Leadership, leadership development and performance

15 reasons your collaboration is failing: take the quiz


Human and cat collaboration in action

Practical collaboration

I learnt about collaboration the hard way. The collaboration quiz was generated through a series of projects including:

  • Implementing new technology systems (on time and budget!)
  • Managing conflict on major infrastructure projects
  • Establishing a social enterprise from scratch
  • Competing for funding for community housing projects
  • Working with stakeholders on contentious government policy initiatives

What is collaboration anyway?

Collaboration is the act of getting together to achieve a task. It might be short or long term and brings together people who generally aren’t part of a formal organizational team.

Isn’t everything about collaboration these days?

No. Collaboration is only required where the task is ambiguous or there is uncertainty and a level of complexity that requires bringing together the right group of people to achieve results.

Take the collaboration quiz

Choose a collaborative project team you are part of and test whether the key success factors are in place…


1. The group knows why it’s getting together and what has to be achieved

 Disagree                                                                              Strongly Agree

1 2 3 4 5

2. The group has a set of decision making protocols that are reviewed regularly

Disagree                                                                              Strongly Agree

1 2 3 4 5

3. There is a focus on achievement in this group and reporting of results

Disagree                                                                              Strongly Agree

1 2 3 4 5


4. Every member of the group takes leadership when needed

Disagree                                                                              Strongly Agree

1 2 3 4 5

5. People have the ability to understand and intervene to improve group dynamics and deal with conflict

Disagree                                                                              Strongly Agree

1 2 3 4 5

6. The group has the persistence to continue even when things aren’t going well

Disagree                                                                              Strongly Agree

1 2 3 4 5


7. Time is taken to build effective working relationships amongst group members

Disagree                                                                              Strongly Agree

1 2 3 4 5

8. Everyone feels like they are a member of this group, rather than a representative of another group

Disagree                                                                              Strongly Agree

1 2 3 4 5

9. Members of the group are open about their diverse views

 Disagree                                                                              Strongly Agree                           

1 2 3 4 5


10. There are structures to support good working relationships between group members

Disagree                                                                              Strongly Agree

1 2 3 4 5

11. The group has a culture of sharing ideas, resources and approaches

Disagree                                                                              Strongly Agree

1 2 3 4 5

12. There is a culture of trust and support in the group

Disagree                                                                              Strongly Agree

1 2 3 4 5


13. There is a clear plan of action with accountabilities and timing which is reviewed regularly

Disagree                                                                              Strongly Agree

1 2 3 4 5

14. Risks have been identified and are regularly discussed by the group

Disagree                                                                              Strongly Agree

1 2 3 4 5

 15. The group has 4-5 metrics being measured, reviewed and learnt from regularly

Disagree                                                                              Strongly Agree

1 2 3 4 5

 What the results tell you

Many collaboration groups I’ve been involved with have a bias for either taking action or for building relationships which can mean that they “get things done” at the cost of relationships, or “never get things done” at the cost of results.

The ProofofLeadership Collaboration Quiz© gives you the opportunity to reflect on where your collaborative group has strengths, and where you may need to do some work.

Your thoughts

I’d love to hear what results you get from using the quiz questions. And whether you have ideas about what else makes collaboration groups successful!

And stories of great collaborations are particularly fabulous.




5 ways to be a great collaborative leader


Here’s why collaboration is difficult

It’s at the top of the line in terms of leadership, personal and group capability!









(Adapted from: Etienne Wenger; Ralph Stacey & the Oregon Center for Community Leadership)

Why is collaboration important in business?

Because we increasingly work with more complex problems that require lots of people to get together and collaborate to find solutions And finding ways to get people collaborating has the potential to reduce your leadership headaches and create competitive advantage. Collaborative leadership can help you to:

  • Work more effectively across silos and organizational boundaries – and increase your leadership brand
  • Work with colleagues to deal with difficult organizational projects – and reduce the pain of these type of projects
  • Engage skillfully with internal and external stakeholders – with grace and tact that will support you in future interactions

5 ways to be a great collaborative leader

Collaborative leadership often requires a shift in perspective – moving from focusing on your own performance and deliverables to having shared goals.

Today I’m going to share with you the 5 key things you can put in place as a leader to have your team collaborate successfully.

1. Identify whether collaboration is really required

Sometimes it seems like collaboration is needed to solve a problem, particularly when there are a lot of stakeholders involved. But if people are agreed on what needs to happen and there’s certainty about what’s involved in the issue – collaboration isn’t required.

