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    Entries in collaboration (40)

    Wednesday
    Feb082017

    A story will help you make sense

    When the world feels all upside down and its challenging to understand what's happening or why, it's often in hindsight that we're able to see what went on.

    This is sense making at work. It's how we connect the dots and draw some conclusions from what was uncertain or complex.

    With Sensemaking rated as a vital capability for the future of work as work keeps getting re-worked, we've got to look at human, helpful and effective ways to make sense - that don't involve drowning in fathoms of data.

    In making sense, stories are critically important. Not so much the telling of stories, rather the hearing, the distilling and the getting to the essence. That's the sense part.

    Even micro narratives, tiny little slivers of a story are worth grabbing and capturing. It could be a phrase, a statement, a couple of words, a slang term or a quote.

    When people drop these little micro-gems into the conversation, look out, grab them and capture them. Reflect them. These will help you make sense.

    It’s a little like how panning for gold might give you hundreds or thousands of little pieces of golden glitter, but no big nuggets. Yet it’s the mounting up of those little shimmers that can give you the right to say you’ve ‘struck gold’.

    So don’t discount the little pieces of glitter, the little slivers of a story, the tiny segments or phrases or grabs. Together they can make some wonderful sense.

    In sensemaking and making sense, you’ve got to tune in those listening skills to hear the slivers of stories; to listen to what people are saying and sharing with you… to capture those.

    Don’t just wait for facts and data. Engage in the anecdotes, the stories, the tales and the telling.

    In my earlier career, my first career, I worked in public relations. Oooh, don't throw tomatoes or boo and hiss. It was good PR. It was community relations. I worked in public health, education, government, training, media, sport. It was about helping people understand what was going on and how they could either get involved … or run the other way!

    Whatever the topic, project, program of work or PR piece I was working on, we always had to craft key messages. When you watch someone present to the media, and if they've been media trained, they'll be delivering their content in sound bites and key chunks - those repeatable, printable, quotable quotes that the media like to broadcast. It's a short chunk of sweet loveliness on the topic. (Oh and at the bad end of the scale are those nothingness quotes that politicians like to sprout. Not those.)

    The same can apply in communication, leadership and workplaces the world over. You need some sound bites and digestible chunks for your listeners and viewers to take in and understand - for your employees, teams and tribes to grab hold of.

    Gather together the little slices, pieces, chunks and cues. Together they can give you incredible sense and help show what people are thinking, wondering, learning, sensing and making.

    Collect the stories you hear - even the tiny little ones - capture them, visualize them, share them and reflect on them… put them together, for they will help you – and the people you’re working with - make sense.

    Tuesday
    Jan312017

    A clever tool to help you problem solve

    While plenty of tasks, projects and initiatives are about minimising problems, fixing things and reducing issues, there's a time when it helps to make a problem bigger.

    A favourite 'think outside the box' book I enjoy flinging open at random places is John Kuprenas' (with Matthew Frederick) book 101 things I learned in Engineering School.

    It's a chunky hardcover edition and you really know you're holding it despite its A5-ish size.

    Inside are pages and pages of intriguing explanations of concepts applicable to life ... beyond engineering.

    I'm no engineer, yet I have a curiosity for how things work, why things are the way they are and what we can do about that.

    There's something about how engineers, designers and architects think -- and problem solve -- that can be helpful to us, no matter the setting, situation or challenge we face. 

    One of John's 101 things is to 'enlarge the problem space'. He says

    "Almost every problem is larger than it initially appears. 
    Explore and enlarge it at the outset - not to make more work, but because the scope of the problem almost certainly will creep - it will grow larger - on its own. 
    It's easier to reduce the problem space later in the process than to enlarge it after starting down a path toward an inadequate solution".

    It's one of the reasons I give groups and teams this creative and innovation thinking tool to make problems bigger.

    I slot this activity into workshops when teams are working on strategy, design thinking, customer journeys and other tricky problems.

    I called it: 'It's Bigger'.

    It's some cloud shapes or circles up on a whiteboard or I'll get them (yes, executives and senior leaders too) to sketch in a notebook, blank page or in an app on their tablet. Then let them talk.

