Positive Outliers Self-Awareness

Look Who’s Come Into the Room

I felt I was receiving a lecture.. and I was not convinced.

I had come in for a BP reading and a blood test. The clinician told me that I was overweight––which I was––and at risk of heart disease or diabetes––which I was probably was. She told me to cut out various foods, and to change my diet and exercise. All this is grounded in good medical research. But it did not motivate me to change.

Why not?

God bless her, this person was doing her best to help me. But my real barrier to being persuaded was that she gave me cognitive dissonance. This clinician did not model what she said. Quite apart from the crude Change or Die strategy, the problem was… well…she was clearly clinically obese and depressed.

What I am NOT saying…

Now, this is not a criticism of who she was as a person, but the person in the room did not match the message.

Nor am I saying a normal BMI should be mandatory of healthcare professionals. God knows, we need each and every one of them right now, and I’m thankful for them.

And I am not making a case about something as superficial as our physical appearance or weight. And I would not want to leave you thinking that I am that prejudiced against fat people! I myself was clinically obese for a number of years, as I was at that particular appointment…hence the lecture.

The Internal Journey

What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

My point here is that when any of us seeks to influence others to action, then the job needs to start with ourselves.

We can have the right information, good methodology, superior research, but we are unlikely to influence those around us if we do not walk the talk.

Every leader needs to be authentic in leading themselves into that better future first.

Usually, when I have been presenting to a room of leaders, they are all invested on knowing how to lead their teams, their organisation, or their community better.

First, though, there needs to be an internal journey. Every leader needs to be authentic in leading themselves into that better future first.

The issue is often the person we bring into the room.


As adults, we have a highly-developed sense of discernment when engaging with other humans. What some call micro-tells, small pieces of evidence in the person before us, reveal whether they are a threat, or lying, or distressed. These micro-tells can be small eye movements, gestures, posture, as well as the pitch and tone of the voice.

When someone is trying to persuade us to change, to buy, to allow them to draw closer, they are communicating with us at a far deeper level than the content of what they say.

My worst moments

All my worst leadership moments were when I was over-stressed, hurried, depressed or angry. My most effective moments were when the future was the person I brought into the room in myself.

My most effective leadership moments were when the future was the person I brought into the room.

The uncomfortable truth for us is this: before we can lead others, we need to lead ourselves. Before we can expect our team to change, we must already be changing and show them in our own lives. Before the call, comes the example, the model in us.

Who is showing up?

It becomes vital, then, that we are self-aware enough to know whom we are bringing into the room. We need to become aware of the non-verbal messages we might be communicating. What is the best self we can bring to this engagement? And if we are too busy, stressed, driven or distressed, then maybe we need to postpone until we are ready.

Some will see this as an exercise in fakery.

If you can fake integrity you’ve got it made.

Hollywood graffiti

We are not that stupid.

No, this is a call to personal authenticity.

Leaning to Action Leaning to People

Did it fail because of the team?

Cecile was unhappy that I left her hanging with my previous article on where we place the praise or blame for project failure or success. I had hinted at the team.

Yes what about the team then, Patrick ? Hoping to read the rest of your always deep analysis!

Cecile Bertholier

And Cecile is quite correct. I’m grateful for her question. I did leave you, the reader, hanging. So I am bringing forward this follow-up article in my editorial schedule.

If we set aside the traditional management mindset for a moment and consider the project manager as a leader of change, we can move beyond looking at the hierarchic levels and entities of the organisation, the project manager and the project team. Instead, we consider the challenges of leading a project team through change.

Action-Centred Leadership

We could look at the world of project management through the lens of John Adair’s Action-Centred Leadership:

Adair considers the actions a leader must take, whatever their working environment. He maintains that to be effective, the leader must:

  1. Achieve the task
  2. Build and maintain the team
  3. Develop the individual

He goes on to list a number of responsibilities for the leader under each of these categories.

Hiring Great People?

I wouldn’t disagree with Adair. Also, I am seeing much emphasis these days on hiring great people as meaning hiring deep expertise in particular exclusive specialisms and then letting them get on with clearly-defined work while keeping the whole team informed.

This, too, is fine – as far as it goes – but a group of geeks is not a team.

“Ah, yes!” you might be thinking. “There needs to be team synergy.” Well yes, but I feel that even the associations we have with the word synergy are usually not deep enough.

An Unregarded Critical Success Factor

A true leader changes the environment around her. She brings out things in people that perhaps team members did not even know they had within themselves. That leader begins to model values, and guard a culture, even if she never uses the language of culture. It is possible – and I have done it from time to time – to create a culture within a project, that begins to outperform the norm within the surrounding organisation. 

