Tag Archives: empowerment

The manager as coach: leadership, management and coaching

By Elisabeth Goodman, 4th February 2020

We had a question during our recent RiverRhee Introduction to Management course about the relevance of learning about leadership skills as part of a management course. (We do have a follow-on Transition to Leadership course.) We believe that the visionary aspects of leadership are valuable ones for managers to bear in mind, albeit their focus might be more on the operational side of things.

I have, coincidentally, just come across a connection with this topic as part of my reading on coaching skills (Downey, 2014).

Leadership_management_coaching per Myles Downey

Adapted from Myles Downey’s illustration (Downey, 2014)

Myles Downey asserts that a manager can usefully draw on skills from all three areas: leadership, management and coaching, depending on the situation and the individual involved.

(This is a slightly different take on Hersey and Blanchard’s ‘situational leadership’ model (Hersey and Blanchard, 2013))

exercising leadership vs management vs coaching in a management role

Referring to my version of Downey’s illustration above, a manager can make good use of their leadership skills to inspire the members of their team.  They can articulate and role-model the organisation’s vision and values.

They can use their management skills to clarify purpose, roles and responsibilities, to define measures for performance and to foster continuous process improvement.

And they can use their coaching skills to assist with the on-the-job and career development of the individuals reporting to them by:

  • providing feedback on their performance
  • listening to understand and asking open questions to stimulate further thinking
  • supporting (rather than automatically advising) them so that they can find their own answers and solutions

An Individual’s authority over their destiny

I remember feeling ‘liberated’ in my last months as an employee to be totally myself, and more in control of my destiny than I had ever been. I did not worry unduly about needing to respect hierarchy and the boundaries between departments, so much as looking for opportunities to collaborate, share knowledge and ideas, and be of value. How different would my life at work have been if I had adopted more of this kind of attitude throughout my career?

Myles Downey suggests that, whilst an organisation (and a manager) have authority about what work an employee needs to do, the employee could have authority about how they do their work.  It’s something that is often referred to as ’empowerment’, and as something that is in the gift of managers to give to their direct reports; or that individuals should somehow take the initiative to acquire.  Wouldn’t it be better if we just assumed that this is the way we work?

Downey also suggests that an individual could think more in terms of whether an organisation will be a good fit for them before they join. They could ask themselves: “does the organisation have the kinds of purpose, values and ways of working that I can relate to?”.

Similarly, he suggests that an organisation, when recruiting new employees, could consider whether the individual’s aspirations, values and approach, as well as their technical skills are a good fit.


Underpinning all of the above is the necessity for a good relationship between managers and their direct reports.  Such a relationship would be founded on mutual respect, trust, open communication, honesty.  Building this relationship is in the gift of both the manager and the individual.



Downey, M, (2014). Effective modern coaching. London: LID Publishing.

Hersey and Blanchard, (2013). https://www.selfawareness.org.uk/news/situational-leadership-and-developing-great-teams (Accessed 3rd February 2020.)

Other notes:

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through courses, workshops and one-to-one coaching, and with a focus on the Life Sciences.

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis.  She is developing her coaching practice, with a focus on helping individuals to develop management and ‘soft’ skills, especially associated with change, and with Neurodiversity.

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Difficult people are not necessarily being difficult!

By Elisabeth Goodman, 31st March, 2015

How to work with difficult people is a subject that many managers struggle with

How to work with “difficult” people is one of the topics Janet Burton and I explore in RiverRhee Consulting’s 3-day Introduction to Management course , and in our tailored in-house supervisor and line manager courses. I also previously referred to this subject in one of our newsletters on the subject of creating exceptional managers.

Elisabeth Goodman presenting the Introduction to Management course

How to work with “difficult” people is one of the most popular aspects of our courses, being one that many new and even more established managers can find quite challenging. I wonder whether it’s because the whole area of managing interpersonal relationships, dealing with conflict, emotional awareness and intelligence is something that is largely neglected in our educational system. We are so focused on academic achievement, that this essential aspect of work and indeed home life can be under-developed, unless other people in our lives have helped us to learn about it, or we have taken the initiative to explore it ourselves.

Difficult people may just be being different – we should take time to understand them

As I wrote in the newsletter, difficult people are not necessarily being difficult, but just different! Our different personalities, perspectives on, and beliefs in life will lead us to approach our work differently, communicate differently and generally act differently. At any moment in time, there will also be other circumstances happening in our lives that might be influencing how we think, feel and behave.

When faced with what seems to be a difficult situation or person, we would do well to step back and reflect on why they seem to be difficult, and to also step forward into the other person’s shoes. It may indeed be some aspect of our own behaviour that is creating or at least contributing to the situation.

We all make assumptions and try to mind read. One of the most obvious solutions, but also the one a lot of people will avoid, is to actually have an open conversation with the person concerned, to understand their perspective as well as communicate our own. Several of the managers we’ve worked with have dared to have those conversations as a result of what they’ve learnt on our courses and have been greatly relieved by the outcome.

Other strategies and tools to help us understand “difficult” people

There are various other strategies at our disposal, such as active listening, coaching and assertiveness that can help us to better understand what is leading to people being “difficult” as well as helping us to influence any associated behaviours and situations in a positive and constructive way.

We use various psychometric tools in our training ranging from Honey and Mumford’s Learning Styles, to NLP representational (or communication) styles, Belbin’s Team Roles and MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator). These can be very illuminating in terms of understanding our different perspectives and approaches to life and work.

I’m in the process of reading “Working Together”[1], a book about transactional analysis (TA) in the workplace. TA, and the “OK corral”[2] originated with Eric Berne in the 1970s. It’s about understanding our beliefs about ourselves and how we believe others view us – often something we have inherited from childhood – and how that influences our behaviour and interaction with others. It can lead to individuals being generally passive or aggressive rather than assertive in their behaviour, or to responding passively or aggressively in certain situations.

The OK Corral - based on the work of Eric Berne

The OK Corral – based on the work of Eric Berne

In an organisational setting, the nature of the “OK” dynamic between individuals can influence the dynamics within teams and make a difference between a dysfunctional team and one that thrives on open discussion and attains high performance. The open and positive behaviour of senior and middle managers can make a difference between engaged and ‘empowered’ individuals in what Wickens (1995)[3] calls an “ascendant” organisation, and one where people are alienated, acting in an anarchic way, or where there is total apathy.

