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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.

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

The Hospital CEO who went Undercover as a Porter

In her book How to Have a Good Day, psychologist Caroline Webb draws on behavioural science to improve our understanding of why we behave the way we do at work.

How to Have a Good Day (Book)

It helps redefine the very tired ‘personal productivity’ canon of business and self-help books, whose main insights after decades and hundreds of books seem to be:

1) Make lists (Dave Allen) and

2) Focus on only a few things and ignore everyone and everything that tries to push you off track (great for collaborative working, dontcha think?)

What Caroline Webb does is recognise that the people we work with are, guess what, people.

How you behave is key

Caroline Webb

Webb spreads the net of personal and team productivity to include not just WHAT you do but HOW YOU BEHAVE.

Of course checklists are useful, says Webb. But then gives us a psychologist’s insight into the little burst of ‘feel good’ chemicals you get when you tick a box, and how that’s addictive and you’ll tick till you’ve finished your list (sometimes) and go home thinking ‘job done’ under Dave Allen-type personal productivity thinking, which is completely self-centred and shallow (that’s me dissing Dave Allen, not Caroline Webb).

Webb introduces the need to inspire yourself and others with reasons, like the ‘personal why’. The neat little story is below as an excerpt. We at the Leadership Hub like this story as it illustrates an aspect of leadership we feel is vital and rarely practised: Leaders need to be where the business is actually done, as often as possible, not shut in their meetings in offices, a distant figure to the rest of the organisation.

(You can be everywhere virtually, by the way, with one of our digital leadership communities that make your top team ‘present’ in all corners of the business, regardless of geography, but that’s just a gratuitous plug).

Here’s the Story:


“….I once heard a nice example of this kind of ‘personal why’ from a community hospital CEO.  David was new to his organisation and still not a familiar face to staff, so he decided to spend a day working under-cover as an anonymous orderly to get some insight into how it felt on the front lines of his organisation.  David busied himself ferrying patients from the emergency room to wards and from wards to operating theatres, learning a little more about his hospital with every step.

At one point, he came across a guy who was prodding a swinging door with a screwdriver.  David asked the handy man what he was doing.  The man looked up and said ‘I’m fixing the hinge so it opens more easily; it’s too stiff so when you’re pushing patients on gurneys through the doors, it gives them a nasty jolt – that’s not going to help them get better, is it?’

Of course, the handy man had been handed a task list for the day by his boss and he was steadily working through it. It could have been dull, a grind, but in his mind the goal was not just to fix the door, it was to reduce harm to patients. Making the connection to something he cared about encouraged him to treat the tasks more like his own, intrinsic goals, giving him more satisfaction and, all the evidence suggests, resulting in better performance too.”

I love the way the emerging behavioural sciences are re-defining productivity for leaders and managers. The further away we move from the self-serving ‘get the monkey off my back and onto someone else’s’, the closer we get to collaborative leadership that serves the organisation, its people and customers, rather than our own career and need to get things off our desks to appear productive and in control.

Because that isn’t leadership. That’s the illusion of control.

Phil’s Picks for March – Morrisons Marketing Director recommends my book

Mike MorrisonsHoban, Morrison’s Marketing Director, has just recommended my Seven Secrets of Inspired Leaders book, along with The First 90 Days. Mike says there are too many books out there and that these are the two books marketers should be reading.

Here’s the link >>

Glad to see that leaders are still finding the book useful, as it’s 12 years old now. The community behind that book – the Inspired Leaders Network – brought together leaders who were achieving extraordinary results, from Body Shop founder Anita Roddick to First Direct founding CEO Mike Harris.

That ‘share great and emerging practice’ principle is what underlies our online communities now. >>

Seven Secrets Book

If a book of collated learning from 12 years ago is still invaluable to these senior leaders, it’s just another reminder how powerful emergent peer-to-peer learning is.