Category: Leadership

Teams in Transition?

Tree in transition

One of the real pleasures of my work as a team coach and facilitator has been supporting teams to get back in the room together, face to face over the last few months, after in many cases well over a year of staring at each other through a computer screen.  Teams are rediscovering the joys of connecting, having informal conversations over a coffee, and allowing themselves time to ‘be’ rather than constantly ‘do’. Conversations are deeper and more insightful, and solutions to sticky issues are more easily found.

One issue that comes up repeatedly in the teams I am working with, is the issue of transition.  Teams that have formed during the pandemic are now finding that Tuckman’s observation of storming before you can get to norming is very real, and team leaders are facing ambiguity about roles, responsibilities and expectations, structural reorganisations, and the challenges of a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world.

Organisational Health has been defined as the ability of organisations to align, execute, and renew themselves faster than their competitors can to sustain exceptional performance over time.  To sustain high performance, organisations must build the capacity to learn and keep changing and this involves investment in the people-oriented aspects of leading an organisation and connecting them to performance. It comprises core organisational skills and capabilities, such as leadership, coordination, or external orientation that traditional metrics don’t often capture.

Patrick Lencioni, in his excellent book “The Advantage: Why Organisational Health trumps everything else in business” (John Wiley & Sons; 2012) highlights stories of healthy organisations as places where politics and confusion have all but been eliminated and as a result, productivity and morale soar, and good people almost never leave.  You’re now probably thinking, tell me something new and if all this is true, then why haven’t more organisations embraced and reaped the benefits of organisational health?

And of course the simple reason is it’s hard.  It requires real work and discipline, over a period of time, and it must be maintained.  It needs sustained leadership, relentless focus and absolute clarity of expectations at every level.  Lencioni talks of four key steps you can take, and encourage your peers to do the same:

1.  Build a Cohesive Leadership Team – This first step is about getting the leaders of the organisation to behave in a functional, cohesive way.  If the people responsible for running your business are behaving in dysfunctional ways, then that dysfunction will cascade into the rest of the organisation and prevent Organisational Health;

2.  Create Clarity – The second step for building a healthy organisation is ensuring that the members of that leadership team are intellectually aligned around six simple but critical questions:

  • Why do we exist?
  • How do we behave?
  • What do we do?
  • How will we succeed?
  • What is most important, right now?
  • Who must do what?

Leaders need to eliminate any gaps that may exist between them, so that people one, two or three levels below have complete clarity about what they should do to make the organisation successful.

3.  Over-Communicate Clarity – Once the behavioural and intellectual alignment is under way, leaders need to over-communicate the answers to questions above.  Leaders of a healthy organisation constantly repeat themselves and continually reinforce what is true and important.

4.  Reinforce Clarity – In addition to over-communicating, leaders must ensure that the answers to the six critical questions are reinforced repeatedly using simple human systems.  That means any process that involves people, from recruitment and disciplinary to performance management and decision-making, is designed in a custom way to intentionally support and emphasise the uniqueness of the organisation.

So as the hard work of the autumn months kicks in,

  • How Healthy is your Organisation?
  • How do you re-focus your efforts on the people-oriented aspects just as much as the strategic or operational?
  • What actions could or must you take now?

Mark Greenfield

Always take the weather with you

It’s the morning after the night before.  England have lost on penalties in the final of the Euro 2020 football tournament and it’s raining stair-rods outside, entirely in keeping with the prevailing mood.

And yet, and yet.  In my very mixed emotions this morning, ‘Weather with you’ by Crowded House is playing on the radio, and I’m already reflecting on how this young team, led with decency, vision and compassion by Gareth Southgate, has ‘made the weather’, and brought so much joy and togetherness to our national discourse over the last month.
I don’t want to try and make immediate links to leadership and brilliant team working with clunky sporting metaphors, but it seems very clear to me that watching the England team in both interviews and in action on the pitch aligns with how we can effectively collaborate at work and achieve collective successes.  Some of the observations that resonated with me:

  • The Clarity of Purpose, based on personal Values that Gareth Southgate outlined ahead of the tournament, in his wonderful ‘Dear England’ letter:
  • The understated Trust that players demonstrated, knowing who was where at any one time, clear that each always had each other’s back
  • Celebrating Successes, the collective joy the players showed whenever anyone scored or delivered an incisive pass
  • Taking Responsibility for actions, and not avoiding the Accountability that comes with it – as Southgate said last night: “it’s down to me in relation to who takes the penalties”
  • Offering visible Support and Compassion.  As Luke Shaw said of his colleague Bukayo Saka when he missed the last penalty: “He is devastated. But the most important thing for us now as a team is to be there for him and give him a big hug and tell him to keep his head up. It is a penalty shootout – anything can happen.”
  • Celebrating Diversity in all its forms, acknowledging what every member of the playing and support teams brought to the England side, and the belief in Playing to Strengths, whether bringing in the creative maestro Jack Grealish to unlock the opponent defence, or holding faith in the rock-solid defence of Maguire, Stones and Shaw
  • Team ‘Huddles’ on and off the pitch, for shared problem-solving, motivational pep-talks, praising, and celebrating wins, however small

So, as we hopefully view this sporting tournament as a hugely encouraging step towards the World Cup next year, or even if we are not remotely interested in football, the team leadership questions that my experiences over the last month raise for me, are (with due thanks to Crowded House!):

  • How do you make the weather as a leader, or member of your team?
  • Would your followers and colleagues describe you as someone who ‘always took the weather with you’?
  • What do you need most now to take the sunny, uplifting weather with you?

Mark Greenfield

Not All Heroes Wear White Coats

woman working at computer

Recently I have had the privilege of closing a Leadership Programme with a group of Senior Leaders at NHS Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group on the Compassionate & Inclusive Leadership in Cheshire Programme (CLiC). As part of their final presentation to the Executive Team the group were tasked with providing feedback about what they had learned on the Programme and how this had impacted on them. As part of that they produced a 2-minute video that highlighted the events of last year and the roles that staff had fulfilled as part of the pandemic effort.

Although the piece was only 2 minutes long it was incredibly moving to see the reality of what was faced on a daily and hourly basis by CCG staff. The piles of PPE that arrived and had to be distributed to local community and primary care services; Shifting resources around the system at pace to ensure staff were safe at work and could work remotely and more recently working 24/7 to set up and run the vaccination programme through local centres and community healthcare providers. All of this done with care and compassion and smiling faces.

There has been a phrase used throughout the pandemic which says “Not all heroes wear capes” referring to the frontline staff who have toiled and suffered to ensure people get the treatment they need to deal with the impact of the virus. For this the nation owes them a great debt and personally for me all NHS staff are heroes. However, this is my tribute to the other people in the NHS who support the frontline – the back room boys and girls who have been doing their thing to support the covid effort.

In leadership terms the covid pandemic brought a unique and unifying aspect to the work of the NHS – a national common goal that mobilised millions of staff to work together. Talking to colleagues in many CCGs – the camaraderie and dedication that was brought to the table was second to none and I have listened to impassioned Directors who have talked about their inspirational teams who went above and beyond the day job because they cared and are still doing so even as the effort is now focussing more on business as usual.

Having heard first-hand from such a dedicated and hardworking team that have quietly got on with the job it just felt right to shine a spotlight on them in recognition of what an amazing job they do. When you go for your covid vaccination to a community centre or GP Practice just remember who played a leading role in getting the supplies there for you and your family – that was the work of CCGs and their teams working collaboratively with others.

So what of heroic leadership? Here is one definition: Heroic leadership is the pinnacle of leadership, conducted by a transformed and enlightened leader who seeks to transform and enlighten others. The NHS has not weathered the pandemic through the heroic efforts of one transformational leader (in spite of the politicians vying for that position) but through everyone stepping up to be a leader every day in everything they do. So whilst I applauded the frontline staff every Thursday and they will always have my admiration for what they do; in my book not all heroes wear white coats and I want to pay tribute to all those staff who work in CCGs and all of the support services to the frontline.

Dawn Scott

Congratulations to Alwen Williams

Healthskills is delighted to offer our congratulations and warm wishes to Alwen Williams, Chief Executive at Barts Health NHS Trust who became a Dame in the New Year Honours List 2021, honouring her 40 years of service to the NHS. Healthskills worked extensively with Dame Alwen and her team prior to her appointment at Barts, supporting the development of outstanding leadership in Tower Hamlets.

The myth of the well-rounded leader

It’s performance appraisal time already for one of my clients. Managers are busy assigning individual ratings and reflecting on how people have achieved the things they were aiming for 12 months ago(!). A common part of this process is assessing performance against a prescribed list of behavioural competencies. Underpinning these competencies is an assumption: that to be a high performer, an individual should be good across the board, especially as a leader. No major flaws and a good balance of interpersonal and critical thinking skills. Decisive and action-oriented, but also strategic and non-directive, in equal measure. But what if that was a recipe for the “bland leading the bland” as Marcus Buckingham1, bestselling author and behaviour analysis expert, puts it?

