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Book review

Nice review of my last book

Joy at work?

I remember a hotel general manager telling me how careful you have to be when assessing emotions at work. A member of his staff answered a weekly “How did you feel at work this week?” email question with one word: “Sad”. He went to find her and asked what was wrong with work, what he could do to help. “Nothing,” she said, puzzled. “Then why do you say you are sad at work?” he asked. “Because my mother just died,” she said.

I did some work ages ago with Robert Levering, founder of the Great Place to Work Institute, helping him identify UK employers who might be eligible for that description, before he launched the Institute in the UK (he’d come over from San Francisco, where it was well-established already).

I like that phrase ‘great place to work’ as something to aim for in the work experience. I had reservations about its successor ‘happiness’: I prefer ‘great’ as the employee can define what that means, whereas identifying one emotional state and saying everyone needs to be in that state else there is something wrong seems too prescriptive to me.

Many of us aren’t naturally happy people anyway. We’re fine, though. We may be laconic, idealistic, perfectionist, serious-minded realists. Doesn’t mean we lack a sense of humour or can’t find work great and fulfilling, creative and liberating, uplifting, all that good stuff, nor that we aren’t supportive of others, helpful, generous in spirit to colleagues and customers, with a smile on our face, not a scowl. But, we don’t go around happy as a natural state. Where do we fit into the happy workplace? Do we inhibit its development? Are we unwanted?

The emergence of ‘joy’, which came along more recently as something to aim for at work, has tipped me over the edge, as it seems to be language inflation – the upper end of happiness. I think both those emotions (happiness and its peak, joy) are, by definition, high points, experienced in moments. Aiming to make them a permastate during the work day seems unachievable to me.

I’d reserve joy for watching a child being born, not having a fulfilling and productive day at work. It just doesn’t quite do it for me. And, in a world of quiet resignation, this hyping up of work as an ultimate (joy is an ultimate, no?) experience increasingly seems tone deaf.

On the other hand …

In among all the ‘bowl oranges at plastic water bottles’ (Harvard University’s ‘morejoy’ resources page ) and similar stuff you find when you Google ‘joy at work’, I came across this, from W. Edwards Deming, father of Statistical Process Control (SPC may not sound joyful, but it liberated, for example, Harley Davidson employees to say they love their work by putting them in charge of it):

“Management’s overall aim should be to create a system in which everybody may take joy in his work.” Dr. W. Edwards Deming

And I find I can’t argue with that.

New Book: Love & Loss in the Time of Covid

“This accomplished experimental novel centers on loss, connection, and trying to heal in a pandemic. Dourado manages to balance tragedy and comedy in this intriguing debut that reimagines the novel in the context of Covid-19.”

– Publishers’ Weekly Book Life Supplement, November, 2021

“A moving and funny memoir of love & loss in a time of turmoil.”

Front cover.

My new book, published by Steelhouse Publishing, is available as a paperback and a Kindle eBook on these links:

Love & Loss in the Time of Covid (UK)

Love & Loss in the Time of Covid (US)

Or search the book title on your local Amazon site.


donna d 5.0 out of 5 stars 

Beautifully written – a must-read

Reviewed in the United States on October 26, 2021

This story follows the intimate journey of Matthew, who has lost three important people in his life during Covid, in succession, and how he navigates how to cope with his loss and grief. I found his journey along the Thames to be so symbolic – from putting the pieces of the kayak together to the navigation down the River, in the water – perhaps a search for rebirth. Having sought solace and peace in nature during lockdown (and still now), I could understand why his early morning time, drifting along, breathing in fresh air, were key to his search for healing.

The book offered humor where it was needed to give us some comic relief within a heavy subject matter. I found this book to be easily relatable, having lost friends and loved ones during the pandemic (and at other times too). Being separated from my mom for 6 months as her apartment building was in total lockdown, I could relate to his concerns for his own mother. Forced to wave to my mother from the sidewalk up to her 8th floor window was heartwrenching, but necessary for her health and protection. The author writes in an intimate, honest tone that I appreciated. There is no sugar coating to the pain from loss.

I totally understood how the main character used books, films, nature, videos, Ted Talks, science, grief counsellors, journals and articles written by others who have suffered grief – any avenue he could – to help him in his pain of loss and help him find a way forward to light and hope.