In conclusion – it’s worth spending the time to understand people, to create a more positive working relationship

As one of my own exceptional managers once told me, the work of a manager can be as much as 80% about people, and only 20% about tasks. If people are being “difficult” we should take the time to understand why they appear to be so. The root cause may be something that we can do something about or otherwise influence.

As Mountain and Davidson point out: people working together don’t have to like each other to still be able to work effectively together. In my own experience, better understanding can lead to something that is more akin to liking (if that was not there already), and certainly to a more positive working relationship.

[1] Mountain, A. and Davidson, C. (2015) Working Together. Organizational Transactional Analysis and Business Performance. Farnham, England, Gower

[2] Eric Berne’s 4-box matrix matches the various combinations of “I am OK”, “I am not OK” and “You are OK”, “You are not OK”. The “healthy position” being “I am OK, You are OK”.

[3] Wickens, P. (1995). The Ascendant Organization. Basingstoke, England, MacMillan Business


Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We use coaching, training, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just over 5 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads the Capabilities & Methods pillar for the Enabling Change SIG.

From stoical survivor to natural navigator – strategies for proactive change programme managers.

By Elisabeth Goodman, 26th February 2015

Roles of those associated with change programmes

I’ve just come back from delivering a seminar for the Midlands branch of the APM, with my colleague (and Chair) on the APM Enabling Change SIG, Martin Taylor. The event, “How to keep programmes on track and teams inspired during periods of change”, attracted a lively set of people.  About a third of them were managing change programmes, another third were supporting programmes in some way and a further third were frequently (!) being drawn into change whilst addressing their day to day responsibilities.

This blog reflects some of the points that came up on the theme of proactive management of change programmes.

(By the way, this was our second visit to the Midlands branch of the APM.  I spoke last year on Facilitating operational excellence in and for business change projects.)

Railway destination for 24th Feb 2015 APM Midlands branch event

Railway destination for 24th Feb 2015 APM Midlands branch event

The nature of change within change programmes

I was impressed by how some of the people I spoke to were doing what they did because they enjoyed the challenge of change. They were often dealing with continuous change, rather than discrete periods of it, had multiple change programmes on the go, sometimes juggling equal priorities, whilst at the same time coping with change within the programme itself.  These ‘internal’ programme changes include, but are not limited to:

  • Sponsor turnover
  • Shifting objectives
  • Additional constraints on timelines, budgets and resources
  • External impacts – legislation, competitors, politics – the typical components of a PESTEL analysis. (We are now entering the “purdah” period for the forthcoming UK elections which brings additional constraints for those operating in or with the public sector.)

Strategies for keeping change programmes on track

Some of those present mentioned how they would like now and then to have just a few change programmes to deal with at a time.

They’d like to see some joined up thinking between programmes, especially where they are affecting the same stakeholders.

They’d also like the decision makers to remember why individual programmes are happening in the context of the bigger organisational strategy.

All of these and more formed the basis of a check list that Martin and I developed with the delegates for how they could proactively keep programmes on track during periods of change. (The full list, other notes and slides from the event will be posted shortly on the APM Enabling Change SIG microsite.)

Victims, survivors and navigators of change

The above proactive approach to change is also an illustration of how programme managers can effectively be navigators rather than victims or survivors of change (terms defined by Richard McKnight and further described in one of my publications – The Effective Team’s Change Management Workbook, RiverRhee Publishing 2013).

Victim, survivor and navigator mindsets in change

Victim, survivor and navigator responses to change

Being a victim of change, as the name implies, is an unproductive ‘us and them’ mindset where we blame others for the situation we find ourselves in and expect them to sort it out. Whilst we may occasionally need to give way to our emotions in this way, as leaders of change we do, at some point, have to shake ourselves up and get on with it.

Stoical survival techniques can also only be temporary. It’s a kind of “in limbo” state where we are only just coping, and it will bring its own stresses.

Navigators on the other hand are people who ’embrace’ change and explore what they can do to make it happen in a constructive way: tackling the issues, anticipating the risks, and taking advantage of the opportunities that come their way.

Helping your team to be inspired during change

In the seminar we also discussed how managers can help their teams to be ‘inspired’ during the changes that affect the team: the sorts of changes that we outlined above. These changes can ‘hit’ the team at any stage of its development: whether newly formed, already storming or in full high performance flow.

We discussed how the programme manager can and should adopt the situational leadership approach: being highly directive during periods of uncertainty and ensuring that members of the team have one-to-one time to discuss their concerns and explore their ideas.

Creating the conditions for inspiration during periods of change

Creating the conditions for inspiration during periods of change

Members of the team, as much as the stakeholders affected by the outcome of the change programme, will benefit from plenty of communication. We all respond best when we have some degree of certainty and control over what happens to us.

Any information, however negative, or preliminary will help towards certainty.

Clear roles and responsibilities, and some level of involvement, will help people to feel more in control.

If, as a programme manager, you can provide this level of direction and support for your team, you will create the conditions where team members can feel more motivated, become navigators themselves and take more of a leadership role within their own domain of responsibility, and ultimately be more creative and inspired!

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We use coaching, training, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just over 5 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads the Capabilities & Methods pillar for the Enabling Change SIG.

Finding the leader within ourselves

Why yet another article about leadership?

I’ve had an unusually busy few weeks so the gap between my blogs has been greater than usual. However the magical combination, for me, of coming across an inspirational article, engaging with enthusiastic people, and listening to others’ ideas at a conference has finally triggered my own reflections!

So, this blog is about leadership.  As Julia Hordle, a speaker at this week’s Perfect Information 2014 (#PIC2014) conference, pointed out, there is already a lot of literature on this topic.  So, like Julia, I’m not making any claims to be an expert, nor am I going to try to cover the whole area.  These are just a few points that have struck me in what I heard from her and others this week.

Everyone in a team is a potential leader

I can’t remember who said this during the years that I was working at GlaxoSmithKline.  It may have been one of the values that informed our performance review discussions. The idea was that everyone within a team had a particular area of expertise and a particular strength, and by exercising leadership in those, could really add value to the work of the team.  (This was often referred to as ’empowerment’.)

It was whilst I was at GSK that I was also introduced to ‘Lessons from Geese‘, inspired by Milton Olson, and beautifully captured in the video by Breakthrough Global.  Amongst the several lessons is that of everyone taking a turn at doing things, rather than expecting the team leader to do it all.

Some of the lessons from geese for high performing teams

Some of the lessons from geese for high performing teams

Julia Hordle shared another video, Lord Digby Jones’ 5 tips to business where he encourages leaders to train their teams to do the simple things well so that, when they are faced by challenging tasks, their intuition can kick in and so, by implication, exercise leadership in what they do.

