Four Causes of Unproductive Meetings+What to Do About Them

This is a guest post by Dick Axelrod.


  1. Unclear Purpose


Meeting participants are unclear about the purpose of the meeting or what they want to accomplish. Before holding a meeting, ask yourself what you want to be different for yourself, the participants, and the organization as a result of holding this meeting. Make sure you share this purpose with the participants. If you are a meeting participant and don’t know or understand the purpose of the meeting ask, “What is the purpose of this meeting?” at the beginning of the meeting. Then ask yourself, “What can I contribute to making this meeting productive?”


  1. Unclear Roles


It is amazing to find out how many attend meetings where they don’t know why they are there or what is expected of them. We see many leaders who invite people to the meeting because they might provide a different perspective. However, these participants do not know that is what is expected of them. They attend the meeting not knowing why they are there and consequently feel the meeting is a waste of time.


  1. Decision-Makers Not Present


When the meeting participants are not empowered to make decisions, everyone feels their time is wasted. While participants may have fruitful discussions, they must then take their work product to the decision-makers who were not part of the discussion and who may not understand the reasons why recommendations are being made. This additional layer of bureaucracy wastes everyone’s time. Empowering meeting participants to make decisions or having decision-makers present will eliminate this added bureaucracy.


  1. Unclear Decision-Making Process


We have watched many groups flounder because the decision-making process is unclear. They don’t know whether they are being asked to learn about a decision that has already been made, provide the leader with feedback, or be part of the decision-making process. Clarifying the decision-making process prior to starting the discussion saves time and energy.



More about Dick Axelrod


Dick and his wife Emily Axelrod are pioneers in creating employee involvement programs to effect large-scale organization change and co-founded the Axelrod Group in 1981. Dick is also a lecturer in University of Chicago’s Masters in Threat and Response Management Program, and a faculty member in American University’s Masters in Organization Development program. Dick and Emily created the Conference Model®, an internationally recognized high-involvement change methodology.


Together, Emily and Dick are frequent keynote speakers and co-authors. Their latest book is Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done it outlines a flexible and adaptable system used to run truly productive meetings in all kinds of organizations―meetings where people create concrete plans, accomplish tasks, build connections, and move projects forward.

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Some Thoughts on a Philosophy of Virtual Reality

This post is written by my guest, Jeremy Kirshbaum.

At Institute for the Future we have been experimenting deeply in the frontiers of virtual reality journalism and immersive research environments. A lot of this happens by using small 3D scanners, like the Occipital Structure Sensor, to capture real-world objects and spaces, and then using game design software like Unity to embed them into an interactive world.

One thing that is immediately noticeable about the models is their incompleteness. Because of the limitations of the instruments, software and user, they are imperfect. They are very artistic, painterly, and ethereal.

Although it is tempting to look at this as a limitation, from an artistic perspective it can actually be an asset. It makes them very strange and beautiful and gives us a ready-made concept off of which to build…that these are not real, they are just dreams. In 5 years when I can walk into a room and get a photorealistic model on my cell phone in a couple of seconds, it will be harder to remember this time, when we were first waking up in the virtual world. The models in many ways remind me of the lived experience of remembering…with blurred outlines tugging at the corner of the mind, fighting to become meaningful.

As Merleau-Ponty, perhaps the greatest philosopher of perception once said,

“The phenomenological world is not the bringing to explicit expression of a pre-existing being, but the laying down of being. Philosophy is not the reflection of a pre-existing truth, but, like art, the act of bringing truth into being.”

I think that this “act of bringing truth into being” is something under intense interrogation right now, as it should be. At the center of this interrogation is journalism–an industry that purports to and attempts to convey the current truth. I think that what the new, immersive medium forces us into is a journalistic project that is also a philosophical and artistic project. We are lucky in that we are forced to ask and attempt to answer questions around authentic representation and truth in a new medium that have been laid to rest, or at least over-saturated, in the legacy media with which we are all familiar. Confronted with the inevitability of the structure sensor’s imperfect Gaze, we are forced to reflect more deeply on our own.

Of course Merleau-Ponty is not the only philosopher of perception, but his insights have specific relevance to immersive media because of his insistence on vision as an extension of the body…his inflexible dedication to the body as the “general medium for having a world.” As Leila Wilson at University of Chicago summarizes:

What distinguishes Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological investigations from those of other philosophers, such as Sartre and Heidegger, is his insistence on the body as the center of perception and the medium of consciousness. His study of vision as an extension of the corporal shows us that in order for consciousness to unfold into a part of the world—to exist as a flourishing—it must be embodied. To perceive the world and be shaped by it, one must be in and of its flesh. [emphasis added]

This conception of vision as an extension of the body is prescient in that it survives into a world of interactive vision, in which the movements of the individual fundamentally affect that which is seen. This is an aspect of the world, and even so of two dimensional media, but it is an intentional and designed facet of immersive electronic media.