Sure, as Adair says, the good leader does pay attention to the goal of the project and the individual contributions towards that goal (task), as well as good team-working, while developing the individuals within the team. Yes, John Adair, that leader ticks all your boxes. 

But can we go deeper and help individual team members engage with matters beyond their individual domains in positive ways? Specialists can show up to meetings as generalists; geeks can become generous, and contribute to discussions in domains other than their specialisms. And they discover in a culture of honour and respect. This encourages team members to lean towards others with empathy and greater influence.

The Villain of Failure

So, back to the question: who do we blame when a project fails, or when its outcomes are disappointing? 

The fact is that projects are, by definition, unique means that they are not kind learning environments, as psychologist Robin Hogarth would describe them. We lead a project, we are not navigating something as rules-based as Candy Crush or World of Warcraft. No. In Hogarth’s terms, a project can be a wicked learning environment. For example, we find that what worked for us before may not work next time, even in the same project.

What we require is high-order intuitive leadership. This kind of leadership creates a positive, engaging, honouring culture that invites people to own the challenge of the whole project; to cross into domains where they may feel vulnerable and incompetent at first. But backed by a positive, encouraging leader, they learn to be brave, to share in generous conversations, and to discover breakthrough solutions from within the team.

Maybe I will publish a further article on this and share my biscuit-based culture…and how this worked on a computer server engineering project. But that is for another time… and, of course, the biscuit culture may never work again. 

It could just crumble. (Sorry! Awful pun!)

Do leave your comments below.

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Leaning to Action Leaning to People Positive Outliers Self-Awareness

Seeing through the mask

Leading in a transparent way generates trust. Transparency lives before people with integrity. 

But transparency is what a lot of so-called leaders shun. Transparency is a vulnerable place, and for some, that is too dangerous. They would rather hide. Either behind unnecessary secrecy, using information as a weapon, or behind a mask. 

The problem is that we are not as stupid as these leaders think we are. We see through their mask. 


We look for integrity and find hypocrisy. We see through the veil of secrecy and we see fear. 

The shelf life of less-than-vulnerable leaders is short. The game is soon up. We see you. We see you for who you truly are. 

By contrast, the alternative is attractive. The warts-and-all leader has seen shame and seen it off. They are comfortable with their imperfections. They have a take-me-or-leave-me value that is not arrogant or dismissive but considered. They risk vulnerability and show themselves. That is enduring leadership that builds trust.

I’ve experienced both kinds of leaders. And I’ve been disappointed or hurt. More by the former, so it takes me a while to trust the latter. But those authentic leaders I know – and they do exist – can call on me and I’ll do what I can for them.

Photo by fotografierende on Unsplash

Leaning to Action Self-Awareness

Transparency and Vulnerability

In my last post, I began to explore radical transparency from a the example of a client organisation. To lead transparently generates trust. This kind of leadership shows up before people with integrity.

However, a lot of leaders baulk at precisely this invitation to transparency. It is a vulnerable place, and for some, it is far too uncomfortable, dangerous even. They would rather hide; hide in their boardrooms, or behind closed doors; hiding behind unnecessary secrecy, behind the obfuscation of corporate jargon, using information as a weapon rather than for engagement with people involved. Or they often pretend, hiding behind a mask. They fear the real them being seen.

The problem is that we are not as stupid as these leaders think we are. We see through their masks. Eventually. We look for integrity and are disappointed to find hypocrisy. We see through the veil of secrecy for brave leaders, and instead, we see fear.

The shelf life of these less-than vulnerable leaders is short. Soon the game’s up. We see you. We see you for who you are.

Warts and All

When Oliver Cromwell won the English Civil War and became Lord Protector – not King – of England, he commissioned a portrait from Sir Peter Lely, with these instructions: the artist was to paint him “warts and all,” and not as the convention of the day would have it, the equivalent to photoshopping a model to make the subject look more attractive. Here was the result:

Portrait of Oliver Cromwell

Cromwell had dealt with his vanity and refused to present an image of himself other than what was reality.

This illustrates that an alternative is available, but it can require an uncomfortable journey for the leader. The warts-and-all leader has experienced shame and dealt with it. They are comfortable with their imperfections. They have a robust “take me or leave me” attitude. They risk vulnerability and show us their true selves. Now, that is leadership that builds trust.

I’ve experienced both kinds. The secretive or pretentious leaders have betrayed my trust more than once and hurt me. So it takes me a while now to trust a leader.

