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Why Transparent Leadership is Clearly Important Now
June 22, 2020

ARTICLE BY: Michelle Moss, Director of Assessments – Signium Africa | First Published: 17 MAY 2020 |theHRDirector

If we’re learning anything from the current crisis, it’s that legacy authoritarian-style leadership has no place in businesses constrained by the covid-19 virus.


Even before the pandemic, the world was demanding a more collaborative and consultative style of leadership based on transparency. Today, transparency is so much more critical to an organisation’s survival, as an attribute of both those who lead it and the creative culture that drives it forward.

The most obvious requirement is open communication. This is especially true when it comes to allaying the fears of employees and suppliers who are uncertain about the company’s ability to pay them. Or clients who are unsure of the business’s ongoing satisfaction of their needs. It’s essential to keep these parties informed. Yet, relaying every little fact to stakeholders can create confusion about what is actually being said, inevitably hampering transparency. So communication should be structured to deliver only relevant facts in a timely manner.

If the new way of leading people is by collaborating with them, then collecting and considering their ideas becomes a natural part of the process of developing business solutions. This is another area in which transparency is vital. Employees who feel they are involved in their company’s future will often contribute their suggestions and time enthusiastically. But if the final decision appears to exclude their input, they may feel undervalued and withhold further participation.

Why should employers care? One 2017 study suggests that the more transparent leaders are, the more creative their employees will be. Further, in times of uncertainty, like the current period, companies that are creative are more able to survive a crisis and emerge stronger afterwards. So it benefits leaders to be open about how they arrived at their decision and how each idea helped, even if it wasn’t incorporated into the solution.

True transparency calls for emotional intelligence (EQ), not just in considering employee concerns but also in the courage to face one’s own limitations and accept assistance. When leaders admit that they don’t know what will happen and what the impact of COVID-19 will be, they can build rapport with their workers and gain their support. Those who “stay strong”, ignore input and stonewall employees will not enjoy the trust they need to push forward.

High EQ leaders show integrity by not pretending to have all the answers and embracing the strengths of the entire organisation to find creative solutions. They’re consistently open about their policies for managing people and evaluating performance, choosing suppliers impartially, communicating with staff and stakeholders, and much more.

The most important outcome of transparency in leadership is a culture of transparency in the workplace, physical or virtual. This means that people can express themselves without fear of judgment or reprisal, because a confident leader uses even conflicting opinions to ignite creativity and uncover new business opportunities.

However, employee transparency must be offered and not demanded. Employers should respect that, especially under work-from-home conditions, staff have other roles to fulfil and should not have to sacrifice their privacy or private information. By recognising this, and even developing policies to protect employee privacy, transparent leaders show they care and will enjoy respect and loyalty in return.

Governance in Further Education
June 19, 2020

A new paper from FETL considers what ‘mature’ governance should look like in further education.

The Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL) has published a new report on the contribution of governance to high-quality teaching and learning in further education and how its impact can be maximised.

The Further Education Governance Maturity Matrix, funded by FETL and developed by the Skills and Education Group, in partnership with the Good Governance Institute and Nottingham Trent University. It draws on interviews with governors to explore what makes for good governance in FE and asks how governance can be moved on to its next phase, what the report terms ‘maturity’.

Dame Ruth Silver, President of FETL, said: ‘I very much welcome this report that concerns a topic close to the Further Education Trust for Leadership’s core focus and importance: governance. As the authors note, governance is one of the most challenging aspects of leadership in further education. It is also one of the least scrutinised and most poorly understood.

‘There is too little support available for governors and a general lack of definition around the role and its core purposes. Yet good governance is an indisputable and much-needed element of effective college leadership and a contributor to high-quality teaching and learning. That is why FETL has made governance one of the keynotes of its final year of operation, and this report is a welcome contribution to this.

‘The “maturity matrix” gives governing bodies an opportunity to “drill down and review performance” against the Association of Colleges’ Code of Good Governance. The report aims to enhance capacity for governance and support the development of governance-wise strategies within institutions. It represents an opportunity to shift our gaze and do better, as we seek post-pandemic renewal. I very much hope that it be will be taken up as an instrument, among others, for continuous improvement.’

