What we've been thinking about and working on lately...

what we've been talking about

We had the pleasure of working with leading sport psychologist Bill Beswick this week as he shared some of his stories and tips with a group of young leaders at a leadership development programme we are running. Bill is unique in having England/Great Britain international experience across three major team sports -basketball, football and rugby. He has also worked with the British Swimming team and with English Premier football clubs including Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Derby County FC.

Bill clearly derives a huge amount of satisfaction from helping people manage and change their mind set in order to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. Everything he talks about from his experience in elite sports is equally applicable to anyone seeking to be, and perform, at their best in any arena. Amongst other things Bill talked about the importance of...

  • Adopting a positive attitude - demonstrating a “fighter” rather than a “victim” mind set
  • Methodical preparation – exceptional performance rarely happens by accident and preparation is a key factor in building confidence
  • Never giving up – focusing on what you can control i.e. your own performance, because you don’t know (and can’t control) what will happen around you

He also talks about the importance of asking for help from people we trust. He refers to himself as a “thought partner” offering challenge and support to people who need him. Unfortunately only a few people are lucky enough to have Bill as their thought partner – but we all need them. Have you found yours?

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Perhaps, like me, you’re not the CEO of a multinational company, but you do have a lot of things to juggle and are constantly trying to improve the way you work to maximise your output. 

Whether you’re managing a small family or a large workforce, I think these tips (featured in the BBC's CEO Guru series) from some of the world's top business leaders can help us improve the way we work and juggle multiple demands.

1. Only hold yourself accountable for the things you can control

“If you bear every burden of the world, you're going to die a young death as a CEO… You just have to hold yourself accountable for those things you personally can have an impact on and leave the rest behind.” Jeff Immelt, chief executive, General Electric

2. Delegate

"I think you can either delegate or you can't, and my whole modus operandi is to get it off my desk as quickly as possible onto someone else's desk.  It's a really good policy. I recommend it to any chief executives. Just get rid of the email onto someone else if you can." Martin Gilbert, chief executive, Aberdeen Asset Management

3. Take care of yourself and pace yourself

"It's managing your time and making sure you have energy left over. It's very hard to travel halfway around the world and land and visit 10 hotels and sit across the table from owners and make sure that you're sharp the whole time. Taking care of yourself and pacing yourself is actually important.  I'm not terribly good at saying no. If someone feels like I can help them somewhere, my first bias is to try to get there to do that, and there are just points where you have to say if I try to do too much, I'm not going to be good at what I need to do." Frits van Paasschen, chief executive, Starwood Hotels

4. Work in short bursts then go renew yourself

"We can only can function at an optimum level for about 90 minutes. In other words we can do intense work for about 90 minutes and then we need to do something else.  And if you try to keep focusing you'll notice there's some long meetings, people begin to wander, their attention can't be focused and you get to this real point of diminishing returns.  You'll find you can do your best work in these sort of short bursts and you have creative 'oh my gosh' epiphanies and things are coming and you get it down. But then you've got to go renew yourself." John Mackey, co-chief executive Whole Foods

5. Keep a decent work-life balance

"The most important thing in life is to have a balance. Just being a CEO and just constantly being under pressure and working and driving yourself, at the end of the day you'll be no good to anyone. You'll burn out and you'll burn out quickly.  The Chinese have a saying. They say 'yin yang'. It's a balance. Everything in life is a balance. So you have to balance your life. It'll make you stronger in the things you do, it'll make you better at what you do.  I've always believed that exercise helps to clear your body, helps to clear your mind. The more you abuse your body, the more stress you put on your body, it will hinder you from doing good business or being a good person. So I try to balance the things I do." Allan Zeman, founder of the Lan Kwai Fong Group

6. Stay focussed and don’t get distracted

"Everybody wants to change your agenda. Everybody wants a piece of your time and to try to persuade you why what they're working on is more important than what you were working on.  And what I think you have to be is incredibly focused. You've got to stay very true to a few core points that you will pursue relentlessly. Now you can't be so strait-jacketed by that to ignore issues that warrant your attention, but nor can you afford to be blown about by trivial items." Paul Walsh, chair of Compass and former chief executive of Diageo

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I’m not a fan of starting to change things or add new things without really making the most of what you already have. Many of the Personal or Leadership interventions call for people to change into a certain type of leader, or change their natural style. However often this is done without really exploring who people are and what they already have that could be harnessed to help them be an authentic and natural leader.  People are surrounded by others who think they are brilliant, creative, kind, respected, genuine and they love them for it. So the job is just to allow those qualities to shine though and to have the confidence to be the best version of yourself you can possible be.    

