A Wonderful Afternoon...

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A fantastic afternoon for a client's leadership team hosted at Staffs University with Prof Marc Jones and Dr Matt Slater from the Faculty of Health Sciences talking about the scientific background to behaviour, Andy McCann who organised, provided seemless continuity, insights  and contributions and David Radford-Wilson MBE talking about his experiences co-leading the army expedition up the west face of Everest. 

Great learning.

Play with eFire - for free!

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Enhance your leadership impact with eFIRE, a new methodology for coaching.

In today’s complex and uncertain world, how can you use coaching and mentoring to untangle messy problems and find solutions that will help you – and your staff – to survive as well as thrive? What strategies can help you to enhance the potentials and overcome the pitfalls of the leader-as-coach?

This online course will show you how to apply eFIRE, a unique coaching model, to increase your impact as a leader, reflect on your experiences and receive peer feedback. You’ll explore a variety of coaching cultures through vignettes and the lens of leaders who are experiencing challenges with staff.


Latest Internet of Things Community blog: Does your Resilience match the requirements of IoT Age Leadership?

I’m here to help IoT business leaders achieve great results in this fast moving environment. 

The demands on leaders is growing exponentially. As Robert Kegan said in his book of the same name, we’re “In Over Our Heads”(1) Now, leaders have to have an understanding of biosystems & constructive depolarising!

Passive reaction is no longer an option. We can’t we just bob along with the current as they have a habit of taking you to places you don’t necessarily want to go. Suddenly, there’s a roaring noise in your ears as you approach a fall (which could be a physical health, mental health, career, or relationship fall). How then can you maximise your impact on your business?

A great starting point is checking your own Resilience. This is your mental toughness; your ability to think clearly and bounce back after adversity. It is a quality that is essential to develop. You may recall I referred in a previous article to Stoneage 1.0 - our operating system, which hasn't evolved to deal with the nuances of ‘threat’ with which most of us nowadays have to deal. ( ‘A report to be read by 4:30’ as opposed to ‘A dinosaur coming into our cave’!) Consequently we go through the same reaction to a threat as if it were a dinosaur.. we prepare for fight or flight. 

Conversely, “A Challenge State reflects a positive mental approach to pressure situations where our mental resources meet the demands of the situation. … Blood is delivered to the brain efficiently, and this highly important for mental functions such as concentration, decision-making, and having control over thoughts and emotions.” (2)

The differences in how we approach and react to situations have big implications for both our personal performance and consequently our business’s performance. 

Why not contact me to find out more about your own Resilience and how you can improve it? The results will not only impact you but your business. malcolmnicholson@aspecture.com or + 44 (0)1932 267597.

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 (1) Kegan, R. 1998 “In Over Our Heads; The Mental Demands of Modern Life” Harvard University Press; New Ed edition
(2) Turner, M. Barker, J. 2014 “What Business Can Learn From Sport Psychology: Ten Lessons for Peak Professional Performance” Bennion Kearny

Morzine, 7-10th September 2016


I am just looking back on a wonderful 4 days in Morzine with Andy McCann and DNA Definitive working with NEOMA Business School and a fantastic and truly international group. 

Culture, Wellness & Toxicity

I have been receiving a lot of positive comment from my most recent International Coaching News article, “Wellness – Where does it fit in a leader’s priorities?” (See http://www.aspecture.com/publications/ )

This pulls together the implementation of Wellness programmes and an organisation’s culture. Whilst wellness programmes make good business sense, the article concludes “For the investment in wellness and wellness coaching not to be an expensive folly, leaders need to ensure … that they act with integrity and compassion.” Coaching too must up its game and make sure that leaders are acting with the best of intention and with greater awareness of their impact.

The misaligning of actions and their interpretation can subsequently lead to the toxification of a culture that I’m calling ‘Toxicity by Omission’ or its shadow, ‘Toxicity by Design’.

Toxicity by Omission occurs when a leader doesn’t take into consideration how their actions - or lack of them - will be construed or misconstrued. It could be omitting to communicate; omitting to address performance or behavioural issues; omitting to challenge or omitting to create clarity. This creates a void between intention and interpretation. Omission is the most common way that a toxic culture is inadvertently created. It is often a reflection of the time pressures that leaders are under.

To give an example. I was speaking with a European HRD who was telling me their business was going through a merger. There was only minimal risk of job loss to the staff for which this person had responsibility. However, the HRD was so busy dealing with the merger issues that they didn’t put through the annual salary increases and bonuses. It was only after we discussed it that they realized the potent impact this would have on moral. Toxicity by Omission.

Toxicity by Design is (hopefully) less common and occurs when a leader knows what the consequences are but continues for the wrong reasons. It could be driven by narcissism, greed, ambition, need to dominate or believing their own publicity. So the business that was ruled by a narcissistic leader forced good people to develop the wrong behaviours – falsifying, pressuring staff and miscommunicating.

