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Business leaders to be inspired and challenged by Alastair Campbell and ASDA’s David Smith: ‘Winning and building a high performance culture’

November 23rd, 2016





London based business leaders join Academy for Chief Executives at key ‘Unlocking Potential’ event aimed at inspiring and challenging leaders’ mindset

Alastair Campbell, communications director to Tony Blair, will share his thoughts and experiences around creating a winning mindset at a keynote conference of business leaders brought together by the Academy for Chief Executives.

He is joined on the platform by David Smith who, as people director and part of the Asda board, led the failing grocers to become a highly profitable 170,000 employee business, doubling its market share and subsequently being sold to Walmart for £15bn and voted Sunday Times ‘Best Place to Work’

The conference in the City of London on Thursday 24th November; ‘Winning and building a high performance culture’, is part of a major series of ‘Unlocking Potential’ events hosted by the Academy for Chief Executives, one of the UK’s leading coaching and leadership support groups for senior executives.

Alastair Campbell will set out a blueprint for winning which can be used by all business leaders to achieve more and be more successful. His unique access to the world’s elite in business, sport and politics led him to write ‘Winners and how they succeed’. He identifies that the most ‘winning winners’ are sports people and he says:

“..what few people in business and politics ever do is really try to learn from how the best in sport get to be the best and stay the best…… To be brutally frank, as the waves of change lap around us and the lapping feels like it may turn to a lashing and then a hurricane, the challenges at home and abroad at times make it feel as though a perfect storm is brewing, I think we need to [learn].”

David Smith will share some of the key principles in creating high performance cultures that can be implemented into any business to help it grow. He deployed seven key elements to change the culture and performance of Asda and he shares and reinforces the need for any business leader to adopt consistency if they are to grow their business.

Tony Carey, Chief Executive of New Chase Homes Limited specialist house builders with a significant growth target to increase their annual build targets by around 300% over the next four years and who is also a group member of the Academy for Chief Executives says:

“I’m very curious to hear from both Alastair Campbell and David Smith. Both have powerful track records which speak for themselves – I want to meet the men and get a feel for their character. I’m fascinated that Campbell appears to sit in the background and supports others to win. I’m keen to know how that impacts on him and where and how he sees himself as a winner.

“As with all my Academy for Chief Executives’ experiences, I’m expecting this to be a really valuable event for both me and my business and hope to take much learning from it.”

Vince Tickel, Group Chairman of the Academy for Chief Executives in Central London said:

“In business I always learned by watching the way someone better than me performs. By copying them and what they do I find it makes a massive difference to me and my business performance.

“Here we have two highly experienced leaders sharing key insights they have learned over decades boiled down and shared in bite-sized chunks that can be taken away and implemented to help get you as a business leader, and your business, to the next level. That’s what our work at the Academy for Chief Executives is all about, helping successful leaders become more successful.”

The event is to be held at Blake Morgan, New Street Square London EC4A 3DJ. Further information is available from Lizzie Stuart-Bennett

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For further information, please contact:

Karen Gray :: 07976 841123


The Academy for Chief Executives is one of the UK’s leading coaching and mentoring organisations for senior executives. With more than 30 groups nationwide it aims to improve lives by unlocking the potential of every business leader.

VUCA Times Call for DURT Leaders

August 13th, 2016



by Jon Mertz

The first time I saw the word ‘VUCA’ I had no idea what it was. A quick Google search produced the answer. VUCA means: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Simply stated, this is the world we live in today!

It is a valid description of what happens in our business and economic environments. Technology drives volatility and complexity. Economic and political conditions create uncertainty. All of this is wrapped in ambiguity. At times, there seem to be so many trends happening at once that trying to grasp it all while determining a reasonable path forward seems nearly impossible.

But in what seems impossible, what is possible begins to bloom.

Don’t Be a VUCA Leader
One thing that’s absolutely unambiguous about VUCA is that you do not want to be described in this way.

If you are a volatile leader, your changing and erratic behaviour will drive good people away.

If you are an uncertain leader, your changing directions will frustrate people and lead them to question your capabilities.

If you are a complex leader, no one will get to know you or understand your expectations.

If you are an ambiguous leader, your lack of clarity in what is expected will stymie people’s performance and quickly lead to disengagement.

So VUCA is obviously not a desirable leadership trait. Leaders need to be Reliable, Trustworthy, Direct and Understandable. That’s a poor acronym unless we rearrange the letters to DURT – Direct, Understandable, Reliable, Trustworthy.

In VUCA times, leaders need to get their hands dirty. They need to plant seeds for growth. In VUCA times, leaders need to cultivate talent, harvest what is planted and always prepare for a better day ahead. In fact, VUCA and farming have a lot in common. There are many uncontrollable elements in producing a bountiful harvest, yet we control what we can and work through what we cannot.

