Category Archives for "Positive Outliers"

An Investment in Hope

I was honoured to be invited on Saturday to the launch of the British Antarctic Survey’s Sir David Attenborough. Although for me this meant a 14-hour return drive, it was worth it. The launch was a historic milestone and a significant move towards a safer world. Quite apart from that, the launch itself was quite spectacular.

I’d been loosely associated with this and several other major British Antarctic Survey (BAS) programmes, facilitating annual two-day workshops with the UK’s National Environment Research Council and BAS over the last four years. What has emerged for me is a growing admiration for the people involved and their mission. Working in the Antarctic is as near as you can get to the extremes of space travel without leaving the planet.

My SDA Launch Selfie

I just had to take a selfie...

As the real Sir David said in his speech, science has shown us how interconnected we are with polar regions. What happens there affects our lives here and vice versa. It was British scientists who first monitored the thinning of the ozone layer in the Antarctic as long ago as 1944. 

This new £200 million state-of-the-art vessel will be able to support cutting-edge science over the next 50 years. It will inform governments with accurate longitudinal studies about trends in global environmental systems. 

Where is the hope? Well, we manage what we measure. There is hope for this planet. We can see how what we do in Birkenhead or Boston, Buenos Aires or Beijing effects glaciers and ice flows, marine life and oceanic pollution. And then we can act on that information. 

Also, as the Bishop of Birkenhead said at the launch, this will inspire a generation of children to engage with science and engineering.

More than that, the culture I see developing with my client organisations gives me hope for leadership in these fields.

£200 million seems a lot as a UK taxpayer. However, it is an investment in hope, which is priceless.

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.

Lead transparently and you generate trust.

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However, a lot of so-called 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 instead 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. 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 see through the 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.

By contrast, the alternative is attractive. 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.

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.

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 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 in effective change leadership.

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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 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.

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Well done, Cambridgeshire!

Breakthough on the Journey

If we are to make an impact with our work, it almost always involves bringing others along with us.

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I believe that we tend to limit ourselves when we think about what we can achieve. Most of us have this tendency rather than the opposite: being over-ambitious. I’ve been sharing some work I’ve been doing around leading others through change. Up until now, this has been through Exploring People Engagement (EPE), an online workshop based on my book, Practical People Engagement.

It is difficult to engage and influence others if we don’t approach them with the right mindset. In my last email, we looked at conventional training approaches to this. Although they might be worthy in themselves, they don’t take us very far

Variant of Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition

In the Dreyfus Model (see above), we can stop short at Advanced Beginner level or merely become Competent. We owe ourselves more.

What if we only needed to focus on a few key areas? What if we did not need to cover some exhaustive curriculum typical of most business schools? What if instead, we attend to developing ourselves in a few high-leverage areas?

What if we only needed to focus on a few key areas in order to get outstanding results?

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That is what our Crib Sheet research began to reveal. There are only a few areas we need to attend to that yield disproportionate results. Also, these few areas are not exclusive to project management. In fact, anyone whose work requires more than the performance of a repetitive mechanical action, in other words, any work that needs us to use our judgment, can improve the results they get from these few key habits. They seem to be universally powerful, whatever our area of work.

And one of these is a Leaning to People, the ability to engage and influence others involved or affected by our work in positive ways. It is the skill of engaging individuals and groups, and how to handle relationships in a way that does not exhaust us but nourishes those connections with people.

A few days ago I was in a seminar with about thirty-five people talking about making their dreams and aspirations happen. These students had written down their dreams. And in almost every case, they needed to engage well and influence key people to make their dreams a reality. They shared stories of people who were resistant to what they wanted to achieve, and about individuals who could even block their dreams from ever happening. During the seminar, I saw eyes opening and hope in the room rising. Then, only two days later, although it was unrelated to my class, Whilst being almost entirely unrelated to my session, I watched one of these students two days later realise their dream! This stuff is powerful!

Finding ways to make your dreams a reality through others is powerful stuff!

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I confess I’m a learner. I’m always learning. I believe it makes me a better coach. One of the aspects of being a learner is that you may see better ways of doing things. One of the concerns I have with EPE on its own is that it is too content-centric. Even with the weekly live meetings and the online coaching, EPE can only be a foundation for people to grow their people skills. 

I want to help you become world-class in your people engagement skills. So I have looked again at the EPE workshop. With this as my aim, I studied the transition from Competent to Proficient to Positive Outlier. I saw that the means of this transition happening was often through coaching, peer group networks, mastermind groups and the relationships between delegates that emerge during a seminar.  This kind of learning environment is not primarily about know-what (training content), but about shifting perspectives and mindsets through discussion and practice, to true ‘demonstrate how.’ This shift can happen through a group of like-minded practitioners, a tribe.

We don't gain higher order skills in leadership primarily through more information.