Merleau-Ponty, in Eye and Mind, reserves a special place in civilization for the painter that he does not offer to the scientist. The scientist “manipulates things and gives up living in them,” and is restricted to activity “regulated by an experimental control that admits only the most ‘worked up’ phenomena, more likely produced by the apparatus than recorded by it.” This phrase has obvious implications for us using the structure sensor…whose models are partially a recording and partially a production. He points out that “…we cannot imagine how a mind would paint. It is by lending his body to the world that the artist transforms the world into paintings. To understand these transubstantiations we must go back to the working, actual body–not the body as a chunk of space or a bundle of functions but that body which is an intertwining of vision and movement.” [emphasis added]

I believe these insights have a direct implication for current virtual reality projects.

If we can admit that we are calling truth into being, as opposed to merely representing it, then we can allow ourselves to use the models as a medium for sculpture and navigation. In other words, in creating an embodied moment of truth for our participants, we may feel free to deviate significantly from our remembered/recorded visual truth. In other words…we can deliberate sacrifice imagined “accuracy” for the sake of the beautiful. This freedom comes from the bravery to describe our work as philosophical and artistic, and defend that framework equally against the primacy of the scientific.

Merleau-Ponty quotes Rodin, “It is the artist who is truthful, while the photograph lies; for, in reality, time never stops.”

Perhaps the problem with journalism, and often, with research in general, which is in danger of reawakening in even greater and more dangerous form in a world of advanced, intelligent simulation, is to work toward replicating the real world with precision instead of accuracy…to work toward, and first believe in, an imagined single truth. Again from Eye and Mind:

“The picture, the actor’s mimicry…these are not devices borrowed from the real world in order to refer to prosaic things which are absent. For the imaginary is much nearer to, and farther away from, the actual–nearer because it is in my body as a diagram of the life of the actual, with all its pulp and carnal obverse exposed to view for the first time…and the imaginary is much farther away from the actual because the painting is an analogue or likeness only according to the body.”

The ghostliness of the models is so appropriate for Merleau-Ponty, who often described us “haunting” the Other, and being haunted by them. Purportedly he was driven to philosophy by depression in childhood…the long-dead philosophers became his friends and family in place of real ones. What more perfect person to describe the bodily experience of a reality populated by dreams and ghosts?

I think that in mixed reality media, right now, we have an enormous opportunity to revel in the imperfections. Because they will be so much harder to detect in a few years, we have the opportunity (and perhaps the responsibility) to create simulacra that are self-aware of their impermanence. So that anyone who passes through them will say that they remember the world before it was so perfect and easy to see. It would be a great misstep to simply show them the circus-trick of creating an imperfect three dimensional mirror, and instead to leave them with the awe that they may be in the presence of a (inexpert, badly made, carried by inappropriate messengers such as ourselves, etc.) new art form, and way of “having a world.” If we were honest with ourselves, we might even start with metaphysics.

Quality, light, color, depth, which are there before us, are there only because they awaken an echo in our bodies, and because the body welcomes them!


About Jeremy Kirshbaum

Jeremy is a research manager at IFTF. He has a background in macroeconomic and currency theory, geopolitics, and international entrepreneurship. In addition to supporting the work of Distinguished Fellow Bob Johansen, Jeremy focuses on the future of logistics, distribution, and communications in “high delta markets” (formerly frontier markets), drawing on his entrepreneurial and professional experience in West Africa over the past four years. He is passionate about drawing divergent links between subjects, finding the links between creativity and quantitative analysis, and creating collaborations of mutual benefit between people of all kinds.


About Bob Johansen:

Bob Johansen is a distinguished fellow with the Institute for the Future in Silicon Valley. For more than 30 years, Bob has helped organizations around the world prepare for and shape the future, including corporations such as P&G, Walmart, McKinsey, United Rentals, and Syngenta, as well as major universities and nonprofits.

The author or co-author of ten books, Bob is a frequent keynote speaker. His best-selling book Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present was selected as one of the top business books of 2007. His latest book is The New Leadership Literacies: Thriving in a Future of Extreme Disruption and Distributed Everything discusses five new leadership literacies—combinations of disciplines, practices, and worldviews—that will be needed to thrive in a VUCA world of increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.


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Welcome to the world of Servant Leadership!

This is a guest post from Art Barter.

The pigs are running the farm. So begins the story of Farmer Able. Everyone on his farm — people and animals alike — are downright downtrodden by him. He’s overbearing and compulsively obsessed with profits and productivity. He’s a typical top-down, power-based manager, forever tallying production numbers in his well-worn ledgers. But the more he pushes the hoofs and horns and humans, the more they dig in their heels. That is until one day when he hears a mysterious wind that whispers: “It’s not all about me.” Can he turn things around and begin attending to the needs of those on his farm, thus improving their attitudes and productivity?

The following is an excerpt from chapter 11 of Farmer Able.