As my co-speaker, Steve Boronski, pointed out during our joint workshop at #PIC2014 on “Project Management through a knowledge and information management lens”, when everyone within a team is clear on what they are expected to do, and has the training to do it, then the team leader’s role is ‘simply’ that of managing by exception: providing the support and direction to deal with the unexpected.

Also on this point, the article that has inspired me to write this blog is the one on Blue Ocean Leadership, by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, in the May 2014 issue of Harvard Business Review (pp.60-72), pointed out by my business colleague Sarah Hillman.  There are some terrific insights in the article on the behaviours of ‘to-be’ as opposed to ‘as-is’ leadership.  I particularly liked the concept of “inspiring people to give their all as opposed to holding people back”.

Leadership is about daring to do or say what others might not

A member of the audience during Julia Hordle’s presentation at #PIC2014 quoted some recent figures, one of those bold generalisations, to the effect that women will only consider taking on a new position when they are 80% sure of their capabilities to deliver it, whereas men will do so when they are 50% sure.  The delegate wondered whether this might have a bearing on the behaviour of leaders.  I, like many others, dislike such generalisations but they can also be food for thought.

Another member of the audience (a man) responded that there might be some truth in this because he does not hold back, as a leader, from voicing opinions that others might consider stupid.  The discussion continued along the lines that leaders, and indeed any team member, should be confident enough to air their views.  This will benefit the team in the long run and, although it may carry risks for the individual, being true to yourself does ultimately deliver benefits to you too.

Which brings me to the particularly enthusiastic people that have inspired me this week.  I spent a very enjoyable hour with some young entrepreneurs on the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy course at Cambridge Regional Centre.  We were exploring the topic of team make-up and leadership.  At a certain point I asked them to write out their personal strengths on individual post-it notes: the strengths that they might bring to a team.  About 60% of the notes carried the word ‘confidence’!  They certainly came across as a very confident set of people.  At least 3 of them had already set up their businesses, in such areas as luxury goods and organising musical events, and many of the rest were looking forward to doing so as they moved on to their business degrees.

And yet…

Leadership is also about communication and empathy

What made those young entrepreneurs so enjoyable to speak to was that not only were they very vocal and articulate, they were also clearly listening to and reflecting about what we were discussing.  Amongst the many post-it notes about confidence, there were also several with the words ’empathy’ and ‘listening’.

Julia Hordle and Lord Digby Jones had a lot to say about the importance of a leader’s communication skills (as listeners as well as conveyers of messages), and their ability to inspire trust.  A leader’s ability to empathise is something I’ve explored in a previous blog.

I came away from my interaction with the PJEA students feeling quite enthused about the qualities that many of them would bring to their future roles as leaders.


Elisabeth Goodman is the owner and Principal Consultant of RiverRhee Consulting and a trainer,  facilitator, one-to-one coach, speaker and writer, with a passion for and a proven track record in improving team performance and leading business change projects on a local or global basis. 

Elisabeth is an expert in knowledge management, and is accredited in change management, Lean Six Sigma and MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator).  She has a BSc in Biochemistry, an MSc in Information Science, is a full member of the Chartered Institute of Information and Library Professionals (CILIP) and of the Association for Project Management (APM) and is also registered as a Growth Coach and Leadership & Management trainer with the GrowthAccelerator.

Elisabeth has 25+ years’ Pharma R&D experience as a line manager and internal trainer / consultant, most recently at GSK and its legacy companies, and is now enjoying working with a number of SMEs and larger organisations around the Cambridge cluster as well as further afield in the UK and in Europe.

Empathy – the magical leadership ingredient?

Empathy can make a difference in every situation that we find ourselves in as leaders or managers

I recently read Geoff Crane‘s chapter 55 ‘Empathy in Project Management’ in the ‘Gower Handbook of People in Project Management‘. It’s a very large book, with a wealth of fascinating information, so I’m dipping into it a chapter at a time, and giving myself time to reflect on each one.

I really enjoyed Geoff’s chapter, and believe our ability to be empathetic can make a difference not only in Project Management, but in every leadership or people management role that we may have.

As Geoff explains in his chapter, empathy is different from sympathy in that the ‘listener’ not only acknowledges another person’s (the ‘speaker’s’) emotions but actually connects with them by ‘vicariously experiencing’ their feelings, seeing things through their eyes, or ‘getting into their shoes’.  Empathy requires active listening, picking up things that the other person may not even be saying.

Active listening?

Geoff shares a ‘behavioural change stairway model’ adapted from Vecchi et al.(1)  In it he shows that whilst active listening is a precursor of empathy, empathy in turn leads to rapport and so influence and the ability to effect behavioural change.

So, whilst empathy required us to emotionally connect with the other person, we still need to retain our own sense of self, and this is what enables us, as leaders, to then take some appropriate action to influence the ‘speaker’ to achieve a desired outcome.

This is what I have been reflecting about since I read Geoff’s chapter.

The role of empathy in project and line management

When we are responsible for a project, or for a team, should we be task or people focused?  The answer is both.  But whilst we can delegate aspects of the task management to members of our team, ultimately, the responsibility for the people within the team rests with the manager.  If we don’t recognise and respond to the needs of the individuals within the team, and to the dynamics between them, then we will never achieve a high performing team, or see each individual performing to their full potential.

Some people may think this is ‘too touchy feely’, and that we are all independent grown-ups without the need for ‘molly coddling’, but what is the reality of what happens in teams?  Aren’t the emotions visibly there (or thinly disguised) on a day-to-day basis? So as team leaders, wouldn’t we do better to acknowledge that and work with the emotions rather than ignore them?

(By the way the next chapter I read will probably be number 53, Deanne Earle’s on ‘Emotional Intelligence in Project Management’.  Geoff Crane has put up pictures of all us contributing authors and the themes of our chapters on his website – The Papercut Project Manager.  I also wrote a short blog referencing my chapter on Team Development.)

Empathy in change Management

Our APM Enabling Change SIG committee are currently working on a glossary of terms associated with Change Management.  We’re having a bit of a debate around the definition of ‘resistance’ in Change Management.  Is it a barrier to be overcome, as is commonly described by Change Management practitioners?  Or is it something that, in our role as leaders, we should be helping to surface and understand, so that we can respond to what we learn about the ‘speaker’ and use this not only to influence the ‘speaker’ but also to improve on our Change Management plans?  Isn’t that empathy truly at play?  I take the latter approach in my book ‘The Effective Team’s Change Management Workbook’.