We live in a different world now – still in Zoom for many things where we used to have human contact, and finding ways to accept this way of life and find some positivity in it. The daily news lead off story is still about Covid and we can either fall into the darkness of it or choose light and hope for a better future.

I so appreciate that this book was written in real time. I loved this book.


Mrs T 5.0 out of 5 stars 

Can’t put this down 5*

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 5, 2021

I know it’s a cliche, but I can’t put this book down. I’m three-quarters of the way through. My dog is staring at me with his legs crossed, needing his walk. My son and his family are due for Sunday lunch. So, I have to put it down and get up for both of those. But, then I’m really looking forward to getting back into it. The grief theme and how the main character tries to work through it when he loses several people at once makes complete sense to us. My husband lost both his parents very close together and, when that happens, you haven’t been able to grieve full circle for one before you start again. It just all comes at you at once. Intensely moving and surprisingly funny book.

Barbara 5.0 out of 5 stars 

An unforgettable, extraordinary book.

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 8, 2021

Superbly written, original, intensely personal, moving, funny. One of the most evocative, extraordinary books I’ve ever read. We’re inside the central character Matthew’s head as he encounters, remembers and confronts his experiences of grief, loss and powerful love. I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s also great if you read in bitesize chunks – if you can bear to put it down, or simply have to, such as during a commute to work. But believe me, you’ll actually long for the journey time because every chapter sings. Unforgettable.


You can read an excerpt by going to the book’s page on this link Publishers’ Weekly Booklife Site and clicking on the ‘Download excerpt‘ button.

SEO-The Importance of Writing Something of Value

In the digital age, where content is king, the importance of writing something of value cannot be overstated, especially when it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is not just about getting to the top of search engine results pages; it’s about staying there and engaging your audience with content that resonates. This article delves into why writing valuable content is crucial for effective SEO.

Understanding the Core of SEO

SEO is a complex and evolving field that revolves around optimizing a website to improve its visibility in search engine results. While technical aspects like keywords, meta tags, and backlinks are integral to SEO, the heart of it lies in the content. Search engines, led by giants like Google, have continually updated their algorithms to prioritize content that offers real value to users, go to this website to learn how.

The Shift to Value-Driven Content

Gone are the days when stuffing articles with keywords was enough to rank high on search engines. Today, search engines are smarter and more user-centric. They prioritize content that is not only relevant but also valuable, informative, and engaging. This shift underscores the need for content creators to focus on writing something of value.

Value Equals User Engagement

Value-driven content is synonymous with user engagement. When content addresses the needs, questions, or interests of the audience, it naturally attracts more engagement. This engagement can be in the form of longer time spent on the page, lower bounce rates, and higher click-through rates, all of which are positive signals to search engines.

Building Authority and Trust

Writing content of value helps in establishing authority and trust in your niche. Authoritative content is typically comprehensive, well-researched, and provides insightful information. Such content not only ranks well but also earns the trust of the audience, leading to higher credibility and, eventually, a stronger brand presence.

The Long-term Benefits of Valuable Content

Valuable content offers long-term SEO benefits. Quality content continues to attract traffic, earn backlinks, and generate social shares long after it has been published. This enduring relevance is crucial for maintaining and improving search engine rankings over time.

Aligning with User Intent

Understanding and aligning with user intent is key to creating valuable content. It involves anticipating what users are searching for and providing content that answers their queries effectively. Content that aligns well with user intent is more likely to satisfy users, leading to better SEO performance.

The Role of Quality over Quantity

The emphasis on value also brings a shift from quantity to quality. It’s better to have fewer pieces of high-quality, valuable content than a plethora of low-value articles. Quality content often requires time and effort but the SEO rewards are well worth it.

How Organisation-Wide Change Grows Out of a Leadership Learning Network

How Organisation-Wide Change Grows Out of a Leadership Learning Network


That’s a very useful article from The Systems Thinker on the needed steps for establishing collaborative learning in your organisation.

In our in-house leadership learning networks, the interactions of those in the collaborative learning community can lead to organisation-wide change. One-off experiments and policies that were hidden become company standards (such as how Lissy changed IHG…).

