Executive coaching: a complete guide to finding the right coach for you

Working with an executive coach is a very personal experience, so it’s important to understand exactly what executive coaching is, and know how to find and choose the right coach for you. Drawing on almost a decade of my own experience coaching founders, CEOs and executives in high-growth businesses, the investment industry and progressive corporates, this post tells you everything you need to know.

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3 proven time management techniques for leaders

Time management is one of the most common themes in my coaching conversations with CEOs and other leaders: there’s just not enough time in their diary and day to get everything done. It’s a challenge for any leader but it’s particularly acute for leaders in the high-growth businesses that I work with, as they realise that they can’t scale at the same rate as their business. 

Born out of real coaching conversations with my clients, here’s three proven time management techniques to help you manage your time diary better – undertaking a diary review, blocking out focused time and setting up Office Hours. Experimenting with these techniques will likely, at the same time, reveal some deeper, psychological truths about what drives you and your behaviour.

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Why I’m sharing my coaching feedback publicly

As an executive coach, I’ve always encouraged my clients to seek out feedback. I often gather it on their behalf. But when it came to my own feedback, something felt lacking. Sure, I sought it out, but not in a structured way. To support my own development as a coach, I decided to start gathering comprehensive feedback from my clients on my own performance. Now, with clients’ permission, I’ve started sharing it publicly.

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A Deliberately Developmental Experiment

When the founders at Future Arc approached me to develop a business-wide coaching programme, they were clear they wanted to do something different. It felt right that a disruptive company that puts talent development at the heart of its organisation should embrace a new approach to developing its people. Fascinated by how we can build organisations and develop individuals for the future, and already drawing on Robert Kegan and colleagues’ work on adult development in my coaching practice, I introduced them to the concept of the Deliberately Developmental Organization (DDO).

A DDO is organized around the deceptively simple but radical conviction that organizations will best prosper when they are deeply aligned with people’s strongest motive, which is to grow. Deep alignment, it turns out, requires something more than making “a big commitment to our people’s growth,” admirable as that may be, even when such a commitment is followed up with significant investments in people’s ongoing learning on the job. It means something more than consigning “people development” to punctuated moments outside the flow of day-to-day work, such as standapart trainings, high-potential leadership development programs, executive coaching, corporate universities, or once-a-year retreats. Deep alignment with people’s motive to grow means fashioning an organizational culture in which support to people’s ongoing development is woven into the daily fabric of working life, visible in the company’s regular operations, day to-day routines, and conversations.

The Deliberately Developmental Organization
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4 leadership skills to help you thrive in a VUCA world

We live in Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world. But what does that mean for you as a leader? Let’s explore how traditional horizontal approaches to leadership fall short and double down on the vertical skills that leaders need to develop in order to make sense of and thrive in a VUCA world.

Inspired by the book Upgrade: Building your capacity for complexity, by Richard Boston and Karen Ellis, we’ll link VUCA with four leadership capacities that underpin vertical skills:

  1. Sensemaking – Observing, understanding and processing the complexity of a situation e.g. getting your head around all the different interconnected topics, data, issues or causal relationships.
  2. Perspective-shifting – ‘Zooming out’ to benefit from a more realistic and multifaceted understanding of a situation or relationship e.g. understanding the perspectives and agendas of the various stakeholders.
  3. Self-relating – Observing, understanding, regulating and transforming yourself e.g. making sense of your own reactions, thoughts and feelings.
  4. Opposable Thinking – Responding to the dilemmas and conflicting ideas that can create tensions within us and / or between us and other people e.g. working with opposing views.
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The Future Of Leadership 2021 Survey Results

The Future Of Leadership newsletter explores the intersection of leadership, business building and psychology. Keen to get to a better understanding of the circa 1,000 individuals who read it each month, in April 2021 I sent out a short survey. Forty six people very kindly responded. Here’s what I discovered about my readers and the future of leadership!

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Using the Cynefin framework to become a better leader in a complex world

There’s no shortage of “how to” advice, playbooks, formulas and even secrets and guarantees for success (at least that’s what the gurus will have you believe). This can work well in complicated situations. But high growth technology businesses are not complicated, they’re complex. That requires a different approach to leadership, explored here through the lens of the Cynefin framework.

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The best advice for entrepreneurs? Learn to think for yourself

Advice is everywhere, everyone has an opinion. It’s what to do with it that’s hard. If we really want to help entrepreneurs grow into the best CEOs, then we should stop telling them what to do and start helping them think. Let’s explore what it takes to transition from being a founder to a CEO, including the problem with “how to” advice and the benefits of becoming an independent thinker in a complex world.