Organisational practices like performance management processes, interview criteria and talent management systems all reinforce the need to be good across a broad range of factors. We hear it in stories too, about leaders with vision that are infallible and have no weaknesses. Incredible managers who know exactly what to do even in the most unprecedented of situations. Passion and a strong work ethic can overcome gaps or challenges of any kind …until they can’t. If this year teaches us anything about the world of work, it’s that existing organisational practices can be challenged and changed, and for the better.

Why is striving to be a well-rounded leader not necessarily a good thing?

Watch out for the significant downsides of trying to cover all bases. Here are three important unintended, but very real, issues that I have observed in my 20 years developing leaders:

  1. Lack of psychological safety as people feel reluctant to reveal weaknesses or disclose mistakes. Why should they when the leader doesn’t seem to have any? This makes it risky for people to put forward new ideas or alternatives and seriously stifles innovation.
  2. Failure to delegate and empower others (which is crucial for highly-skilled, technical professionals). All too often, leaders can become a bottleneck for decision making, which puts them under more pressure and frustrates everyone else.
  3. Struggle to really connect with people and create a foundation of trust and openness. With rising workplace mental health issues, and fewer opportunities to talk face to face, the importance of talking frankly about how things are going personally and professionally is hard to underestimate.

What is the alternative to being a well-rounded leader?

“The best people are spiky” (Marcus Buckingham1). Outstanding performers in any field of practice do not fit a mould, and in fact have clearly unbalanced attributes. Rafael Nadal’s left-handedness is so dominant that he literally runs around his backhand. He plays to his strengths to get results.

This is not just a feature of elite sports. Zenger and Folkman2 have carried out extensive research on leadership and their analysis of 360 assessments across 100,000 leaders is conclusive. According to them a “lack of weakness is not a distinguishing feature of the best leaders”. For clarity, this does not mean ignoring critical weaknesses (Nadal’s backhand is not an Achilles heel). Their research shows clearly that the most effective leaders, globally and across industries, those in the top quartile of performers, have a small number of standout strengths.

One of the key differences between leadership and tennis of course, is that leadership is all about the performance of others, not your own: it is a team sport. As a leader, you can call upon your team members and peers to bring their unique talents to any problem or crisis. This idea of ‘strengths-based team working’ not only gets the best from others, it also enables you as a leader to spend time using your own unique strengths. Using your strengths is energising, and evidence shows there are a number of benefits, including feeling happier, having more self-esteem, confidence and energy, less stress, and faster learning3.

This tells us something profound about being an authentic leader. It is a liberating way of overcoming the difficulties in sustaining performance and energy during extremely testing times.

About the Author

Andy Jenkins, MCIPD, is the Co-Founder of My Leadership Strengths and designer of the Developing Leaders in Health 360 Assessment


1 Nine Lies About Work (2019) by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall


Creating a picture during uncertainty

image of jigsaw

One thing we can guarantee in life is change. Even if we chose to control our lives to minimise change, we cannot control external factors that influence how we do our work or live our lives. Covid-19 is such an example. During the period of crisis and national lockdown, businesses had to adapt overnight and discover alternative ways of working. Some sadly couldn’t provide services and were forced to close their doors; for them, the uncertainty of when and how they could resume has lasted for many more months than perhaps anyone expected. People typically find uncertainty to be aversive, experiencing feelings such as anxiety, frustration and anger (Carleton, 2016b)*. It is therefore imperative that leaders consider how they support teams through times of uncertainty. Don’t underestimate the need for regular communication, both at an individual and team level. If your organisational priorities have shifted, ensure everyone knows why, and most importantly, how their role supports the achievement of these goals. Make time for individuals to ask questions and to share their concerns. Whilst you can’t be certain you’ll have all the answers; actively listening will build rapport and help staff feel valued.

Imagine you and your team are completing a jigsaw but the only person who knows what the box top image is like is you! It could be a time-consuming and emotive process, where everyone is trying to contribute without the satisfaction of realising progress. But if you clarify the image on top of the jigsaw box, you provide clarity enabling everyone to work towards the same goal. It’s no different in business – your role as a leader is to help others understand the vision and key priorities and how collectively you can work towards this. As we venture into a different normal, doing this regularly helps manage uncertainty.