2. Understand the difference between collaborative and technical issues

As a leader it’s crucial to get this balance right. Technical issues are those where For more, see Heifetz and Linsky’s books about adaptive leadership to help define “technical” situations and situations that require “adaptive” solutions including collaborative leadership. HeifetzLinsky

3. Build collaborative skills in your team

Key skills required for collaboration include the ability to:

  • be confident and build trusting relationships through strong interpersonal skills
  • manage complex projects and the associated risks
  • understand own and others’ mental models, values, assumptions and behavioural responses
  • influence group dynamics and development
  • facilitate group sessions, meetings and conflict
  • assess stakeholder needs and to engage them positively
  • understand and influence the broader political context
  • deal with a level of ambiguity and lack of control flexibly.

While these skills can be hired through consultants, they are also very useful for leaders at all levels in organisations.

4.  Deal with blockages to collaboration

Successful collaboration requires a good understanding of the issues that can block collaboration:

  • Structural issues such as governance, legal and regulatory tradition
  • Barriers to trust including competition amongst stakeholders
  • Lack of time – it often takes significant time to achieve a visible outcome through collaboration
  • Lack of awareness and dialogue about the assumptions each person brings with them
  • Difficulty in evaluating achievements or outcomes
  • No clear boundaries about the collaborative context
  • Stakeholders adding to the complexity of the environment and the task.

 5. Start the collaboration well

From the start of the collaboration great leaders do some key things:

  • Do a stakeholder assessment and ensure that a broad brush is taken to which stakeholders need to be involved or kept informed about the collaboration
  • Create a core group that will progress the issue at the heart of the collaboration and seek assurances that they will stay with the project
  • Collectively create a shared vision, agreed set of behaviours to help manage group dynamics and conflict
  • Use good project management strategies including regularly informing stakeholders of progress, even if it’s only a shift in process (for example formation of the core group) – these are key milestones in a collaborative effort
  • Be aware of and manage the politics around this type of project or activity both within the core group and with other stakeholders

And most of all “ship product”, that is deliver tangible results from the collaboration whether this is developing new software, delivering a customer service or creating a partnership with a community to support your business goals.

 Why am I sharing this with you?

I’m sharing this with you because I’ve been involved in many collaborative projects – both in business and in the community and I know how hard it is to lead them successfully. I wanted to provide you with a starting point for assessing the issues you confront daily and to highlight that sometimes the most intractable and frustrating issues that keep popping back up even when you think you’ve dealt with them, require your collaborative leadership to solve.

Further Reading

  • Ashkenas, Ulrich, Jick and Kerr 2002
  • Conger, Spreitzer and Lawler 1999
  • El Ansari, Phillips and Hammick 2001
  • Heiftz and Linsky 2002
  • Lawrence, Hardy and Phillips 2002
  • Limerick, Cunnington and Crowther 1998
  • Stacey 2000
  • Stokes and Tyler 2000

The cognitive neuroscience of change: 4 ways to make change more effective

Cognitive neuroscience gives some very useful insights into how change affects us

How the brain responds to change …..

Change is a pain. Creating new neural pathways is literally painful for us in the same way hitting our thumb with a hammer is painful.

Change is tiring. Learning new tasks or behaviours tires us out. Learning takes significant energy and time. You might remember back to when you first started in your current job and how tired you were in the first week.

Change cuts us off from people. Change can make us feel excluded from social relationships which in turn can trigger anxiety. A restructure at work can mean that we lose social relationships and need to build new ones which requires time and effort.

4 ways leaders can implement change more effectively

You know already know these but just in case…

1.  Give people a say in what’s going on

Having a say in the change process means people are more likely to engage in the change process instead of resisting it.

Change that is externally imposed is resisted. The brain aims to keep the status quo against externally imposed change.  However when we choose to change, the brain is less resistant and considers this the new status quo.

2. Help people hear your message

The research suggests that to change, we need to access our prefrontal cortex so that we can identify and take on key tasks. We can’t access or use the prefrontal cortex easily if there are too may demands on it. 3-4 seems to be the requisite number but change strategies often include many more than 3-4 activities to keep track of and this is in addition to our usual daily activities!

Having an understanding of the overall change strategy reduces the need for people to hold too many ideas in working memory. This means they can pay attention to what you are saying about the change.

3. Recognise the emotions of change

Positive demonstrations of emotion – as simple as a smile from a colleague – can help people access more working memory, process information and support problem solving during change.

