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Phil's Leadership blog

Phil’s Picks for May: Help! No more longwinded infographics please

This month I finally got fed up with INFOGRAPHICS as a medium. 

When infographics started to emerge, as short, sometimes instant-hit (as in the impact seared into you in milliseconds) picture-led information/learning/insights like this, I loved them:

Boss Leader Infographic

In fact the above is my fave infographic on leadership so far.

If anyone finds a better one, do send it to me 🙂 .

As my approach to leadership development is all about ‘micro-lessons’ and “Learn a little every day” – which originated with The 60 Second Leader book – distilled learning ‘bites’ of leadership for time-poor leaders and would-be leaders – I thought the new breed of infographics would enhance our approach.

But, as with all new media, the form got confused with the content and I’m now besieged with a series of “infographics your website users will find essential” from the new breed of online marketers or ‘native advertisers’ with titles like

27 ways to engage the workforce

15 Things leaders get wrong

The Top 50 things leaders do

And they go on and on and on and on. You have to scroll endlessly to read. You know the kind of thing.

But, I do love the emergence of SKETCH NOTES

So, I’m heartened at the emergence of sketch notes, which feel more ‘real’ and peer to peer and rough and instant, now that ‘infographics’ have been taken over by the new marketers and trashed.

Here’s a great sketch note from a great practitioner of this new communication/learning art form,

5 Disciplines Sketch Notes

The above teaches us in condensed form – and provides a handy ‘aide memoire’ to allow us to recall the learning – the Five Disciplines in Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline, which any aspiring learning organization needs to embed and practice constantly.

Hats off to Tanmay Vora, creator of the above, who distils important but bulky time-consuming leader learning into sketch note form to save us all time and to focus us in on the essential learning. That link takes you to his blog, where you can find more neat sketch notes like the above.

Sketch notes, and in particular Tanmay’s example of how to do them, is my pick of the month for May, as a form of leader learning that fits neatly into the ‘distil and inspire fast’ – little and often learning – model that I use with clients.


Phil’s Picks for April: on listening leaders

Note: We don’t do ‘native advertising’ or advertising disguised as opinion that links you to people we have a financial relationship with. I think that’s a despicable betrayal of trust. My recommendations, below, are simply that; my recommendations.

This month I was struck by the continuing urgent need for leaders to stop talking and learn to listen:

The secret to exceptional leadership

On an unlikely source, the Pub Landlord Advisor (!)  website, I stumbled across a nicely written article that’s like a basic primer on leadership. This jumped out at me from it:

What makes a leader exceptional

Over fifteen years, leadership consultant Lee Ellis quizzed hundreds of leaders and managers. He asked them to identity the one key attribute of their greatest leader that made them exceptional.

Guess what the most popular answer was?

They listened to me.”

Introverts and listening

Introverted leaders tend to be great listeners, particularly in one to one situations. It’s the extroverts who really have to learn that talking is only 50% of leadership communication, that listening is the other 50%. And it’s the neglected 50%.

So, I was drawn again this month to Susan Cain’s Quiet Leadership Institute, to see what they’re talking about there, and was rewarded with an interview with the author of a book I’ve just bought and haven’t had time to start reading yet, Charles Duhigg, author of Smarter, Faster, Better. 

I was delighted to see him say this in the interview:


“We know some of the best leaders act the way they want those around them to act, which can easily mean not being assertive, not being over the top—but instead being a calming, listening influence because other people will take that cue and they’ll learn from it.”

The rest of the interview is here: Productivity and the Power of Trust 

Which reminded me of this wonderful TED Talk on the over-riding need for leaders to learn to shut up and listen, so I went over to have another watch and listen to that:

A leadership lesson from hippos

A 1 minute story from Ernesto Sirolli on a leadership lesson we must learn again and again: shut up and listen.

“I decided when I was 27 years old to only respond to people.

So what you do… You shut up. You never arrive in a local community with any ideas and you sit with the local people… You become friends. You find out what that person wants to do.

Passion is the most important thing. If you gave that person an idea, and they don’t want to do it, what are you going to do?

The passion that a person has for their own personal growth is the most important thing. We help them to go and find the knowledge. Because nobody in the world can succeed alone.”