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5 challenges startup leadership teams face & how to avoid them

Your startup exploded out the blocks. Your metrics rose impressively. You bootstrapped your way to growth, or super-charged it with external funding. You’ve reached 50, 150, maybe even 500 people. The opportunity is still enormous, but your growth rate is slowing and your early agility is showing signs of strain. There’s challenges all around you. People are stressed. True team leadership is now needed, but it’s at this point that it so often fails.

Startup growth is never linear, it’s a rollercoaster, but similar challenges are observable on the ride. Written for CEOs and other leaders building their startup leadership team, this article identifies the factors that commonly cause problems for a team. I offer up some advice about how to navigate these challenges based on my experience helping leadership teams through this critical stage of growth.

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Beware the Illusion of Certainty

We like to think that our lives are ordered, predictable and subject to a great deal of control. The past is finite; we see only one outcome. We attach causality and narrative to it so that it makes sense. We roll our ability to make sense of the past over into the future, which is infinite; there are many outcomes, as yet unknown and unknowable. Randomness, chance, and luck influence us far more than we realize. Certainty is an illusion. Uncertainty is everywhere.

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How can leadership team coaching help your technology business scale?

In his 2017 TED Talk Want to get great at something? Get a coach, surgeon, author and CEO Atul Gawande tells the story of the Harvard and Yale American-rules football teams: “In 1875 Harvard and Yale played their first game. Yale hired a coach Harvard did not. The results, over the next three decades Harvard won just four times. Harvard hired a coach”. Every high performing sports team has a coach, why doesn’t every leadership team?

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How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back – Summary

In How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back authors Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith identify 12 habits that commonly hold women leaders back as they endeavour to advance to the next stage in their careers. This article provides a summary of those 12 habits, plus a list of powerful questions posed to you by myself and Lynn White, Principal Partner at WDI Consulting. We hope this summary, and our questions, will help you to explore your own habits and unleash your full leadership potential, and the potential of your team and organisation.

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A leader’s guide to decision making under uncertainty

Uncertainty is normal for leaders of any business, but the Coronavirus pandemic has taken this to another level. Asked by clients for advice on how to navigate this crisis, I’ve pulled together thoughts and key resources into this decision making guide. It draws upon evidence from behavioural and decision making psychology, the latest leadership thinking, and my own experience working at Her Majesty’s Treasury during the Great Financial Crisis and navigating the uncertainty of cancer.

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Why entrepreneurs need a coach, mentor & therapist

Like any high-performing individual, leaders need to wrap a professional support team around them if they are to give themselves the best chance of success. That team must be trustworthy, objective, and acting always in the leader’s best interests. This post unpacks the difference between a coach, mentor and therapist and explains why, together, they can make up a such a cohesive support team.

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How Vertical Development helps new leaders transform

To develop truly effective leaders we need to move beyond providing people with more information – telling them what to do and how to do it – to helping them improve how they think, make decisions, and make sense of the world. This is the distinction between horizontal development, which focuses on what you know, and Vertical Development, which concerns how you think:

Traditional horizontal development focuses on the acquisition of further knowledge, skills and development of specific personal qualities to become more proficient and experienced in a given aspect of leadership. By contrast, Vertical Development transforms the underlying capacity of the leader to make sense of and respond to situations, working directly on their internal ‘meaning making’, rather than just behaviours or actions. 

Vertical Development: building leadership capabilities for the future
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How to develop a leadership culture in your startup

The internet is awash with articles about the importance of developing a positive company culture. What’s less commonly discussed is the importance of developing a positive leadership culture. In this post I explore what leadership culture is and how you can develop it in your business by: having focused executive leadership team conversations, engaging the whole business in leadership conversations, owning leadership culture from the top, and investing in leadership development.

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Leading on the job: five pieces of advice for new leaders

Not long ago you were part of a small team of people with a big idea that you thought could change the world. Now you are responsible for a rapidly growing team who are looking at you for direction. Your burden of responsibility has increased dramatically and you need to learn to lead quickly. Having coached a lot of new leaders in this situation, I’ve turned that experience into five pieces of advice for new leaders.