For more information on this or other FETL publications, contact: enquiries@fetl.org.
Click here to download a free PDF copy
Leaders are Failing to Communicate with Employees During Coronavirus
June 12, 2020

Nearly half of employees say communication is the area their leadership most needs to improve during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a nationwide survey of 16,000 workers, Hays recruitment found 43% said leaders needed to improve communication, well ahead of areas such as strategy and planning (23%) and remote staff management (13%). 

A third of employees said they have contact with their manager less than once a week and just 29% said they contact their manager on a daily basis.

This has decreased in recent months according to over a third (34%) who said the amount of contact they have with their manager has reduced since lockdown. 

Speaking to HR magazine Yvonne Smyth, director of Hays Human Resources, said that although the current circumstances are unusual, leaders should know how to adapt their strategy.

She said: “A leader used to being in an office setting should also be perfectly capable to lead well remotely. The clear differences are the need for leaders to be more visible to their teams, which will rely on clear, transparent and authentic communication and making sure people know when to expect to hear from you.”

Leading well, Smyth added, is also a question of trust. She added: “If you’ve previously only led a team who you can see and talk to each day in an office setting, transitioning to having everyone working remotely can initially be unsettling if you can’t physically talk to/see everyone. 

“Leaders must learn to shake off any mistrust and assumptions if you and your team are to succeed in the new era of work, whereby remote work will no doubt be much more common.”

A lack of contact has impacted working relationships, with 20% of employers reporting relationships with their team have been more distant since lockdown began. 

This is shared by employees given 40% do not have access to a work support network while working remotely. 

To alleviate isolation in the workforce Smyth said: “It’s important HR support employees by facilitating regular opportunities for them to check in with their employer. Team meetings and 1-2-1s should still be on the agenda, but as staff won’t bump into one another organically at work, make sure to organise social sessions like virtual coffee mornings and quizzes.

“These can also include any employees who are on furlough leave, as it’s important that they too are able to catch up and discuss what’s on their minds.”

Despite employee criticism, for 40% of respondents, communication is the aspect of their organisation which has undergone the most change since the coronavirus outbreak, ahead of people (24%) and processes (22%). 

Over half (51%) rated their leadership’s response to the coronavirus outbreak so far as excellent or good, while 49% said their leadership’s response has been OK to poor.

As employees are gradually starting to be reintegrated into the workplace, Smyth said it would also be critical for HR to advise leadership on agile working strategy.

“Hybrid working patterns are likely to be here to stay so understanding flexible working practices and options which suit individuals and organisations is key.

“HR functions can be of huge value here by informing leaders of agile working practices from flexible working to job shares and part time hours.”

The Eight Behaviours to be an Inclusive Leader in Today’s ‘New Normal’
June 5, 2020

ARTICLE BY: Sallyann Weston-Scales, Managing Director – Inclusion with Purpose, Talking Talent.


Inclusiveness isn’t just nice to have in leaders and on teams. It’s been proven time and time again in report after report that it positively impacts performance.

Inclusion is about fostering a culture and mindset in an individual enabling them to say, “I belong here”, “I feel valued here”, and “I can be myself here” – because of this they feel they can take part and contribute as their authentic self. Leaders create cultures and if they are inclusive, teams will feel inspired to perform better and drive organisational competitive advantage.

Let us get practical her. What specific behaviours can leaders’ model to be more inclusive? Having worked in the inclusion space for over a decade, working with Fortune 500 companies across the globe at every level of the organisation, we’ve identified a discrete set of behaviours, which we’ve grouped into 8 categories.

These are the behaviours that we believe distinguish inclusive leaders from others:

1.Create an environment where everyone feels safe to speak up

  • Take opportunities to show your appreciation for people who speak up, especially when they have the courage to share a different opinion.
  • Encourage everyone to speak in a meeting. Don’t allow a few to dominate.
  • Control your reactions. Don’t show defensiveness or anger when you are challenged
  • Flag at the start of meetings that some people are more reflective in style and ideas might come later and that they would also be gratefully received.

2.Listen to diverse opinions and perspectives and demonstrate a willingness to act on them

  • When forming a team, choose people who you believe can provide a diversity of ideas, thinking and experience.
  • If someone gives you an idea that, in the end, you can’t act on, let them know why.
  • Welcome each opinion/idea, regardless of who it comes from. Encourage all team members to listen openly to different ideas.