Be Direct in complex situations: transparency and open communication builds trust.

Be Understandable in ambiguous situations: clarity in purpose, direction and responsibilities empowers others.

Be Reliable in volatile situations: follow-through on what’s been said and agreed accelerates positive momentum.

Be Trustworthy in uncertain situations: invest in people, involve partners, seek to understand and act with respect.

The point in all this is to raise your leadership game in times of VUCA rather than matching VUCA circumstances with VUCA characteristics.

How to Be a DURT Leader in VUCA Times

1. Know your guiding leadership philosophy. In VUCA times, it is vital to have firm foundations. A leadership philosophy will keep you centred as a leader and will also serve as a guiding force. Knowing how you want to lead will keep you leading in the way you intend to when all around you is in chaos.

2. Create effective listening posts. Listening is fundamental to understanding what your next move should be. Listening posts should include various stakeholders: team members, customers, investors, suppliers and other stakeholders. But taking information in is only the first part. Understanding what it means is where the real value lies.

3. Encourage diverse thinking. Just as your listening posts need to be diverse, so do the talents you engage to analyse, solve and act. VUCA calls for diverse thinking. Exploring all the options demands out-of-the-box thinking from out-of-the-ordinary people. A mix of perspectives and experiences will always enhance how to solve a problem and how to craft a new strategy. Don’t seek sameness. Don’t just work with people like you.

4. Envision what the ‘other side’ could look like. VUCA can create a swirl of activity. But this doesn’t always build momentum. To gain momentum, a vision of what the other side of uncertainty looks like will help plan how to reach this new point of inflection. The reasons to not remain where you are may be strong but they also need to be clear. Communicating why we can no longer stay put and do what we always have done is essential – so is communicating what a new future can look like. None of this will happen overnight, so keep communicating throughout the process.

5. Develop an ‘offense’ while maintaining your core. Whatever is core to your business cannot, and should not, be jettisoned in the movement from where you are today to where you need to go in the future. There is a balance point. The ‘old’ business provides the cash flow, customers and brand to build the ‘new’ business. At the same time, the old business cannot be the albatross to prevent the development of the new strategy.

A good offense always engages in a good defence. As a leader, a new offense needs to be communicated with clarity. While the new offense needs time to develop and unfold, maintaining the core business will ensure the new plans have time to take hold and produce success. Achieving the right give-and-take in the planning is the leadership challenge and necessity.

6. Shift your perceptions of success and failure. So-called success may breed complacency and rapid obsolescence. So-called failure could provide necessary learning for future improvements and innovation.

7. Teach everyone coaching skills. With a little guidance, people can get better at listening, asking questions to help generate insights, creating action plans that align personal and business objectives and holding people accountable for actually doing what they need to do.
In uncertain times, everyone – especially leaders – needs to develop the ability to adapt and stay afloat even if the tides are shifting and the rules of the game are changing. A combination of intellect, intuition and experimentation is needed to read the signals and course correct when required. Leaders must also have the courage to admit what they don’t know, and seek out advice, help and alliances. And remember, what worked well yesterday will not necessarily work well today or tomorrow. Stay awake and you can ride the VUCA wave and not just survive, but thrive.

Jon-MertzJon Mertz is a leadership strategist and the founder of Thin Difference, an online forum dedicated to empowering Millennials to be better leaders, build stronger teams and create richer lives. He is a former Vice President of Marketing at Corepoint Health and has also worked for Deloitte, IBM, and BMC Software.

The Academy for Chief Executives is a leading executive coaching and mentoring organisation working with business leaders and their teams throughout the UK.

Member companies collectively turnover £3.5 billion per annum and on average employ 75 people each. &

To find out more about membership of the Academy for Chief Executives contact us on: 07714 246509 or

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Brexit; Stop, Pause, Plan, Implement. Repeat.

June 28th, 2016


What is your plan text is written on blue paper with a red marker aside.MEDIA RELEASE

Brexit; Stop, Pause, Plan, Implement. Repeat. 

“You are being watched. As a leader your influence has a magnified effect…

Your personal response to Brexit will serve you into the future… and develop resilience… unexpected events simply lead us to find unexpected solutions.”

Ian Price, CEO, Academy for Chief Executives

Ian Price, CEO of the Academy for Chief Executives emphasises the value and importance of a thoughtful plan and choosing our attitude before, as leaders, we respond to the unexpected and change:

“So it’s out then. I’m sure I wasn’t alone, rubbing my eyes in disbelief on Friday morning, digesting the result of the EU Referendum.

“It was, we thought, unlikely, unexpected and, as a result for many, unforeseen.

“Brexit has thrown a spanner in the works for business owners and managers throughout the UK.