A further thought: change agents recognise the importance of communicating the benefits of change, and of doing it in the context of WIIFM (What’s In It For Me).  There is surely an emotional context to that which requires change agents to empathise with – hence the value of asking such questions as: “If this change was successful for you, what would that look, feel or sound like?”

Empathy makes for better facilitation too!

A recent client very kindly said that he uses me as a facilitator because I understand his organisation and the people within it.  We know that the most effective facilitators disconnect from the content of workshops and discussions that we facilitate, and focus instead on providing the right tools and guiding the dynamics of what’s happening.  We need to tune into the emotions involved, and judge when and how to intervene to help the participants achieve their overall goals.

Empathy also helps us to be effective trainers, mentors and coaches

A friend of ours recently died from cancer.  For a short while he’d taught my daughter to improve her guitar playing.  At his funeral service another student talked about how special our friend had been in effectively being able to empathise with his students and help them to achieve whatever it was that they needed – and it wasn’t just about learning to play the instrument – it was about wider aspects of their lives.  I recognised what he was saying from how I’d seen and heard him work with my daughter.

Isn’t empathy what distinguishes a skillful trainer, mentor or coach from a mediocre one?  Which of your teachers do you remember best?  Was it empathy that distinguished them from the others?

(I wrote more broadly about the qualities of trainers, mentors and coaches, in my RiverRhee Newsletters on the ‘coaching continuum‘.)

With empathy we as leaders can give the people that we work with some of the most valuable gifts in life: the time, the space, and ultimately the skills, to achieve what will help them to be successful as ’empowered’ individuals and as members of our teams.  Doesn’t that make empathy a magical leadership ingredient?


  1. Vecchi, G.M., Van Hasselt, V.B. and Romano, S.J. (2005).  ‘Crisis (hostage) negotiation: Current strategies and issues in high-risk conflict resolution’, Aggression and Violent Behavior, 10, 533-51.

Elisabeth Goodman is the owner and Principal Consultant of RiverRhee Consulting and a trainer,  facilitator, one-to-one coach, speaker and writer, with a passion for and a proven track record in improving team performance and leading business change projects on a local or global basis. 

Elisabeth is an expert in knowledge management, and is accredited in change management, Lean Six Sigma and MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator).  She has a BSc in Biochemistry, an MSc in Information Science, is a full member of the Chartered Institute of Information and Library Professionals (CILIP) and of the Association for Project Management (APM) and is also a Growth Coach with the GrowthAccelerator.

Elisabeth has 25+ years’ Pharma R&D experience as a line manager and internal trainer / consultant, most recently at GSK and its legacy companies, and is now enjoying working with a number of SMEs and larger organisations around the Cambridge cluster as well as further afield in the UK and in Europe.

Feel the fear and do it anyway

By Elisabeth Goodman

Last night I heard Sheri Kershaw & Band at the Royston Folk Club – our favourite twice-monthly music venue.  She introduced her first song ‘Colours of Life‘ with the observation that we will all suffer at some time in our lives, and the suggestion that we embrace rather than resist this experience, as it is what adds colour to our lives.

One of the reasons that I write these blogs is the opportunity this gives me to share the insights that experiences like hearing someone like Sheri gives me.  Combine this with a Harvard Business review blog by Peter Bregman ‘The unexpected antidote to procrastination‘ that I spotted in my twitter feed earlier in the day, and some magic happened that I wanted to share!

Not being afraid to fall

Feeling the fear and doing it anyway

Feeling the fear and doing it anyway

Bregman writes of his experience of watching surfers, who dare to ride the waves in search of that epic experience, with the full knowledge that they will always end by falling.  Some fall gracefully, others resist it for as long as they can.  But inevitably, they do fall.  He suggests that the reason we put off doing a lot of difficult things in work or in life, put off taking risks even if what we might achieve might be epic or wonderful, is the fear of what might happen, of failing, of falling, of being hurt.

However, if, like Bregman, like Sheri Kershaw, we accept that the intensity of what we might feel, of what we might suffer, is an integral part of life’s rich tapestry, and of what we can achieve and succeed at, then it’s going to be about feeling the pain, and doing it anyway.

The link to engagement, empowerment and change

This brings me to why I’m writing about music and surfing in a business blog, and why I do the work that I do!  I had the pleasure to experience a one-day course on coaching, organised by the Cambridge Network‘s Learning Collaboration, and led by Sue Blow from Management Learning & Coaching.

Listening to Sue and hearing about her approach as a coach reminded me that my work with teams is all about giving the individuals within the team the time, environment and skills to deal with the pain that they have been experiencing.  As a result, the members of the team can become more engaged with their organisation’s goals, and also feel more empowered to do something about the challenges that they are facing.

I was talking with David Bance and John Moore earlier in the week, in our nascent Melbourn Business Association Special Interest Group for Operational Excellence. We were comparing experiences of how empowered people had been to raise suggestions for improvement as a result of participating in Total Quality Management, or Lean and Six Sigma initiatives.  The best outcome was that it gave them the permission, the courage, the skills, the data and reasoning to dare to change situations where they had previously been feeling the pain.  Of course, a successful outcome is also dependent on the management and organisational support to make the resultant changes.

The fear and the pain can be large or small

I definitely do not wish to minimise or trivialise the fear, pain or suffering that people might experience in their working or home lives, and the courage and the risks that they take to overcome them.  I recognise that these can be very great and some of the situations that I come across can seem relatively small.

For example I also recently attended an excellent seminar by Janet Burton, of The Training Manager, where we explored how to develop, prepare for and deliver  presentations.  Even these kinds of situations can feel challenging and require effective mental preparation, a good stretch and taking a deep breath before beginning!

I’m also a trustee of the Red Balloon Learner Centre in Cambridge, and admire the courage of the students who come in to tackle their personal challenges of recovering from bullying and other traumas that they’ve experienced, so that they can come back to learning again.

The main thing is, as Sheri Kershaw and Peter Bregman suggest, to embrace these experiences and to also remember that there are people out there who will help you if we can.


  1. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge management, change management and MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator)
  2. Follow the links to find out about other ways in which Elisabeth Goodmanand RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.

Coaching applied to project management – APM seminar (#APMEoE)

By Elisabeth Goodman

Managing, coaching, mentoring, training, consulting, counseling: these are all terms that may or may not be part of a team and project manager’s toolkit.  How are they different?  And how can coaching in particular be applied in project management?