3.Ask people for feedback on your own behaviour and respond constructively to it

  • Don’t wait for formal meetings or reviews. Ask for feedback often and informally.
  • Use language that encourages feedback, such as “What could I have done differently?”
  • Respond visibly to a piece of feedback. Make sure people recognise and understand why you are doing something differently.

4.Challenge behaviours and practices that exclude other members of the team

  • Don’t assume everyone in the team feels equally included in the existing culture. Give people an opportunity to talk to you about it and give you their candid feedback.
  • Try to become a “super observer”. Pay close attention to behaviours and their impact. Is anyone being excluded?
  • Get the team involved in building inclusive team practices e.g. meeting times, supporting the needs of as many people as possible.
  • In private, share your observations. “’When you said/did X, I noticed that our colleague Y went bright red and then didn’t speak again for the rest of the meeting, even though she’d made valuable contributions up to that point. What might she have been feeling?”

5.Create a culture where everyone in the team can make their strongest contribution

  • Give team members the opportunity to share their strengths and experiences with one another.
  • Ask individuals what, if anything, would enable them or other colleagues to make the contribution they want to.
  • Take the time to talk to people, whatever their role, about the work they do and why it is important for team success.
  • Talk to the team about the way work is currently done. What can be changed to help more people be at their best?

6.Ensure colleagues respect and support one another

  • Create a ‘team charter’ – “our ‘ground rules’ for how we work together, our agreements for what is and isn’t OK”.
  • Help the team learn (with training if needed) how to give and receive feedback that helps maintain the ground rules.
  • Ask the team to help find ways for people to continue to get to know one another better and to feel personally connected. These need to work for everybody, not just for some.
  • Demonstrate your respect for people in every level of role.

7.Make your decisions about people fairly, using objective data and input from others

  • Make sure the criteria, e.g. for promotion, are openly communicated and understood by all potential candidates.
  • Create and/or use a set of objective decision-making criteria. Discipline yourself to apply them consistently to each person.
  • Use a diverse group of people with relevant knowledge to provide input to the decision and require them all to use the objective criteria.

8.Ask all your people “how can I help you succeed” and follow through with action

  • Use this vital question regularly. It signals your care and commitment to an individual’s success. It can be highly motivating.
  • Make it clear you are open to discussing all kinds of ways you can help, not only things to do with their objectives or technical skills.
  • Let people know in advance that you want to have this conversation, so that they can prepare.
  • Try using the question “what would you like to have happen?”. This encourages people to give you more specific ideas and reinforces a collaborative spirit.

These 8 behaviours may seem like obvious ones, but it’s surprising how few inclusive leaders we meet. There is of course more to learn about how to become an inclusive leader and embed these changes in behaviour, but one thing is clear: leaders who consciously practice these behaviours will be remembered by their people and for the superior performance they harness throughout their teams.

Adventures in Career Development
May 26, 2020

Thoughts about career and other stuff from Tristram Hooley.

Building Career Capital: Developing Business Leaders’ Career Mobility

I’ve just published a new article entitled Building career capital: developing business leaders career mobility with Cathy Brown and Tracey Wond. The paper is based on research that Cathy conducted as part of her doctoral thesis. It was published in Career Development International but you can find an open access version on the University of Derby research archive

In the article we set out a new framework for career capital based on research with 36 business leaders who have recently undertaken a role transition within a UK construction business. We cluster these aspects of career capital under three categories: Knowing Self, Knowing How and Knowing Whom. These are illustrated in the figure above. 

Our argument is that these are aspects that prove to be important to people’s careers. In the article we explore a range of different strategies that people can use to effectively develop and utilise their career capital as well as compensating for the gaps that they have in their career capital. 

We hope that the article will be of interest to researcher and career theorists, but also to business leaders and organisational managers who wish to build individual and organisational career mobility. It may also be of interest to careers professionals who might find it helpful as a way of thinking about the elements that people need to identify and develop as part of their careers. 

Brown, C., Hooley, T. and Wond, T. (2020). Building career capital: developing business leaders’ career mobility. Career Development International, Ahead of print. https://doi.org/10.1108/CDI-07-2019-0186

Leadership, Learning and Lockdown
May 26, 2020
A new paper from FETL reflects on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on education leadership and considers what lessons can be learned as we look towards an uncertain and, almost certainly, very different future.

The Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL) has published a new paper highlighting the challenges faced by the education system, and education leaders, in particular, in responding to the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting lockdown.

