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    Entries in evolving leadership (4)


    Why bother doing better...

    When you’ve cursed or waved your fist at a fellow road user -- pedestrian, cyclist, driver, truckie -- for doing something crazy on the road, just remember that we can’t allbe above average drivers. Some of us are highly proficient and skilled, confident and capable. Others of us are less so … and we’ve all done something at some time that wasn’t the best decision while on the road.

    The same applies to drivers at work: leaders running meetings and workshops. We might, possibly, perhaps, maybe think we’re pretty great when it comes to leading meetings, getting outcomes with a team and keeping people engaged throughout the process! 

    Many a leader I’ve observed, coached or developed in facilitation skills -- the skills leaders use to bring their team together, remove obstacles and get good work done -- believe they’re pretty hot, highly capable and in short, "nailin’ it".

    But we can’t all be above average facilitators. 

    It could be that we haven't recently gained perspective on how we’re going or perhaps we may not have adjusted our style to incorporate some of the newer approaches to working with people that help bring them together and get work done. 

    Or we might be comparing ourselves to those we work with and okay, so fair enough, in comparison with that sample, we may well be hot! But outside of your organisation’s culture of meetings and workshops, you may be resorting to habitual patterns of behaviour that could be impacting how you’re performing... and the results you're getting in meetings and workshops.


    A New View

    Time and again in my workshops on facilitation skills I see how delighted people are to learn new skills, capabilities and techniques in how to handle what happens in meetings, team sessions and workshops. They are thrilled in fact! Their confidence lifts. They have new ways of working with people that are contemporary, yet caring; new ways that are creative yet productive.

    We don’t know what we don’t know when it comes to many aspects of leadership, collaboration, motivation, performance… you can put facilitation on that list too.

    The role of the workplace leader continues to evolve.

    Increasingly leaders are needing workplace group leadership skills across three main areas: 

    1. to create the right environment or culture for collaboration
    2. to elicit information from the team and
    3. to build cohesion - to help bring a team together and to help them stick. (And... taking them out for drinks doesn’t count!)

    So it makes sense for leaders to continue to look at how to build these types of capabilities, to build their social intelligence and to get better leverage for the time they spend working with their direct reports. 


    Why bother doing better? 

    If you’re on your own journey of going from good to great as a leader -- no matter your role, field, industry or organisation -- think about why you would step-up in your capabilities and performance.

    In each of my workshops on facilitation skills or 'Leader as Facilitator' program, I ask participants why they want to do better or why they want to improve their facilitation capability with their team in their organisation.

    Gathering up all of those replies to ‘why’ over recent years, the responses seem to focus on four main areas (and you'll see some direct quotes from the sessions): 


    The ME

    (me, myself, I - this is about them, the leader)

    Their responses include improving their facilitation capability to: 

    • Build confidence 
    • Learn! Always be learning
    • Confirm if I am on the right track with what I’m doing now
    • Be more persuasive. One participant recently said: "Perhaps I’m a little bit direct; how can I be more persuasive, impactful, engaging – all at once?". Aaaah yes, a magical trio there, but it can be done. 
    •  Understand what to do when I don’t know what to do
    •  Break old habits and routines
    •  Improve my communication skills
    •  Become a better leader (Yes! Nice one that.)



    The WE

    (them, they, us - this is about the participants, their direct reports, team members, stakeholders, the people they work with)

    They said they wanted to improve their capabilities to facilitate as a leader to: 

    • Influence stakeholders and learn more ways to influence people
    • Handle tricky situations and strong personalities in the room (urgh, don’t you just break out in a sweat at the thought of the next one of those you have to lead!)
    • Manage up; to be able to lead leaders
    • Get people on board a change program or a new or changed project
    •  Engage people to increase their commitment to follow through on actions 
    •  Keep people motivated
    •  Manage differing outcomes and expectations


    The WORK

    (it, that, the work - this is about the work to be done)

    Participants said they wanted to improve their abilities to facilitate in meetings and workshops to: 

    • Get to a decision - as one leader said, "It's fine to all talk and contribute but where is it eventually going? Do we need to get somewhere and get agreement? If so, then I have to make that happen without being a steamroller".
    • Give a name to things we may do instinctively as leaders; "I'd like to be more conscious of deliberately doing something because then I’ll know what to do to get what outcomes."
    • Conduct more effective meetings (oh so common this one - such a h-u-g-e time waster when it doesn't go well)
    • Achieve outcomes in a group or team environment. "The more people there are, the messier it can get, but we still need to do stuff", said a leader recently. 
    • Keep a group of people on track and get the work done. (It's an ongoing and fine balancing act, hey?) 