About 25 practicing project managers and others interested in the topic gathered near Cambridge on the 27th March to hear from Lesley Trenner, a change coach (http://www.lesleytrenner-changecoach.co.uk), at the latest APM East of England branch meeting.

The session was engaging, very interactive and well received.

What is (business) coaching?

Obviously there are lots of definitions around, and there are aspects of business coaching that are quite different from, say, sports coaching.  One of the definitions that Lesley shared with us was that of the ICF (International Coach Federation):

The ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

One of the important distinctions between business coaching and all the other types of possible management interventions is that it’s the individual concerned, not the coach, who finds the answers.  The coach uses skilled listening and questioning to help the individual, in the words of one of the delegates “crystallize their ideas rather than just keep them in solution”.  This type of coaching works on the premise that we all have the answers within us, it’s just a question of finding and then committing to applying them.

How does business coaching apply to project management?

As defined above, coaching enables project team members the time, space and support to solve problems and achieve their objectives.  It could be viewed as a tool for increasing individual empowerment.  It could also help with an individual’s development – something that might more traditionally fall within a line manager’s remit.  In fact we agreed that coaching should be an intrinsic skill set for any manager.

Other applications for coaching in project management could be in interactions with stakeholders, to draw out their ideas, and to generally build individual team members’ or the project manager’s relationship with them.

How does business coaching work? What qualities does a coach need?

Lesley shared some key steps and principles with us, which were variations of the GROW model that readers may already be familiar with:

  • Goal – what do you want to achieve from the coaching session?
  • Reality – what is the current situation?
  • Options – what are the alternative solutions available to you?
  • Will – what action will you take?

Lesley’s key steps and principles also emphasized the importance of the coach really listening to the individual concerned, without interrupting them.  She also stressed the importance of having an ethical framework for the discussion – ensuring confidentiality, creating trust, and being honest.

We also explored what qualities this kind of coach needs to have.  Examples we thought about included:

  • Being willing to look at yourself, possibly so that your own issues don’t interfere with the coaching session, and to practice what your preach
  • Being a good listener
  • Patience (to listen, keep asking the questions, wait for the answers)
  • Courage (to keep asking the questions and deal with whatever arises)
  • Empathy (so that the person knows they are being heard, but without colluding if you don’t agree with what is being said)

Putting coaching for project management into practice

Lesley and one of the delegates bravely gave a (unpracticed) demo of the coaching process around one of the delegate’s project management issues.  We then practiced in pairs, for 10 minutes each, around each of our own issues.

Lesley gave us a set of questions to work from:

  1. What’s the situation – and where are you now?
  2. Where would you like to be?
  3. What’s stopping you?  (A good addition to the GROW model – and an alternative way to frame the Options discussion)
  4. Who or what could help you? (Another good addition – also around the Options discussion)
  5. What action will you take?


We had a lively closing discussion on people’s experiences with the coaching exercise.  Some of the insights included:

  • Not worrying about silence – it shows the individual is thinking and as a coach you need to have ‘the guts’ to let the silence hang
  • The commitment question is great, and a follow-up session could pick up and reinforce the progress with this
  • Whilst the 10 minutes might feel artificial, actually a lot can be achieved in that time, or even in a few minutes in a corridor conversation
  • This ‘touching the tiller’ approach can seem quite easy for some, but harder for others.
  • If people come up with their own answers to problems, they will have more confidence in taking them forward..

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We using coaching as well as training, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth has 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry where she has held line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and in Lean Sigma and is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), and APM (Association for Project Management).

Creating and finding those inspirational managers for our teams – a Cambridge Network event

People leave their managers not their companies

“70% of people leave their managers or supervisors, not their company”.  These were some of the research findings shared with us this morning by Sue Gibson, Human Resources Consultant at DoubleG Assosiates LLP, in a Cambridge Network Breakfast meeting on retention and motivation of staff.  She also told us that mediocre managers can do a lot of damage ‘under the radar’ and can pass on stress and stifle employee engagement through inappropriate authoritarian attitudes.

As a trainer and consultant who focuses on ways to relieve the pain of people in teams, by working with inspirational managers who want to improve the way they support team members, as well as equipping the team with tools to improve their work, I was very interested to learn more about this topic!

So what makes for an inspirational manager?

We all shared our own experiences of those managers that we remember to this day or, as Sue described, ‘have a following’.  Those that have inspired us:

  • Have vision
  • Can relate and communicate with everyone in their team
  • Empower individuals
  • Speak from the heart, with passion about what they are doing
  • Have integrity
  • Are happy to recruit people better than themselves
  • Focus on the career progression of the people in their teams

They are also, in the words of one of the delegates who is a school governor: “a critical friend”.  They will give honest, timely, constructive feedback, and are consistent in doing so.

technical competence is not a criterion for becoming a manager

We have all come across situations where people have been promoted to management roles as the only route to reward their technical competence, and that of course is not necessarily the right solution.

People forced into a management route will not necessarily have the passion or aptitude for it and may spend their time trying to find opportunities to still use their technical skills.

Enlightened organisations, and there were some in the room, have developed 2 branches for promotion, so that people can progress according to their preference and strength along a technical or a management route.

How to find and develop those inspirational managers

Sue described how one organisation she supports identifies their existing inspirational managers and asks them to act as talent scouts to spot potential new talent.  These people can then choose whether or not they would like to progress up a management or a technical chain and trains them accordingly for active succession planning.

Another delegate described how they use a buddy system for new managers to help them get up to speed more quickly and effectively.

There was a general consensus that some form of active management training is needed, rather than expecting managers to just learn on the job.

other key considerations for retention and motivation

The seminar was not just about inspirational managers, but about what can be done to retain staff.  Sue stressed that this is not about rules, processes or restrictions but about getting a number of things right.  Her list included:

  • Culture
  • Interesting work
  • Development
  • The mindset of leaders and managers (which brings us back to the earlier points on inspirational managers)
  • Making sure that people know what is expected of them
  • Having clear organisational goals
  • Pay
  • Benefits

We discussed examples of individuals writing their own objectives based on the organisational goals and relating to performance (things they need to do for the job) and also their own personal development.  In Sue’s experience people have also been asked to assess their own performance against their objectives.  I mentioned that this had hints of the situation at Morning Star described by Gary Hamel in the Harvard Business Review, which I wrote about in one of my other blogs: “Why is employee engagement such an important topic?”