So the call this year is a simple one: focus not on trying to be something / someone else, but on being the best of you. Remove anything that gets in the way of this being possible, and if in doubt then here’s a few starter questions to help.

  • What values do I have that I care deeply and passionately about? How can I use these to guide my decisions and actions and make sure people know that these matter to me?
  • What qualities do my friends, family and colleagues see in me that causes them to like / respect / admire / love me? How can I make sure that I allow those qualities to be present in all interactions this year?
  • When I have successfully overcome some difficulties in the past, what strengths did I rely on? How can I continue to make sure I don’t neglect these strengths day-to-day?

So I’ll try this on myself and report back later in the year...

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This week I happened upon an old programme about the sinking of the Costa Concordia, an Italian Cruise Ship.  This minute-by-minute anatomy of the disaster where Thirty-two people died, made almost entirely from passengers' mobile phone and video camera footage provided great insight into the captains leadership mentality. 

The thing that has stayed with me all week is that the captain left the ship before ensuring the safety of his team and passengers who were in his care (earning him the title "Captain Coward" in the Italian media).  As the boat slowly turned on it’s side, leaving 100’s of passengers stranded and terrified on its hull, the Coastguard Captain flew over to assess the situation and was in disbelief that the captain was not with them.  In the recordings we hear him repeatedly ordering him to get back on board the ship. 

This got me thinking about the link between Leadership and Selflessness and just how crucial it is.

I found these two related articles that are worth a read:

The Four Keys to Being a Trusted Leader (Harvard Business Review)

“Real leadership – the kind that inspires people to pull together and collectively achieve something great – can only be exercised when an executive is trusted. And trust arises when someone is seen acting selflessly.” 

“People in an organization perceive selflessness when a leader concerns him or herself with their safety; performs valuable service for them; and makes personal sacrifice for their benefit.”

9 Differences Between Selfish and Selfless Leaders (Huffington Post)


  1. We love selfless leaders
  2. We are dependent on them to start, however become independent over time
  3. Constant improvement of IP
  4. Abundance mentality
  5. Helping others
  6. Selfless leader is trusted, we know they have our best interests in mind
  7. Resilient relationships: they are helping others achieve confidence and independence
  8. Positive fear, we are scared of disappointing them, afraid of hurting them
  9. Huge ROI long-term

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Most leaders are familiar with and understand the concept of change management and the stages people go through when adapting to change, but find it difficult to manage their teams when faced with the realities of incomplete information and prolonged uncertainty. These are a few of the tips that have helped us survive along the way:  


  • Cascaded formal communications early and consistently.
  • Repeat the same messages, using as many different media as possible, far more often and for much longer than will seem necessary.
  • Assume that the audience will all interpret the message differently. Ask them to tell you what they heard and what they think it means.       
  • Don’t wait until you have new information to communicate. Schedule regular updates and if there is no new information, repeat what you know, clarify what is still unclear and give milestones by when information will be available.


  • Use team meetings to discuss the changes and implications – this gives you a chance to hear and act on what is being discussed informally around the office. 
  • Discuss what is changing for the team and their hopes and concerns.
  • Ask questions to encourage people to express opinions and emotions.  
  • Help the team identify what they can influence and where they can take back some control. 

Individual Attention

  • Schedule regular short meetings with each team member to discuss the changes (10 minutes of individual attention is better than none). 
  • Do not reassure anyone that things will be OK. Focus on listening to what the person has to say and helping them articulate any concerns.
  • Notice how each individual reacts (language, body language etc) and recognise that it might not be the most “obvious” person who is most affected by the change.
  • If you are concerned about any individual in your team, follow up with HR to get additional support sooner rather than later.