    Here's how it works:

    1. First, write the Issue
    2. Then add in some points, thoughts, hunches about what the bigger problem is,
    3. ... then the b-i-g-g-e-r problem 
    4. .. and then the BIGGER problem.

    From there you can come up with some totally new solutions.

    You could apply this type of thinking to problems you see around you at work, in your community, in your life ... even complex and wicked problems that are seriously tough to solve like social issues and global challenges can be discussed and strategised using the 'It's Bigger' approach.

    John Kuprenas says:

    there is the problem, then the cause of the problem, then the cause of the cause of the problem and the cause of the cause of the cause... 

    ...you get it! 

    It's a process that let's you look at creativity, innovation and problem solving by making it bigger before you get your hands dirty by doing something about it. 

    I'll use this thinking and creativity tool with a large retailer this week as we workshop some of their new ideas and initiatives to challenging problems. Then it will get a run in a not-for-profit workshop as a team looks at how to fund their social enterprise ideas.

    See, you don't need to build bridges or roads or machines to be an engineer!

    Saturday
    Jan212017

    The 12 Sins of Strategy

    If you read any of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books when you were growing up (or they're in the family library) you might have read of the adventures of five young people who faced challenges, learned lessons and built strong friendships.

    The recent release of a series of spoof books on the Famous Five sees some new titles tailored just for grown-ups. The books might well be poking fun at some of the realities of life with titles like:

    ·     5 Go Parenting

    ·     5 Give up the Booze

    ·     5 Go Gluten Free

    ·     5 on Brexit Island…

    but it’s the one titled ‘5 go on a strategy away day’ that’s calling out many of the clichés and sins of bad strategic planning.

    After all, it’s the offsite and team session that is aimed at creating a refreshed organisational strategy: and it’s often the place where a new direction is set or the team presses ‘reset’ to chart a course for a new world.

    As the Harvard Business Review Blog Network presented recently:

    "Strategy formulation.. is an ongoing requirement of good management… This is a process you must permanently embed in your organization."

    When it comes time to bring the team together to revisit the positioning, profitability and progress of the business, what will you do?

    If you look at rebooking the same venue, using the same agenda as last year and find that the most challenging part of the strategic process is finding a common date when all the players can get in a room at once, your approach to strategy may be ticking off some of The 12 Sins of Strategy.

    Beware these sins and take steps pronto to move away from the sins and move towards the good and better of strategy.

     

     

    Before the session

    1. Same Same

    Here’s the sin: It’s all the same as last year – same dates, people, venue, agenda, menu and program. This isn’t to mention what gets discussed and decided -- if that’s the same, that’s a sure sin.

    If your ‘save as’ button is getting a workout, you’re a sinner! The world is VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. And our approach to strategy will need to change to adapt and respond to this environment.

     “Longevity is decreasing .. corporate mortality rates are rising .. the good news is the newer firms are more nimble. The bad news for (older firms) is that their days are numbered, unless they continually innovate.”

    From ‘Strategy: The scary truth about corporate survival’ -- Harvard Business Review, December 2016

     

    2. Too Safe

    This second sin could possibly read ‘dangerously safe’. The cousin to doing the same as last time – or the last decade – is playing too small or too safe.

    We are in an ongoing era of disruption and if we’re too safe (or too same) we’ll be trampled on by those who are more adequately responding to change.

    Every business is impacted by the effects of market shifts and changes. And if you haven’t ‘felt’ any of them yet, perhaps this will be the year. That maxim of ‘change or die’ is never truer.

    Have you gathered insights, information, background and the data needed to inform your strategic discussions and decisions? If you don’t know what’s going on, you may respond in a way that doesn’t set you up for the industry changes and shifts underway.

    Working with a pharmaceutical-style business recently, they discussed at their strategy day their need to adapt and change and to do so in ways they haven’t previously. The way customers were buying products and services had changed, and the type of products and services had changed too. Plus there were some new players in the market. Their long-lived era of being ‘the only’ or ‘the best’ was under threat. So their strategy session and strategic response was not just about taking out more advertising or to better train the staff who are customer facing.

    Both of these responses – training and advertising - are small tweaks and are more operational than strategic. It’s too small and too safe of a change.