We also discussed the importance of showing people that they are valued, and giving managers the scope and authority to show recognition.  Sue gave examples of giving someone a meal out with their partner, including making babysitting arrangements with a professional Nanny, or paying for a week-ends Italian lessons for someone who wanted to learn. As she pointed out, the cost of these kind of recognition packages are far less than the value delivered by an employee going beyond routine requirements, or indeed the cost of replacing someone and of the knowledge lost when they leave.

In the work that I do with teams, retention and motivation is also about creating an environment where people can thrive, where they have time to think and be creative as a result of being able to focus on the key priorities of their business.

managers need to be aware of generational differences in their staff

This is a fascinating area to explore.  I didn’t quite catch everything Sue was saying at this point, so some of the following notes are a bit improvised, but it was along the lines that those aged between 30 – 40 expect to be taught, are generally technology ‘savvy’, will be tolerant of their managers and are OK about change.

Those aged 30 years and under though are more likely to teach themselves, are technology ‘wise’, will work hard if they are interested, expect their managers to collaborate with them (because they are equal) and are likely to be more actively mobile.

So these considerations reinforce what we already know, that managers need to understand their staff and relate to them as individuals, in order to manage them well.

Concluding thoughts

We finished with some discussions in small groups.  Some of the thoughts that came out of these were:

  • In small organisations, when people go on holiday, it gives those left in charge the opportunity to develop. (We’d touched earlier on the importance of giving people challenges outside their comfort zones for the same reason.)
  • There seems to be an optimum ratio of 1 manager to 8-10 staff in order to be able to build rapport, engage with team members and generally manage them well
  • Managers can be blockers!
  • The importance of empowering staff to improve the way they work as they are the ones who will best understand the opportunities to do so.
  • In start-ups, HR should be a foundation stone, not an add on: people can be the biggest asset, as well as the biggest cost!

Were you at this seminar?  If so, and you’d like to add any material that I’ve missed, do feel free to do so as a comment.  Also, if you think I’ve misinterpreted anything that was said, do please set me right!


Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. Elisabeth has 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry where she has held line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and in Lean Sigma and is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), and APM (Association for Project Management).

Making Knowledge Work – Beyond Lessons Learned – Notes from APM #KSIGDDAY

APM prospective Knowledge SIG Conference – 5th July 2012

Based on the @ecgoodman twitter stream tagged with #KSIGDDAY @APMProjectMgmt #KM

Meeting kicking off – looking forward to it!

The meeting started with some speed networking in which I met lots of great people from all sectors of work, the UK, sizes of organisation, and levels of experience of Knowledge Management.

We shared our expectations of the day, common themes being: to gain practical insights, how to use lessons learned or project reviews because people still make the same mistakes all the time, and how to measure and share knowledge.

Steve Kaye, Head of Innovation, Anglian Water  – Managing Knowledge in Anglian Water

Innovation is about getting value from new ideas.  Steve shared a graphic with others, which suggested an evolution of the business model from working entirely in-house to working in partnership, group collaboration and now open innovation.  He suggested that the benefits and knowledge gained have gone up through this process, but that the degree of control has gone down so that we now have very difficult to manage complex projects.

Anglian Water has created a Water Innovation Network with underlying process to assess and adopt new ideas.  New ideas are assessed through a “Dragon’s Den” type forum and then the WIN steering group, so that they have a formal and robust process to drive new ideas into the organisation.

They use an electronic “Learning Hub” to capture learnings & prompt comments and actions at the various stages of capital projects.  They are trying to get people to rank and comment on learnings and so drive actions for improvement.

Anglian Water’s Standard product approach captures information on a large range of features with commentary online – so that this can act as a dynamic reference source for those developing products.

Steve believes that Nonaka’s tacit/explicit knowledge cycle is still relevant, for example in capturing knowledge from people who retire.  They are trying 1-day master classes with video recording as way to capture knowledge from retirees although he also suggested that the solution is to re-employ them as consultants!

Steve concluded with a yin/yang illustration suggesting that knowledge management is a balance of hard and soft: data, documents etc. and behaviour, communication, leadership.

There are challenges of consistency, duplication, operating in real time.  And there are opportunities to create a knowledge sharing culture and to drive innovation.

On lessons learned, Steve said that although there is a challenge to get project managers to meetings because they are very stretched.  Once they do get to meetings valuable learnings are obtained.  They have about 50 learning facilitators to organise the meetings and they are trained to ask the right questions.  But on the whole the benefits realisation process is much more developed in Anglian Water than lessons learned.

Break out session

We broke into several groups to discuss 3 questions posed by Steve Kaye:

1. How to create a culture of knowledge sharing?

The main points made were:

  • Need to balance what people are sharing (the supply) with what people want to learn or find out about (the demand)
  • There is no substitute for speaking to people as opposed to capturing stuff in systems – though information on who knows what is useful to record
  • There may be pockets of different culture within an organisation
  • There is a key role for the leadership in speaking about and modelling knowledge sharing
  • There is no formulaic way to enforce or empower knowledge sharing as it depends on the organisation
  • People need to be given a safe space and time to share knowledge, with active encouragement to report back what they have learned to peers, and the use of storytelling to support sharing
  • There were some good examples in the room of effective lessons learned processes and active communities of practice

2. What makes a good knowledge sharing system?

Victor Newman facilitated this session using his “Smart failing” technique that we all practiced later in the session.  He maintained that we need to start focusing on knowledge building, rather than knowledge sharing – something that he also described in his 2002 publication “The Knowledge Activitist’s Handbook”.

The group focused first on ‘what is not working’ with systems they have experienced.  They then looked for solutions to address the failings.  The list included:

  • Designing the system for the people who are going to use it
  • Intuitive navigation
  • Making sure the content is relevant, current and succinct
  • Ensuring that the content is designed for the user and the context in which they are going to use it
  • Clear ownership and accountability
  • Robustness for searching in many different ways
  • A pull strategy (from the user) – we generally need to get better at this, and gather more information on how to do this
  • A knowledge map to be able to find the expert and actual practitioners
  • A process to integrate the information into the relevant business activities
  • Appropriate governance and support
  • Clarity on the anticipated benefits

3. How can we convert tacit to explicit knowledge?

Points raised included:

  • Using visual representations of the explicit knowledge (diagrams, photographs etc.) with links to the appropriate people for reference
  • Shadowing can be a good way to capture tacit knowledge
  • Is there a corrolation between project management maturity and knowledge management?