But those authentic leaders I know, and they do exist, can call on me, and I’ll do what I can for them.

I love them, warts and all.

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The Power of Radical Transparency

One the delegates on a Change Management Practitioner I led shared with us a remarkable initiative within her organisation, Cambridgeshire Constabulary, the regional police force for that part of England. 

What follows is with the kind permission of the Constabulary.

Rumour Mill is, in essence, very simple. It is an intranet discussion board, where anyone can post any question or comment about current happenings within the force. Anonymously.

Cambridshire Constabulary

Let the radical transparency of this sink in for a moment.



On anything! 

Could your organisation cope with that? Would your leaders be courageous enough to provide and promote such a forum?

The Soham Murders

The history of the Constabulary up to that time had been a traumatic one. It was on their patch that Ian Huntley murdered the two schoolgirls at Soham. The repercussions were profound, not just in Cambridgeshire, but nationally. The nation asked whether we were doing enough to protect our children from predators such as Huntley.

In the wake of all this, Cambridgeshire Constabulary went through a furnace experience of public enquiry, scrutiny and self-examination. Under exceptional leadership from successive chief constables, it emerged with a culture of exemplary professionalism. 

A lesser, weaker leadership would have withdrawn into itself, become more secretive and guarded. 

But it was in this context that the change team conceived the Rumour Mill.

Culture, once again, is the key.

Culture is the key factor in effective change leadership.

So, if someone, anyone, posts a comment such as, “This initiative will mean the loss of twenty jobs at HQ”, within a couple of hours at most a response is posted by the change team, correcting any wrong assumptions or clarifying any confusion where appropriate.

People following the thread can see the openness of leadership here, and the abiding trust grows that leaders are listening to everyone.

This Rumour Mill is, for me, a brilliant illustration of how a courageous and powerful leadership team is prepared to be radically transparent. And the payoff in restored trust can be huge. 

Rumour Mill is a brilliant illustration of courageous and powerful leadership, prepared to be radically transparent.

Well done, Cambridgeshire!

Leaning to People

How is Your Leadership Trust Fund?

According to Professor Bruce Lloyd of London’s South Bank University, “The critical issue is, not change, but trust.”

Professor Bruce Lloyd

Bruce Lloyd

This is consistent with research by Patrick Lencioni’s Table Group, San Francisco. In his, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, Lencioni illustrates how in an executive team trust is a fundamental platform for a co-ordinated effort forward.

It is interesting how little attention is given to the matter of trust in so much of the literature and training about Leadership and Change Management. Perhaps this is because academics and methodologists look for clues in the wrong places, in ‘objectives’ and other less ‘emotional’ areas. Perhaps it is because many in senior management still subscribe to situational ethics in dealing with people, and look to quick, expedient remedies.

However, evidence has been there for some time now that trust is necessary for leading change, and it is built up over a period of time. I believe that trust is the oxygen of change. Where there is no trust, you might see change through, but as one of my American friends would say, “You leave a lot of blood on the trail.”

The Relational Bank Account

One of the most powerful relational metaphors is the relational bank account, the idea that in any relationship we have, there is a kind of bank account. We can do things to top up that account – such as serving people, going out of our way to be kind to them – as well as do things that make withdrawals. Once the account is empty, you can’t make any further withdrawals. You can’t ask favours that will be looked upon kindly. Trust is similar, but damage someone’s trust and the account can be emptied quite suddenly. On the other hand, always delivering on your promises, for example, builds trust.

Relational Boundaries

Danny Silk, in his book, Keep Your Love On, explains this in terms of boundaries. Healthy relationships are created, grow and are maintained with clear boundaries. We all have these boundaries. These might be illustrated thus:

Concentric Relational Boundaries
After Danny Silk, Keep Your Love On

We don’t allow most of the world into our intimate spaces, nor should we. By the same token, we should not expect the people we are trying to influence, our stakeholders, to allow us in all the way. Just because I’m interested in your product doesn’t make us best buddies. Healthy relationships are built on these graduated boundaries in our lives. These boundaries are not walls but are permeable. Most of us are scanning the people around us to decide whether we let people through into the next level. Managing these boundaries is not uncaring but is healthy social behaviour.

So, we may want to consider an influencing strategy with some key stakeholders that take us at least from the outside of the circles, where they regard us a one of their tribe. 

If you have a Stakeholder Engagement Strategy, is there any measure of how you are doing in terms of trust from your key stakeholders?

Are you measuring trust among your stakeholders? If so, how are you doing this? Let me know in the comments below.

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