you, at best, a ‘B+’ answer, he says. Intsead, the insightful approach would be:

  1. Find both the problem the owner of the problem – is it a cause or a symptom?
  2. Find an alternative perspective – go and talk to people!
  3. Challenge the data and definitions – find alternatives.
  4. Don’t ‘boil the ocean’ – look for ‘killer facts’.
  5. Build a story based on a hypothesis – don’t be neutral.
  6. Pre-sell the solution to interested parties – address concerns before going public.

When analysing data, put into practice two principles:

1. 80/20 rule: 80% of the results can be achieved with 20% of the effort, so focus your efforts on the areas most likely to yield results. Ways to decide which is the 20% worth focusing on:

  • impact on organization
  • importance to owner of problem
  • feasibility of potential solution
  • ease of analysis
  • cost of analysis of potential solution

2.  The issue tree: break down complex problems into bite-size chunks – then apply the 80/20 rule. Create a simplified flow diagram (or tree) to assist with this.

Owen makes a great point about people being confused when presented with lots of choice. They want advice and a story to tell – give it to them! Take people out of the office or make videos to help tell your story (social engagement).

Reputation is an important factor when dealing with people within organizations. Each person, says Owen, is like a brand with different levels of trust and quality. Get the support of people who are trusted; either get them to present or get them to vouch for you.

Making the most of your time

It is fairly obvious that time management techniques are of no use to you if you are doing the wrong things. There are therefore three important questions you should ask of yourself:

  1. What are the 3 most important things I need to achieve over the next 3 months? (apply the 80/20 rule)
  2. What are the most important things my boss needs to achieve, and am I helping achieve those goals? (i.e. am I doing something worthwhile?)
  3. What is it I can do that no-one else can do among my team and colleagues? (delegate!)

Ultimately, Owen believes, using time well involves using the rules from the radio programme Just a Minute – no hesitation, deviation or repetition:

  • Hesitation – delaying work creates more work and reduces its quality.
  • Deviation – at a simple level this involves being distracted, but at another involves making sure you are working on the correct issue.
  • Repetition – Owen invokes the 3D’s:
    • Ditch it – if it’s not necessary, delete or abandon it.
    • Delegate it – if someone else can do it, let them!
    • Do it – if you are going to do it, do it now.


Whilst not quite as strong as the first chapter, this second chapter does involve some useful insights. Not least the 80/20 rule, the importance of not whining or gossiping, and time management involving working on the correct thing! 🙂

The final post in this series can be found here: How to Lead: Being Professional

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Daniel Goleman on Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman

Watch a video of Goleman being interviewed about emotional intelligence here.

Last week, when I mentioned to my Twitter network that I needed to do some reading on ‘Leadership’, quite a few recommended the work of Daniel Goleman. Then, when I looked at the ‘Further Reading’ section of Jo Owen’s How to Lead that I’ve just started reading, Goleman was mentioned again. How to Lead cited some contributions Goleman made to the Harvard Business Review. Thankfully, I’ve access to this electronically through being a student at the University of Durham.

What follows are my notes and thoughts on 5 articles (and a letter) by Goleman, all published in the Harvard Business Review. Each subtitle is the name of Goleman’s article, along with the year published. 🙂

What make a Leader? (1998)

IQ-EQ icebergMany believe that leadership is an art rather than a science. Why? Because ‘every businessperson knows a story about a highly intelligent, highly skilled executive who was promoted into a leadership position only to fail at the job.’ Goleman believes that whilst IQ and technical skills are not irrelevant (they are ‘threshold capabilities’) but what is much more important is emotional intelligence. Indeed, Goleman asserts that his research shows that this is twice as important as a driver of outstanding performance compared to the other two factors.

Goleman states that emotional intelligence is made up of the following characteristics:

  • Self-Awareness – ‘the ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effect on others.’
  • Self -Regulation – ‘the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods’ and ‘the propensity to suspend judgment – to think before acting.’
  • Motivation – ‘a passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status’ and ‘a propensity to pursue goals with energy and persistence.’
  • Empathy – ‘the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people’ and ‘skill in treating people according to their emotional reactions.’
  • Social Skill – ‘proficiency in managing relationships and building networks’ and ‘an ability to find common ground and build rapport.’