     

    3. Vague Process

    If you can tick off that ‘yes’ you’re willing to look at things differently and be prepared to take some bigger steps, it’s now about HOW are you going to create that strategic response.

    This sin is what I’d call ‘vaguing the process’. That is, the process you’re planning to use on the day to create and craft your strategic response is vague. It’s ambiguous and not yet defined. You might know what you want to get at the end of the session, but you’re not crystal clear on HOW you’ll get that work done.

    By the way, the process isn’t the agenda.

    The process is the way you’re going to go about doing the strategic work, the strategic thinking in the lead up to, during and after your strategy session.

    If you were heading off on the holiday of a lifetime you wouldn’t just show up at the airport with your passport and credit card -- as fun as that may be. For the big projects and strategy work, you need some type of itinerary and how you’re going to move from one place or space… to another.

    Don't wing it or make it up as you go along.

     

    4. D.I.Y Facilitation 

    A flow on from #3 Vaguing the Process is if you are trying to facilitate the strategy session yourself: doing it yourself or D.I.Y.

    Thinking you can plan, observe, facilitate and participate all at once -- or even with a team of colleagues, trying to share the load -- is a hefty responsibility. How can you do it all?

    Save your facilitation skills for the day-to-day implementation and leadership work with your team - not the big ticket item of the strategy day.

    There can be a desire to ‘involve the team’ or ‘share the load’ or even ‘give people greater responsibility’ by having them lead sessions or facilitate at strategy days, but I believe there are other more cohesive ways to do this during the session, rather than them facilitating.

    The DIY approach reminds me of an eccentric friend who decided he’d represent himself in court over a family legal matter. He didn’t want to pay the legal fees. He thought there wasn’t much to it and he could do it himself. 

    The end result saw him dabbling in an area of deep expertise that was beyond his scope of understanding – and appreciation – and the cost in the long run was way beyond financial.

    Some DIY projects end up as a dangerous mess.

     

    During the session

     

    5. All talk

    This sin already occurs daily in many workplace meetings and workshops where teams of people sit around a table and … talk.

    It’s somewhat of a workplace default: people sitting there talking. And talking. And talking some more.

    Bringing a team or group together is an invitation of diversity. Sitting around talking for two days doesn’t serve this opportunity for diversity. We have differing preferences for how we take in information, process that information, make decisions, communicate, engage and think.

    Howard Gardiner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences documents how we have a number of different ‘modalities’ rather than a single general ability. He suggests that we have multiple ways of learning. So even if your preference is to sit and talk… it’s not diverse enough, nor is it identifying and responding to what else might work for others across the business.

     

    6. PowerPoint Snooze

    For many leaders, the days before a strategic session see them spending countless hours preparing a PowerPoint pack or presentation of information.

    Rather than the big investment of tweaking and tinkering with the layout on a document, have a conversation. Have dialogue with the team.

    We are losing our social intelligence and reinforcing that at a strategy or team day by delivering more one-way presentations is a drag and a sin.

    Attention spans are already short; no wonder some sessions feel like they are dragging on when people stand up to present dense packs of 132 slides (Yes, this happened at a team session).

     

    7. Little Input

    It’s a sin indeed to keep things narrow or involving the ‘usual suspects’ at a strategy session. It might feel more comfortable but you won’t get the best out of the event, the team or get the best possible strategic response.

    The field of Design and User Experience is focused on creating and launching things that meet users needs. Customer and user insights, feedback and suggestions are pivotal, vital, in creating a successful product.

    It’s also why focus groups and testing sessions, prototyping and scenarios are used -- to get a range of people to comment on and experience things connected to your company and brand.

     

    The other half of inputs … is outputs.

    Also, beware the ‘tapper’. The tapper is the designated person sitting in the corner of the room at a strategy session, tapping on a laptop and documenting the outcomes or key points of the session.

    Err, it’s a little dated and ineffective, your honour. It looks more like a crime scene or the trial with a court reporter capturing testimony! There are more collaborative and transparent ways to represent the progress being made.

    Big sin. Guilty!

     

    8. Idea Slumps

    A low point in a workshop is often feared, or expected perhaps – think of the after lunch or afternoon energy slump when we’re all a bit drowsy from eating too many sandwiches at lunch!