    The WAY

    (how we do the work - this is about how we work together, the culture of the meeting or workshop, how we perform as a group)

    Participants said how they work would be boosted with better facilitation skills to: 

    • Add to the toolkit of strategies and tactics we know about when working in a group situation
    • Move away from click and point PowerPoint presentations; "It’s not a presentation - it’s a workshop, dude", was feedback from a leader’s direct report at a design thinking workshop recently. Ouch! But it was feedback that jolted that leader and helped them shift their thinking and then go ahead and build their facilitation capability
    • Techniques to get beyond group ‘niceties’. "You know, we’re all being nice and getting along and perhaps being compliant in our decision making so we don’t rock the boat, rather than feeling like you can have robust discussion and diverse participation."
    • Get different views from around the room
    • Harvest ideas and get deeper information from all of the team or unit or from smaller groups or areas of the business who might not normally participate in these sessions
    • Run better meetings; "we spend so much time in them and we simply don’t do them well enough”. 


    There are so many ways an enhanced capability to facilitate in your team will benefit you and the team, the work that gets done and the way you all do the work. 

    And while it's just one capability - facilitation - it has so many facets, perspectives, skills, techniques, ways of thinking and depth to it. It's a practice.

    What’s most needed where you are at the moment? 

    Watch what happens over the next few days and weeks -- where do you think a better, stronger capability to facilitate (to make things easier for the team) would be beneficial?


    Leader as Coach: T-o-o  s-l-o-w

    The Leader as Coach approach has been a leadership staple in many industries and organisations for years.

    This is where a leader schedules one-on-one conversations and meetings with their team members. These conversations may be about helping that team member progress and develop, help them uncover ideas and actions to tackle challenges or barriers getting in that person's way or to perhaps have a tricky or difficult conversation about behaviour or performance.

    'Train the Coach', 'Coach the Coach' or 'Leader as Coach' programs have been a popular part of the learning and development offer for years.

    I recall delivering a coaching training program for leaders for a large banking and financial institution about ten+ years ago. They wanted to ensure their leaders adopted a coaching culture and in turn, help them be more effective at those crucial one-on-one conversations. 

    So, yes, coaching is a highly valued and valid leadership tool.

    But there's a but: it can be so. freakin'. s-l-o-w.

    Many leaders find the drain, drag and pace of one-to-ones across their team less efficient than they'd like ... and less efficient for the time they have available. 

    As one leader in the bank's coaching program I ran said (in objection to doing coaching):

    "It takes so long to get that person to realise what needs to be done, to go through the GROW model or whatever tool we're working on. I just don't think I have the time or the patience for this all the time".

    While that type of comment may run counter to what leadership or leaders should be like (read: more patient or more effective at coaching or more 'something'), the realities of pressured schedules, busy teams and project deadlines mean many leaders avoid the one-on-one or push it out and delay it or try and reschedule it time and again.

    As a result, communication, leadership, colalboration, performance and engagement all suffer.

    Rather than telling leaders to coach more or insisting they must coach more, I believe we need to acknowledge that leaders have time to leverage and the better they can do that, the greater impact they'll have - certainly more than what a raft of one-to-ones can achieve.

    To all the coaches or pro-coaches out there... relax, this is not to say one-on-one coaching conversations aren't needed; they are. For things like performance and development and tricky situations, sure; book a room, one-on-one and go coach. They will always be needed.

    But for some organisations who adopt and prioritise coaching, it can seem as if every conversation a leader has to have with their team members has the danger of turning into a book-a-meeting-room-for-a-one-on-one kind of meeting.

    When a business decrees that coaching or one-on-one conversations are the priority to lift performance or address issues, it can begin to chew up a lot of time in the diary.

    As a leader in a tech organisation said to me recently,

    "I've got a team of 12. When you add in the time of having heaps of one-on-ones with them, along with the team and group meetings, and the other responsibilities I have influencing and managing stuff, it all gets too much. I find myself thinking how else could I be leveraging this time".

    Not more meetings

    Please don't assume we're talking about running more meetings here. Meetings are already under pressure for wasting time, running off topic and being dominated by the loudest voices.

    But what I do think can be done is having more group conversations and sessions - small or larger groups.