“It will fall to each one of us to make good decisions in the hours, days, weeks and months ahead as we each, in our own way, make our contributions to keeping the economy’s wheel’s turning.

“We are facing, what most of us agree is, unexpected change. We know change is challenging.

“Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI’s director-general summed up the feelings of UK plc on Friday morning: ‘Businesses are used to dealing with challenge and change and we should be confident they will adapt. We need strong and calm leadership from the government, working with the Bank of England, to shore up confidence and stability in the economy.’

“It’s not just our political leaders and senior bankers who need to be strong and calm. We’ve all had times when ‘landscape’ suddenly shifts around us – the shorthand we often use is ‘crisis management’.

“Over the years we have spent a great deal of time in the Academy for Chief Executives considering the characteristics of a crisis – ergo proven, effective ways to tackle and respond to unexpected change.

“I can think of few better moments to share our tried and tested collective views as we each embark on our journey to steer through the choppy waters ahead:

  • First; stop, take a deep breath, have a cuppa and be prepared in the immediate short term to do nothing. Snap reactions are often, not always, to be avoided in crisis situations.
  • Then gather your resources. Get your team and tools together. Establish the current status of the situation. What’s going on? What does it mean? And what courses of action are open to us?
  • Establish initial priorities and actions with input from as many relevant sources as possible.
  • Define your purpose clearly. Make it a cause that everyone can understand and rally around, each knowing their role and responsibility.
  • Maintain focus on this purpose. This may be a re-affirmation of your existing purpose or this ‘what’ may have been adapted or changed.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate! Remember – it’s the ‘why’ you need to keep foremost in your and your business’ mind. Businesses with a strong and clearly defined purpose survive and thrive.
  • Keep consulting, keep reviewing and keep communicating on where you are, your progress and where you need to get to. Involve everyone: your team, your suppliers your customers and your allies and keep on communicating. Listen to what they have to say to you too.
  • Make it real – track everything against your timeline, what needs to happen, who is responsible and by when.
  • Finally, be an ‘embracer’ of the change. You are being watched. As a leader your influence has a magnified effect. Your attitude will be critical. Choose your attitude carefully.

“My final thought is this. Your personal response to Brexit will serve you into the future. Being prepared to challenge and be challenged is what keeps us fresh and successful. Businesses that embrace change positively develop resilience; they are fleet of foot and equipped to respond calmly and successfully to the unexpected.

“Remember unexpected events simply lead us to find unexpected solutions.”

  • ends –

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For further information please contact

Glenn Watkins 07714 246509

Karen Gray   07976 841123

Nicola Hunt  07976 934342


The Academy for Chief Executives is a leading executive coaching and mentoring organisation working with business leaders and their teams throughout the UK.

Member companies collectively turnover £3.5 billion per annum and on average employ 75 people each.

Start with Why?

May 27th, 2016




Simon Sinek’s 2009 TED talk, Start with Why, has rightly taken on almost mythical status for its simple message about putting purpose – the ‘why’ – at the heart of strategy. Think about the organisations you most admire. How far do they put purpose at the heart of their operations?



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In Search of your Real Purpose

May 27th, 2016


38308By Jeremy Marchant
If you don’t know what the purpose of your business really is, and you don’t know what the outcomes are that you want to have happen as a result of trading, then you will find it hard to be compelling, or even comprehensible when you talk about your business.It’s important to recognise that it doesn’t actually matter what the purpose of your business is, provided it makes sense to you and you feel confident about discussing it with other people. There are no wrong answers. However, a given business could choose from a variety of purposes and the key thing is to choose a purpose which is useful to the business.

Case study
A client business of mine provides IT support to SMEs. They do it well, are liked and trusted by their clients and the business is profitable. We were discussing their five year plan, for which knowing what the business is about is pretty important.

Now, many business owners, if they’re asked what the purpose of their business is, will answer “to make money” (or similar). There isn’t anything to object to in that answer other than to ask “is it a useful purpose?”, “is it helpful?” But, suppose a business wanted to make more money. There is nothing in that description of purpose which would give a clue how to do that.

A more useful approach would be to consider “making money” as an entirely valid outcome of achieving their purpose.

My client said the business’s purpose was “to provide high quality support within the terms of the service level agreement”. An interesting answer – but is it a good purpose? It certainly could be a valid purpose, but surely it is a description of what the business does. It’s the thing they do which, if they do it well, will achieve their purpose.

In the end, they decided that the purpose of their business was: to enable their customers to continue to trade in the event of a technical failure.

That was the problem their customers paid them to solve, or better, to avoid. Whether the client was running an online shop, or they needed to print a proposal to send to a prospect, if the computer went down, there would be an adverse effect on the business.

With this definition of their purpose, it was easy to see how they could grow the business, and they soon moved into providing telecommunications support.