    This is a period of quiet, lower energy and sometimes we can fear that it’s not a good thing. But throughout the program of crafting a strategy there can be other slumps, speed humps or slow points.

    A slump or silence can sometimes occur just when we want to start brainstorming or ideating or coming up with brilliant innovative ideas.

    We need to avoid the, ‘Yay, come on team, let’s come up with new ideas for products!’ or ‘Hey there everyone, who’s got a brilliant idea?’

    We can’t expect genius to automatically flow just because we bring a group of people together in a room and tell them to be innovative. I believe you need to set up the environment for ideas to be born -- throughout the session.

     

    After the session

     

    9. Hangover

    This sin is less about an alcohol hangover and more about a mood hangover! Once the energy of the offsite or strategy session is over, what happens next?

    Yes, there can be a real coming-down or a flat spell after a significant strategic and transformative event. You’d have felt it after a holiday on your return to work – some of us feel it after the weekend!

    While it’s great to get the team together, to get away from the office and clear the path of the usual workplace interruptions, there needs to be some time and space allocated to help you with ‘re-entry’ back into the workplace.

    How are you going to land this thing?

    And a word on real hangovers: decide if it’s a party event or a strategy event and if it’s a bit of both, make it clear what the organisation’s policies are regarding hitting the booze and showing up the next day hammered. Not a good look.

     

    10. Cascade Down

    By ‘cascading’ information, the idea is that you take what was discussed or decided at the strategy day and then package it up to send over the cliff, down down down to the murky depths below to the minions who will put the strategy into action.

    The fact there is a word for this – to cascade – to deliver information down to your team says structure, hierarchy and downward flowing things. Often it’s about telling your next level, then they tell the next and they tell the next and before long, you have the whispers game you played as a child except now it’s being played out by grown-ups. Information is misinterpreted, not delivered at all or edited to take out the difficult-to-explain bits.

    People what to know what happened at the strategy session. Make that communication swift, clear, authentic and in more directions than just down.

     

    11. Few Actions

    Too many events, conferences, workshops and talk, none or few actions are agreed on ...and so nothing much changes. are focused on the event itself, and not the outcomes and strategic implementation that will follow. As a result of lots of offsites

    An organisation’s leaders who go on a strategy day and then don’t do anything with what they worked on is simply poor form.

    “If they can’t follow through on this, what else won’t they follow through on?”

    These were the words from a senior team member after a strategy day’s actions hit a roadblock and … just stopped.

    The excuse and blame game is just a step away as people shirk responsibility and dodge accountability.

    Most meetings, discussions, workshops are judged on what their outcomes are, on what they achieve and on what they produce. So too with the strategy day.

     

    12. Too Vanilla

    At some point you’ll want to, and need to share the strategy across the wider organisation.

    Further to the sin on ‘cascade down’, now it’s about the actual communication. Whether it’s a ‘strategy on a page’ distillation, a typical PowerPoint deck or something more creative, make sure it looks like it belongs to your organisation.

    Too many comms efforts are bland, lacking life and icon-ed to death. It’s as if the creativity has been stripped out and the end result could apply to any company at all - or any pre-school at all. There’s nothing that differentiates the company or shows its human side or brings the strategy to life.

    Where’s the story, the visual, the creative elements that will cut through and connect with people emotionally?

     

    So there you go, 12 sins of strategy. Get the full ebook on these 12 sins, by completing your details here and let’s stop the strategy sinning!

    Tuesday
    Jan172017

    The single reason for 'bad'​ meetings

    Bad meetings* get a bad rap - not to mention the rolling of eyes, the sighs and exclamations about the time that has been lost and will never be regained.

    *Bad meetings meaning: none or few outcomes, dull, too much blah blah, off on tangents that aren’t about relevant, brainstorm sessions that fizzle, dead time and space where nothing is happening, going around in circles, only a few loud mouth contributors … you know the stuff... 

    There will always be articles and listicles on what to do to make a meeting better. Like how to have an agenda and set a time frame and warn people in advance ... and on it goes, a list of advice or actions that seem like they could have been unearthed from meetings in the 1960s!