Put your own oxygen mask on first

  • While it is tempting to focus on managing and supporting the team, remember that teams take a lead from their manager’s action, behaviour and even body language, so leaders need to secure the information and support they need in order to support their teams. So, as the airlines will tell you, this is a time to be little bit selfish and look after yourself first.


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I’ve recently been tempted to make a leadership intervention at home to help decision making as we progress through a rather painful and prolonged home renovation. The current sticking point is paint colour. My husband has a relatively short attention span for what he considers to be a “detail” - so unless he has a very strong view for or against a particular colour it can be very difficult to judge whether a decision I make could come back to bite me.

I’ve seen the following “7 levels of agreement” (sometimes reduced to 5 or 3 levels) framework used very successfully with different teams. The facilitator or proposer asks each individual with a stake in the decision the questions explicitly, even when everyone appears to be aligned, in order to flush out any differences of opinion during the discussion rather than afterwards. When used on a regular basis team members start to use the levels fluently in discussions to assess alignment and to explore different perspectives as part of the decision making process.

Of course, whoever is facilitating the discussion needs to be clear which level of agreement constitutes a “go”. With regard to my current challenge, I know I’m unlikely to get a 1 and will go ahead at level 4 in the interests time and with the knowledge that the a couple of hours with a paintbrush can put things right if necessary. Although I might need to use the same process to agree who wields the paintbrush!  

  1. I totally agree - best idea since sliced bread
  2. Good idea/decision - I can see how this can work
  3. Not the idea/decision I would've made - but OK
  4. I don't really agree, but I can and will support it
  5. I don't think this will work and can't agree to go forward without modification
  6. This idea/decision will be detrimental; I can't agree at all
  7. No way. You'll have to kill me first.

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Would you be more inclined to go for a traditional Bloody Mary, a recently fashionable Mohito, or the rather more challenging sounding Squid Ink Sour?  How often do you step out of your comfort zone and mix things up? Which is something we asked a group of (apprehensive!) participants on the leadership development programme we are running for Penguin Random House to do last week.      

For the final module of the programme, two groups were set the challenge of working with either a Community Interest Company (Ladder to the Moon, whose ambition is to transform care services into happy, vibrant and flourishing communities) or charity (Magic Bus who enable some of the world's poorest families to move out of poverty) to help them address specific business challenges. In just under two days the groups had to understand their chosen organisation and provide recommendations and support to implement sustainable processes and activities to address their challenges.

The stakes were high for everyone involved. The organizations who were trusting enough to lay bare their operations (thank you!). The participants who wanted to deliver something of real value - while putting into practice the skills and approaches they had learnt over the last 6 months at the same time as working under strict time pressure with a group of people they don’t normally work with.

One person commented that it was a lot like learning to drive – trying to do lots of different things at once in the car, without taking your eyes off the road! And if the journey was a little bumpy at times, it was also exciting and both groups stayed on the road without any casualties. The benefits for the participants for putting themselves outside their comfort zones was a tremendous sense of achievement, a huge amount of personal learning and the cementing of a new and trusted network across the organisation. Not bad for a couple of days of mixing things up.  

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This was a Momentous Monday. Following the arrival of Prince X, third in line to the throne just after 4pm in the afternoon, Kate and William honoured the tradition of posting the birth announcement outside Buckingham Palace. However, they also brought a flavor of their own generation by allowing themselves a few hours of privacy with the baby before making the announcement – initially by email and twitter.    

This is a reminder of how things change from generation to generation. We now have four monarchs/future monarchs living alongside each other. They and the royal institution will need to compromise, adapt and learn from each other in the same way that organisations are having to rethink their recruitment and retention policies to appeal across the generations from Baby Boomers to Millennials.

Relating to and motivating individuals and teams is a regular topic in our coaching and leadership programmes and an understanding of what motivates different generations can be as useful and insightful as understanding personality based working preferences. There has been a lot of interesting research on the topic and you can read some of our thoughts in this article on How to Manage Different Generations in the July edition of the Edge magazine.    