But in order to get to that point, the organisation has to establish an overall collaborative learning culture.

The one point I would contest with the write-up is on the ‘bridge’ to establishing collaborative learning beyond an individual level, via creating ‘internal learning groups’. The idea here being that each group focuses on achieving business results while building collaborative capability, as they are drawn from various divisions and levels within the company (the example given in the essay is a chemical company as one group, communicating with a lab as the other).

I get the idea… sort of. It feels like a natural expansion to go from ‘individual’ to ‘group’ before ‘organisation’.

But there are a couple of dangers to this approach

Our experience of having run a Leadership Development community for ten years is that you SHOULDN’T start with small groups in some cases, but start with an organisation-wide learning network focused on a particular subject – in our case, leadership – then see if there is the appetite for the smaller groups once you have helped establish the overall collaborative learning culture.

Because there is a danger that right from the start you dissipate the momentum or energy by focussing it within particular groups rather than having a cross-organisation culture you are developing that is a common experience for all of the learning network members.

Collaborative Learning CycleHowever, our experience isn’t the only experience to draw on. Others may have started with existing small groups in organisations and brought them together within a larger network. 

Find where the energy is, use that to create traction and momentum and build from there

That’s the principle of success. If that energy already exists in small groups, draw on that first.

We are about to start work with a client where some of its employees, in the absence of an online collaborative work environment, have set up ‘unofficial’ Yammer groups to share learning on different areas of expertise, as small communities of practice. 

We are about to co-build with that organisation an ‘official’ company-wide Leadership Learning Network so they can begin to establish collaborative leadership. The digital community will become the organisation’s Community of Practice for leadership.

But, we can’t ignore the existence of the unofficial groups. So, we are looking to co-opt them – find out what they use the groups for and somehow make them sub-groups of our overall network, or offer a more user-friendly and more useful learning community than Yammer so that they might want to migrate over to the main community, taking their group with them. 


The most effective form of Leadership Development?

Blog Post Emergence

Here’s a quick run-down on Emergent Learning:

  • A Challenge or Opportunity emerges in the work itself
  • Learning from that work is shared…
  • … to be Tested and further Refined by others in the organisation…
  • … which leads to more individuals approaching work challenges as potential learning experiences, which leads to more sharing, more refining… And so on.

Emergent Learning is the most natural way that we learn as humans…

Our brains are built for it. We thrive on social connections and have far better retention for learning once we put it into practise. It’s how you are learning every day whether you realise it or not.

Which means it’s mindboggling that modern Leadership Development has not caught onto that framework yet.

Why? I can only imagine because it seems almost too organic. It’s impossible for most organisations to picture how Emergent Learning can become a recurring, manageable practise. Seemingly, it requires giving up control over what knowledge will be taught.

But what is really being giving up is an assumption of control. These organisations have to give up the assumption that their Leadership Development already knows everything that their leaders need to know.

It’s an archaic mindset. We’ve all been students, so we all assume that the best way to learn is from one ‘teacher’, who must surely know everything important that their students will ever need to know.

We NEVER assume that we know everything

We don’t assume what knowledge is out there in the organisation. In our Emergent Leadership Development communities, our role is not the ‘teacher’. EVERYONE is a teacher and a student at all times.

Successful Leadership Development looks more like a Curator. The one who facilitates this emergent learning, opens the floor, spots potential wisdom and brings it to the foreground.

Here’s a 1-minute video of me talking on this subject (excuse the dorky face I’m pulling). We have 10 years experience curating award-winning online Leadership Development communities built around Emergence and the Wisdom of Crowds.

What can health and military leaders learn from each other?

“I’ve led and commanded men and women on military operations around the world and never seen problems as challenging or leadership situations as complex as those faced in the NHS on a daily basis.”

Stephen Hart, Stephen Hartin charge of leadership development for Health Education England, has operated at senior level in both the military and the health service. His last role in the military before joining the NHS was Head of Command Leadership and Management for the Army Division at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom.

I asked him about his experiences in each organisation and what shared learning there might be.

Here is an extract from the article… Read the rest of this entry »

Why is this Healthcare vision statement wrong?

This is one anonymous Health System’s vision for healthcare quality:

“Our health system is world-leading in delivering the best outcomes across all six dimensions of quality. 