Judy Payne (@judypayne), Director, Hemdean Consulting – Understanding how knowledge is shared

Judy reiterated that what works in one organisation for knowledge sharing will not work in another.  She pointed out that army personnel are strongly motivated to learn from each other, and that just in time training with knowledge shared between people therefore works well in that environment.

Judy pulled up the wikipedia definition of knowledge sharing, and referred to others, which use terms such as knowledge transfer, flow, exchange etc.

Telling people something is not enough for knowledge sharing – it needs understanding, interpretation and application to really be effective.  Judy thought it would be helpful to relate knowledge sharing to an organisational learning model.  It needs a willingness to unlearn what we know, and is a multi-level process within an organisation.

The organisational model involves four learning processes:

  1. Individual intuition – where an individual realises there is something new that is important to tell others about.
  2. Work group interpreting – the individual discusses what s/he has learned within their work group.  It’s relatively easy to do as the group has a common language.  They may as a result decide that they need to take some kind of action, which may involve talking to a manager higher up the hierarchy.
  3. Organisational integration – this may be a more difficult discussion.  It may require showing the more senior manager some tangible results and a more detailed description of how things work.  It may require involvement of a senior manager’s peer who may have had more direct experience of what the group is trying to describe.  It may result in the more senior manager thinking this is such a good idea that they adopt it as their own with / without acknowledgement of the original individual’s insights!
  4. Institutionalisation – this involves actual embedding of a new way of working with all the challenges involved in doing so.  However, if successful, it can then trigger a whole new wave of unlearning required the next time a group or individual identifies a new insight.

Judy thought that a model such as this might help us to understand why lessons learned approaches often don’t work!

(You can contact Judy at judy@hemdean.co.uk or access her full set of slides on the APM K-SIG website http://www.apm.org.uk/group/apm-knowledge-specific-interest-group)

Break out session – How good are we at knowledge sharing?

Points raised included:

  • Using project gateways as milestones for reviewing learnings
  • Having experts / champions in certain fields
  • The “deep dive” approach
  • Identifying knowledge specialists within a matrix (or functional) team whose role is to research their area and train the others within the team on specific topics
  • The issue that often it is only a few people who are actively sharing within an organisation
  • The frequency of mandatory processes, forms or systems for capturing lessons learned that are not being used
  • There is nothing like getting teams together: old with new, or concurrent; maybe bribing people with pizza!
  • The effectiveness of getting people together one on one with no-one else listening!
  • The importance of exploring what went well as well as what went wrong
  • Getting similar project teams all in one room
  • Fujitsu’s us of “KELs” (Knowledge Element Libraries) for IT: a Q&A system with the answers to problems that have just happened on individual’s systems.  It’s a quick look-up source, is very focused and can be referred to at the point of need.  Individuals are encouraged to write a KEL after every incident.
  • Xerox’s quality improvement programme about 20 years ago where everyone was encouraged to think of better ways of doing what they did.  If their manager agreed they could form and lead a team to address it, and then prepare and present the outcome directly to directors.  Every team was given 15 minutes of glory to put up a stand, which the managers visited.  Awards and certificates were presented.
  • The importance of having the right KPIs to drive the right behaviour
  • References to using a maturity model for knowledge and using a market process (wants and offers)
  • The need for a facilitator to ensure the quality of the knowledge captured in a system

Steve Simister, Director, Oxford Management and Research – The prospective Knowledge SIG

Steve described the value of running this special interest group via APM; that it can also include non-project management people and the diverse inputs that this would bring to the group.

He and the other members of the committee are looking for input on the needs of a KSIG community and it would be looking to deliver potential quick wins and stimulate understanding and knowledge in this area.

The next event will be on 18th July in the evening through the Leeds & York branch.  A 2nd all day event is also planned for September.

We collected feedback in our individual tables on the future remit of KSIG which was collated as follows:

  • Case studies to share
  • Signpost and analyse research in the area
  • Build a community that is wider than project management by reaching out to other groups who are doing this
  • Look for ways to introduce cultural change, especially in engaging leaders
  • Develop networks, mentors, buddies
  • Look for tools, methods, templates and how the various communication media can be used

Victor Newman, Visiting Professor in Knowledge and Innovation Management, University of Greenwich –  Fast organisational learning

Victor suggested that innovation is what knowledge management should be about.  He referred us to his latest book “Power House: Strategic Knowledge Management – Insights, Practical Tools and Techniques” http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2962123

We need to adapt faster and facilitate people’s thinking in real time.  We can’t permit drift in our work.

Victor adopts the KUBE model:

  • Knowing
  • Understanding
  • Believing and Behaving
  • Engaging and Expediting

He took us through some of his Emergent Knowledge Management techniques (EKM); these are covered in detail in his book.

We began with “behavioural literacy”.  We should recognised that our behaviour is a gift: what we do and how we do it, even down to what we wear and our body language carries the biggest message to the people we are interacting with.  What we say is only a minor part of the total message.

Behavioural Literacy is about creating personal awareness of the messages we are sending, and taking corrective or preventative measures, or actively using this behaviour.

Victor took us through his incident interpretation (or behavioural analysis) steps:

  • Identify the incident & the impact that it had (what, where, how, when)
  • The feelings experienced (how did it make me feel?)
  • The personal messages sent (so it’s OK to…)
  • The personal lessons gained / rules for the future (In future I will..)

We tried this out individually on personal incidents relating to gifts we made that did not work, tackling an impossible task, undergoing a significant change etc. and shared the results. It was apparent that many of us had gained some very positive learnings in just this short time.

Victor’s experience that getting people to ask themselves and articulate to others that something “made me feel” develops a ‘muscle’ of interpretation and makes others more willing to listen to what is being communicated to them.

He reiterated that there are no lessons learned until you’ve changed behaviours. All else is documentation.  When designing new behaviours it’s useful to identify: the current behaviour, the target behaviour, and how we will behave to get there. Giving the new behaviour a name makes the whole process even more effective.  This new behaviour design can be applied to customers, self etc .

Finally we looked at the use of contradiction & controversy to foster learning: how NOT to do things to work out HOW to do things.  This is Victor’s “Baton passing” technique for lessons learned – we went through this very quickly using the Smart Failing process centred on exploring how to ensure innovation fails!

The technique is based on 3 steps:

  • Capturing beliefs about what might fail (encouraging the sentiment “am I the only idiot in the room” and celebrating cynicism)
  • Prioritising the root causes of failure
  • Identifying the solutions and steps to address them (reverse engineering and finding the antidote)

The meEting wrapped up with feedback on K-SIG wishes – listed above

A link to a space on the APM website will follow.

