Trust is one of those concepts that can mean different things to different people. Some people describe it as a feeling, a primary example is
when people say “I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I just don’t trust him.” This kind of gut response isn’t very helpful, so based on my experiences, both good and bad, I have developed the following three-part description of trust: Perceived Credibility, Demonstrated Reliability, and Assumed Good Intent.shutterstock_193134299

Perceived Credibility is akin to the resume. The first question we generally think about when we are deciding whether we can trust someone – in a business context, at least – is “Do I believe you can do what you say you can?” For this, we look for evidence of previous results and referrals from people we already

Next, Demonstrated Reliability is like the proof point for our credibility, harder both to earn and to maintain. The question on our mind here is “Do you actually deliver what you say you will?” We look for examples of where a person’s promises translate into actions, and where their potential manifests itself into concrete results.

Somewhat more difficult to classify in my trust description is the notion of Assumed Good Intent, yet I believe this is the most important element of trust. The questions in our mind when we think about good intent are “What is your motivation here? What do you stand to gain? How much of the real you do I see, and how much is a performance?”

By breaking trust down into its three component parts, we have the ability to not only understand it, but to build it.

shutterstock_310342454Today, coaching is used in a wide range of professional disciplines including business, education, and psychology. When you think about coaching in these contexts, the image that probably comes to mind is a one-to-one consultation that takes place behind closed doors, detached from the usual environment. In contrast, my research led me to explore the use of the word within the context of sport and how that somewhat different use applies to leadership transformation.

Football metaphors are, of course, not new in leadership literature, and are often related to individualistic and competitive behaviours. My interpretation, however, is quite different: for me, football is a team sport. Teams comprised of superstars often loose to cohesive teams of individually inferior players.

While a business leader may be seen to be the captain of a team, there is an important distinction to be drawn between the role of captain and coach. While the captain may have been selected for the role because of a certain leadership quality he or she displays, a captain cannot be successful without support from the team.

Any successful football team requires a clear distribution of roles both within and around the team, and this distribution of functions is similar to those assumed by the groups who can help a business leader transform: a formal coaching staff, such as executive coaches; teammates such as the leader’s peer group and direct reports; and fans such as family members who are vested in the leader’s performance.

It is by leveraging all three groups in the coaching process – executive coaches, colleagues and family members – that leaders accelerate their transformation.

shutterstock_108271331While a framework provides leaders with a plan and creates a sense of comfort, and tools supply data and a language for change, leaders still need to implement actions in order to transform their effectiveness. This is where strategies come in; within the Master Chef metaphor we’ve discussed in previous blogs, they are the equivalent of cooking methods such as steaming or frying.

In simple terms, there are five key strategies, framed below as shifts, which can help any leader be more effective:

  1. From content to context; leaders shift their focus from the day-to-day operational and technical detail of their world to creating a context for the success of others.
  2. From talking to walking; leaders shift from telling others what is required to showing them.
  3. From competing to collaborating; this shift involves moving from isolation, politics, and interpersonal conflict toward genuine relationships built on trust and a desire for mutual success.
  4. From guru to guide; leaders shift from providing answers to coaching others to find answers themselves.
  5. From critic to cheerleader; this final strategy involves moving from a focus on what is going wrong to what is going right.

While these five strategies are simple, they are not simplistic. For many leaders, the real challenge will not be learning new behaviors, but embracing the beliefs and assumptions that underpin these shifts; that people need purpose, trust, growth, care and sense of community to do their best work.

Just as chefs select from different utensils when creating a dish, business leaders have many tools at their disposal, including ones that profile or measure a range of attributes such as behavior, personality, values, strengths and thinking styles.

While any or all of these tools can be useful in a transformation effort, I have found in my research and practice that it is far more useful to profile leader’s impact than his or her personal attributes. That is, what’s most important, is how a leader encourages others to behave.


For a tool to be truly useful in the context of transformation, of course it needs to be statistically valid and reliable, but also accessible; it must possess the substance required for credibility as well as the simplicity required for action. Additionally, a tool needs to establish a baseline measurement that allows leaders to see how they are being experienced by their most important stakeholders – one that allows for an “apples and apples” comparison at a point in the future. And that baseline needs to be set against the leaders’ own vision in their daily interactions.

That said, a great tool is no guarantee of success. To return to the Master Chef metaphor, an amateur chef cannot achieve the same precision with a utensil as someone who has honed his or her technique. Take experienced sushi chefs, who over many years have developed an artful application of their sushi knives. An amateur chef using the exact same knives is unlikely to replicate their results. They are also unlikely to have a full appreciation of how dangerous these tools can be when used with poor technique!

In recent times, cooking has been elevated to a social phenomenon and a marker of cultural sophistication. Prominent chefs like Jamie Oliver, Wolfgang Puck, Nigella Lawson, and Anthony Bourdain have achieved global celebrity status through their TV shows, restaurants, books, and product endorsements. They exemplify how cooking has become something of a theatrical art form across both old and new media, and how cooks have become ‘Master Chefs’.