Purpose may not be what you think it is
It is essential not to confuse purpose with outcomes. The outcomes, or objectives, of a business or project are the things we want to have happen as a result of achieving the purpose of the project: they aren’t its purpose.

A purpose is the answer to the question, “why are we doing this?” Clearly, by this token, “increase sales”, for example, is really an outcome. But how often do we answer the question, “what is the purpose of X?”, with “to achieve outcome Y”? As in, “What is the purpose of my business?” Answer, “To make money”.

A very good exercise goes as follows: if you answer that the purpose of X is A, then ask yourself, isn’t A really an outcome? Even if you don’t think it is, ask yourself, if it were an outcome, what would the purpose really be?

The third component to this model is: actions.

The actions are what you say in a meeting, do in a business, and so on, which are designed to achieve the purpose which – if it is achieved – will secure the outcomes.

In the case study above, the business originally mistook “to provide high quality support within the terms of the service level agreement” as its purpose when, of course, it is the actions they take to achieve some other purpose. That purpose being “to enable their customers to continue to trade in the event of a technical failure”.

There is an implied point that the reason the business was successful was that it provided “high quality support…” etc well.

In summary, the business:

  • provided IT support services to SMEs (the actions),
  • so that their clients could continue to trade in the event of an IT failure (the business’s purpose)
  • which resulted in healthy profits, growth of the business, nice cars parked outside and so on (the outcomes).

Important. The purpose of a meeting, say, is likely to be different from your purpose in attending the meeting, which is likely to be different from others’ purposes in attending. These are unlikely to be the same. If this isn’t acknowledged, the meeting will be rambling, unfocussed, unnecessarily long and possibly an unpleasant experience.

Tips on defining purpose and outcomes

1. Any business, project, job, meeting, conversation, holiday, etc, can have only one purpose at any one time. If it looks as if there are two, then one of three things is the case:

a) the purposes are in fact the same thing, but expressed differently

b) one purpose is a subset, a special case, of the other so, again, there is only really one purpose

c) the business, or whatever, is literally at cross purposes. It is like a sledge being pulled by two teams of huskies, each in a different direction. At best, progress is slow and, in all probability, people end up by being torn by conflicting demands, creating stress and inefficiency.

2. There can be more than one outcome at a time.

3. The business can have a purpose and outcomes and you can have a purpose and outcomes, which will almost certainly be different. It’s important to define both and, particularly for business owners, not to confuse the individual’s purpose with that of the business.

4. Purpose and outcomes don’t have to be ‘clever’ or ‘unique’. In fact, the more simply they are stated, the better.
Jeremy Marchant
Jeremy Marchant ThumbnailAfter a corporate career with BT, Marks and Spencer and in IT consultancy, Jeremy Marchant joined international coaching firm, Shirlaws. He later set up his own coaching business and, after a few years, launched the emotional intelligence at work brand. He is a certified NLP master practitioner and is a partner in Synatus, a nationwide group of some 150 senior level consultants, interim managers, coaches and trainers.


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A Reason for Being

May 27th, 2016



by Clive Wilson

Everything in life has its purpose. Purpose is the force that keeps all of life growing, creating and thriving. When life steps out of line with purpose, or fails to adapt to changing contexts, unintended outcomes result. In the worst cases life declines rapidly and ultimately dies. So it is with organisations. Those that are purposeful have the energy to create and grow, to overcome seemingly insurmountable problems.
Organisations that lose their way tend to fragment, become chaotic and may end up as prey for predators.A stated purpose serves to inspire and focus an organisation’s efforts and those of the teams and people that make up its workforce. But we need to be careful. A stated purpose will also create boundaries, some of which may be helpful and some may be severely limiting.In 2010, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development conducted a study to find out whether a shared sense of purpose was useful to organisations. What it found, in a nutshell, was that employees are motivated less by profit and more by being of service to customers or society. Where profit was perceived as the primary purpose, a third of respondents said that they were actually demotivated that their hard work and efforts were going into the pockets of investors and owners. In contrast, in organisations whose main purpose is to add value to customers, six out of 10 agreed that ‘by focusing on customers, in the long run we are benefiting ourselves’.

The situation was also improved when organisations had balanced the interests of all stakeholder groups, including investors and owners. Moreover, there is clear evidence that organisations with a sense of purpose outperform those where purpose does not permeate throughout. This outperformance is in terms of employee satisfaction and engagement indicators as well as financial and service delivery.

So for me the formula is simple:

Alignment = strength and focus = energy reinforced consistently = results and success 

It seems to make sense, then, to articulate the purpose of our organisation. But if we really want to inspire energy and maximum performance, we have to craft our statement in a way that will touch the hearts of the people we most need to motivate.

What is Purpose?