It is worth noting that for some this period of rapid adaptation has realised changes that under normal circumstances may have taken months or years. The successful adoption of digital technology for medical consultations; team meetings or education, for example, has demonstrated that industries can, in fact, adapt how they offer their services and can explore more flexible and agile ways of working for their people. As a team, take time to reflect on your achievements: how you worked together; the positive changes you have introduced and use this learning to inform future initiatives. The active process of reflection can support individuals to recognise their contributions and how they adapted during periods of uncertainty. This helps to build personal resilience, a vital resource when we are working in ever-changing environments.


*Carleton, R. N. (2016a). Fear of the unknown: one fear to rule them all? J. Anxiety Disord. 41, 5–21. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2016.03.011

I’m in with the In-Crowd

I notice regularly in my work doing coaching, working with Governing Bodies or helping teams, how the organisation I am working in (let’s call them Organisation A) often views Organisation B as “the enemy”. If not the enemy, then the cause of many of Organisation A’s difficulties and certainly an easy target for blame. Of course there may be some truth in those assertions but the qualifying word “some” is an important one here.

Too often I think that Organisation B can be used as a sloppy scapegoat for issues that have failed to be addressed in Organisation A or for outcomes that were less than satisfactory. This also applies inside organisations where another directorate or team is the “whipping boy” because of perceived weaknesses or failings. Pointing this out as a coach or facilitator is rarely popular. It is sometimes helpful therefore to draw leaders’ attention to the fact that this concept of Organisation A as the “in-crowd” and Organisation B as the “out-crowd” has a sociological and psychological basis.

The notion of in-groups and out-groups was made popular by Henri Tajfel (a social psychologist) in 1971 in developing social identity theory. As we – on many occasions – get our social identity from the groups we belong to, people form self-preferencing in-groups very quickly. They may do this because of arbitrary or invented characteristics that discriminate their group from another. The theory also asserts that as we (in Organisation A) make group evaluations we do it in a comparative way that can easily lead to biases favouring our group in terms of the judgements we make and the behaviours we display. Put simply our (Organisation A’s) success is down to our qualities and abilities and any failures are down to bad luck and/or issues outside our control. In contrast any success for Organisation B is down to luck or the help they received. Their lack of success is because of innate personality and/or ability failings.

This bias (or rather a combination of biases) is damaging for team and organisation growth and development. While accepting that there can be comfort in formulating in-group/out-group distinctions, these barriers prevent understanding and dialogue between organisations, reinforce negativity and limit cohesion.


These 3 tips (from from Susan Krauss Whitbourne) may make you hold back in joining the clamour of negativity about a team/department/organisation that can otherwise easily occur….

  1. Recognise the arbitrary nature of many in-group/out-group distinctions. The example of pedestrians and motorists is perhaps the easiest one for understanding this point. As a motorist you may be frustrated by the activities of some pedestrians at junctions but when you become a pedestrian you may be concerned about the way motorists act and the danger that causes. Your in-group at one moment may be your out-group the next.
  2. Put yourself in the place of the out-group members. Think about times when you’ve been put in an out-group position and remember how painful that was. Try to think about your inner security by being confident about your own identity rather than denigrating others.
  3. Look for commonalities between the “in-crowd” and the “out-crowd”. What binds them together, where are they striving for the same goal, how has bias played a role in manufacturing division rather than seeking agreement and coming together?

But of course none of these can be acted upon unless the issue is recognised and challenged, and that would seem to me to be an important part of any leadership role. Stop the collusion, groupthink and the race to attribute blame for failings or lack of delivery outside your own team or organisation.

Congratulations to leaders at Chelsea and Westminster NHS FT

Healthskills is delighted to congratulate leaders at Chelsea and Westminster NHS FT for their latest Care Quality Commission (CQC) ratings, which show that the Trust is well-led, and offers safe, caring, responsive and effective services.  For Well-Led, the CQC rated the Trust as ‘Outstanding’. Inspectors highlighted that the Trust is an organisation with a clear vision for what it wants to achieve, which has been developed with staff, patients, and key groups representing the local community. The Trust has been commended for having a leading role in the development and improvement of services across North West London. Inspectors found there was a ‘no blame’ culture and mistakes were regarded as opportunities for learning and improvement.

Healthskills has been collaborating ChelWest since 2016, with our co-designed and facilitated multi-professional ‘Established Leaders’ development programme, supporting over 150 senior clinical and non-clinical leaders, to develop consistent leadership behaviours, aligned to Trust strategic priorities and with a quality improvement project focus.

How to show authenticity and courage in leadership

When we think of the qualities that make a good leader, authenticity and courage might be top of the list. However, a research professor at the University of Houston, has challenged the meaning of these two words in business, suggesting that vulnerability is actually the key to being courageous. Dr Brené Brown, a bestselling author and presenter, has studied vulnerability for the last two decades, and she believes that asking for help takes courage.

