Top 5 lessons for new leaders

In this blog, we share the top five lessons that previous participants on our blended programme for new leaders, Transition to Leadership (TTL) found valuable on their leadership journey.

1. It was crucial to have a safe space to take risks
In order to gain confidence in learning new leadership skills, it is crucial that new leaders have access to an environment where they are encouraged to take risks. No one likes to make mistakes, but mistakes can give us our greatest lessons and having a risk free environment to make them can be insightful.

2. There is not a definitive leadership style
On TTL, we explore a variety of different leadership styles from Commanding to Democratic* and participants noticed that each of them have something positive to offer in any leadership scenario. A good leader will be able to adapt different leadership styles in relation to circumstances or indeed the people they work with.

3. Respect individual differences
Difference within teams is far more useful than homogeneity. If new leaders can understand their colleagues’ different personality preferences, they can adapt their leadership style to steer their team more effectively.

4. Coaching is an undervalued skill
Coaching is essentially about asking the right questions rather than providing the right answers. New leaders will find this an important tool to help build their listening and questioning skills to effectively support the individuals in their team.

5. Clarity is essential when dealing with change
One of the most valuable lessons TTL taught those new to leadership was that whenever change is implemented, it requires clarity in communication and engagement. This isn’t an easy task, however it is important in those situations to find examples of best practice and relate it to their own change experience.

Are you looking for development for your new leaders?
There is still time for your new leaders to take part in Transition to Leadership. The programme takes place through Thursday 16 March 2017– Thursday 22 June 2017 over 3 face-to-face days and 16 hours of facilitated online activities.

If you would like to send colleagues onto the programme please visit our website: or alternatively you can contact Rita Walters, Marketing and Communications Coordinator, E: or T: 0203 468 4817.

*The leadership styles mentioned are from a model created by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee in their 2002 book, “Primal Leadership.”

The Brexit blogs: what do followers need and expect?

In the latest in our Brexit blogs series, programme director Doug Parkin considers the ART of leadership – authenticity, responsibility and trust.


Let’s turn the whole leadership thing on its head and ask, instead, the question “what do followers need and expect?”  What do they need to follow willingly and with energy and commitment, and what do they expect from leaders in terms of behaviour, communication and relationship?  And before we become too fixated on polarised notions of leaders and followers, it is important to acknowledge that great followers are as important as great leaders. Most of us occupy both roles in our lives at different moments and in different ways, and there is often a grey line between the two as leadership is shared and followers become empowered.

Starting from perhaps quite a low base, following the recent EU referendum and Brexit decision, trust in public/political leadership has taken quite a battering and a real appetite seems to be emerging for more authentic, genuine and sympathetically attuned or connected leaders.  These are themes consistently engaged with on Leadership Foundation programmes.

Authenticity – a little thing called integrity

There is a courage that sits at the heart of authentic leadership that is about showing who you really are through “being” who you really are: the big difference, for example, between saying you have integrity and showing you have integrity. Authentic leaders do not lead from behind a mask.  James Kouzes and Barry Posner had, at the core of their enquiry into leadership, the question “what do you most look for and admire in a leader, someone whose direction you would willingly follow?” The leadership quality that was ranked consistently top over more than 20 years by a very large set of contributors across six continents was “honest”.  Their work shows this to be “the single most important ingredient in the leader-constituent relationship” and that “regardless of what leaders say about their own integrity, people wait to be shown; they observe the behaviour”.  The top four personal traits and characteristics for willing and committed follower participation, identified with remarkable consistency, are:

  • Honest
  • Forward-looking
  • Competent
  • Inspiring

Responsibility – misleaders

Leaders also have a responsibility to be honest in their communications and engagement, particularly around change and when portraying a vision of the future.  Manipulating people either through the content and manner of communication, or through the style and timing of engagement, will cause the leader/follower relationship to crumble or, worse still, turn toxic.  There is certainly a sense-making role for leaders, particularly when operating in complex and uncertain environments, and that may involve putting across the truth of a situation “as I see it”.  But that is very different from misleading people, or preying on their fears and insecurities to sell a particular position or develop a sense of urgency.  Leaders should be “dealers in hope” (Napoleon Bonaparte), not peddlers in fear, and, whatever the situation, they need to live by the principle that “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

In their 2011 book of the same name, John Rayment and Jonathan Smith identify four main types of MisLeadership: missing, misguided, misinformed and Machiavellian. Alongside these, particularly the cunning and duplicity of the Machiavellian leader, we could perhaps add a fifth form of misleadership, the knowingly misleading leader.  To knowingly mislead in a trusted leadership role is quite simply a betrayal of responsibility – a betrayal of followers.