Purposeful people are easy to spot. They seem energised, focused and attentive. At the same time they exude an air of confidence, being less affected by the trivia that gets those who are less purposeful down. And the same is true of an organisation: its purpose is both its very reason for its existence and that imponderable ‘something’ that inspires resolve and determination from its people.

Purpose is a powerful strategic anchor. Compared with other aspects of strategy, including the corporate vision, purpose is relatively stable. Its essence may shift a little and, as such, should be kept under strategic review but, for most organisations, the purpose may change little for many years.

But that’s not to say that it is set in stone. Purpose is context-driven. This is vitally important. As human beings, we move in numerous contexts and so have numerous purposes – bringing up children; being a partner, friend or colleague; serving our organisation and profession; and so on. Some of these purposes will come and go and some may be with us for most of our lives.

Even within the relative constant of our organisation, our context may shift. As the market changes, our purpose may change. One of my clients began life making bicycles in the 19th century. It now makes ducting for nuclear power installations. Another started as a coal merchant and transitioned into international removals and storage.

And as well as being context-driven, purpose is also stakeholder-driven – it changes depending on whose eyes we are looking through. For example, customers may see the purpose of the organisation being about the provision of excellent services; owners, investors and shareholders about maximising their investments; staff about earning a wage to provide for their families and having meaningful work to do that inspires them; and communities about providing all the above in such a manner as to maximise positive impact and minimise negative impact.

This means that we need to strike a balance. Neglecting one stakeholder at the expense of another puts the organisation at risk. We only have to look at the demise this century of the many organisations that placed undue emphasis on shareholder profit or directors’ bonuses at the expense of the needs of other stakeholders, especially those of their customers.

So while we need to consider all stakeholder needs – and doing so represents a fantastic opportunity to grow an understanding between us and them – we still need to ask ourselves this: ‘What is our primary reason for existence? What are we fundamentally here to do?’

For most organisations, the answer is likely to be about providing a specific service or set of services for a particular customer base in a cost-effective way. The reason that this purpose may well be the primary purpose is that all other purposes hang off this one. Without this purpose, there is no employment for our staff and no return on our investment. It is therefore likely to be a statement that all parties can sign on to and be proud of.

Crafting (I use the word deliberately) the declared purpose of our organisation is a real art and worthy of our time and energy. We should bear in mind that our espoused purpose will have a significant impact on performance. In other words, as far as our businesses are concerned, it is probably the most important sentence or paragraph that we will ever write.


Clive Wilkinson ThumbnailClive Wilson is an author and a board director at Primeast, a consultancy that has been promoting purposeful leadership since 1987. He is a facilitator and executive coach and happy to engage audiences on the subjects of purposeful leadership and sustainable development. This extract from his book Designing the Purposeful Organization is ©2015 and reproduced with permission from Kogan Page Ltd. You can get a 20% off the book at using the discount code HRDPOS


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Leadership, Emotion and Purpose

May 26th, 2016



By Chris Burton

If you want your people to perform at their very best, collaborate effectively, pull together but still show initiative and stick with it no matter how hard it gets, it all comes down to three simple factors:

  1. Having trust in those around them;
  2. How they feel about the job they do; having a strong sense of pride and purpose;
  3. How they feel about the people they work with.

Everything we experience, whether at work or in our personal life, gives rise to emotions which we then interpret (make sense of) and give meaning to. The interpretations we make are based on a number of considerations; our own beliefs, values and attitudes as well as the organisational context. It appears that for the vast majority of us the three factors listed above give rise to the strongest emotions and perceptions and that’s why they play such an important part in keeping us motivated and performing at our best. There’s plenty of other contemporary research which explains why this should be the case.

We all have a basic human need to trust. And when trust exists great things can happen. In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey demonstrates that in organisations with high levels of trust, things can happen up to 60% faster than in low trust organisations. This trust “dividend” means that in business, when trust increases speed also increases and costs fall. Conversely, lower levels of trust incur a “tax” of decreased speed and increased costs.

There is an extensive body of research demonstrating the link between how people feel about the work they do and their respective levels of motivation. If we feel that our work has value and purpose and we are making an effective personal contribution, this has a huge impact on levels of self and team motivation.

It’s the Relationships, Stupid
But enjoying our work and having a sense of pride in what we achieve isn’t enough to deliver the very highest levels of motivation and engagement; there’s an old adage that we join a company for the job and leave for the people. Relationships then are the glue that binds us together and see us through the toughest of challenges; in the face of adversity, ambiguity and uncertainty it’s the strength of our relationships and the breadth of our personal network that keeps us steady.

Studies have found that the more socially connected people are, the better they tend to perform. But very few organisations actually do very much to proactively encourage stronger relationships at work – which brings us neatly back to the role of leaders.