By the third day, Sunny had made her way out into the yard to catch some sun. This was one of her favorite pastimes, she felt on account of her name. Her dad found her sitting in a chair, her face soaking in the sun.

Despite her obvious screw-up, the farmer hadn’t been of a mind to bring up matters, considering her injury. He’d been waiting to address the issue of “responsible driving.” He began the conversation taking the tack of sympathy. “Your shoulder feeling better?” he asked.

“Better, but pretty sore still.”

“You just let it rest and heal. Won’t be needing to use it for awhile.”

“What’s that mean?”

“I’m just saying you won’t be using it for anything strenuous.”

“Like chores?” Sunny meant it as a joke, but the hard-minded taskmaster didn’t take it that way.

“For a time, but I figure you could be back at those in a week or so.”

“A week?! That’s ridiculous. I can’t hardly lift a spoon, let alone feed animals.”

“You don’t need to get all huffy.”

Harry the horse, who was in the side lot, couldn’t help but listen in on this exchange. Oh no, he thought. I wonder what the farmer whips her with?

“Dad, I was just in a car wreck.”

In a car wreck . . . or caused a car wreck?” There it was. You could sense the laces on the gloves being untied.

“The county is doing construction out on the 318. They didn’t mark it properly. It sprang up on me and I swerved.”

“Sunny, you weren’t paying attention. Don’t deny it.”

“My shoulder hurts. I don’t need a lecture.”

“I’m not lecturing. I’m telling you like it is. When that shoulder’s back to working, there’s going to be extra work for you. But you’ll have the time. There’s no way I’m giving you the keys back to go gallivanting around.”

The clouds were mounting. “You know Dad,” Sunny said. “You’re right. It wasn’t that the pylons were misplaced.” Sunny had tears starting to well up. For a moment, Farmer Able thought he’d gotten through to his daughter. “I wasn’t paying attention. But here’s something you don’t know. I was just following your lead.”


“I got mad just like you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You’re always bellowin’ around, slammin’ doors when you can’t handle things.”

“Don’t sass me.”

“Just the opposite, Dad. I think you and I, now that I’m stuck here, will have more quality time together. Of course, I don’t know why I think that would happen. You spend more time with the farm, the animals and those ledgers than you’d ever spend with me. You could say I’m not even equal to a horse, a cow or a chicken!”

“I have responsibilities,” the farmer fumed.

“And obviously I’m not one of them.” Then she blurted out, bursting into tears, “I got the lead in the play. Do you even know that? I guess it wouldn’t matter. You weren’t going to come anyway. You don’t show up for me.”

This caught Farmer Able off guard. His sobbing daughter suddenly reminded him of the little girl he remembered as a toddler who had bumped her knee.

Sunny’s honesty continued to come in raw and unchecked. “It took a lot to get that role.” “That is …” the farmer searched for the right word, “certainly somethin’.”

“Somethin’, huh?” Her ache came right up through her cynicism. “Somethin ‘brainless,’ right?”

The farmer’s words came back at him like a dull echo.

Sunny wasn’t finished. “Dad, what you said hurt so bad. I didn’t know what to do. I just did what I see you doing when you have pains you can’t handle. I got angry and lost control.”

This final blow knocked the wind out of the good farmer. Sunny hurried into the house, her tears overwhelming her.

Later that evening, Harry the horse would tell the other animals about the whole incident, ending with, “… then he just stood there, saying nothing.” There was a general, “serves him right” grumble that came up from most things hoofed and horned and certainly feathered. After all, the farmer “getting his comeuppance” was what most of the animals longed for. Yes sir, a thing whipped becomes a whipper indeed.


Art Barter believes everyone can be great, because everyone can serve. To teach about the power of servant leadership, Art started in his own backyard by rebuilding the culture of the manufacturing company he bought, Datron World Communications.  Art took Datron’s traditional power-led model and turned it upside down and the result was the international radio manufacturer grew from a $10 million company to a $200 million company in six years. Fueled by his passion for servant leadership, Art created the Servant Leadership Institute (SLI).

To learn more about Art and his new Servant Leadership Journal, as well as his book on servant leadership, Farmer Able: A Fable About Servant Leadership Transforming Organizations And People From The Inside Out, endorsed by Stephen M.R. Covey, Ken Blanchard , and John C. Maxwell , visit

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What Makes a Great Public Sector Leader

In this guest post from my friend and colleague, Benjamin Taylor, Managing Partner of RedQuadrant and Chief Executive of the Public Service Transformation Academy, he discusses what are the challenges facing the public sector; what advice he would give to leaders looking to improve; and, what makes a great public sector leader.

What are the challenges facing the public sector?

In the next two years, I fear some councils are going to be unable to set a balanced budget and go bust for the first time ever.