Trust – the glue that binds followers and leaders together

Integrity is fundamentally about the person of the leader and the degree to which they are able to inspire trust and carry respect.  The importance of trust for successful and engaging team/organisational leadership cannot be emphasised enough: “trust is the emotional glue that binds followers and leaders together.  A survey conducted by the Institute of Leadership and Management and the journal Management Today in 2009 used the following six dimensions to establish an index of leadership trust: ability, understanding, fairness, openness, integrity and consistency.  The findings of their survey of over 5,000 UK employees pointed to one clear conclusion, “integrity is the foundation of trust and it grows in importance with seniority”[1]Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, takes this still further by making trust the core foundation of high functioning or high performing teams.  And linking back to authenticity, Lencioni teaches us again the importance of honesty and vulnerability in leadership:

“Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.”

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Megatrends survey in 2013 revealed that just 37% of employees trusted their senior managers.  (One could speculate, perhaps, where this figure might be with regard to national political leadership at the current time…).  This built upon a series of case studies published the previous year calledwhere has all the trust gone?  Following this, in 2014 the CIPD produced a research report called Cultivating Trustworthy Leaders, which identified four pillars of trust:

  • Ability – demonstrable competence at doing their job or fulfilling their role.
  • Benevolence (genuine concern) – a concern for others beyond their own needs and showing levels of care and compassion.
  • Integrity – adherence to a set of principles acceptable to others encompassing fairness and honesty, while avoiding hypocrisy.
  • Predictability – a regularity of behaviour over time.


Authenticity begins in the heart and works outward through the values we embody and the behaviours we display.  The integrity that flows from this creates a core responsibility for leaders not to mislead others for their own purposes.  And, to complete the ART of leadership, trust is the essential ingredient in the leader/follower relationship that enables teams and organisations to flourish.

Doug Parkin is a programme director for the Leadership Foundation and is responsible for a range of open programmes – including Future Professional Directors, Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership and Leading Transformation in Learning and Teaching (in collaboration with the Higher Education Academy). He also undertakes bespoke consultancy assignments for universities and works on some of our main international projects. Key interests include educational and research leadership, the leadership of professional services, strategy development, organisational change and leadership for sustainability.

[1] Campbell, S. (2009). The Truth about Trust, Index of Leadership Trust Special Report. Edge Magazine, The Institute of Leadership & Management, UK, September 2009: 20-25

Flying too close to the sun

by Dr Mark Pegg

Ryanair plane

For several years I’ve had great fun using Michael O’Leary CEO of Ryanair in my teaching. My provocation was ‘everything they teach you in business school is wrong’: here was a man who became a multi-millionaire by openly doing the opposite of the recommended path to business success. He displays contempt for his ground staff, his flight crew, the customers, the regulators, and sometimes entire nations. He is unkind to people with weak bladders and even politically incorrect with his indifference to the old and infirm, and passengers with disabilities.

I challenged my students to disprove my hypothesis and, bless them, they usually come up with a range of solid business virtues hidden beneath the O’Leary rhetoric:

  • Clear offer to the consumer – low cost, a ‘no frills’ brand
  • Sweat the assets – work the aircraft very hard, no excess capacity
  • Genuinely low cost – stripping out everything possible, and then doing it again
  • Business growth and shareholder value – fantastic growth in revenues and profits, building from nothing to a leading European airline in less than 20 years.

But this chapter in the story seems to be ending and his tale may have to be retold. Mr O’Leary seems to have changed his tune. He has been on Twitter for the first time, and changed some of the customer unfriendly aspects of his website. He plans to stop penalising passengers for minor infringements of the Ryanair rules – no more large ‘fines’ for bags that are millimetres over the approved size. A new team will be created to actually reply to customer emails for the first time and the Ryanair app can now be downloaded for free.

Mr O’Leary told shareholders at their annual general meeting he is ‘… very happy to take the blame or responsibility if we have a macho or abrupt culture’ and that ‘some of that may well be my own personal character deformities.’ Voted the worst for customer service of Britain’s 100 biggest brands by the consumer magazine Which?, shareholders complained that the airline’s aggressive and unfriendly image is harming its business. They protested that members of their own families were offended and upset by Ryanair and ‘reduced to tears’ – so that even they refuse to travel on the airline any longer. Mr O’Leary acknowledged that rival EasyJet led by Carolyn McCall, (one of only two women CEOs leading a FTSE 100 index company) bases its marketing and public relations almost entirely around customer service that is better than Ryanair.

So what has caused this change of heart? Simple. Ryanair profits have dipped, growth has stalled, aircraft are mothballed, and ambitions to annex Aer Lingus have fallen foul of the Irish authorities on competition grounds. Easyjet is gaining market share. That is why Mr O’Leary now seems to be eating humble pie in this public act of contrition. He told shareholders with characteristic pithiness: “We should try to eliminate things that unnecessarily piss people off,”

But is Mr O’Leary really a changed man? I am unconvinced. This may just be a cosmetic conversion along the road: a naked tactic to keep shareholders at bay while revenues are depressed. I suspect the moment there is any sign of revival in business performance, he will be back to his bad old ways. Management Today called him ‘Icarus Ascending’ with the witty inference that the wax holding the wings together might just melt. In fact, he seems to have been more Daedalus than Icarus in the last 20+ years and there may just be a few more years left in the authentic Mr O’Leary. Maybe, just maybe, my favourite bête noire case study can run for a little while longer.