    These small or larger group sessions can be focused on the same sort of development, barriers, progress... whatever other topics need to be managed for that team - but done in a group setting rather than always believing it needs to be done via a bunch of one-on-ones.

    This is where the leader as coach, shifts into a leader as facilitator.

    For some leaders there is a fear there; 'I don't want to be running a group session' or'Then the whole thing will get out of control; I'll never reign them in!' or 'How do I shut them up?' or 'I don't want things going off-track or getting to negative or turning into a whinge-fest'.

    Still other leaders are nervous in front of a group or worry about the questions they'll be asked or if they'd ever be bombarded or ambushed by a team of clique of people.

    But these are simply some of the fears of facilitation, the fears of working with and leading a group... and these fears can be allayed when you know what to do with a group or team in a group setting.

    Leverage for impact

    Indeed it's time for leaders to better leverage their time as well as the time of their team members. Rather than going s-l-o-w with lots of one-on-ones, leaders need to bring those individuals together to have more effective and impactful group sessions: both small group: twos, threes or fours... and larger groups seven, 10, 12, 25, 40 people.

    Time gets leveraged for all. Rather that 12 x 1 hour meetings, get everyone (or groups of everyone!) in the room and have a 15, 30 or 45 minute engaging session and conversation - well-facilitated by the leader.

    Lift the game

    Lazy leaders limp into meetings, slump into chairs and bark commands or tap their pens on the table. It's old school, last century and not facilitative. At all. Lazy leaders interrupt, bluff and bluster their way through BS jargon and wonder whey they have a disengaged and disempowered team.

    The leader as facilitator is a different way of behaving and leading. It requires a lift in your thinking and capability.

    The shift from 'Leader as Coach' to 'Leader as Facilitator' is underway and I see it as one of the most exciting shifts in leadership today.

    When a leader facilitates, group harmony and cohesion is strengthened and the sheer energy or vibe of the team, tribe or group coming together lift people to higher levels of performance. 

    Facilitators make progress easy... or easier. They run a process, respond to what happens and draw on very cool tools to make progress. 

    As a participant in my Leader as Facilitator program said:

    "Now I'm able to get stuff done; we talk as a team, I can help remove barriers across the team, we can make decisions as a team and I'm better able to handle the general sh*t that goes down daily in our team."

    (Note, this leader wasn't naming his people as sh*t; it was more about the finicky, challenging issues and hiccups that happen throughout a typical day when leading a diverse team).

    There are authentic, empathic and realistic ways to get stuff done in teams and keep the team connected to the work to be done, all via the power of facilitation. This is about being more of a Leader as Facilitator.


    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?


    Being present?


    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. 


    Evolving Leadership

    Meeting with a client yesterday and we were talking about how leadership continues to change and evolve. 

    She is the Organisational Development manager; she's keen to see how else she can help develop the capability of the whole business. 

    So the 'leadership is evolving' conversation went like this:

    • Leadership used to be directive : 'you... do this'.
    • It's evolved to being consultative : 'would you like to do this?'
    • And continues to evolve to more facilitative : 'whats your view on what needs to be done? How will we go about doing it?'

    Of course the questions will differ depending on the team, situation and needs of the business, but the shift and change is clear. 

    From strong, directive statements, to questions about the work to be done, to a more facilitative, eliciting style of leadership. 

    I think we can fear the facilitation style of leadership, thinking that it's going to take too long. "Who's got time to ask all those questions!?" Even the consultative style of leadership can be perceived as being a lengthy approach to achieving an outcome. "It's just quicker for me to tell them what to do."

    Yeah? How much do you like being told what to do?

    Our TELL bank accounts have a small balance in them. I think you need to save your directive approaches and telling for when they're really needed.

    We need to use consultative approaches more, and realise they won't take longer... in the long run. If you're getting impatient or it feels like you're not getting anywhere, you'll likely save time later by getting buy-in, connection and engagement now, and to leverage that all along the process of leading the team. 

    Plus, facilitative styles of leadership put more responsibility on the individuals and the team. The leader has less of the answers, which means less telling, less direction. This helps boost collaboration, trust, engagement, interest, freedom. 

    Yes you'll still need to 'lead', to manage performance and to handle the tricky stuff when it comes up.

    Notice how leadership continues to evolve; and so must we, if we are to engage and inspire new generations, diverse cultures, and thriving individuals who all want to make a mark on the world.