Emotional intelligence is not easy, says Goleman, but it can be learned!

Leadership That Gets Results (2000)

Goleman contends that what leaders should do is get results. Pure and simple. The question is how is this achieved? Research by the consulting firm Hay/McBer found there are six main leadership styles ‘each springing from different components of emotional intelligence.’ Goleman likens these leadership styles to golf clubs in a seasoned professional’s bag: you choose the correct club (‘style’) for each shot (‘situation’).

The six styles are:

  1. Coercive – demand immediate compliance.
  2. Authoritative – motivate people towards a vision.
  3. Affiliative – create emotional bonds and harmony.
  4. Democratic – build consensus through participation.
  5. Pacesetting – demand excellent and self-direction.
  6. Coaching – developing people for the future.

These styles impact directly on the ‘climate’ of an organization, defined as comprising the following elements:

  • Flexibility – how free people are to innovate.
  • Responsibility – the sense of responsibility people have to the organization.
  • Standards – the standards that people set.
  • Rewards – the accuracy of performance feedback.
  • Clarity – how clear people are about mission and values.
  • Commitment – how committed people are to a common purpose.

Of the six styles, four of them act positively towards the climate of the organization and two in a negative sense. The two that damage the climate of an organization are Coercive (‘do as I say, now!’) and Pacesetting (‘do as I do, now!’). That being said, there are times, usually during times of crises when these leadership styles can prove effective in the short-term.

Being able to switch between the six styles is a matter of Emotional Intelligence, something akin to changing habits, says Goleman. It is something that can be learned and has to be practised.

Primal Leadership (2001)

Primal LeadershipGoleman, Boyatzis and McKee continued Goleman’s original research into emotional intelligence, coming up with the concept of leaders having an ’emotional style.’ This, they believe, sets the tone for the whole organization, that ‘the leader’s mood is quite literally contagious, spreading quickly and inexorably throughout the business.’

The authors state that the brain’s limbic system, it’s emotional centre, is an ‘open-loop’ system. Unlike self-regulating closed-loop systems, an open loop system relies on external sources to maintain itself. ‘In other words, we rely on connections with people to determine our moods.’ That’s why we find it difficult not to smile or laugh ourselves when we hear laughter. It is this that the emotionally intelligent leader needs to tap into as good moods, it would appear from the research, transmit more quickly that bad ones! 😀

Leaders cannot simply ask those further down the hierarchy for feedback on their emotional style. Why? Job security and the personal nature of such feedback are two very good reasons. Instead, leaders need to go on journeys of self-discovery and personal reinvention that are ‘neither newfangled nor born of pop psychology.’  The authors point towards as being a useful starting point.

The journey of self-discovery and personal reinvention, contend the authors, is a five-step process of asking questions:

  1. Who do I want to be?
  2. Who am I now?
  3. How do I get from here to there?
  4. How do I make change stick?
  5. Who can help me?

I find these questions, if I’m honest, a little patronising. But then, after studying Philosophy at university as an undergraduate, I’m fairly self-reflective in any case. What do you think? Useful questions or not?

Never Stop Learning (2004)

Emotional IntelligenceIn this very short article Goleman says that leaders can survive without much ’emotional intelligence’ if everything is going well for the business. However, this is exactly the time that leaders should be building up and developing their emotional intelligence for the downturn and potential crises.

The data shows that people’s emotional intelligence tends to increase with age, but this is not to say that it is a function of, and comes with, experience. One of the most frequent criticisms of newly-promoted leaders is that they lack empathy. The problem, of course, being that they have been promoted for their intelligence and outstanding performance rather than their leadership skills.

Leaders can improve their emotional intelligence if they are given:

  • Information – candid assessment of their strengths and limitations from people they can trust.
  • Guidance – a specific development plan using ‘naturally occurring workplace encounters as the laboratory for learning.
  • Support – someone to talk to as they practice how to handle different situations.