When things are easy and life is comfortable it’s easy to ignore weak leadership; mediocrity can be tolerated because the impact weak leaders have on those around them is less obvious. I’ve witnessed this myself in organisations of all shapes and sizes when (perhaps because of strong market conditions) things are going well; leaders being largely ignored by the people they’re supposed to lead, and even worse the leaders know they’re being ignored and don’t really care. Everyone just keeps their heads down, quietly gets on with things and ignores the problem. But the
problem comes rushing to the surface the moment there’s a crisis.

When things are tough, strong leadership is required. The actions and behaviour of leaders is seen through a magnifying glass which highlights every small imperfection and their impact on those around them becomes immediately apparent.

Regardless of organisational intent, it is the leaders, who either create an environment where people can build strong relationships based on trust and take pride in what they do, or who will constrain potential and performance through their own actions and behaviour. In his book ‘The New Leaders’, Daniel Goleman describes “resonant” leaders as being attuned to people’s feelings, able to channel their own positive energy into the rest of their team. Most of us are extremely receptive to the emotions of others; this is because our brain’s emotional system is an open loop, designed specifically to pick up, and reflect, the emotions of those around us.

In the workplace we constantly watch our leaders and managers for emotional cues and we reflect these emotions and copy their behaviour often at a subconscious level. Leaders who recognise this and create positive resonance achieve high levels of motivation, performance and engagement. Daniel Goleman calls these leaders “High Impact Leaders”.

High Impact Leaders are highly self-aware and recognise the impact their actions and interactions have on others. This knowledge enables them to inspire trust and build strong relationships, ensuring that the people they work with understand the value and purpose of their work, instilling a sense of pride in what they do. This more than anything achieves engagement and creates a positive environment where people want to achieve their best, and are able to do so.

What this means is that a ‘great place to work’ isn’t about the building you go to each day for work, the office you sit in or the benefits you receive; it’s simply loving what you do and who you do it with. And that’s something that with the right leadership, everyone can enjoy.


Chris Burton ThumbnailChris Burton is a leading consultant in the field of organisational behaviour and leadership development and leads the Work Life Motivation programme at t-three consulting. This excerpt is adapted from his research into the factors which most influence motivation and engagement when things get really tough, which interviews and surveys conducted with soldiers returning from active service in Afghanistan.


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All ideas are made of old ideas

March 29th, 2016



by Max McKeown

When we think about the sort of world that might exist in 100 years’ time, it’s easy to be seduced by sci-fi style flights of fantasy.  But very often, it isn’t radical innovations that fuel progress so much as a mash-up of ideas that have come before.

In about 460 B.C., for example, Greek philosopher, Democritus, asked: If you divide a piece of matter in half and then in half again, how many breaks will you have to make until you can break it no further? He concluded that everything was made of various arrangements of atoms or átomos, “the smallest indivisible particle of matter” or something that cannot be divided.

Naturally this idea was ignored – partly because Aristotle, who was very good at selling ideas, dismissed it – and partly because Democritus didn’t write his ideas down.

And so it remained until the early 19th Century, when an English chemist, John Dalton, showed that (broadly) everything was made of atoms. Then, in 1897, the physicist, J.J. Thompson described an atomic structure complete with a nucleus of protons and neutrons surrounded by constantly moving electrons.

And so it turned out that Democritus had been right all along. Everything and everyone are made up of atoms which behave in very different ways depending on how they are combined. Including, of course, the blueprint for life, DNA – deoxyribonucleic acid – arranged in the now-famous double helix molecule composed of two ribbons with a backbone of alternating sugar and phosphate residues, which is then connected by rungs of hydrogen bonds and four bases.

The point here is not the chemistry but the notion that life, evolution and innovation can only ever rearrange what already exists. Mice and elephants, sharks and penguins, the blue whale and the flea, the chimpanzee and man, all share the same atomic composition – the same stuff – but their dramatic diversity in weight, size, colour, texture, and behaviour come about because of microscopic differences in their DNA.

Even between humans, who of course share DNA, we find differences that we would all agree are significant. Part of this is down to differences not in DNA itself but in the combinations of DNA in the two sets of chromosomes gifted to us by our parents.

So the component parts of Robert Pershing Wadlow, the world’s tallest man at eight feet 11 inches, and Nelson Aquino de la Rosa, one of the world’s shortest at 20 inches, are the same. They are just organised differently.

Early man observed the benefits of naturally occurring forest fires and learned to control it perhaps 1.8 million years ago. By 3,500 BC, the old idea of fire was added to fallen tree trunks to create a new idea – log canoes.

Around 4000 BC in Mesopotamia (what is now Iraq, Syria, and Iran) the old idea of log canoes was added to flat potters wheels and wild horses to create a new idea – the horse-drawn cart.