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You will still be able to access EPE through the soon-to-be-launched Positive Outlier Academy in its original form, but if you want to develop yourself in this area, I’m launching Leading Others through Change (LOC) as an online seminar. 

You will find LOC challenging, but encouraging; progressive, but practice-based. It will be earthed in reality, in results gained on the ground. I will be exploring issues such as:

  • personal boundaries in healthy relationships; 
  • how we handle our own vulnerability and take steps to move towards people we might fear; 
  • how we recognise and deal with victims showing passive, passive-aggressive, and aggressive behaviours; and
  • how we can create our own culture in our change arena, where people feel safe, and are honoured and empowered, rather than reacting defensively.

So if you want a course that you can take any time, then LOC is not for you. It’s not for you if you want to rely on training your organisation thinks you need. Also, if you want a globally recognised qualification, it's not for you. It’s not for you if you merely want another feather in your cap.

But if you are hungry to develop yourself with others in this vital area of performance, this people thing, to get better at it, and to see powerfully positive differences in the changes you lead, then LOC is for you. Register your interest below. Enrolment for LOC1 won’t be open for long.

My mission is to equip world-changers, and I’m excited to see you emerge as one through LOC.

Colin and the Fawlty Mindset

Some years ago we conducted some research into high performers in project management, and one of the outstanding differences between them and the control group was a significant behaviour we called Leaning to People. The high performers seemed to get their results because they gave time to the critical relationships around themselves. 

This behaviour was an important discovery. We began to practise this ourselves, prioritising our time with others, and found we got much better results in our work.

However, this was not emphasised enough - and still isn’t - on most project management curricula, training and bodies of knowledge. This lack of stress on relationships is understandable but is harmful. Project management as a discipline has a heritage in construction and engineering. However, the overarching worldview of these disciplines tends to reduce people to either resources or obstacles. It’s quite dehumanising.

So I wrote Practical People Engagement: Leading Change through the Power of Relationships. That was nearly five years ago, and it is still my best-selling book. Shortly after it was published, APMG-International adopted it as the core reference for their qualification in Stakeholder Engagement

Again, old project management mindsets can creep in here by referring to people and groups as stakeholders. Worse still, project managers still use the term stakeholder management. Who among us likes to be managed and controlled, especially if that person is not our boss? Often, efforts to influence and achieve positive outcomes can often fail right there.

Developing the skill of Leaning to People, is not primarily an issue of learning a technique, a process, acquiring management tools or models, although these are all useful resources. No, a high-order Leaning to People skill is beyond that. It starts with a mindset. This video illustrates this.

I’ve been working on a new approach to what I have been calling Exploring People Engagement (EPE), an online workshop. This new approach will be an online seminar that I will be launching soon. The new seminar is about leading people through change.  In the seminar we explore a superior mindset, and how we work that out in better ways on our own changes, leading people to better outcomes.

What would happen if we all developed this skill? What if we were able to lead people to change more easily and realise better outcomes? What if we were able to develop that Leaning to People skill to high order in our daily lives? That would begin to shift things for the better, wouldn’t it?

I want to equip people to lead their change better, to become world-changers.

I have a friend, Rachel, who is a world-changer. She does this in small groups of people at a time. She takes broken women, broken through loss, grief, through domestic abuse, and gently leads them to a wholeness of self-identity and hope. What she does is truly transformational. She is a world-changer, one group at a time.

If you’d like to know more about this, use the form below.

Why Training will NOT make You Oustanding

In my post last week, I wrote about a particular leadership skill - some would say the critical leadership skill - that of engaging and influencing people well. I looked at how the wrong mindset can get in the way, or even overlook people engagement as anything important.

But there is another problem in our developing this skill. And that is training.

Now, for latter part of my career I was heavily invested in face-to-face business training. I built a company where I recruited the brightest and the best in project management training, people who could take an otherwise-boring subject like project management and transform and energise the room. Our delegates loved it. 

In what follows, I describe the emergence of a sort of industry that caused me and my colleagues a lot of pain. You'll see why as you read on.

The killer seemed to be that our corporate clients, particularly those in procuring training, didn’t see the value of an excellent training experience. They wanted the cheapest commodity. That’s how they regarded training: a commodity, something that had to be done, that you could source like for like, so it was best procured as cheaply as possible, and delivered in as short a time as possible.

Does this sound familiar? 

What we saw was the emergence of a training factory. In this factory, trainers would take professionals and subject them to a sort of Death by PowerPoint. Schedules were brutally shortened, for commercial reasons. I heard of one trainer in another company saying to his delegates at the beginning of such an experience,

“If you don’t ask questions and don’t interrupt me, then we can get through this material in time for your exam. And you want to pass the exam, right?”

Of course they did. The delegates were there to get their qualification.

But can we call that a positive learning experience? Is this something likely to improve the skill and practice of project manager? Of course not.