This FETL monograph, Leadership, learning and lockdown: First thoughts on lessons for leadership from the coronavirus crisis, by Sir Chris Husbands, Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, gives an inside view of how staff, leaders and institutions are coping with the unprecedented circumstances in which they find themselves.
The crisis has obliged education institutions to adopt new ways of working, almost overnight. This paper gives draws lessons from the crisis for leaders and learning, outlining cautious but informed conclusions about the ‘new normal’ that will emerge from the pandemic.

Dame Ruth Silver, President of FETL, said: ‘This is a hugely welcome contribution that reflects on the challenges the COVID-19 crisis has posed for learning and its leaders and asks what it can tell us about leadership and the future of education. The transition from face-to-face teaching to online and distance learning placed significant and unprecedented demands on leaders, their institutions and staff. The response in further education, and in the education system more generally, has been remarkable, but there are also important lessons to be learned from all of this, and this FETL monograph begins the process.

‘We are on the verge of a new and unpredictable normal that we, as leaders, have, to an equally unpredictable extent, an opportunity to shape. In these difficult and challenging times, when the present can seem all-consuming, it is more critical than ever that we try to fix our gaze on the future that is emerging from the crisis and on the potential role of FE and skills within that. I would like to express my respect and gratitude to Sir Chris for rising to the call so eloquently and offering some direction and foresight from within the heart of the storm.’

For more information on this or other FETL publications, contact: enquiries@fetl.org.
Click here to download a free PDF copy
Creating a Learning Culture, Where Individuals Can Perform Their Best
April 14, 2020

Why is it important we keep learning?  Whether we like it or not, we are learning every day:  it might be a new way of buying a product or using a phone that has updated technology. All this change and innovation means we need to embrace learning. BY Kirstin Furber

The world we are living in is complex, competitive, fast and busy. In such an environment, it’s critical organisations focus on learning and constantly develop their capability. Many organisations have adapted their learning model from one of traditional classroom teaching to a blended learning approach including face to face presentations, coaching and learning whilst doing. 

These methods embed learning quickly and fit better in busy workdays. There are also some skills we can’t go on a course to learn, especially in digital space, as the work has not been done before and therefore the learning is very much on the job, through trial and error.

With the ability to learn its critical for organisations to remain competitive, adapt and stay ahead of the competition, how do we create a learning environment that supports individuals being their best? With the five characters of human culture as a foundation, I believe companies need to focus on the following five areas:

1. Purpose: Purpose provides organisations with a direction, a mission to get behind, and the opportunity to communicate how each employee’s role contributes to that purpose.  A clear purpose also provides ‘guard rails’ and focus.  When everyone is learning, creating new ideas, and developing as individuals and as a group, it’s easy to get off track. Having a clear purpose that everyone understands and buys into means that ideas can flourish ‘on strategy’ and be translated into action

2. Authentic Leaders: We know leaders are important role models, in everything they do and I have blogged before about the importance of authentic leadership.  Leaders have an opportunity to create an environment of learning through ‘bringing the external in’ and by ensuring the organisation does not get too internalised. Reading and sharing, participating at conferences, bringing speakers in to contribute new ideas and perspective, and by creating an environment of curiosity where it is safe to ask questions, is the perfect environment for learning to take place.  Remembering that they should always be open to learning also enables leaders to learn from their teams. After all, one of the best ways to learn is to have your thinking challenged. It’s important to be open to doing things differently and to update your perspective as the world changes. Authentic and vulnerable leaders who admit they don’t know everything, keep learning. 

3. Telling your story: Learning is about sharing and translating lessons learned into every day operational best practice.  Organisations that provide ways for individuals to share their learning with others both informally, e.g. at team meetings, and formally (through films, podcasts, or via company intranets) allow this translation of learning into the organisation to happen in the most organic way possible. This helps learning embed in the organisation.

4. Diversity: We all learn differently, and its critical organisations taken this into account. Some of us like to read about a subject in-depth, form views and then debate, others like a planned learning approach with many different forms of content: video, discussions, face to face sessions. The reflectors among us can get annoyed with a discussion group full of extroverts’ whist the extroverts are feeling very much in their comfort zone. Companies should enable time for reflection and processing as part of learning as well.  Cultures, physical and mental health, and learnings styles all need to be considered alongside how best to use technology to customise learning so it lands well-enabling people to engage with it for maximum impact.