Back to the new parents. We know they are keen to bring a modern twist to tradition, but I think the bookies will be the winners on any bets placed on “Prince Rylan” at 500 to 1! 

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This weekend, in their 50th Anniversary year, the Rolling Stones triumphantly headlined Glastonbury for the first time since the event started 43 years ago. The Stones are not short of greatest hits and chose to open a 2 hour long set with Jumping Jack Flash. The band wore suitably flamboyant outfits, easily matched by their energy and obvious enjoyment in the occasion. When asked what had made the performance so enjoyable, one member of the audience replied that it was Mick Jagger’s swagger!

We all perform to a greater or lesser extent at work or in other roles, from chairing meetings to leading teams, but don’t always think of ourselves as the headline act. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and to take our experience, expertise and talent for granted – or even to take our audience/customers for granted. No one can maintain the energy and focus needed to be in the spotlight on a permanent basis, but if we want to make a difference and perform to the best of our ability, it can be useful to take stock, imagine you are the star of the show and answer a few simple questions:

  • Who are your audience and what do they expect / need from you?
  • What are your greatest hits and have you practised them recently?
  • What  do you want people to remember about your performance?
  • What do you need to do to maintain an appropriate level of energy over repeat performances?

And if you’re Mick Jagger you might have one final question. Does this occasion call for my green spangled jacket?

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If you are considering setting up an internal coaching pool, you need to give serious consideration to three specific challenges.

  • Firstly, how do you maintain quality and continually upskill your coaches?
  • Secondly, how do you use your internal coaching pool more strategically to deliver more ambitious and effective programmes?
  • Finally, how do you make sure that your coaches remain motivated, active and engaged in the coaching?

We have just embarked on a leadership development programme involving one of our client’s internal coaching pool that we believe delivers on all three of these challenges.

The Random House Group is one of the largest general book publishing companies in the UK. Comprising five publishing companies - Cornerstone Publishing, Vintage Publishing, Ebury Publishing, Random House Children's Publishers UK and Transworld Publishers, the Group boasts more than 40 diverse and highly respected imprints. At the moment, the publishing environment is changing at a rapid rate of knots, transformed by the advent of online and digital.

As a major player in the publishing world, The Random House Group is at the forefront of this huge change in its marketplace. A burning question for them is how to continue to innovate and drive efficiency against a backdrop of what is, at heart, a very traditional business, undergoing momentous change?

Doing things differently

Random House wants to empower its leaders to take them through this transformational period and seize this opportunity, rather than be sidelined by the change. Two years ago, as a key step in offering more strategic support to senior managers, the company established a pool of internal coaches. The 25 people who were selected all had the desire and aptitude to take on this coaching role, well aware that it would require time, commitment and motivation.

At the end of last year, Tinder-Box was invited to tender for a leadership programme of Random House’s top 150 senior managers. Having won the pitch, we have devised a leadership programme designed to develop the confidence and skill of these leaders, focusing especially on leading teams through change and driving innovation.

The programme consists of four modules:

  1. Self-leadership
  2. Leading Teams
  3. Leading Change/ Driving Innovation
  4. A pioneering Enterprise module (which will bring the previous three modules together by working with the leaders from a social enterprise to make real and sustainable changes).

The plan is that coaching will be a key support mechanism for people on the programme to create real change back in the business after each module and the coaching will be carried out by the internal coaching pool.

How it works

The group of 150 programme attendees has been divided into cadres of 20-25 and each cadre will undertake all four modules over a six to eight month period, with a break between each one where they will be able to apply what they have learned to their work – which is where the coaching support comes in.

Each internal coach will be assigned one or two programme members to coach and will spend in the region of ten hours with each person across the programme. The programme has been devised in this very structured way to ensure that the coaches have the capacity to carry out their coaching role effectively alongside their regular day job and also to allow for ongoing quality control.

Why in-house?