In 1672, Ferdinand Verbiest, a member of a Jesuit mission in China, added the old idea of carts to another old idea, steam power, to create a new idea – the first automobile, albeit a toy for the son of the Kangxi Emperor. And at 4:17:42 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, July 20, 1969 the old ideas of ships, fireworks, and science fiction were added together to enable the first landing on the moon.

The difference in success between individual lives, or companies, relies not on creating something from nothing, but in combining existing ideas and materials. At its best this process meets existing needs with new ideas or even creates new needs from old ideas.

In 1955, Walt Disney combined three old ideas – the fairytale, notably those collected by the Brothers Grimm; animation, developed from stop motion techniques discovered accidentally by French filmmaker Georges Méliès; and the ornamental garden, something dating back to Ancient Egyptian and to Arabian pleasure gardens. Together, they combined to produce a new idea – the Theme Park.

More recently, Nintendo took the old idea of Kokeshi, traditional Japanese wooden dolls, and developed software that lets you create digital avatars – uncannily accurate cartoon characters (Miis) of yourself, friends and family who become characters in Mii-oriented games. The result is a kind of ‘virtual family’ play room.

New art, literature, and music are constantly recycled from existing works. William Shakespeare started with traditional dramatic structures and often borrowed his themes. (Romeo and Juliet came from a poem by Arthur Brooke and was retold in prose by William Painter). He adapted the language of the street as well inventing at least 1,700 new words of his own, not to mention a swath of new dramatic techniques.

In her Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling takes a little bit of Enid Blyton’s naughtiest school girl, a dollop of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch at School, and Dicken’s Oliver Twist. She prefers to avoid discussion of influences, yet they are there – the raw materials, literary atoms and molecules with which she has created the Hogwarts universe.

Elsewhere, mash-up, bootleg, smash-up, blend, or bastard pop combines the music from one song with the singing from another. Ideally, as Wikipedia puts it, “the music and vocals belong to completely different styles/genres generally considered to be incompatible, yet skilfully and artfully combined into a pleasurably euphonic hybrid”.  Understanding that everything new is made from something old and studying how what we enjoy is the result of this new-for-old mash-up allows us all to do the same.

Nature has mixed and remixed matter to arrive at our current universe. Mankind has mixed and remixed ideas to arrive at our current global society. And it is to new combinations of old ideas that we must look to for innovation – to make our lives better.



Max McKeown works as a strategic adviser for four of the five most admired companies in the world. He is a well-known speaker on subjects including innovation and competitive advantage. His latest book, The Strategy Book is now in its second edition.

Case Study: Family Dynamics

February 18th, 2016


Alastair Soper

Alastair Soper

Interview by the Academy for Chief Executives

What’s the background of your business?

Hallis Hudson is a family-run national wholesaler and distributor of soft furnishing fabrics, blinds, tracks and curtain poles that was founded by my grandfather. In 2014 (after 14 years in the business) I was appointed Managing Director, and my father became Chairman.

Are there any other family members in the business?

Yes, my brother Russell is a Director of the business and is involved in new product development and marketing.

How was it decided that you would take the MD role rather than your brother?

We both have quite different skill sets and it was simply that I’m more suited to the MD role. Our actual job titles are almost irrelevant in a way. We have different skills that complement each other, and we play off each other’s strengths.

How does the dynamic work between you, Russell and your father?

There is certain creative tension between the three of us. It’s also fair to say that I have a closer working relationship with my dad. I see my role as custodian of the business to ensure that it is passed on for future generations. As such, I tend to take a more measured and evolutionary approach, incremental rather than sudden change. Russell’s role is more creative, so his outlook is more likely to be influenced by external factors. I’m less risk-averse than either Russell or my father. This can result in a certain level of conflict at times.   

What role do you play within this dynamic?

Part of my role is to help manage the balance between the three of us. Whilst on the one hand it’s important to make sure that the business doesn’t expand too quickly, we have to ensure that we adapt to changing market conditions and remain competitive. It’s all about ensuring that each side understands the pros and cons of what is being brought to the table.

That said, my dad has always been dynamic and stood firm in the belief that if you don’t change the business, it will eventually die, so it’s more a question of balancing the pace of change.

We also work closely with an external financial consultant, who acts as an extension of the family in some ways. He knows and understands us very well and can offer an objective sounding Board, and challenge us as necessary. He can also help us to navigate potential areas of conflict or disagreement.

How does the Academy help you with the typical challenges of managing a family business?

I was a member of the Directors’ Forum 13 for five years, before joining Peter Hills’ group, ACE 18 in Manchester, in January 2014. Both groups have helped me change and navigate my way through a variety of issues, particularly since becoming Managing Director. There are a couple of other family businesses in my Group and this is very helpful. As much as anything it’s nice to know that others deal with the same issues that we face.