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8 books all new leaders should read

Why is it that when I ask for a pair of hands, a brain comes attached?” Henry Ford once asked. The capitalist economy of the last few centuries was built upon the work of men and machines. Men (and it was almost exclusively men) were paid to do, not to think. Command and control approaches to leadership prevailed, but these traditional approaches are outdated and ineffective. The way that businesses are built and led, and the future of work is changing: the world is more complex than it used to be and the best leaders are learning to adapt. To survive and grow in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) environment, leaders need skills and organisational capabilities that are different from those that helped businesses succeed in the past.

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4 questions to improve your leadership self-awareness

Self-awareness is considered to be one of the most fundamental issues in psychology, from both a developmental and an evolutionary perspective. As an executive coach, helping my clients develop their self-awareness is therefore one of the most important aspects of my job. Here’s four self-reflection questions that I ask clients, and which you can ask yourself too, to improve your leadership self-awareness.

1). How do you see yourself as a leader?
2). How do you think those around you see you as a leader?
3). How do those around you actually see you?
4). How does the literature’s perspective on leadership influence your own?

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Trillion Dollar Coach – Summary

Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Handbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell is a book about a man who helped build some of America’s greatest companies, including Apple and Google. A former college football player and coach, Bill didn’t enter the business world until he was thirty nine. Moving quickly though through executive roles, he went on to coach the likes of Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Eric Schmidt, Ben Horowitz and Bill Gurley, to name just a few. He passed away in 2016, leaving a legacy of growing companies, successful people and an enormous amount of respect. The book is essential reading for any manager or leader operating in a fast-moving, high growth business.

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How to avoid being duped by survivorship bias

It’s easy to see, and pay attention to, only successful individuals and businesses, not the failures that fall by the wayside. This phenomenon is called survivorship bias: “the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not, typically because of their lack of visibility.” (Wikipedia). This article explains, with examples, what survivorship bias is and how to avoid being duped by it.

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A collection of the best articles for new leaders

Many of my executive coaching clients are new leaders in startup and high growth technology businesses. They often find themselves thrust into a new leadership role without much previous experience or training to prepare them. The spotlight and responsibility of first-time leadership can be daunting but it is an incredible place to learn. As part of my executive and startup specific founder services, I curate a reading list of the most insightful leadership articles that I have discovered for clients to read and reflect on. From the thought provoking to the practical, here is a continually updated collection of the best articles which will help you grow and succeed in a new leadership role.

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Do these 2 things to get better at coaching your employees

The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever is one of the best books I’ve read for managers and leaders who want to use a coach approach with their employees but don’t have the time or inclination for formal training. It’s short on theory but long on practical tools and techniques that are a shot to the heart of great coaching.

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Can technology save the American Dream? Lessons from Janesville

Successful businesses today must be technology-enabled and able to compete in a global marketplace. Older businesses must adapt or die. Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein explores what happens to businesses that don’t adapt and the impact upon the places and individuals that get left behind. An insightful case study of a medical technology company that is incentivised to move to the town, raises the question of whether or not technology can save the American Dream: “the opportunity for prosperity and success, as well as an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers” (Wikipedia).

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What is the impact of technology on babies & young children?

The evidence is irrefutable: the best way to help a baby learn to talk or develop any other cognitive skill is through live interaction with a human being. But what is the impact of technology on young children that are exposed to it? Can an app, an avatar or a 3D cartoon recreate or override human nature? If a child spends too much time being cyber-simulated than connecting with the real world, could it impair other important pre-academic skills such as empathy, social abilities and problem solving? What about a child who spends the bulk of their playtime with an interactive app, in which objects explode, appear, reappear, and don’t play by the rules of the physical world? How does looking at a tablet screen impact an infant’s eyesight?

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Ray Dalio identifies the 11 characteristics of visionary leaders

Ray Dalio’s book Principles: Life & Work identifies the author’s organically grown set of principles for building a successful life and business. According to Dalio, principles are fundamental truths that serve as the foundations for behaviour that get you what you want. Dalio also details the personal research he conducted into visionary leadership. Through interviews with the likes of Bill Gates, Reed Hastings, Jack Dorsey and Elon Musk, he identified the characteristics of visionary leaders. This post summarises his findings, with a particular focus on ‘shapers’, as Dalio refers to them.

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15 books that will make you wiser

My experience with cancer changed my relationship with reading and books. Needing to understand my illness better, I consumed every medical paper I could get my hands on. This knowledge helped me deal with my illness and make wiser decisions as part of my treatment process. If it could help me navigate my illness, could it help me navigate life in general? I transitioned to books about psychology, and then to books about the world around me. Two years of radiotherapy, chemotherapy and several operations means you have a lot of time on your hands. This is a list of the books that made me wiser.

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