The next few years will bring population challenges – more and more people over 100, more digital native babies, more new immigrants and uncertainty over the skilled EU workforce. Expectations keep growing with technology change, demand change, and people wanting more, wanting it to be better and wanting it now. Meanwhile, devolution, directly elected Mayors, local health accountability and the possibility of true place-based leadership bring both a mandate and additional responsibility.

In all of this, leaders are expected to join up with organisations that operate with completely different drivers: performance, financial, professional, culture. And we can’t even join up internally – most large public services are like loose consortia, not single organisations.

What’s your advice for leaders looking to improve?

You need to focus less on how your limited funds can provide services and more on how the resources you have and can influence and achieve real outcomes.

Also, you need to admit you don’t have all the answers and work with people who might know a part of the answer. Ask powerful questions to understand what everyone is really motivated to achieve, while actively listening to those around you to learn their strengths and needs.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that every service is co-created with the citizen, so you need to bring citizens, customers and partners into the planning, designing and management of services.

The leaders who are really going to succeed need to create a management structure. An effective hierarchy is the most empowering structure yet discovered for large, complex organisations. They also need to enforce accountability across their workforce, overcoming any fears they may have of this making them unpopular.

Finally, you need to plan. If you don’t plan and predict the outcomes of your actions, you aren’t really learning.

What makes a great public sector leader?

Take responsibility for all the outcomes – including the organisational culture, the experience of all the people in your organisation and all the people in your community.

Look at demand for public services. We’re all worried about demand and seeking to control, or ‘manage’ demand is usually a dead-end street. Really facing the demand honestly and fully would be a great start. Behind every demand on public services is a need – something wrong in someone’s life that we can help fix.

All public service leaders – like all consultants, contact centres and doctors, should be trying to do themselves out of a job. Try to create a community that doesn’t need you anymore. It may never happen, but it is the right direction to move in.

The Public Service Transformation Academy is a social enterprise, led by public service consultants RedQuadrant, the Whitehall and Industry Group, and partner organisations who are thought leaders in commissioning. They design and deliver leadership programmes to build capacity to transform public services.

The challenges facing the UK public sector workforce will feature strongly at the Public Sector Show in June. Join more than 2000 professionals from local and central government and the wider public sector to hear key policy updates, learn from best practice case studies and identify new solutions for smarter and more efficient public services.

Benjamin, like me, values your engagement, and we both believe in conversations. So please leave any thoughts, comments or questions. We will be sure to respond.

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40 Leadership Lessons from the Freedom Trail

On the 31st August 2013, Lesley, my wife and soulmate, retired after 35 years teaching in secondary schools. Two days later, as planned, we set off for a magical celebratory holiday, taking in New York, California and Oregon. Our trip became known as the ‘Freedom Trail’.

While on the Freedom Trail, I journaled every day and ended each entry with a leadership moment/lesson.

 P1050114Leaders take the time to reflect, to pause, to listen and to plan

This morning we had a lazy morning, taking our time over breakfast and musing on what we should do on this rest day.

We ended up doing some washing, and a little bit of Social Media, while Les caught up on her travel blog.

P1050083We even made a start on our jigsaw for the week. Taking jigsaws is one of our regular travel habits if we know we will stay in any one place for a week or more. We do a jigsaw. It is a great joint activity, stimulates the mind, and gives us a lot of fun.

Towards mid-morning, we went for a walk around the lake, no not all of it! It has a shoreline of about seventy miles, so we did just a fraction of that. We found, wandering randomly off the lake shore, a mix of marshes, meadows, and forest trails.

As we strolled, we came across this bridge and saw the salmon spawning in the pool just above the bridge. Though the photograph needs close inspection, there were scores of fish, flashing and glistening in the sunlight. The river was teeming with life, and many people stopped to stare in wonder.

P1050131Late in the day, we drove around the lake from our accommodation to Emerald Bay. As the sun set is was so picturesque – calm, serene and beautiful!

I sat quietly with my soul mate and thought how blessed I was to be here in that moment with the person I love most in the world! Just sitting quietly, listening to the sounds of birds, the water lapping on the shore, and watching the slow, steady decline of the sun. It is a beautiful place and taking that time out meant so much to both of us, as we recharged for a busy day ahead. Our next day plan was for a long trip to Bodie and Mono Lake, and so our rest today was beautifully timed.

I later reflected on our day and recognised that leaders too need to take time out from ‘busyness’ to pause, refresh, and reflect. They also need to learn to listen, so that they hear at the moment, and act upon what they hear. My experience is much social dialogue is about waiting for a pause to say whatever it is one person wishes to speak next, irrespective of what the other party or parties in the conversation are saying.

I am known as a greater talker, speaker and conversationalist. However, those who know me very well, know that I am also a great listener. From listening, you learn much, and you add value to others from what you learn.

As always, I welcome your comments and dialogue. I also wish you an entertaining and enlightening experience of this series of posts.

Thank you for reading.

Leaders take the time to reflect, to pause, to listen and to plan!

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Do you need simple help with change? Try this now!