Leaders need to shut up and listen

Hope there’s something useful in the above to help you develop your (probably) neglected listening skills as a leader.


Phil’s Picks for March: Rob Roe’s FAQs for Organizations

‘Phil’s Picks’ steer you to the best leadership learning on the web.

Rob Roe was a leading contributor to the Leadership Hub’s Community of Practice – our original community when the Hub started back in 2008.

We’ve temporarily closed that community while we revamp it, as I had to stop facilitating it, as we had to focus on a big corporate client (we fund the Leadership Hub with the profit from our corporate clients, and I had to go get some profit!), and in the absence of a central facilitator, the Hub community got taken over by ego bloggers and spammers and the community disappeared. Maze

But, anyway, Rob was a real thought leader in that community when it was vibrant, and I’m delighted to see he’s taken that further still with his new online “FAQs for Organizations”. 

Rob is a deep thinker and recently sent me his blueprint of where organizations and leadership go wrong and how to fix it and I found it compelling.

Rob’s thinking emerges out of Systems Thinking and I feel that’s the only way for leadership to go if we are to move our lumbering slow organizations into a new agile world.

Or they’ll disappear, like that community temporarily did (it’ll be back! Working on it).

Anyway, here’s an example of Rob’s thinking. Click to go to his site and read on, if this opening sounds familiar to you:

 “When we return from the latest leadership program, best practices conference, offsite strategy workshop, we find ourselves still stuck in meetings all day long, we still can’t get decisions made, we still write and read enough emails to make War and Peace look like a short story and we still spend our weekends doing our actual jobs. And forget about trying to innovate, anything!”

Read more from Rob here.

‘Expert Interview’ with me, who doesn’t believe in experts

John Mattone Expert InterviewAlthough I always say I refuse to believe in the notion of expertise, particularly that I have any, I just did an interview over on John Mattone’s site as part of their ‘Expert Interviews‘ series.

As I’m supposed to be an expert in leadership development, the interview is about what I think is wrong with leadership development today and what large organizations should be doing instead.

Click here to read my radical rant on John’s site.John Mattone Expert Interview

The Leadership Hub will be at Learning Technologies 2016

We will be attending Europe’s biggest showcase on technologies that support learning at work (from 3rd-4th of February) to display our proven online leadership development community for large organizations.

I will be giving a Learning and Development seminar based on eight years in one of the world’s largest companies, bringing together 1,500 globally dispersed leaders to learn and share their best leadership practises.

Come see us on Stand K9! 

And here’s the LT 2016 website!

And here are our event t-shirts!

Prepared to look good


What if you got rid of managers?

Chaos Reigns at Zappos as Company Moves Toward Self-Organization. Muuuwwaahaahaa 🙂 from Zappos Insights on Vimeo.

New Look Leadership Hub

We’ve revamped the Leadership Hub open learning platform to be less about conversations and community posts and instead to focus on a series of ‘bitesize’ learning modules. All free.

The Leadership Hub was the world’s first global online leadership community of practice when we created it in 2007. Things have to evolve, so we’re trialling these new learning ‘bites’ as they fit in with the overall proposition in The 60 Second Leader – that people don’t have time for long drawn out training any more, and need regular, short, sharp blasts of learning in few minute ‘chunks’.

Yep, it’s the attention-based learning model that leadership neuroscientists Geoffrey Schwarz & David Rock wrote about as being more appropriate for time-poor busy people now.

Leadership Hub's New Look

A Book Distillery: Whole leadership books in 5 min animations

From 30SecondsMail (who have undercut me by 30 seconds, but I don’t care as it’s a great idea).

We recently launched our “Book Distillery”: We create super short and crisp 5 minute animated video abstracts of famous business books. There’s no easier and funnier way to digest a whole book in such a short time. And it’s 100% free (and always will be) 🙂 We thought maybe your readers would like to know about it.

There will be one new “video-book” every week.

Here is our first video “Zero to One – by Peter Thiel

Coming up: The Lean Startup, the 4-hour work week and many many more. – Ajie


Check out Aije’s site by clicking here, or try a video by clicking the picture.

Ooh, I’m on the UN’s Reading List

Dourando-60-SecondI know you shouldn’t Google yourself, ever. But, I just learnt from doing so that I’m number two on the UN’s recommended reading list for its in-house leadership development.