It’s hard to argue with the principles and ideas behind Goleman’s emotional intelligence, although I do wonder whether the inclusion of the word ‘intelligence’ is helpful… :-p

Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership (2008)

Research shows, says Goleman and Boyatzis, that certain things leaders do affects their brain chemistry and that of their followers. In fact,

researchers have found that the leader-follower dynamic is not a case of two (or more) independent brains reacting consciously or unconsciously to each other. Rather, the individual minds become, in a sense, fused into a single system.

Great leaders, say the authors, are at the opposite end of the ‘neural continuum’ than those with autism or Asperger’s, social disorders ‘characterized by underdevelopment in the areas of the brain associated with social interactions.’

Social IntelligenceThe authors therefore introduce the concept of social intelligence, ‘a set of interpersonal competencies built on specific neural circuits (and related endocrine systems) that inspire others to be effective.’ Pointing to recent research in neuroscience on ‘mirror neurons’ which act as ‘neural wifi’. When we detect other people’s (emotions through their actions), our mirror neurons reproduce these emotions, leading to a feeling of shared experience.

So, Goleman and Boyatzis say, the ‘old carrot-and-stick’ approach for encouraging people to perform better, doesn’t work. Smiles, laughter, nods and positive reinforcement are much more conducive to improving performance. Followers of effective leaders experience rapport with them – what the authors call ‘resonance’.

‘The only way to develop your social circuitry effectively,’ say Goleman and Boyatzis, ‘is to undertake the hard work of changing your behavior.’ Linking back to Primal Leadership, the authors believe this is a process of building a personal vision for change and gathering feedback. It is especially important to undergo this when things are going well, as during times of stress as ‘soaring cortisol levels and an added hard kick of adrenaline can paralyze the mind’s critical abilities.’ Leaders fall back into old habits during these times – all the more reason to become more self-reflective.

A Reply to Ken Otter (2009)

Finally, in a letter to the Harvard Business Review, Ken Otter gave his thoughts on an article by Goleman and Boyatzis. The authors took the time to reply to this, in which they made the following point – important and especially relevant to me about online communication:

Andrea Zambarda’s query about whether the brain’s social circuitry operates as well during communication by phone and videoconference as it does during face-to-face interactions raises an issue that is becoming increasingly important to companies. The brain’s circuitry picks up crucial social signals during communication, receiving the most during face-to-face interactions, somewhat fewer during videoconferences, and fewer still during phone calls. When communication is via e-mail or text alone, however, no emotional signals whatsoever are received, resulting in the greatest likelihood of missed cues.

…and that’s why I almost always put a smiley in my tweets, text messages and blog posts! 🙂

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How to Lead: Focusing on People

how_to_leadI’ve been tasked with ‘learning to lead’ for the remaining weeks of this term, inamongst the other things I’m doing. To that end, I’m reading a range of books and articles, watching videos and generally trying to learn from the experts. 🙂

Looking on Amazon, there were lots of 5-star reviews for a book by Jo Owen entitled How to Lead: what you actually need to do to manage, lead and succeed. I’ve just finished the first chapter entitled ‘Focusing on People’ and it has lots of good ideas and advice crammed into it.

Here’s my notes and reflections on what I’ve read:

Leaders are made, not born

Owen says three principles underpin his book:

  1. Everyone can lead
  2. You can load the dice in your favour (but there’s no magic recipe)
  3. You can learn to be a leader

Leadership is not about the position you are in but about the way you behave. Leaders need followers, otherwise they are not leaders! There is no particular intelligence requirement for leadership, but instead some core behaviours:

  • ability to motivate others
  • vision
  • honesty & integrity
  • decisiveness
  • ability to handly crises

‘Performance’ is not mentioned in the above, but naturally flows from them.

You don’t need to know it all

Some leaders suffer from ‘altitude sickness’ in that they can’t cope at a higher level when they’ve been successful further down the hierarchy. Sometimes this is due to a perception that you need to ‘have all the skills’ immediately. Instead, good leaders radiate self-confidence and build on their strengths whilst realising that learning is a lifelong process.