Positive demonstration of emotion can also help people access the prefrontal cortex which assists with emotional regulation and supports engagement.

4. Treat people with compassion

A simple question like “how do you feel about this change” by a colleague or manager helps people understand and manage their emotional state during change.

Places to read more

Ringleb, Rock and Conser: 2010 Neuroleadership Journal

Siegel and Pearce-McCall: 2009 Neuroleadership Journal




Strategic change leadership – keys to success or – why change fails and what to do about it

Why change fails and what to do about it

Getting from A to B………………

The leadership of strategic change is a challenge.  Research tells us that around 30% of change efforts aren’t successful or aren’t considered successful by the people involved and this statistic isn’t a recent phenomenon.

John Kotter’s research outlined in his book Leading Change 1996 found that change only works in around 30% of cases.

McKinsey found the same in 2008  (McKinsey Report: The Inconvenient Truth of Change Management 2008).

In 2012, a review of 13 major transformations in large European organisations and found the same result – 30% weren’t successful (Business Transformation Association Report: 2012).

And it seems that this is true across both the public and private sectors with a 2012 People Survey of 297,000 civil servants in the UK:

  • only 29% felt change was managed well in their department
  • and only 25% thought that changes in their organisation were for the better

So what are the secrets to successful strategic change?

Most change management exercises are undertaken without thinking about the business context driving the change.  A very short exercise can reduce the potential for failure and help to select the right change strategy.

Step 1: Map the complexity of the situation

Low Complexity – if your context has key characteristics including:

  • relatively strong agreement amongst stakeholders about the need to change
  • relatively strong certainty about the change need and parameters

High Complexity – if your context has key characteristics including:

  • relatively weak agreement amongst stakeholders about the need to change
  • relatively weak certainty about the change need and parameters

Step 2 Choose the conceptual framework for your change strategy

Low complexity

If your situation is low in complexity, then good change management practice, with effective project delivery mechanisms and communication practice is what’s needed. This isn’t to say that delivering on the change project will be simple, just that this type of issue is more likely to respond to a structured and well-managed approach.

An example

Software transition or implementation projects are often examples of this type of business issue.  Moving into a mature business market is another example.

High complexity

If your situation is highly complex, good change and project management practice is likely to increase the potential for failure.

Highly complex situations require very different thinking and action than those with low complexity.

For example

Creating the next big thing in social media software is a complex problem.  There aren’t predetermined or clear parameters because it’s a problem of the future, not the present.  And there isn’t likely to be agreement about what the next big thing is or how to create it amongst stakeholders.

Step 3 Design your change leadership strategy

Highly complex situations require change leadership that is agile, risk ready, and comfortable with ambiguity.

Elements of the change leadership strategy may include:

  • Using engagement approaches with a broad range of stakeholders to build a common understanding of the problem. See this case study of the Haiti earthquake response for some ideas.
  • Learning about the behavioural drivers of the problem or opportunity instead of aiming to shape behavior
  • Asking questions about what lies beneath the culture (sociological or organizational) driving behaviour
  • Establishing experiments to test ideas, and aiming to learn from them whatever the result
  • Establishing robust relationships where trust allows you to explore the complex nature of the problem with curiosity instead of fear
  • Responding not only to the strong signals about what is happening eg the squeaky wheel, but also those weaker signals that are easy to ignore until too late.  An example from nature is the small initial wavelets that signal a tsunami. An example from business is the establishment of a little business called Google back in the 1990s.

The keys to success

The major differentiator between high and low complexity situations is the need for effective leadership capabilities that allow leaders to be agile, risk ready and comfortable with ambiguity.

Some of the people who are thinking deeply about these issues are:

Mary Uhl-Bien

James Hazy

David Snowden

Ralph Stacy

And of course my colleagues and I at the Melbourne Business School-Mt Eliza use this thinking in the development of our leadership and management programs.




6 ways to develop leaders who can manage complexity

The individualistic leader

6 ways to build leadership capability for the future

To support leaders in shifting behaviour, leadership development needs to change. Six things leadership developers (including leaders themselves) can do to provide opportunities for leaders to learn new leadership behaviours are:

  1. How to manage their own development as leaders
  2. What is driving their leadership behaviour: assumptions and values
  3. Activities to build self-awareness and regulate their emotional states
  4. Build capability and strategies to think systemically and be creative
  5. Approaches to creating networks to support adaptive responses
  6. Ways to engage people in responding to complex problems.