The 60 Second Leader book, that is. And when I say “Number 2”, I just mean it appears second on their list.

Still, nice to know the UN thinks the book is important for developing the leadership competencies of its employees. I mean, they’re peacekeepers, diplomats and the like. Serious stuff.

On this page, the UN tells its staff that the 60 Second Leader “offers a high impact, time-saving guide to the essentials of leadership.

Well, that gives me a warm, useful, smug feeling.

Oh no! That 8-step change framework is back again

I see from the Harvard site that John Kotter’s old 8 step ‘framework for big change‘ is trending again.leading-change

I do love retired Prof Kotter.

But, I simply don’t understand why this framework keeps re-emerging, as it’s so old-fashioned and doesn’t fit what organizational change is really about or how it really works today.

The framework’s assumptions of who are ‘the do-ers’ (people at ‘the top’) and who are the ‘done to’ (everyone else) always were flawed as they were based on this half-truth: 

“Human nature being what it is, fundamental change is often resisted mightily by the people it most affects: those in the trenches of the business.”

In fact, the need for fundamental change is usually recognized first by the people doing the job – those in the trenches who are in touch with the reality of the market.

Any messages they try to send inwards and upwards through a management system that is designed for one way control and communication – top down – about the need to change gets ignored and nothing happens.

So the people in the trenches get cynical and have to create ‘work arounds’ – unofficial ways of getting the job done that they are often not allowed to report upwards (as these methods ‘aren’t authorised’. So you create a culture of dishonesty) to produce the results asked of them, deviating from whatever the official process is.

This was acknowledged years ago as the ‘hidden factory’ syndrome.

In large organizations in particular, there is no mechanism for aggregating front-line intelligence about the need for change and pushing it upwards so those who make decisions about change can do so in good time and with close to the market information.

‘Resistance to needed change’ happens just as much, if not more, within the management system as ‘in the trenches’.

The resistance to change that causes the problem is the absence of people listening ‘at the top’, starting directly with the direct bosses of those ‘in the trenches’, because those bosses are looking upwards – or ‘listening’ upwards – for instruction, not listening to what is being said ‘from below’.Chess

This internal friction preventing change messages from moving up from the market and into the business via employees is where the most significant resistance to change lives.

Showing no trust in people to change the business themselves, in real-time, as market needs change, or in anticipation of changes in market need, is the 50% of the ‘resistance to change’ equation this 8-step formula ignores.

And this resistance from ‘above’ is far more significant than resistance ‘from below’, particularly today, when markets are even more fast-moving than they were in 1995, when Prof Kotter first came out with this stuff.

Leaders at the top are part of a system in which they operate, NOT deus ex machina outside of the machine making changes upon it, leading to ‘resistance to change’ from those you are trying to change.

That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of how people change. You want others to change? Change yourself first. Everyone knows that now. It’s almost become a cliche. But leaders don’t do it. 

There is a misunderstanding in this 8-step model/framework of where power resides; where it comes from. It assume there is a power to change from above if you just get it right. There isn’t.

There is no understanding in this model, and there never was, that the power driving change comes from an ever-shifting market and that organizations need to be structured to be driven by that power so they change organically.

Not structured so that change efforts are driven by vision or decree from those furthest away from the dynamics of power (the market), who have least day-to-day contact with the shifting market and aren’t immersed in it, one customer at a time, like those in the trenches are.Megaphone2

There is also no understanding in this model of how to change how smart people behave – the psychology of how and why we change how we behave. The 8 step formula is a recipe for groupthink and for shouting down anyone who says “But…” (by seeing them as resisters of change) and forcing compliance from all but the bravest. Who don’t last long and leave.

Ooh, how quickly what starts as a post becomes a rant. But there is so much deeper, complex thinking about how change works now that is more ‘real’ than the old 8 steps stuff.

Dave Snowden’s work on emergence, complexity theory, systems thinking and so on … it doesn’t come wrapped in eight neat steps and therefore doesn’t get the attention from leaders and managers who like to think there are a series of neat steps; things they can ‘do’ to the rest of the organization to overcome the rest of the organization’s resistance to change.

The constant re-emergence of this linear thinking just makes me go “Aw, haven’t we learnt anything in the past twenty years? We’re still going back to this????”