The Academy has also really helped my understanding of the dynamics of effective communication, in particular the importance of understanding the position of others before you try to resolve an issue or make a final decision.

How’s it going with the transition of your father to his new role as Chairman?

As it progresses, the transition gets better every day. This journey will take as long as it takes – it’s not like flicking a light switch. Again, it’s a question of getting the balance right. It’s important that I own the position of MD, but at the same time I’m conscious of the fact that my father is hugely experienced and that there are still things that I can learn from him.

We did try to create a job description for him but that didn’t really work! So it’s more of an informal evolution, with my focus on the day-to-day running of the business and my father’s focus on strategic direction and making sure the business delivers a return.

What has been one of the most challenging issues of being in a family business?

In any family business the blurring of boundaries can become an issue; for example, there was a period of time where I continued with my previous job of Operations Director whilst also taking on the MD role. In essence, I was doing two jobs over this period which wasn’t always effective and also put me under a certain amount of personal pressure.   We have now asked the senior management team to all step up to each fulfil a little part of my old role.

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Top Tips: Secrets of a successful remote team

January 22nd, 2016



It’s increasingly common to work with people who you’ve never met or who may be in a different town or even be a different time zone. Working in a remote team isn’t intrinsically more difficult than working with people who are sitting across the room from you, but it is different and it does demand some adaptations.

Here are seven key factors to take into account.

Don’t treat remote employees and in-house staff differently. Some employees may be slightly jealous or even resentful of employees who get to work from home. Remote employees may feel that in-house staff receives more perks (eg, catered lunches and social functions). You will exacerbate the problem if you treat the two groups differently, so ensure that you are assigning equal, fair workloads, offering the same perks and benefits, and creating learning and growth opportunities for everyone.

Communicate! Remote workers lack those ‘water-cooler’ conversations that give people an opportunity to bounce ideas off one another outside the context of a formal meeting. Your remote team members need to be encouraged to do the same things. Pick up the phone and call another team member to discuss a potential idea. Use tools like Skype, Google Hangouts or any other video-conferencing software to keep them in the loop.

If you leave employees in the dark, they will soon feel confused, isolated and even angry. Make sure that you are updating virtual employees of any changes, decisions or plans that affect them. And make sure you do it before they hear the news from someone else.

Remember, when people work remotely, they rely on their managers for the context they need to work effectively. What might be seen as over-communicating if you were all in the same office can be critical information when someone is working at home on the other side of the country.

Be responsive. If you force employees to wait for your response or help, they lose precious time. Worse, they may opt to go above your head for answers. And if teammates constantly slow progress because they don’t respond quickly enough, it is frustrating for everyone involved. Set a ground rule that every team member, including you, must respond to one another within 24 hours, even if that is to say nothing more than “I got your message, and I will follow up no later than …”

Strike the right balance of meetings. Too many meetings are overkill and are a huge drain on productivity. However, if you aren’t scheduling time for the entire team to connect and collaborate, employees will become distant and teamwork will suffer. In addition, you need to make sure that you are talking one-on-one with each of your virtual staffers at least weekly to check their progress, troubleshoot problems they are having, and update them on any developments or changes.

Evaluate how the team is functioning. You need to take time to assess how well the team is communicating, collaborating and problem solving. Schedule a team meeting at least quarterly to analyse your productivity and performance and to establish plans for making needed improvements.

Get to know your remote workers. Employees want to know that you care about them as people, not just as workers. It’s harder to do that when you never see them. Don’t forget to learn about remote workers’ families, hobbies, interests and lives outside of work. A little small talk at the beginning of each call or meeting offers you an opportunity to build relationships with and among your staffers and will make them feel more connected to the organization.

Support your managers. Any organisation with remote staff or virtual teams needs to support the people who are expected to manage them. So you need to do more than simply hand a list of employees to managers and expect them to figure it out for themselves. They’ll need help to recognise the similarities and differences between the way we’ve worked traditionally and the new world of virtual work.

Similarly, organisations need to provide the technology and tools to achieve the goals you’ve set. You can’t hold people accountable for failure if you’re not giving them the tools they need to do the work.

Finally, create expectations for remote team leaders that reflect the way they function. “Management by walking around” is fine, but it’s a long walk to Bangalore. Yes, the work appears the same. But there are skills that are unique to that environment: appropriate use of technology, ability to engage employees, managing performance from a distance all need to be built into the way we choose, assess, coach and promote managers.

Wayne Turnel


Wayne Turmel helps companies and their people learn the communication and presentation skills to sell, train, present and manage their teams using any web presentation platform. He is the founder of, a co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute and the author of Meet Like you Mean it, a book that helps virtual and remote teams collaborate more effectively.