Dr Mark Pegg is the chief executive of the Leadership Foundation.

Just the Jobs


by Tom Irvine

There must be more blogs about Steve Jobs than there are apples on earth. But here goes. I am prompted to blog about Steve Jobs as I saw in the last couple of weeks that his biography by Walter Isaacson came out in paperback. I got the hardback as a Christmas pressie in 2011 and found it both fascinating and troubling. I keep the book on my bookcase just outside the kitchen with the front cover facing you as you walk past – I like that it challenges me to think about leadership and success and how the two are both illusive and hard to sustain.

The ‘leadership luvvies’ will hate this book – it describes the genius of Jobs but also talks about his bullying and obsessive behaviour. I loved it from cover to cover. The biography was authorised by Jobs and he was interviewed many times for the book. He however had no editorial input into it, but seemingly obsessed about the front cover that would be used. Isaacson interviewed shedloads of people – fans and critics of Jobs – in the writing of this book and it shows in the range of opinions about his style and approach.

I won’t go through the many successes of Apple and the products that he inspired. Who needs to – they are all around us? I must say however that I still fondle my old iPhone 3 as it is just so tactile. Maybe there is a group I could join to help me with this?

What I do want to do in this blog is two things – firstly to muse about the challenges of managing ‘talent’ and secondly about how you could ever imagine leading someone like Steve Jobs through ‘change’.

Jobs has been described as volatile and obnoxious – but he helped create products that had simplicity, utility and beauty at their core. He stole, bullied, denied being a father to his illegitimate child, refused to shower frequently in his early days, and cheated his friends. This young hippie, truth-seeking, tech-savvy hothead was obsessed about the beauty of products and their functionality and ease of use.

It would be a cheap joke to equate the behaviour of Jobs to that displayed by colleagues in the Academy. But I like cheap, as long as it is cheerful. Imagine being a dean who is just about to commence a ‘performance appraisal’ with a Jobs-like character. It would go like this: “Well Steve, I’d like to talk with you about how things are going with your post-docs.” You can imagine the response. But at the Leadership Foundation we hear all the time the challenges that leaders (particularly academic leaders) have when trying to have that ‘difficult conversation’. If this is an issue for you then you might be interested to know that at the Leadership Foundation we are just about to publish a major piece of research on *performance management – have a look at our website for details.

The other challenge would be being led through change by Steve Jobs. He must have had people around him who could translate his vision in a business reality. You don’t employ 700,000 people in China without being able to organise a business process, or review it to ensure that it is fit for purpose. Nevertheless ‘change’ would be an interesting challenge in a business that had SJ at the helm.

Leaders in higher education face being asked to lead increasing amounts of change – and many involve colleagues who sometimes show greater loyalty to their academic disciplines than they do to the institution. This makes leading change in higher education uniquely difficult in my view. I met with a vice-chancellor recently who said to me: “I don’t mind what academics do as long as it is excellent.” Maybe that is the key – Steve Jobs may have had an obsession with being ‘excellent’ and maybe that carried the day. A focus on excellence – whether it be in teaching or research – is however not a simple thing to carry through. If change is becoming so pervasive and the challenges ever present, then perhaps a focus on excellence will lead to a greater chance of success.

Tom Irvine leads the Leadership Foundation’s Consulting team.

*Performance management approaches in UK HEIs, by Monica Franco-Santos, Mike Bourne and Dina Gray of Cranfield School of Management will be published by the Leadership Foundation in November.

The beating heart: student governors

beating-heart sept13

By Dr Mark Pegg

I have been asked to speak to student governors about why the Leadership Foundation needs to listen to the agenda set by emerging student leaders and how we need to develop leadership skills for careers beyond the university boardroom.
I was delighted to be asked. I am a believer. Student governors make a real difference. At several levels – big picture thinking, where students influence university strategic decision-making, at the practical day to day learning about leading complex organisations and through significant early exposure to personal leadership development – all with long term benefits.

I was a president of a student union and student governor myself many years ago. It was a small college, but the principles hold good, and I still use learning from the experience pretty much every day. When I was at university we had a voice, but no real power. If lecturers were indifferent (sadly many were) the response was: ‘tough, like it our lump it’. If we did not like the rise in fees in a time of great inflation we went on rent strike, did a demo and occupied the university offices. We developed as political animals, but actually had zero influence in corridors of power or any decisive impact on decision-making.