Executive coaching must create the framework for leaders to challenge the status quo. Leaders may not be able to solve all the issues affecting their business, but must address the environment, workload, politics and culture within which their people work. There is no room for complicity in poor peoples’ decisions. This will then enable the full ROI of wellness coaching to be felt throughout the organisation.




Ring any bells in your organisation? Contact me to discuss on malcolmnicholson@aspecture.com or +44 (0)7968 763312.


Are you on the bridge or in the engine room?

Many executives I work with in my coaching business admit that they and their peers are operating at a level below that at which they should be contributing. At the very least they all have some specific areas in which they contribute at a detail level, taking on responsibilities for a task that should be delegated. It’s comforting to oil the tappets in the warmth of the engine room. We all do it from time to time. When you are not on the bridge setting course for your organization, or if you are doing some one’s role, you are not leading at your level. It is also creating a bottleneck that affects everyone.

 Whatever the reason, it is diminishing your value as an executive. You are diluting your impact and influence that could be better utilized leading the organization to become more effective, more efficient and more successful…and a better place to work. It is robbing your people of the opportunity to learn and grow. It is adding to your workload. You may be able to justify it – that’s the easy part! – but you are not making it easy to develop the followership that all leaders need. And ultimately, it is not a sustainable business model in volatile times that needs vision.

 How does this happen?

Well, every leader needs a degree of domain knowledge. For those who have been promoted through a business, or have helped a business grow, then the chances are that you know quite a lot about how the detail works – or at least, used to work when you did it! Never lose sight of the fact that the vector and velocity of change is escalating – as is the complexity of the work environment.

There are a range of justifications I hear all the time, which include:-

I come from a specialist technical background (e.g. lawyer, accountant, engineer etc) so there is an identity issue ‘I am a lawyer – who will I be if I don’t specialize?’ You are now a leader; people look to you for leadership not specific technical support.

I'm a natural in that area. It’s my expertise and I enjoy it. Give up your leadership role and revert to specialist; Let others enjoy it too; Lead, follow or get out of the way!

I haven't got time -  It will take too long to explain so it’s easier to do it myself. And ever will it be thus. What happens the next time…and the next time…and the time after that? Look at what you should be delivering and build in time to enable the transfer.

This is too important. I don’t trust him or her to do it right. aka I need to be seen by those above me to be delivering some value.  Get to the bridge to see what really needs doing.

 The place would fall apart if I didn’t keep things going. You need to step back and hear what you have just said. Get into that reflective space.

 He/she’s overloaded. I’ll just do it. Is this a professional development issue, resources issue or competency issue? All of which are your responsibility to resolve

 I can’t get my hands around it – everything is open ended (unlike the details that I can sort out) Well, this is the biggest challenge for C21st  leaders, living with ambiguity, paradox and complexity – and it won’t become less complex!

Many of these excuses are creating displacement activity. In other words, creating the 'buzzy-ness' that stops leaders from addressing hard issues. 

Some quick tips for getting back onto the Bridge

 1.    Create some reflective time each week. Look at what and how you need to get achieved. What impact do you want to have?

2.   As a leader what is the true business value you bring to the organization in terms of its top line and bottom line? What is it that you – and only you - can do in your position that will make this business great? Write down the critical deliverables of your role.

3.   Put another way, the level of your contribution should be based around:-

- Creating a Vision

- Creating the resources

- Making winning possible (removing roadblocks)

- Executing ruthlessly and consistently

 This also includes developing your people; inspiring; attracting the right talent and dealing with non performers.

 4. Apply the 5 ‘D’s law to anything that comes your way:-

- Delete it

- Delay it

- Delegate it

Then, and only then…

- Do it. But make sure you are putting time constraints on it to…

-Diminish it (we tend to do the things we like and spend a disproportionate amount of time on them).

 5. Be aware of the types of tasks, issues or opportunities that beguile you and pull you into the weeds. Think of past times when this happened. Just being aware will cause you to recognize when it occurs again. Initially you may only notice after the event. However with practice and reflective time you will immediately recognize the situation and have choice to take alternative actions. Be aware in meetings in which you may dominate the discussion and drag it into the details rather than identify the deliverable and assign responsibility and accountability. Get a trusted colleague to give you a signal…

6.   If there are leaders, then there are followers. People want to learn and develop their ‘employability’, either with you, or if not, then somewhere else. Think about these situations as professional development opportunities for your people. It will also enhance and strengthen your leadership. And free up your time to work on moving your team forward. Ask yourself "Am I creating current or future leadership resources with this response?" 

So, make sure that you are earning your remuneration – get onto the bridge looking out for icebergs and don’t get caught doing the engineers job in the engine room!