I’m posting late tonight after a very strenuous day interviewing clients in a change process, so this one is short and sweet!

Here’s a simple formula for helping you to reflect on and prepare for change!

D + G + FS > I

It stands for Dissatisfaction with the status quo; Clear goals for the future; and, known First Steps will be greater than or will overcome Inertia in your organisation.


It is simple. If people are not dissatisfied with the status quo, they will not be energised to take the action that is needed to initiate change. So, take heed; work with your dissatisfied crew and build a critical mass for change.


Don’t set out on the journey though until you have clear goals for the future. Those, in other words, your compelling vision for what the future holds, are what will take your dissatisfied and turn them into energised and excited change champions.

First Steps

To reach your goals you need actions. So, a short set of first steps will swing momentum in your favour. Being able to articulate how you will begin to move forward is a must, especially for those placing their trust in you! So, have a plan, and implement it. Better still, check it out with your dissatisfied and co-create forward steps. That will engender greater buy-in and ownership, and, ultimately, better delivery of what you intend!


All organisations suffer from inertia; just many don’t recognise it! The inertia may come poor leadership, over-targeted activity, or from simply the loss, individually or collectively, people or a team or organisation feel when a change occurs or looks likely. Having worked with young people for decades, I find adults particularly prone to this reaction.

Also, dissatisfaction with the status quo has often been a warning sign to me that inertia has set in!

However, remember, you need to engage all three stages to begin to battle inertia, whatever its source. Miss a step and you will find your ‘troops’ have deserted in mid-flow! Believe me; I know from hard-earned experience.

Take all three steps, and you will be amazed at how quickly things will pick up. Picking up momentum will enable you and the team to eventually overcome that inertia and move on to bigger and better things.

Where did I get this formula?

If you are interested in learning more about this change model and where it came from, I’d like to direct you to one of my favourite change commentators, Michael Fullan. His book, Leading in a Culture of Change, is one of my personal favourites. I like the denouement of his model – more good things will happen, less bad things will happen. Fullan’s model is not a change process that offers perfect solutions, but pragmatic, practical suggestions for taking a complicated process – change – and making it work. I recommend you read it, and maybe practice, as I do, what he teaches.

If you would like to find out more about how I can support you in advancing positive change for yourself, your team or your organisation, please just ask!

Ring 07958 765972 now for a free consultation or write to me at for further details! I am always happy to listen and ready to help.

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How To Actually Connect That Will Help Your Communication

The primary difference between dialogue and skilful discussion involves intention. In dialogue, you may be exploring a topic or seeking some discovery or insight. Often, in a discussion, its purpose revolves around making a decision or reaching some form of agreement, or maybe even agreeing on some new priorities or a way forward.

What goals to pursue? What actions are priorities for the next three months? What future direction will you, your team or your organisation take? These are all likely questions you wish to address from time to time, particularly at this period of the year.

In this post, I set out six helpful tips that will make your approach to such discussions more skilful and therefore more productive. I draw on the work of Peter Senge, and in particular his book, “The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook”, to explore the six tips.

Pay attention to your intentions

Be clear about what it is you wish to achieve through your discussion. Do not enter into that discourse without sharp clarity, or else, when challenged, how will you respond to that challenge or to attempts to influence your thinking?

In staff meetings, I typically set out non-negotiable and negotiable items for discussion, by specifying them as such in a meeting agenda.

Non-negotiable meant we were having a discussion on that particular item so that I could take on board a range of other views and opinions, but I would make the decision. Negotiable meant I had an open mind about the outcome and was happy for others to influence the final determination.

Staff often found this approach a little strange at first, but quickly warmed to my practice once they understood that when I said I was open to influence, I was! I also had personal feedback that they liked my decisiveness, though not everyone agreed with my decisions.

Balance advocacy with inquiry

To my mind, skilfully managed discussions have always been about sharing, of thinking, of reasoning and expectations. Moreover, I believe I am open to challenge and will often explicitly invite it and offer permission to do so.

Senge suggests one way you might do this is to provide your view and an explanation of how you reached it, and then ask for ways it might make better sense or be improved. I agree with him wholeheartedly and would urge you to model that practice.

Build shared meaning

Language used well has immense power, for good and for bad. Therefore it is important to use language with high precision, being sure to make your meaning evident. However, we share meaning with others, and so it is also important not to assume, even within your team, that everyone is working to the same definition as you. So, from time to time, check out that you share your understanding with others.

I think the same is true for values, and I have regularly reviewed and refreshed understanding across teams and partner forums that our values are shared and remain consistent. In my experience, people assume they stay constant, while in reality, as we are all living organisms subject to growth and evolution, they shift and change, often imperceptibly.

So, language, like values needs your attention on a regular, almost daily basis!