The impact on leadership development is a move from delivering traditional informational training programs to creating learning environments that support collaboration, adaptive thinking and engagement.

The shift is required because what is expected of leaders and leadership is changing.

What is expected of leaders is changing



Individualistic Networked
Heroic Collective
Bounded Adaptive
Authoritative Ambiguous
Structured Creative
Decisive Collaborative
Simple Complex

Sources: Nick Petrie, Future trends in leadership development, Center for Creative Leadership White Paper; Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana, Handbook of leadership theory and practice)

While this shift doesn’t look major and some leaders say they are already enacting these new leadership behaviours, the reality is that the change is huge.  Because these leadership behaviours are collective and collaborative, success means that most, if not all, leaders at all levels in your organisation need to have these capabilities.

The implications of working in a highly complex and networked world, without leaders who are able create organisations that can deal with it are:

  • Information overload
  • Poor responses to change
  • Feelings of stress and lack of control
  • Negative emotional states
  • Feeling unable to meet expectations
  • Never being able to “switch off” from work
  • Decreasing work performance and engagement with life.

(Sources: Jim Lorhr and Tony Schwartz, The power of full engagement; Bruce Avolio, Full range leadership development)

What this means for your personal leadership development

For leaders looking to future-proof their careers there are some keys to responding to this shift including: taking charge of your own leadership development; managing your energy; managing your health; understanding your values; and understanding your leadership assumptions.

Sources: Nick Petrie, Future trends in leadership development, Center for Creative Leadership White Paper; Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana, Handbook of leadership theory and practice; David Snowden, Complex acts of knowing: paradox and descriptive self-awareness, Journal of Knowledge Management 2002 Vol 6 No2)


Leadership, influence and charisma


Tips for developing influence and charisma skills in leaders


The dark side of influence and charisma

Every time I’ve worked with an executive coaching client or a group on building influence and charisma skills, the conversation goes to the potential of these skills to be used for the dark side.

And of course, they can be used this way….by used car salespeople, scammers, and powerful leaders

However, building an awareness and ability with these skills helps people to be able to manage themselves when confronted by the dark side.

3 leadership tips for building influence – skills to practice

So what are some of the ways to build influence? The top 3 in my view are: confidence, warmth and presence.


People assume you are what you project – act “as if” you are confident, experienced, powerful…and you are


Use body language that says I care about you – practice    learning forward, smiling, and making eye contact


Being fully present with others. This means, when someone wants to talk to you, turn and face them, move away from your phone/computer/reading, and totally focus on what they’re saying.  This not only doesn’t take time or energy, it will save you time and energy.

One of my executive coaching clients took 2 actions to build relationships with his team: he moved to sit at a table with them instead of talking from behind his desk and he focused on listening.  This created a very positive shift in his relationships and leadership of the team.

3 habits of influence to add to your toolkit

  1. Lower the tone of your voice at the end of each sentence (ie you know what you’re talking about, so aren’t asking an implied question by pitching the tone upwards)
  2. Reduce how quickly and often you nod your head (ie you are giving due consideration to what the other person is saying, instead of listening to your own internal dialogue about what they are saying)
  3. Pause for 2 full seconds before you speak (ie what you have to say is important and you have fully absorbed what the person you are talking to has said)

These tips are from Olivia Fox Cabane.  Her book, The Charisma Myth provides some practical tips on quickly building influence and charisma skills, based on what we’re learning from cognitive neuroscience.

And the most important tip of all

Recognise that the most powerful influence comes from building the capability of people to influence themselves. You do this as a leader by creating an environment and an invitation/choice for people to create change, and recognising the behaviour change and success when they do it.

For more on this see Michael V Pantalon’s book Instant Influence which again reflects what we’re learning about the brain and behaviour.

And for some context, check out anything by Karl E Weick on organisations and collective mindfulness.

Have a great week



How to build accountability…….

Soccer as a metaphor for life

Soccer as a metaphor for life

A reflection from soccer…………………

We had our first neighbourhood soccer game on Sunday at a local park.  The game went well, people had fun, and everyone agreed it would be great to do every Sunday morning.

The group discussed what time to start each week, what the competition was doing (under 10 years Australian Football League games and other neighbourhood soccer teams) and how to recruit more talent to the team.

Our brave organiser – the game was organised by one of our neighbours – was quite rightly concerned about whether people would continue to come.

And here’s where the accountability bit comes in….

Someone remembered a friendly soccer game they used to run in London.  They said that after some very poor attendances, the team set up a scoring system with one of the scores being for attendance. The scores were shared with everyone on the team after each week’s game.