    But I wonder whether a few ‘do this’ points will fundamentally change the way meetings run at our place of work? Underpinning it all is the meeting culture. And that culture is quite deeply ingrained.

    Michael Henderson in his work on Cultures at Work says: 

    Culture creates the environments, daily rituals and beliefs that connect your people, with your company.

    Our culture has been created over time. We follow these rituals, behaviours and patterns often unknowingly and they may not have a documented history that we can pull the threads from. 

    We learn bad meeting behaviours by being in bad meetings. 

    Rituals, routines and ruts get followed because that's what we've seen and experienced. Making and suggesting changes from the seat of the attendee or participant can be tricky. 

    It probably won't all change on Monday morning with a tick box list or a tip of advice from how Steve Jobs ran his meetings (although some of his practices sound super clever or super scary - depending on how you like your meetings to go!) 

    With everything all agile and scrum and collaborative and co-design-y these days, there are newer and more effective (and creative) approaches to ensure you have as productive and successful a meeting as possible. After all, you spend a lot of time in them - both face to face or remotely online. 

    It’s in our interests to lead better meetings - for productivity, for engagement, for decision making, for inspiration, for collaboration.

    Plus if you run a bad meeting, it could be a career limiter. Who wants to go to dull meetings that don’t achieve or decide anything? We don’t want to but every week there is likely to be some meeting or gathering that you sit (or stand through) that doesn't ring your bell, light your fire or flick your switch. Don’t get known as the dude or dudette or dudeley who runs a dud meeting that no one comes to.

     

    So what makes meetings 'bad?

    During a meeting, there is one thing alone that determines the success of that meeting. One thing.

    It's the leader or facilitator of that meeting.

    Yep. It’s them. Or if you're running the meeting…. errr, it's you. (This is said with love, not shame or guilt or criticism. It’s said with love and care.) 

    When a meeting is about to start and then when it gets underway, it's the leader of that meeting - the facilitator of that meeting - who is helping make that meeting good or not so good. Either the meeting will suck or it won’t. And I reckon it is on the facilitator of the meeting, the leader.

    The #1 reason why bad meetings are bad? It’s because of bad meeting leadership. Let me be polite then: "poor meeting leadership". A meeting leader who could enhance their capability.

    It’s about what the person - who is designated or appointed or volunteered as the facilitator of that meeting - does or doesn’t do that makes that meeting rock… or not.

    Yes yes yes, it’s also about the people around the table who are contributing and it’s about the agenda and the location and the sandwiches and the Post-it notes... but it comes back to whether that leader has created the environment for a good meeting to take place. 

    Bad meetings are bad because the leader of the meeting didn’t use effective meeting facilitation skills. They did not use facilitation or ‘ease of progress’ skills … well enough. 

    Three bears

    From the meetings I’ve been in, attended, spied on, coached leaders through and attended incognito doing research, the cause of the majority of problems that create bad meetings is because the leader: 

    • didn’t do something that was needed 
    • did too little or …
    • did too much.

    Did nothing when it was needed. Didn’t do quite enough, or did too much.

     

    Oh wow, can you see how delicate this balance can be?

    Don't do enough and it can go haywire. Yet do too much and it can feel like an interrogation or detention.

    Too hands off or too hands on. Care less or control freak.

    There’s somewhere in the middle where the leader is continually helping to create a brilliant environment for good work to be done.

    Watch closely

    • What happened in a good meeting?
    • Why was it good? 
    • What didn’t happen that you think might have made it a little 'bad'? 

    The good stuff is the stuff to aspire to when it’s your turn to step into the role of facilitating and leading a meeting. Keep building your capability as a Leader as Facilitator. 

    Thursday
    Jan122017

    The #1 capability that will make you a better leader

    If you were asked to rank the #1 thing you could do as a leader that would make a difference to your team, your customers, your organisation, yourself, the products or services you provide or the stakeholders you work with, what capability would you say?

    Listening?

    Being present?

    Mindfulness?

    Being more influential or persuasive?

    Managing your time better?

    Being able to make quicker decisions?