Use self-awareness as a resource

Senge suggests that at moments when you are confused, angry, frustrated, concerned or troubled to ask yourself these questions:

  • What am I doing right now?
  • What am I feeling right now?
  • What am I thinking right now?
  • What do I want right at this moment?

He further suggests that the answers to these questions might lead to a fifth question, which is, “What am I doing right now to prevent myself from getting what I want?”

The most powerful way forward, he proffers is to say this phrase to yourself, “I choose …”  then take a deep breath and move on.

Being more reflective and self-aware is seen as a sign of authenticity and keen emotional intelligence. It demonstrates you are better attuned to your emotions, thinking and behaviour and this, in its turn, enables you to manage discussions that more skilfully.

Explore impasses

Even in the most skilfully managed discussions, impasse might arise. Rather than keep returning to the sticking point like a bull at a red flag, see if you can identify the actual source of the impasse or disagreement.

Senge considers that a standstill might often occur for one of four reasons. They are:

  1. An argument on facts – so what did happen? What data supports that view?
  2. Disagreement on methods – so what do we need to do now, and how?
  3. Discord on goals – so what are and how clear are our objectives or purpose?
  4. Divergence on values – what do we all believe in and do we share common values?

In my experience, the last causal factor is often the one overlooked, and probably the one you should return to first. Values, once spoken or written down, appear to assume a concrete-like substance, forever immutable. In reality, people regularly flex them as they choose, and assume others are doing the same too, in the same way. Fortunately, we are all different beings, and so a belief that homogeneity of values exists always seems to me to be rather foolish.

One final tip

When sources of disagreement arise, a simple visioning exercise will help you move on. It works because it helps those involved in the disunity learn more about the situation under discussion, clarify any assumptions they might have about the situation, and with this better insight, move forward more positively.

Senge poses three simple moves for the visioning exercise:

  1. Listen to ideas as if for the first time and be prepared to hear new ideas.
  2. Try to consider the issue from the other person or persons’ perspective.
  3. Simply ask yourself and those involved in the discussion, “What do we need to do to move forward?”

If you would like to find out more about how I can support you in building positive change for yourself, your team or your organisation, please just ask!

Ring 07958 765972 now for a free consultation or write to me at for further details!

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40 Leadership Lessons from the Freedom Trail – #27

On the 31st August 2013, Lesley, my wife and soulmate, retired after 35 years teaching in secondary schools. Two days later, as planned, we set off for a magical celebratory holiday, taking in New York, California and Oregon. Our trip became known as the ‘Freedom Trail’.

While on the Freedom Trail, I journaled every day and ended each entry with a leadership moment/lesson.

Leaders know when to rest and conserve their energy

After the volume of travelling over the past few weeks, today was the day we stopped and rested!

So, a lazy morning, watching the sun come up and eating breakfast by the lakeshore, was followed by a visit to the local Rite Aid pharmacy.

That was an excellent place to buy the bits and pieces we needed, and the staff were friendly and helpful! It had everything we were after, and well-laden, we headed back to our cabin.

The rest of our day was taken up with reading, travel blogging, lazing on the beach enjoying the sun, and Skyping a few folks and catching up with the family news. I have four sisters and a brother, plus our son and his wife, so there was plenty to hear about, given we’d been away nearly four weeks!

Later in the afternoon, we strolled by the lake shore and admired a beautiful sunset, before heading to Appleby’s for dinner. We love that restaurant chain, where the food is quality and great value, and the staff are amiable and enthusiastic.

Our quiet day set us up well for further adventures the following day when we planned to visit the ghost town Bodie and to Mono Lake. More of that in my next blog post on the Freedom Trail.

As always, I welcome your comments and dialogue. I also wish you an entertaining and enlightening experience of this series of posts.

Thank you for reading.

Leaders know when to rest and conserve their energy, and also when to plough on irrespective!

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How to make your goals for 2017 SMARTER here

Last year I applied Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever method to my personal goal setting. It was the first time I had written down my personal goals correctly.

I found the exercise challenging and exciting. And my end of year review last December provided some helpful insights and learning. One particular idea was a need this year to make my goals much SMARTER.

For 2016 I used Michael’s acronym AACTION, but this year I am using an another approach.

I have used it numerous times when writing work goals, targets and outcomes.

So, in this post, I will introduce you to the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. way to write your goals, objectives or outcomes, using personal examples to illustrate what I mean. The acronym stands for:

S – Specific

The more specific your goal, the better it is. Why is this so important? Simply put, the more accurate you are, the more likely you are to achieve what it is you set out to do. The specifics of your goals are what fuel your activity.

So, for example, my financial goal for 2017 is not just to make money, it is to make £30,000. Well, I am semi-retired, so the finances are not the thing that drives me, though it is good to have an end of year financial target. What I have done, however, is put an exact figure, which I believe to be realistic.

M – Meaningful

While specific goals are a must, they must also be meaningful. That way you will take action and do what it is you said you would do!