That’s it!


Comments, thoughts, tweets welcome


Doing what you want

Was just watching KD Lang on the Adam Hills show In Gordon Street Tonight.

A lot of the conversation was about her time as an artist and how she’s now at the stage, after 27 years in the music industry, of being able to do what she wants.

One of the things KD Lang said was that now that she can do what she wants, she’s much more open to listening to others.

My reflection is that the confidence that comes from following our vision and direction as a leader also provides us with the opportunity to being open to change.



The fish rots from the head


5 signals for leaders that the fish is rotting from the head


Fresh fist - before the rot sets in

A couple of teams I’ve worked with in leadership development have been fond of quoting “the fish rots from the head” when they’ve been talking about why a team or organisation is going off.

The original book The fish rots from the head by Bob Garratt is about boards and boardrooms and for me is very applicable to company or organisational leadership below board level.

The hierarchical structure of our organisations means that the behaviours and strategies selected by senior managers are mirrored or replicated throughout their organisations. In fact, their behaviours and strategies are amplified as they ripple out through the organisation.  Marco Iacoboni’s research on mirror neurones indicates that imitation happens for both positive and negative behaviours (see Chapter 8 particularly in Mirroring People)

So what are 5 signals for leaders that the fish is starting to stink?

  1. Your people are looking for other jobs, spending more time with their networks or doing minimum hours – this one is obvious. And it isn’t only the good people it’s also the people who are good at sniffing out organisational politics.
  2. No-one’s giving you negative or constructive feedback – when the world is silent on things that aren’t working or you’re only receiving glowingly positive feedback it’s time to reflect on what might be happening. Yes, I know that positive feedback is lovely, but all positive? Time to check what’s going on.
  3. Your team isn’t delivering – there are delays, errors, poor execution, low sales, unhappy customers.
  4. Every action you implement to make improvements to delivery – including changes in people, structures, and/or roles doesn’t make a difference to performance, engagement or team delivery.
  5. Your boss changes their behaviour toward you – asking questions, testing reasons for poor delivery, or avoiding you.

If you, deep down, know that some of these relate to you what can you do?

  • Recognise that you’re likely to be feeling stressed, threatened and defensive and that if you’re not careful this will negatively affect your behaviour, so build relaxation into your working day
  • Each day book time in your diary to reflect and to target key business strategies (yes we know you’re incredibly busy)
  • And finally, seek feedback from a trusted, smart advisor and take their advice about next steps.



Your leadership brand

All you need is love

Graffiti: All you need is love

Your Leadership Branding

Leadership branding sounds like yet another fad.

But there are many leaders who have used their leadership voice or brand to promote the cause or objective that they are supporting.  Some great examples:  the Beatles (all you need is love), Al Gore, Ghandi, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Oprah, Olivia Newton-John, Bill Gates…

Who we are and what we stand for influences our success as leaders.

5 ways to build your leadership brand are:

1. Identify what your story is and find places to tell that story

Create your personal positioning statement and the story that goes with it.  You may feel uncomfortable about this initially but telling a credible story about you is particularly important in ensuring that a program of change is effective. The Center for Creative Leadership talks about the importance of you as a leader telling your story during change and building trust with the people you’re leading.  People need to know who you are to trust you.

2. Build your personal position statement

I’m____________________________________(always helps to tell people your name)

What’s important to me is__________________(reflects your values)

Where I’ve come from is___________________(tells people where you come from)

How I’d like to work with you is______________(creates certainty about how you’re going to work)

Ways you can connect with me are___________(call, email, visit etc)

Continue to tell your story often and in many forums – until you’re sick of hearing it.

3. Decide your goals for communicating

It’s important as a leader to identify your communication goals.  Successful leaders never go into meetings and situations without identifying what they want to achieve, who they will be communicating with and what communication style will be most effective.

Practical actions you can take are:

  • Before going into a meeting, spending 5 minutes reflecting on what you want to communicate and what goals you want to achieve
  • Take 5 minutes in each meeting to reinforce your vision for the area
  • Speak up! About your team’s or group’s achievements and goals in meetings, presentations and in discussions with peers.

4. Be yourself—and let your personality shine.

You are unique. In a branding sense you can’t be copied. So tell people about you, your values, your vision, your goals, your dreams.

5. Measure your impact

Find a mentor and trusted advisors who can give you honest feedback on your behaviour, effectiveness and leadership from different perspectives.