All in all it was a very good meeting! Thank you to the KSIG team, and to Fujitsu for hosting the event.

Banishing the Monday morning blues: Being Exceptional

Holidays are an excellent time to catch-up with my reading, so I have just had a very stimulating week reading Rob Yeung’s “E is for Exceptional”.  I’ve previously enjoyed Yeung’s books on networking, and emotional intelligence, and picked this one up at random, not really knowing what to expect.

It’s a gem!  Like his other books it’s extremely readable – with anecdotal illustrations from the many exceptional people that he has interviewed, backed up by references from the literature, exercises to start developing our own capabilities for being exceptional and summaries at the end of each chapter in case we missed anything.

I would strongly recommend everyone to read this book, but in the meantime, here’s my own interpretive summary.

(By the way, the key capabilities in this book are aimed at individuals, but many would apply to businesses or teams – so I’ll be writing the next issue of my company newsletter based on this too.  Look out for ‘Creating Exceptional Teams’ on http://riverrheeconsulting.wordpress.com)

Banishing the Monday morning blues (authenticity)

I’m always sad when I come across people who feel glum or worse at the start of the working week.  I’ve wondered if I’m naïve to think that people have a choice: that they could take the plunge and go for something different.

Rob Yeung backs me up: he calls this ‘authenticity’ and suggests that we should absolutely be true to ourselves and find work that is inspiring: what we enjoy most and are good at.  It’s what will help us feel fulfilled and, whilst doing it, put us ‘in the flow’ – where time just goes by without us noticing.  If we find and do what is authentic to us, Yeung maintains that the money will follow!

Being ‘authentic’ does not necessarily mean completely changing what we’re doing – it may be possible to craft a current job or role to bring it closer to what we enjoy doing the most.  This relates to other blogs that I’ve written about taking a self-employed attitude when working for an employer.  Fostering this may also lead to greater employee engagement and empowerment.

Having a vision

The idea of writing a business or team vision is well established – that of writing one for ourselves as individuals is less so.  Yeung makes a strong case for both developing and writing down our personal vision.

A vision acts as a framework for our ‘authenticity’.  It helps us create work-life balance so that we give enough time to all the things that are important to us: family, friends, physical health, social activities or anything else, as well as our work. It helps us enjoy the ‘here and now’ and avoid ‘destination fixation’.  And it puts our shorter term goals into a longer term context so that we can make sure we don’t get inappropriately side-tracked.

Up till now my personal vision has been very much in my head – but I’ll be writing it down, referring to it and refreshing it as Yeung suggests.  I’ve written my first draft.


I’m following a different order in describing these capabilities than the one in the book, because I believe that finding our area of ‘authenticity’, and then putting it within the context of a personal vision gives us the focus from which everything else can flow.  Daring is then all about taking action: pursuing opportunities that come our way even if they’re scary, but with the conviction that they’re the right thing to do – as I did in starting my own business!

Being daring is about doing things that we would otherwise regret not having done.  But it’s also about articulating these daring activities as individual goals, with specific measures (so we know when we’ve succeeded), timelines (to avoid procrastination), and a series of steps that we can follow one at a time and so maintain and build our motivation as each step succeeds.

I love Yeung’s suggestion of having a ‘setback manifesto’, so that we can constructively review what’s happened if things go wrong, identify actions to take to reduce the likelihood of reoccurrence, and know how to behave if something similar happens again!

All the ‘C’s

Yeung describes 5 other capabilities of exceptional people, which would seem to ‘feed’ and sustain our authenticity.

Curiosity or ‘awe’ enables us to develop our knowledge, pick up new ideas, be more creative.  In a work situation this is what enables us to ‘work smarter not harder’: solve problems more effectively and innovate.  Yeung encourages us to read widely – not only in our area of expertise, but across disciplines too.  Incidentally he challenges the group approach to brainstorming, saying it is less effective than individual brainstorming and suggesting a new (4-tier) model, which combines the two.  I will definitely be trying this different approach with teams.

Connecting with people to achieve diversity in our contacts, but with an emphasis on ‘netfriending’ rather than ‘networking’ so that we build relationships with the people that we get to know.  Yeung talks about ‘seeking the spark’ with people where connecting comes easily rather than forcing ourselves to try building relationships with everyone we meet.  He also reminds us that making connections with people can come through speaking at and running events or courses, writing, joining committees, going to conferences etc. not just attending pure networking events.  For those working within an organisation, connecting can come from going to lunch with people, joining task forces, or simply stopping by to say hello to colleagues.

Cherishing is about building that rapport with people; having the emotional intelligence to put ourselves in other people’s shoes; really listening to others and giving them space to express themselves.  Yeung also encourages us to look for the ‘3rd way’ in conflict situations in that both people could be right in their views, and the way forward could build on both views, rather than on only one or the other.

Centredness is also a form of emotional intelligence.  In this case it’s about developing our inner calm; cultivating more positive than negative inner thoughts; recognising that ‘thoughts are just thoughts’; and developing a mindfulness or focus on the here and now.  Yeung has some very helpful exercises on how we can help ourselves feel better about both short-term and more serious emotional setbacks.

Citizenship is all about integrity, being a responsible member of our community, and respecting the environment (sustainability).  It’s about focusing on our personal legacy and managing our reputation.  Without it, all the other efforts we might make at being exceptional could be wiped out!

Closing thoughts

“E is for Exceptional” has been an inspirational book.  There are lots of ideas that I have taken away for developing my own capabilities, and I’m looking forward to exploring how these ideas can be applied to ‘Creating Exceptional Teams’ in my RiverRhee Consulting newsletter.  Hopefully some of you will also pick up Rob Yeung’s book, and/or follow my newsletter.

I do hope that anyone suffering from Monday morning blues will discover a way to banish them forever, and will be daring enough to follow it through!

[Footnote.  It’s interesting to compare Rob Yeung’s “E is for Exceptional” with Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and “The 8th Habit – From Effectiveness to Greatness” – there is a strong overlap in the capabilities covered between them and I may re-read Covey’s books in that light on my next holiday!  I would also mention Michael Bungay Stanier’s “Do more great work” as another easy to read, exercise based approach for helping you to find your ‘authenticity’.  I wrote a blog some time ago (Building Strong Personal Careers)  inspired by “The 8th Habit” and “Do More Great Work” which readers might also find interesting.]


Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.

Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.