When we live in a society where confidence triumphs, asking for help can often be seen as a sign of weakness. Admitting that you can’t manage on your own is tough, with the belief that doing something solo and succeeding shows strength, power and ability, boosting your status among others. However, Brown suggests that the key to brave leadership is looking at vulnerability as a strength, not a weakness. She believes that when people find the courage to ask for help, it has a positive knock-on effect, showing others that it’s okay to do the same. In turn, this creates a culture of openness, communication and the ability to work together to achieve a shared goal. Teamwork is enhanced and strengthened, building trust in the workplace.

Brown believes that the connections we make with others is why we are here, and it gives purpose and meaning to our lives. It is having the courage to be ourselves which enables us to make true connections. Embracing our vulnerabilities is a necessity, believes Brown, who found this was the link between people who were able to make strong connections with others. “They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful,” she said.

As humans, we tend to focus on the negatives. Brown says: “When you ask people about love, they tell you about heartbreak. When you ask people about belonging, they’ll tell you their most excruciating experiences of being excluded. And when you ask people about connection, the stories they told me were about disconnection.”

Brown realised that it is shame, or the fear of disconnection, that holds us back and stops us being our true selves and showing our vulnerability. However, those who embrace their vulnerability are able to succeed and be happy.

For leaders, it is important to show staff that vulnerability isn’t a sign of weakness. Admitting you have faults, asking for help and embracing your weaknesses shows that you are human, too. It enables others to connect with you and follow by your example.

Teams work best when using each other’s strengths. We can’t all be good at everything, so recognising how people work best and adapting to this will ensure that teams succeed together. This, in turn, creates a stronger team, who work together for a shared goal.

When someone asks for help, be positive about their courage and reward them with praise. Listen to their needs and do something to help them, don’t ignore their concerns. However, remember that it might take time and effort to encourage everyone to ask for help when they need it. People fear being judged if they ask for help. That’s why it’s vital as a leader to communicate. Hold regular one-to-ones, team meetings and continuously check-in with staff. If you provide opportunities for people to say they aren’t coping, then they are more likely to share this with you.

Whilst showing vulnerability might be outside many people’s comfort zones, remember that we are all vulnerable. We all need help from time-to-time. We can’t do everything ourselves. The best leaders are those who lead by example. So, head into the new decade prepared to do just that.

Show your vulnerabilities, ask for help when you need it, and embrace and accept your weaknesses for who you are. If you show your authentic self, others will follow.

To find out more about Brené Brown click here.

To purchase her book Dare to Lead on Amazon click here.

Civility Saves Lives

Chris Turner

I had a really great experience eating a meal in a pub with my elderly mum a few weeks ago. Apart from the fact that the food was delicious and well-priced, what made a difference was that the staff were terrific – polite, attentive, informed in helping us choose and being particularly patient with mum’s indecision.  Not for the first time I was struck by the impact that great manners and taking a genuine interest in others can have to deliver a very rewarding experience.

This reminded me of a recent conversation I had with a Medical Director at an NHS hospital trust, and his enthusiasm for the increasing evidence base showing that civility between colleagues can greatly improve patient care and save lives.

Put simply, if someone is rude to us at work, even if this is mild to moderate, and not extreme, research shows that our bandwidth to complete our tasks can be reduced by up to 61%.  As we can often feel powerless and even humiliated, this reduction in our performance can have an enduring impact throughout the day.  Furthermore, when an incident of rudeness or incivility occurs in teams, there is a collateral impact on other team members: a 20% reduction in team performance and a 50% drop in willingness to help others.

This has a major influence on how teams work and deliver.  Research from Riskin and Erez (The Impact of Rudeness on Medical Team Performance; Pediatrics; September 2015) shows that the single most important fact that determines the output of medical teams is how they treat each other.

So, if there is now strong evidence that when we work with someone who is civil and treats us with respect, we feel empowered and encouraged to work at our best, and the reverse is undoubtedly true, what is our challenge as leaders?  Maybe it starts with saying please and thank you routinely? Asking your colleague about their weekend, and holidays at this time of year? Avoiding rolling our eyes if someone continues to repeat things you’ve heard before? Tackling unacceptable behaviours in others proactively rather than expending wasted efforts going around them?

I would like to acknowledge the excellent work of Chris Turner and Civility Saves Lives – a project with a mission to promote positive behaviours and share the evidence base around positive and negative behaviours  A fascinating TEDx talk by Chris Turner from June this year can be seen here: