blog: news and opinion


The washing machine and the laundry: new perspectives on leadership

30th November 2020

If we ever wondered what it would be like to be inside the drum of a washing machine, turned upside down, and over and over, multiple times, spun, and tangled in ways we’ve never before experienced, the last 10 months, since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK (and the world), might give us a hint as to what it might feel like. The turbulence created by the new order will mean that there are new lenses through which leaders will need to look as they sort their parameters, their strategies and their tactics: wellbeing jumps up the agenda, communication becomes a priority, relationships and connections become critical, sustainability receives more attention, and processes now require careful thinking through.

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The deafening sound of silence

30th October 2020

Silence can denote a holding back from what needs to be pointed out or challenged, a reluctance to speak about one’s own or others’ mental health challenges, or not enquiring into experience of racial difference, which can put at risk respectful connection in a relationship – and at its worst, can create a gulf. In some circumstances silence has a cost which is greater than the benefit. The danger of silence, when people don’t use their voices to admit mistakes, question the status quo, ask questions or offer ideas, is that the thinking power of a team is diminished. When people’s mental health is in play they may continue in silence, unsupported, while their condition deteriorates, corroding their wellbeing. When we fail to enter into conversation about, or to explicitly recognise racial difference, we fail to recognise, respect and acknowledge the individual. A climate of psychological safety enables inappropriate silence to be transformed into the release of rich and fertile thinking.

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Psychological safety: the secret weapon of effective teamwork

30th September 2020

Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, has been researching psychological safety for 20 years, and defines it as is a shared belief that you will not be punished, ignored or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.  Because in a climate of psychological safety, people feel free to put forward new, and even seemingly crazy, ideas, because they feel free to point out errors and risks to each other (including their seniors) and because they feel free to ask for help and surface failure, rates of creativity and innovation rise significantly.  So too do trust, collaboration, engagement and discretionary effort, which link with another benefit: inclusion and the authentic embrace of diversity.  I’m  accredited as a Licenced Psychological Safety Guardian, which allows me to administer and debrief the Psychological Safety Index, based on Amy Edmondson’s work.

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Building resilience to face the challenge of uncertainty

31st August 2020

Uncertainty has always been a constant in organisational life, but COVID adds something new to the mix. The effects of uncertainty on individual members of the workforce include anxiety, and concomitant weariness, which seem to be an undercurrent in society at large. Many organisations have found that they’re slowed down by the inevitable precautions they need to take, and that they’ve lost some of their previous robustness, responsiveness and pace. They need more resilience – and nurturing it is one of the most important contributions a leader can make to equipping his or her team to negotiate a successful journey through uncertainty. This blog outlines some of the main contributors to resilience that leaders can usefully focus on.

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Leading in complexity and uncertainty

31st July 2020

Rather than it being the leader’s role to know all the answers, it’s their role to recognise that uncertainty and complexity demand a new approach to leadership:  an approach which means the leader can enable themselves and others to ask questions, to look at things from multiple fresh perspectives, to create an environment which is psychologically safe and compassionate enough for those around them to experiment, learn, experiment again, and to move with curiosity towards some answers and new questions. 

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Self-care for the leader

30th June 2020

I've been working with two leaders who are preoccupied with doing a very high-quality job at a time of significant external pressure and uncertainty – and both are experiencing extremes of stress, approaching burnout. Both are explicit that their performance is at about half the level of what they're used to delivering. Neither of them has been putting in place any boundaries or limits on what they’re asking of themselves, and both are struggling. They’re both trying to do the same job and deliver the same quality as pre-COVID, but in radically different circumstances – and it’s an impossible task. While there's no silver bullet resolution, there are options for changing approach. ‘Normal’ isn’t what it was - and we all need therefore to prioritise our self-care and have the courage to look through new lenses and do something different with what we see.

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Isolation, connection and leadership in COVID-19

31st May 2020

The isolation that has been a feature of life worldwide ever since the known beginning of COVID-19 in Wuhan is fundamentally at odds with the fact that human beings need to connect with each other in order to survive and to maintain our mental health. Dr Stephen Porges' polyvagal theory tells us that we can create ways of helping ensure that colleagues feel connected.  He recommends particular awareness that a lot of modulation in a voice – rather than monotone delivery – along with a friendly face, and open body language, maintain calm and nurture engagement.  Similarly, smiling conveys cues of safety and empathy because it involves movement in the muscles round the eyes which, in a smile, convey the message ‘I’m happy to be with you’ – and a sense of safety encourages both engagement and learning.

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Coaching through COVID

31st May 2020

Coaching through COVID is a pro bono coaching programme which offers a listening ear by psychologically-minded coaches to any NHS or care worker during and beyond COVID-19

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A high-performing team through COVID-19

30th April 2020

While it’s still early days, this programme is without question delivering value at a time of considerable stress, anxiety and exhaustion for NHS staff dealing with COVID-19. High-quality coaches at an advanced stage of coaching maturity are supported by teams of wellbeing and trauma specialists, and the core team shares a clear purpose, to which all team members are passionately committed. We are privileged to experience humble and inspiring leadership from Mark McMordie, constantly with an eye both on the present and the future, and with a focus on both the big picture (a systemic, creative and far-reaching view) and the operational detail to implement it, and attention paid to team members’ wellbeing and self-care so that we can sustain ourselves as well as the programme.  This is distributed leadership in action, with all team members feeling free and trusted to take initiative, and all working with agility and flexibility. The outcomes of the team ethos are showing in coachees' positive feedback.

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Pro bono NHS coaching for COVID-19

31st March 2020

In COVID-19, NHS medical staff are facing an encounter with an illness whose scale and rate of transmission is nothing like anything they’ve ever encountered before.  They are frightened, stressed, anxious, exhausted from working long shifts in a new, uncertain yet threatening context, and in some cases, they're traumatised. The pro bono coaching programme COVID-19 Rapid Response Coaching (C19RR), set up in mid-March, is a professional, high-quality coaching programme, supported by supervision, trauma specialists, counsellors and therapists, and is being rolled out at speed. It has started with a pilot at a large London teaching hospital, and demand is growing exponentially.

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