We found that great project managers might get the badge that way, but honed their skills in other ways.

And then there were the exams themselves. These became mostly tick-box assessments, albeit sometimes fairly sophisticated. But what do they test? Ultimately they test the candidate’s power of recall, pattern recognition, and use of logic. If Mr Spock of Star Trek saw one of these exam papers, I imagine he could have said to Captain Kirk:

“It’s a skill, Jim, but not as we know it.”

I remember a senior client, a Portfolio Manager, coming out of one such exam as saying, “This is supposed to be a Practitioner exam! Is that it?!” I can’t blame her for this reaction, or defend the assessment. But it was the industry in which we had to work in order to offer our clients the routes to these qualifications.

Well. this commoditisation eventually drove us out of business. Because we refused to compromise on the value to delegates. 

Not all professional assessments are like that. In my previous email I referred to the APM. Their blue-chip qualification, what was called the RPP (the Registered Project Professional) involved an exhaustive submission of experience, as well as a thorough interview by peers. The APM Practitioner Qualification (APM PQ) is, in my opinion, a qualification worth having. I saw the process improve my clients as they went through it, and it meant something to have gained that qualification at the end of it.

In fact, it was at APM that I came across a different way of looking at skill. Watch this short video.

So we have been working on how to help people develop the critical skill of leaning to people, stakeholder engagement, as it is often called, beyond merely the Advanced Beginner stage of skill development; beyond merely being Competent, to Proficient, and perhaps even to the so-called Expert level.

I'm invested in helping people change the world - in small ways and big - for the better. That's my mission. But becoming a world changer will require something rather more than an online training course.

It certainly won’t be achieved by a factory approach that can be standardised as a commercial model.

If you’d like to know more about this, use the form below and we'll keep you abreast of the launch of the new seminar.

The Power of Engaging with a Visual Narrative

When we were colleagues in the same company, I remember dropping by one of Richard Rose's qualification courses on AgilePM©. And I saw the diagram above drawn on a flipchart. I've seen this before and I've noted the way he does it.

Richard tells a story as he draws what is a key diagram for AgilePM.

And he must have done this on the day before. The diagram shows how the different roles relate to so much of the AgilePM method. So much so that he deliberately draws this early on in the course and leaves it on display for the delegates to reflect on as they consider later topics in more detail.

I've discussed this with Richard and other exceptional trainers that I've had the honour to work with. One of the most powerful ways of understanding complex content is through a visual narrative. It seems that people can recall far more of what is being said if they can see it drawn at the same time. And quirky hand-drawn cartoons appear to be even more memorable than if something is homogenised into some PowerPoint presentation. It's the quirky-ness and the humour in class that sticks in people's minds.

All I could do at school was paint and draw and that was the only time I ever passed any exam. It was the only thing I ever got right at school.

David Bailey

David Bailey

I've tried various online techniques, from recording my Prezi-based presentations and using Whiteboard animation software. Here is an example of a whiteboard animation:

And here's video book review I did using Prezi:

Yet nothing seems to stimulate people's engagement, aid recall, and help integration with other aspects of a subject as much as seeing a live discussion drawn.

In fact, I'd had such a torrid time recently with display technology at a particular venue where I spoke to about 200 people that I decided to abandon my presentation and use a flipchart. It went down a storm. People loved it.

Visual Thinking

Even more so, nothing seems to help me develop my understanding of a new subject better than if I can sketch it out as I explain it back to someone else.

I came across this post by Michael Babwahsingh called Make Crappy Drawings, and another called Putting Visual Thinking to Work. He makes some valid comments.

Also, I’m reminded of Mike Rohde’s Sketchnote Handbook. Here’s an interesting video vignette of his journey and what the sketchnote actually is.

In my book, Leading Yourself, I explore how I use Mind Mapping, and it’s not always pretty! See this rough Mind Map, for example:

Rough Mind Map

It is a mess to you, but to me it helped me get certain thoughts in order.

What was the best live illustration you saw drawn before you that has stayed with you?

Do you use any kind of visual notation or special kind of doodling for yourself? If so, what is it?

Leave your comment below.

Never enough time? It that really your problem?

People rushing to work

I was talking with one of my clients the other day, and as I asked how he was doing, he replied with an ironic smile, “Never enough time, Patrick.”

"Never enough time." This cliché rolls off the tongue too quickly when we describe the state of overwhelm. 

But what we say matters. What we say can often condition our thinking, our mindset, even our self-image. We need to be careful. Clichés can become the furniture of our thinking.

What we say matters. It can condition our minds. Our clichés become the furniture of our thinking.

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Is the problem really not enough time? 

Let’s reframe this. Look at it as a supply and demand problem. We have 24 hours in a day. Nothing will change that. Supply is fixed. 