Our healthcare system is just, 

engages patients and families, 

and is relentlessly committed to improvement.”

Yes, it’s the use of the present tense to describe a desired future reality.

So many vision statements do this – express a ‘wish’ as an ‘is’. 

What that does to people working within that system is embed the ‘is’ as … an ‘is’ !! It becomes, in a subconscious sense, their current reality.

It’s Martin Seligman’s positive thinking in all its unrefined, undeveloped ideal form:

Imagine the reality you want. Picture and describe and talk about it as real. Then move your existing reality to become that. 

The problem is that more recent research into how to create a desired future state shows that once you talk about it as if it exists, you fool your brain and the brain of everyone else who works within that system into thinking the desired state DOES exist. 

Healthcare Leadership

Like you, I’m sure, I’ve worked in large organisations with smart people who can’t see the improvement needs in their own practices because of this sense of the vision and values that have been ‘socialised’ in the organisation. 

Any voice of criticism that suggests you aren’t living them is seen as disloyal. Hence the ‘whistleblower’ problem across all healthcare systems across the world. 

This Health System’s report on its vision (from 2015) goes on as follows

Having set out the vision and principles underlying a quality system, the committee working on this project then delved more deeply into how to implement such a system in our health system.

Released in April, this report acknowledges that our province still does not have a high quality healthcare system for everybody, with the health system working well only for some people, with some conditions, treated some of the time. 

The report sets out a number of recommendations for organizations in how to better understand quality healthcare, and how to deliver that care and foster a culture of quality.

Talking about quality across all six dimensions has to involve all stakeholders in the system – from governments, to hospitals and health authorities, to health care providers, patients and caregivers.

These conversations are essential if we are to move forward and make quality care a reality for everybody in the province.

Great. All true. But all totally undermined by the use of the present tense in that vision statement. Which sabotages the thinking of all involved right from the start. 

Healthcare Leadership

That’s just one example of how leadership and quality improvement in healthcare and other systems needs to keep up with advances in the psychology of work and not get stuck in old ‘vision’ thinking that is no longer fit for purpose. 

Leadership Conversations

The ‘leadership conversations’ talked about above have to be honest and reflect reality – ‘brutally confront existing reality’ (Collins, Bossidy etc) while creating and sustaining a sense of realistic optimism that “we can do this” by sharing small-scale real examples of changes happening at all levels. 

That’s what the online communities (that my team builds) do: enable real conversations that “prevent a BS culture of management speak from being the dominant and only acceptable mode of conversation” (in the words of one of the leaders in one of our communities run for one of the largest companies in the world). 

Patient leadership: an ‘Aha!’ moment for me…


A new article by Phil Dourado on patient-led care, a well-discussed but rarely practised tenet of Healthcare Leadership.

What should patient-led care look like in real, practical terms? Here are 3 examples in this 60-second article…

“He feels that he leads the shaping of his own life, rather than having his life led by the illness, mediated by the consultant.”

What we all have in common is the need to lead our own lives.

Patient-Led Care

Patient-led care changes the view of what a ‘successful outcome’ for long-term treatment will look like, letting the patient or their representative describe their view of success. Then the health and social care package is shaped around them to best achieve that.

It empowers the patient, and improves their relationships with the staff by breaking the staff’s assumptions of how the average case works.

“No-one is average. Constructing a care package and expectations from the ‘median’ or ‘mean’ or some other aggregation that leads to ‘likely outcomes’, pushes those likely outcomes to the average; often down from the outcomes you can achieve if you are led by the patient.”

Read Phil’s 60 Second Article in Full >>

Phil’s Picks for May – 9 Components of Social Leadership

Leaders who embody these traits are often the most widely-respected amongst their peers.

Our ‘Hubs’ are designed to magnify the quality of social leadership in an organisation; we build the platform with the leaders, curate lessons from their shared wisdom, and establish a community for fast and flexible problem-solving.

Over the past 8 years, we’ve seen multiple examples of stand-out social leaders sharing their techniques through our communities and having them become essential tools for others in the organisation.

We may even be sharing an example or two of these impressive leaders in the coming weeks.

Infographic created by Julian Stodd.

Click the Image for Full-Size

9 Components of Social Leadership