    Whatever your thoughts right now, I reckon it’s about being able to create an environment. Creating an environment where you are a context setter. I think it’s making your workplace a place where:

    • people feel safe to contribute, speak up and participate
    • you have you own sh*t together so you can be a great leader
    • you are able to handle meetings, conversations and situations when you are interacting with others of all cultures, experiences and roles; and 
    • where you are able to help people get things done.

    While I think some of these are demonstrated by the physical and practical behaviours of facilitation, I think there is a distinct ‘social intelligence’ that is required of leaders today -- more than ever.

    This is a social intelligence of being able to connect with others, and in turn, help others connect. 

    Think about it as how you help people connect with other members on your team, how you connect with customers, how you facilitate the interactions between the members of your team and other parts of the organisation and how you create a great space and environment for that to happen - that’s the best leadership capacity and capability I think there is.

     

    Work keeps changing; leadership keeps changing

    Leadership styles continue to shift from a leader as a director, beyond the leader as coach mode to more of a leader as a facilitator. 

    From control, to consult and beyond... through to co-creator. From commander and parent to a partner. And from directing and evolving to being a curator of the team’s work and thinking. 

    In engagement approach, leaders need to shift from tell, to beyond asking, to elicit -- to be able to draw out information. From telling instructions or asking questions to being able to set a bigger picture or context. From their one voice, to on-on-one conversations that are inefficient and low in leverage, to a one-to-many where the whole group (or smaller sub-groups) are led and inspired. Engagement shifts from lone workers, through simply being together to the cohesion that is about helping people get more done than they would alone. Engagement shifts from threats and compliance, beyond the will to be engaged to them truly buying into the work and the why of the work. 

    As a result, team performance lifts. Rather than the team being pushed, or even pulling themselves into the work, they truly engage with it. From being a group, to a team, they look and act more like a tribe. Em Campbell-Pretty's recent book on 'Tribal Unity' is a great read on this aspect of leadership.

    And from the team being required to do things, or their barriers or obstacles being uncovered, it’s not about the leader harnessing the collective power and capabilities of the team, no matter what they are. Above all, instead of performance or leadership being one way or following a set formula of "do this on Mondays, do that for 15 mins and have these meetings 3 times a quarter", the whole team and their leader are integrated, working well, and are better together and lifting the level of what’s possible. 

    From 'Leader as Facilitator: How to engage, inspire and get work done'

    The Social Intelligence Factor

    And of this 'social intelligence'...

    As Daniel Goleman says in his book ‘Social Intelligence':

    “Our sense of well-being depends to some extent on others regarding us as a You; our yearning for connection is a primal human need, minimally for a cushion for survival. Today the neural echo of that need heightens our sensitivity to the difference between It and You—and makes us feel social rejection as deeply as physical pain.” 

    And that's what happens. Pain. Ouch! When people aren’t listened to or their ideas are brushed aside, when they’re interrupted or not recognised as the contributor of a solution -- these are some of the workplace things that hurt us.

    We wonder why engagement scores are low. However, it may well be the leader who is doing something unknowingly that is pushing people away. Their social intelligence may be a bit 'off'. Perhaps they aren't regarding people as a 'You', or not inspiring them, perhaps dismissing their contributions with a look or a sniff or a scoff or 'hmpf' sound effect. Maybe that team member's presence, their contributions and capabilities and their important purpose in that team and organisation has been overlooked, missed or just passed over in the busy-ness of present-day leadership KPIs, presentations, off-sites and information packs.

    Focus on how you can build up your social intelligence and your capability to create an environment where people can connect with each other.

    And then when you use that social intelligence - that is, in every meeting, every interaction with every person, every day - this is where you can show the #1 leadership capability you have that makes the biggest difference on those around you.

    Leaders increasingly need to be the glue or the bond that helps groups work better together, that helps them tick (and stick!) and helps them be more cohesive. It's less about pushing people together and saying, ‘Hey you lot, collaborate will you’, but rather being the person who helps make that collaboration easier, helps make it happen, helps make it the norm of how you do work in your team, in your organisation and a part of your culture.

    You help. Not rescue or remedy or rehabilitate, but facilitate that performance, facilitate the engagement and most of all, make the environment ripe for great work to be done by already awesome people.