Today, at the strategic level, the balance of power has clearly shifted in favour of students. With the NSS, student loans, overseas students, increased competition for students, league tables, it is obvious universities need to contract with students. To hear and heed the student voice. They need a responsible, empowered student representative body, one they listen to, respond to and incorporate the thinking in to decisions. Learning for student governors here is invariably around complexity faced by leaders, where decisions are ambiguous and difficult. To progress issues where student governors have a lot to offer – such as efficiency, sustainability, employability and diversity – is often hard. To turn discussion into decisions and then into action and achievement is never clear cut.

Learning from the best leaders, those who take this on, bring people with them and make it happen is gold dust. It is also a two way process. Students are more than  consumers; they are part of the body politic of a functioning university, part of the beating heart. It’s a commonplace observation that students should provide some reverse mentoring and inform senior decision making on the digital future – resources, investment and working practices on social networks, mobile learning and the learning space students need.

At the practical level, you learn so much about administrative complexity, how culture eats strategy for breakfast, the illusion that pulling a lever in the boardroom is necessarily connected to anything moving or more importantly, moving in the direction you want it to go.

I was fortunate to attend meetings held by a very good chair. At meetings I chair, I use this approach as my baseline and endeavour to live up to the standards he set. I learned about organisational dynamics and the politics amongst the members of the Governing Body, about facing up to difficult issues (what happens when you don’t) and the challenging business of negotiating student fees and rents.

Personal learning about leadership helped me throughout my career. I had formed a mental picture of what was needed. It helped me get a job as executive assistant to the chairman of a large corporation and to grasp quickly the challenging scope of the job and what doing it well looked like. As a CEO today, I still call on deeply etched memories of sitting on a Governing Body in leading my own organisation and, completing the circle, in the Governing Body I sit on today.

Being a student governor can seriously affect your life. Never lose the learning as your career progresses, stop every now and then to reflect on what you have seen and heard – the good, the bad and the indifferent – and make a mental note to use it to become the very best leader you can be.

Dr Mark Pegg is the chief executive of the Leadership Programme. The annual student governor seminar attracts almost 90 students from around the UK and is the first event of the 2013-14 leadership development year.

Moving offices: good for your health


We moved. It went smoothly, nothing was lost or broken. Something else happened. Our new offices are boosting creativity and teamworking, the new space has raised morale and our sense of wellbeing. On top of all this we are doing it all for less, as a lower rent means serious cash savings.

Right in the heart of London, our old offices were fit for purpose, but rather unexciting. Open plan on the 1st floor of a large office block, they were getting careworn and one area was always too hot when the rest was too cold. We were in the concrete jungle overlooking another tower block with little natural sunlight. Our lease was due for renewal with a substantial rent increase. We decided to move.

We searched for a while, looking to save money without going too far down market. Luckily, we found somewhere suitable only 250 metres away. We made sure all areas and levels of staff had an opportunity to see them and give feedback before the final decision was made. On a tight timetable there were some heart stopping moments while the lawyers did complex things with the leases. Deadlines met we moved in one working day and weekend.

Then we found we had gained much more than we bargained for. We are still in an office block, but the short move has been a revelation. Before we had been part of the commercial district with the constant buzz of the ‘midtown’ city to west end traffic highways, the pavements full of people hurrying along. But this is actually a veneer. Walk 100 metres along a side street and life is quieter, we are now in the midst of a real community and the effect has been transformational.

Dr Johnson said ‘he who is tired of London is tired of life’ and the inner heart that is the City London is now much nearer to us than we thought. From the windows of our 3rd floor office we can see skyline, that includes the Gherkin and Cheesegrater yet we are in the midst of an Edwardian social housing estate instead of other offices, surrounded by trees and greenery, we are next to a primary school and playground with happy little voices three times a day; a church is nearby with the bells chiming through the day and every Friday Muslims come to pray at the nearby meeting rooms. Leather Lane street market is barely 200 metres away where traders call you to buy at their stalls. It is as if this vibrancy transmits itself to us.

Our office is lighter, cleaner, brighter. We bought new furniture and laid it out better, we are more self-sufficient and have a better kitchen. We used the move to rid ourselves of lots of paper and created more usable space. The team’s creative juices were stimulated – our own staff acted as design gurus and fitted out the office using corporate colours as themes for carpet tiles, for back plates to desks and piping on the furniture. It is more welcoming for our visitors.

We find we now work better as a team, and the boost to morale is tangible. We have to work to earn a living, so let’s get lots of job satisfaction doing it, let’s enjoy working with each other. We spend long period of our lives in the office and decided to create a working space that stimulated us, pleased us and gave us positive energy.
Moving offices really can be good for your health, wealth and happiness.

The Leadership Foundation moved to Verulam St, Holborn in March; the official opening, with staff and board members took place at the end of June.