Normally Tinder-Box would undertake all the coaching on a programme such as this and Random House is being ambitious to take on so much of it ‘in-house’ on such a grand scale. There are many benefits to this approach; the programme will provide the opportunity to deepen the impact and enhance the experience of the coaches, as well as clearly making economic sense for Random House as they are using all the resources available to them.

Taking it forward

Part of the challenge is how to ensure the coaches are ready to meet this ambition i.e. that the internal coaches have the confidence, skills and experience to support the leaders on this strategic programme.

The role of the Tinder-Box team (who are all Professional Certified Coaches (PCC) level credentialed with the International Coach Federation (ICF)), therefore also becomes one of support of the development and execution of the coaching by the internal coaching on the programme.

In terms of the first step, Tinder-Box will hold a short refresher course and explain the rules of engagement for the programme, as well as some of the key tools that will be used throughout, such as EQi psychometric reports and 360 feedback reports.

Each module will also be followed by a debrief for the internal coaches to review their experience, share lessons, learn new skills and go forward knowing what they need to do.

Finally, some of the internal coaches may also wish to pursue some sort of externally recognised coaching credentials – and this opportunity to gain professional recognition can be a powerful motivator for internal coaches. For those who are keen to progress via this route, we will be supervising these coaches as part of the formal accreditation process.

It’s live. Now what?

The programme went ‘live’ at the end of March and there is a real buzz of excitement, not only amongst the programme participants but also with the internal coaches. It is already becoming apparent that some people taking part in the leadership programme are also going to want to become internal coaches themselves – so this again is a fabulous way of developing the internal coaching pool further.

Tinder-Box will be tracking the success of the programme via a range of metrics around the impact of the programme and also the coaches, so we look forward to the opportunity to share these results at the right time.

In their own words...

Transworld’s Marketing Director, Janine Giovanni, explains why she was keen to become an internal coach:

“I had personally experienced the benefits of coaching and wanted to help others have the same positive experience. It‘s hard to learn new skills, such as coaching ‘on the job’ alongside a demanding full time role, so to have the opportunity to do that and add real value to the business is REALLY SMART!”

The Marketing Director for Ebury, Diana Riley:

“This is a terrific opportunity to embed a coaching culture in the business. We also find it incredibly motivating that the organisation has the confidence in us - and is willing to invest in our continued development as coaches - as part of this programme.”


Article reproduced with kind permission from ‘Coaching at Work

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I love watching business makeover programmes and there’s certainly been no shortage of them in recent years! From Ruth Watson’s ‘Country House Rescue’ to Alex Polizzi’s ‘Hotel Inspector’, or her latest BBC offering ‘The Fixer’ where she helps family run businesses get back on track… 

One of my favourite people in this arena has returned this month with a new programme, ‘Mary Queen of the High Street’ on Channel 4 has arrived to revive Britain's failing high streets.  

The first episode introduced us to some wonderful characters at Roman Road in London's East End.  Mary described how the area used to be a thriving commercial hub in the 60’s and how currently it was struggling to survive.  We saw how it was stuck in the past, neglected and hadn’t adapted to the changing times…Mary wanted to inject some new life into the area and as usual, her energy and positive attitude prevailed! She saw how the area had recently changed, with an influx of new money moving in and the Olympic park close by, so she set about to take advantage of this, working with locals to adapt the offerings to suit a new audience… 

In the most recent episode, Mary said “If I haven’t got the team wanting to really make change, then this will be an uphill struggle”. Something I’ve observed in all of these programmes is that the biggest barrier to change is often a person/teams attitude and willingness to adapt.  The experts are often met with resistance at every corner because naturally people want to stay in their comfort zone and big change can be uncomfortable, unknown and scary.  

Another thing that these programmes had in common was a strong leader (Alex, Ruth, Mary), experts in their field, confident, unafraid of change or risk, ready to lead their team into the unknown and fight hard for what they believe. Although sometimes it took more than a little gentle persuasion….Once they got the team onside, fired up and understanding the mission it’s all systems go and that’s when you see the big change, when everyone is working together with the same goal. 

If your business is going through change we can help you on this journey. Give us a call to chat about how we can help.

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