5. Workplace: Finally, where do you learn best?  Traditional learning used to always be offsite, but with budget cuts and because of people’s productivity suffering if they’re out of the office for long periods of time, this has changed. Training has moved to ‘bite-sized’ learning with different views on timing, ideally no more than 90-minute learning sessions, for individuals to learn best, as outlined in this article.  Some of us like to learn at home, in the cafe, with others, in the office.  With learning being produced, delivered and customised through a variety of learning platforms, opportunities for where and when employees can learn are expanding. Some of us are better at learning in the morning, others in the evening, we should factor that into our learning approach. What is the best period of time to learn? To brainstorm? To make a decision?  To create an environment where employees can learn, all of these factors need to be considered when developing a curriculum.

A learning environment does a number of things: it builds capability to drive performance and helps attract the best because of an attractive development offering. It also helps retain the best because they grow and develop by utilising new found skills in a number of ways, especially when promotions or pay rises aren’t an option.

Creating an environment where it is easy to learn goes a long way to creating an environment where people can be their best selves at work because an environment where everyone can learn is one where everyone can flourish.

Kirstin Furber – Chief People Director of ClearScore

The Role of Reflection in Leadership Success
April 7, 2020

Digitalisation, artificial intelligence and other technological changes are forcing leaders to deal with highly disruptive situations. 

Research shows that leaders who take the time to reflect on past events stand out in their ability to test assumptions and make connections between seemingly unrelated events; a critical skill for success in this uncertain world.

What is reflection?

Reflection is a structured process aimed at increasing our insights and learning. It’s about taking a step back to systematically review past events. To get the most value from our reflections we must ensure we move beyond the surface level of what happened.

There are six steps in the reflective learning process:

1. A short descriptive stage where we focus on what happened during the situation.

2. An examination stage where we focus on the feelings we experienced during the situation. For more advanced reflection we benefit from examining our feelings about the event shortly after it happened, and then after some time has passed.

3. An evaluation stage that explores what went well and less well in the situation. This helps us to adapt our actions to avoid making the same mistakes again.

4. An analysis and sense-making stage. This is an important part of the reflective learning process as it’s here the learner tests, validates or adjusts their own assumptions and views of the world.

5. A drawing conclusions stage about what else could have been done.

6. And finally, a future actions stage about what to do in future should a similar situation arise.


Reflective learning provides us with several benefits:

  • Learning faster and getting up to speed in new situations more quickly
  • Not making the same mistake twice
  • Being ready to deal with unfamiliar circumstances by recognising connections between seemingly unrelated situations
  • Questioning our assumptions and making better decisions.

When we are practiced enough at reflection we can start to reflect in the moment as a situation unfolds, making us more aware of our own and other people’s actions, feelings and assumptions. Furthermore, if we are taking a reflective learning approach with our teams, we move from simply trying to fix problems and possibly attributing blame for things that went wrong, to creating joint insights and learning. Finally, as active reflectors, we act as role models for our teams who will benefit from this skill too, and in turn become more effective and faster learners. The ultimate benefit of reflective learning in a world driven by speed is acceleration: by slowing down and actively reflecting on past events we maximise learning and accelerate our own development and effectiveness as leaders.

Making reflection work for busy executives

Find a format that works for you – use a paper or electronic journal or dedicated reflection app that can be accessed on the go. Alternatively, use a high-level mental framework that you can use without the need to write things down.

Find a time that works for you – a specific day each week, on the journey home, or at the end of a big project. Reflection doesn’t have to happen during office hours.

The 7 C’s of Leadership During this Crisis
April 3, 2020

During these trying times, managers can use these seven principles to lead their team through a crisis, according to John Quelch.

The 7 Cs are:

Calm, Confidence, Communication, Collaboration, Compassion, Community and Cash. 

For the full article visit: Harvard Business School Working Knowledge

John’s message is also available on video.

John A. Quelch

JOHN A. QUELCH Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus

5 Qualities of a Great Mentor?
March 23, 2020

How can you be a great mentor? Here are five successful qualities.

Patience is a Virtue

Mentoring someone isn’t easy. Depending on your organisation, you might be working with someone low on confidence, completely new to your industry, entering the world of work for the first time or learning a whole new suite of skills.

A great mentor is patient, able to manage difficult situations and offer well-judged, balanced constructive criticism.

Make it a Relationship

Read more