At a psychological level, this is WHY you chose to set the goals you are setting. So, for example, my £30,000 target will help me focus my energies and action through my work to achieve that objective. I already have work to the value of £8,000+ underway, which will provide an excellent stimulant to my future working practice.

However, meaningful goals will often work at a much deeper level. So, for example, another of my goals for 2017, to lose 10 lbs, is a better example of a target that has a deeper meaning and thus a better chance of a positive outcome. My weight loss goal is about me being happier with my health and well-being, with a particular focus on its results.

A – Achievable

Years of practice have taught me that any goals, objectives or outcomes you decide upon should be achievable. Grand thoughts and ideas are fine, but you should chunk them down into bite-sized pieces that, cumulatively, build the whole.

It is possible to set out three, five and even ten-year plans, with goals attached. My experience over many years of doing this in a work setting for business and project plans helps me to understand this. However, I would always set out cumulative goals. Setting out my long-term aspirations within smaller, specific intentions ensured that goals were achievable in the short-term.

That’s why I chose my target of £30,000, as it builds on what I did last year. I know that I will not be a millionaire overnight, mainly because I don’t do the Lottery. However, I do know that I can stay focused and improve on last year! That way I can build incremental momentum that moves me further on year on year.

R – Relevant

Any goals you write will only have real meaning if they are relevant to your life. By that I mean, you should write goals about what it is you want out fo life,

I love Michael Hyatt’s view that your goals for this year should span the spectrum of your life – relational, spiritual, financial, physical and intellectual. That approach helps you to achieve real balance, while at the same time ground yourself in harmony with who you are and what you want out of life.

So, align your goals with your core values. That will make them so much more relevant. And, if you don’t know what your core values are, then go figure them out first before taking another step in this process.

As an example, spending a designated set of days quality time with my wife travelling was a key goal for last year, and is again this year. Last year I blasted the goals to pieces, way exceeding what I’d set out to do. Why? Because sharing quality time with my wife travelling is what we love to do together, and it aligns so closely with who we both are.

T – Time-bound

Setting an exact date when you aim to achieve your goals is also a necessary part of this formula.

So, my financial goal for 2017 is for the full year. So is my weight goal. However, I can split each of those goals down into sub-targets if I wish to make things even more precise. So, for example, £7,500 per quarter for my financial target, or 2.5 pounds per quarter for my weight goal.

That helps me to measure my progress. I, therefore, see my goals as not set in stone, but as a cumulative process towards my ultimate goal for the year. Other of my goals, such as the one for quality time with my wife will end by October 31. I have another for my spiritual target, which is reading a particular book, and that will finish around 30 June 2017.

The time-bound part of this process helps you to measure how you are doing; to see how close or far from your goal you are. And, believe me, the sense of elation you get when you achieve your goal or hit your target is immense.

E – Evaluate

There are many schools of thought about how often you should evaluate your goals, from daily, to weekly, to monthly, to quarterly and even, for really lazy people out there, annually.

I believe it needs to be what will work best for you. What works for me is weekly. However, you need to evaluate your goals regularly [maybe daily or weekly] and consistently to ensure you are not ignoring them or underperforming against them. Whatever you do, it needs to become a habit!

I would also recommend setting up a system to track your evaluation of your goals. Micheal Hyatt uses a model involving Evernote. I’m a bit old school, so I use pen and paper. Whatever you do, make it work for you!

R – Readjust

After years of experience setting many types of goals, there is something wonderful about achieving them and a feeling altogether different when you continuously undershoot against them.

That is why I prefer to write SMARTER goals than SMART goals.

For me, the readjust part is not about throwing away your goals and starting again from scratch. It is about recognising that new approaches may be required until you get closer to what you are attempting to achieve. Or it may mean abandoning that goal for another purpose that is more realistic and achievable. Or postponing this target to what you believe would be a more favourable time.

Last year, seven weeks into 2016, I recognised that meeting my spiritual goal by June 2016 was unlikely, given all that was happening around me at that time and forecasting forward into the year. I decided to abandon that goal and reset it for this year. Another goal, to do with my business looked set to miss the mid-year deadline I had set. On further evaluation, I readjusted my time-frame and achieved the goal.

The final two elements of this process work in conjunction with one another. Regularly and consistently reviewing lends strength to your opportunities to readjust. Of 10 goals last year, I only abandoned one, using this process. In hindsight, last year I set too many goals, so this year I am trying seven. I will let you know how I get on with my achievements.

One final thought

Reflecting on last year, I would highly recommend finding an accountability buddy! Mine lives in Folsom, California and we do our calls over Skype on roughly a six weekly basis. It adds to my evaluation of how I’m doing, and keeps me on my toes! If you need an accountability buddy, just call me, and we can talk about how that might work.

If you would like to find out more about how I can support you in building positive change for yourself, your team or your organisation, please just ask!

Ring 07958 765972 now for a free consultation or write to me at for further details!

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How to avoid the Titanic effect here in 2017!

I believe that leaders at all levels need to ensure positive relationships within the workplace! When they work well, such relationships enable much more productive and useful work, more fulfilling workplaces, and better outcomes for both staff and clients.

When those relationships are not functioning well, it is because people overlooked one critical element – the organisational iceberg! Failing to do so has the equivalent effect of the iceberg and the Titanic; change of catastrophic proportions! Occasionally, it is sudden and drastic; more often it is, however, slow and insidious, though the end results are no less tragic.

In this post, I suggest what might be coming in 2017, describe how a redundant mindset might impact on changes in 2017 of any nature,  explore what is the organisational iceberg at the root of an outdated mindset, and offer some thoughts on what you might do about it!

What might be coming in 2017?

Experience tells me that inevitably in 2017, you will encounter a change or changes of one description or another, transformational or otherwise. It is the one inevitable occurrence I might predict in what is likely to be a turbulent year, economically, socially and politically.

And yet, my years of experience tell me that people are liable to approach that change, or indeed any changes through the year, with the same redundant mindset.

What impact does this disastrous mindset have?

That mentality is rooted in managers’ beliefs that to make sound change happen, you need to deal with the ‘structural’ elements of change … and not the organisational underpinning that is relationships.  So, they spend greater time looking at products and services, hierarchies, technologies, job descriptions, roles and responsibilities, procedures, policies – tangible things that are easily grasped and wrestled with to make so-called improvements.

However, once implemented, it was regularly my personal experience that some weeks or even months later, senior staff would voice concerns as to the lack of impact the changes had brought about.

So back to the drawing board executives would go and chart some tweaks and fine-tuning and try again! On and on this cycle would revolve with what ultimate effect? In general, little real change and certainly not embedded change of the order sought in the first instance! Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic springs to mind!

What is the organisational iceberg?

For me, and many colleagues around me, we mainly experienced dismay, disillusionment and despair, especially as we were not often engaged in the design of the process. It was done to us rather than with us. More subtly, however, it appeared that senior managers could not or chose not to see the need to harness the power of positive relationships.

Then I discovered the concept of the organisational iceberg!

It was mid-way through my career as a youth worker that I came across a perspective that helped me to understand this apparently ‘lemming-like’ behaviour. I found it in one of my favourite management books, entitled ‘Managing Change and making it stick’!* It was here that Roger Plant introduced me to the concept of the ‘organisational iceberg’, which enabled me to begin to reflect seriously on the nature of change and the power of positive relationships.

I found it in one of my favourite management books, entitled ‘Managing Change and making it stick’! It was here that Roger Plant introduced me to the concept of the ‘organisational iceberg’, which enabled me to begin to reflect seriously on the nature of change and the power of positive relationships and to adapt my behaviour.


I reproduce Plant’s drawing opposite. I think it is straightforward, though graphic.

His view, simply put, was that change scenarios too often focused on the bit of the iceberg that was visible – the structural stuff I mentioned earlier – as this was relatively easy to manage.

Often ignored were the things that really make organisations work – sometimes known as the ‘soft stuff’, although, frankly, in all my experience I have found it the hardest stuff to deal with! He included many organisational aspects within his view of the ‘soft stuff’ – cultural norms, habits, loyalties, personal relationships, motivation and commitments, moral stances, beliefs and values, hopes and fears, friendships, feelings and moods, amongst many other elements.

He argued, and I strongly support his view, that by failing to grasp this ‘hidden’ mass of the iceberg, any change process was almost inevitably doomed to failure from the outset.

What does this mean for you?

I have seen failure to address relationships and change at first hand on too many occasions! Both local and central government have been guilty of this; more painfully so at a local level. I have experienced it in the voluntary sector and the private sector. Nowhere is immune from the impact of this offensive mindset.

What needs emphasising is that change impacts on people directly; it affects the human condition and the myriad feelings, attitudes, circumstances and opinions that this brings! Failure to recognise and work with the hidden elements breaks trust. Destroying trust is a surefire way to send you, your team and your organisation into a negative downward spiral, from which recovery will be long and painful, if at all possible.

So recognising the concept and how it works in your circumstances makes for a good start. Co-creating your vision with your team for 2017 will address it even better. Take it up a notch by even jointly agreeing on collaborative goals, targets and objectives for the year.

Then write them down, but not too many, say six or seven that are essential, and regularly and consistently review and evaluate them!

When writing your goals, think SMARTER – Specific, Meaningful, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound, Evaluate and Re-adjust! I have used this approach for some years, and it works!

Most importantly, you need to talk to your people, take action on what you hear, and explain when and why you cannot take action. I’m not saying that you will achieve complete change this way, but I do believe you will carry your team with you wherever that change takes you!

If you would like to find out more about how I can support you in building positive change for yourself, your team or your organisation, please just ask!

Ring 07958 765972 now for a free consultation or write to me at for further details!

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