Which one of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 6:27) 

Of course, we could race through that 24 hours faster. We could cover more ground. We call that productivity. Sure, we could do that. And probably we could remove a lot of pauses along the way. But we are likely to get diminishing returns the harder we work. Also, in a state of chronic urgency, we can make sacrifices we later regret; that is, if we live that long.

No, fundamentally it is a demand problem. We find ourselves accepting too many commitments into our day, our week, our month, our lives. We over-commit. We don’t want to make choices about our purpose, our priority. We don't want to place boundaries around our time.

What about reducing that demand? 

Well, that would take courage. That would mean making some choices, saying some powerful no’s to people we want to please. It would mean admitting that we have been more driven than free. 

It’s easier to keep saying, “I never have enough time” and hope that things will get better.

Meanwhile, some of us are finding freedom in our daily lives. We make hard choices. We are prepared to say no to people we would otherwise like to please.

And we find it’s worth it.

Multiple Priorities? Really?

Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

This scene will be familiar to you.

I was invited to facilitate a strategic workshop. I was told fairly early on, “We have 32 strategic objectives we need to meet.” 

“OK,” I replied. “Which one is the most important?” 

You can probably guess my client’s reply…

“They all are.”

Now, what’s wrong with this picture? 

If you are inclined to say, “Nothing, that’s just the way business has to be in these complicated days,” then I would ask you to stop and think for a moment. Too many of our organisations are like the proverbial donkey who is stalled into inaction because of two competing piles of hay. 

The more we learn about the human brain, the more we learn how awesome is its capacity, but also how limited its ability is to consciously focus on things in the foreground of our awareness. Neuroscientists put the number of items we can concurrently focus upon to be as low as four.

Neuroscientists say we can only focus on four things concurrently consciously.

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So we have a dilemma. There are all these targets our organisations set us to meet, but we can only focus on a few.

Recently, as part of the current release of our Leading Yourself Workshop, I released a book review of Gary Keller’s The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. And one of the passages in the book is where Keller explained that the word Priority entered into the English language in the 14th Century. It came from the Latin word prior meaning first. What surprised me was that it was only made plural in the 20th Century: priorities. Think about that. To previous generations, to talk about priorities would have been madness.

In the English language the word "priority" was always singular until the 20th Century. I think this is significant.

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I suspect the human brain, and a team, and a project, and even an organisation works better with a priority than it does with priorities. Priorities (plural) begin to generate confusion, internal competition for attention and erode focus.

What if we were to budget to one priority in any given moment?

OK, complex organisations do have a number of matters to achieve, but budgeting to one priority begins to make us dig deeper. We begin to see the dependencies between different objectives, where some enable others. For example, here is an Outcome Relationship Model of an Olympics Legacy development. 

Outcome Relationship Model Example

We begin to see the real drivers of organisational success. Maybe some of these objectives or targets can be met, or more easily met if we were to focus on the one thing. 

As an individual, if I invest time now in making this blog post a priority, in focusing upon it exclusively to everything else that clamours for my attention, it may help me meet some of my other objectives later. 

Focus is inseparable from this kind of singular attention. 

Focus is inseparable from singular attention.

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Now, this is not to say that my priority may not change during the day; it does. Nor will my priority today be the same as tomorrow. Or next week. Or next year. Priority is the matter I should focus on now.

In my coaching about this, I recommend clients identify their MIT, their Most Important Task. This is the daily priority, the one thing they commit to achieving that day. The real value, though, is in the process of deciding that MIT. This is where we gain clarity and leverage over our day.


The MIT is my technique for identifying my personal priority each day. What is yours? Leave a comment below.

Empathy + Compassion

Some of the most influential people I know do more than empathise with me. Empathy is important. But when it comes down it, what truly separates world-class influencers from manipulators? 

One of the most acutely painful moments in my life made me quite vulnerable. I approached a man who was a leader. Len was also a great talker. He was ready with opinions on most things.

When I told him my news, he did something unexpected. 

He wept with me. 

Len is no longer with us, but I remember him with great fondness and deep appreciation, not least for that moment. For me, it was a defining moment. His compassion transcended his talk, his opinions, his wisdom. At that moment, he showed me great leadership. At that moment, I realised I needed something other than counsel and direction: I needed someone to walk with me in my pain.

I read this quote recently from Seth Godin:

Seth Godin Portrait

Seth Godin

"Empathy is not sufficient. Compassion is more useful because it's possible to talk to someone who is experiencing something that you've never experienced."

We cannot always expect to have had an experience similar others. And we can never expect to have had another's experience exactly.

Like empathy, there are examples that corrupt the meaning of the word compassion. But I leave it out there for you today.


Empathy + Compassion. This combination truly separates the forensic manipulator from the servant leader.


2018 Leading Yourself online workshop registrations are about to close. Next week we begin the workshop in earnest. You can save your place here.

Today will be your last chance to get on board for some time.

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