Despite being an author and consultant himself, Owen says that people learn from lived experience, not primarily from books, manuals and conferences. That being said, these can help you understand your experiences and build upon them.

Focusing on people

Good leaders focus on other people, not themselves. There are three major elements to this:

  1. Decentring – knowing yourself and how you affect others
  2. Influencing people – selling ideas to them
  3. Managing upwards – influencing the boss

In order to deal with other people you need to know what makes them tick. Owen suggests trying to ascertain their Myers-Briggs personality type. Regular readers will remember that I wrote about such tests back in a post entitled “You can tell a lot about someone from what they’re like.” You don’t have to use the Myers-Briggs indicators – you can use your own such as ‘big picture’ vs. ‘detail’. Understanding what makes your colleagues, and especially your boss, tick helps you press the right buttons.

Selling ideas

In order to influence others, you need to focus on the third of three levels that are naturally used when you try and sell an idea or object to someone:

  1. Features – the innate characteristics of the idea or object
  2. Benefits – the features people want from the idea or object
  3. Hopes & dreams – what can be achieved through the idea or object

By tapping into peoples’ hopes and dreams you can motivate and inspire them to action. Owen recommends reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, if you haven’t already. I listened to it as an audiobook a while back, but will be purchasing the book soon!

What makes people tick

Owen, rather pessimistically, asserts that fear, greed and idleness makes people tick. These can be seen as ‘influencing levers’. He gives some advice as to how you use these levers:

  • Fear – ‘de-risk’ ideas by, for example, running pilot projects.
  • Greed – be clear r.e. the WIFM? (What’s In It For Me?) factor. This has as much to do with recognition and status as money.
  • Idleness – find a way in which the idea supports the other person’ agenda. This will motivate them to action.

Owen gives some great advice taken from the world of sales. At the end of the meeting, give the person or group of people to whom you are pitching a choice between two positive ideas. It takes effort to reject the idea completely, so people will usually choose one of your two option, leading to success on your part!

The unforgivable sin

After interviewing 700 leaders, Owen came up with a list of the following traits that they are looking for in emergent leaders:

  • adaptability
  • self-confidence
  • proactivity
  • reliability
  • ambition

Most mistakes are rectifiable and forgivable, but the one unforgivable sin for them is disloyalty. As one put it, ‘Don’t outshine me, don’t outsmart me and don’t outflank me.’ Wise words indeed. :-p

Influencing the boss

Although you are not usually in control of who is your boss, you can still influence your relationship with them. Influencing your boss, says Owen, has three elements:

  1. Finding the right boss (find a sponsor more senior to your immediate boss and make yourself useful to them)
  2. Delivering the right results (a matter of style and substance – use the ‘style compass’ on your boss and what your ‘must-win’ battles are)
  3. Having the right behaviours (you have to adapt to your bosses’ style as they won’t adapt to yours. Make sure they know what you’re good at, what your capacity is, and what your progress is)


I enjoyed the first chapter of How to Lead it was general enough to be applicable without being vague, and opened my eyes to strategies that could work well in my new position. 😀

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Thinking of changing this blog…

BloggeurI’ll keep this short. I’m thinking about changing this blog for two reasons.

  1. WordPress (which powers this blog) is database-driven. That means it’s not archived over at That means if I died tomorrow, my work would be pretty much lost forever. This is the main reason.
  2. I get bored of the same blog theme after a while. While the one I’ve got at the moment (Digital Statement) allows me contain lots of ‘stuff’, I’m thinking crisp and clean – like the Flickr blog, for example. There’s also some nice onces over at

So… suggestions for blogging engines that produce static HTML pages? (or do you know of WordPress plugins that allow the same?) 🙂

Oh, and before you say renders WordPress blogs just fine, have a look at the mess it made of the previous iteration of this one! (pic)

Image cc-by Mike Licht,

Update: Upon further investigation after this helpful tweet by @ctdesign, it would appear it could be something as simple as the link to the CSS file in my header. Cool.

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