The metaphor of Master Chef may be new to the realm of leadership, but it provides valuable insights into transformation. The Master Chef metaphor is about artfully applying leadership science – frameworks tools and strategies for change – in much the same way as a chef employs recipes, utensils and cooking methods to create a culinary experience. Over time, leaders can and should advance form amateur cook to Master Chef, using their skills with increasing creativity and flair and thus maximising their impact.

Whenever I ask leaders who have shown dramatic improvement in their effectiveness how they did it, I’m usually surprised by their answers. They will almost unanimously point to the frameworks, tools, and strategies we encouraged them to employ. Which is great, of course, but the reason I’m surprised is that there are many frameworks available for those seeking to make changes. The tools and strategies are everywhere, but case studies of transformation are relatively rare.

In exploring this seeming paradox, what has emerged for me is a far more nuanced and subtle appreciation of how it is the ‘artful application’ of frameworks, tools, and strategies that helps leaders transform their leadership and their organizations.

shutterstock_157267163When leaders openly declare their intention to change, their colleagues are more inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt as they make their first, often clumsy steps down this path. And leaders who invite open feedback enlist a host of ‘coaches’ among their colleagues to help them align their impact on others with their noble intentions.

Most importantly, there is a consequence when leaders make a public commitment to change and invite others to hold them accountable; such a declaration creates an implicit expectation that team members will follow their lead and make a similar commitment. In effect, all team members become accountable to one another in their quest to become more effective leaders. In effect, the leader creates a Snowball of mutual accountability with themselves at the centre and their team compacted around them, all aligned to the same desire for increased leadership effectiveness.

Practically speaking, leaders become implicitly accountable to people under their direct authority. In so doing, they flip the traditional hierarchy and yield their positional power to standards that they and their team have agreed upon. While you might think this means the leader is relinquishing power and control, I have learned that in fact the leader acquires more power to lead the organization and elicits a genuine and personal commitment from everyone else to live up to those standards.

The notion of giving up power generally makes leaders uncomfortable, particularly those who rely on position and title to get things done. But in practice, the chain of command doesn’t actually change; subordinates will just aspire more willingly to the goals of the leader because they are being led by someone who is holding himself or herself accountable to the same high standards he or she is asking of them.

Remember the Road Runner cartoons featuring Wile E. Coyote being swept up in ashutterstock_242443354 snowball as he careens down snow-covered mountain? That image might make you wonder what this metaphor could possibly have to do with leadership transformation. But it’s a simple way to understand how something small and potentially insignificant builds upon itself over time, thereby becoming large, powerful, and eventually unstoppable.

The metaphor of the Snowball describes a virtuous cycle of accountability that propels a change effort forward. It starts with the most senior leader, and builds momentum as others are swept up in the journey. There are two dominant themes of the Snowball metaphor; accountability and momentum.

A Snowball is a self-amplifying structure that feeds on itself and this process can manifest in a negative and a positive way, as a vicious or virtuous cycle. But alongside this cyclical motion, the Snowball also follows a linear trajectory down a mountain. The cyclical motion of the metaphor can help us to understand the mutually reinforcing cycle of accountability that develops between leaders and their subordinates when they engage together in a shared leadership agenda. The trajectory down the mountain allows us to explore the sense of momentum toward shared leadership goals, which seems to result from this mutual accountability.


shutterstock_367496936In the earlier stages of my consulting career, I didn’t probe too deeply into a leader’s personal motivation for change, partly because they didn’t offer it up easily, partly because I didn’t want to risk losing the big consulting gig with their organisation, and partly because I suspected it would emerge over time.

What I now understand is that respectfully probing into leaders’ personal ‘fire’ from the very first interaction is the surest way to create a foundation for the successful transformation of their organisation. What are they most afraid of? What keeps them awake at night? What does success look like for them, personally? What legacy do they want to leave?
If leaders are evasive or insincere in their answers to these questions, I now know the chance of them leading a successful transformation in their organisation is close to zero. If, however, leaders are open and authentic in their answers, then I know they have a great chance of success. Organisations don’t change, people do.


shutterstock_365174810It was management consultant Daryl Conner who first coined the concept of the burning platform, and Harvard professor John Kotter who popularized the idea as the critical prerequisite for successful change efforts. It derives from a real-life tragedy that occurred on July 6, 1988, on the Piper Alpha oil platform in the North Sea, when 167 men lost their lives.

One of the survivors of the catastrophe was Andy Mochan, a superintendent on the rig. Woken by a huge explosion, he ran up on deck to discover that the platform was engulfed in flames. He faced a choice: Stay on the platform and burn to death, or jump some hundred and fifty feet — approximately fifteen stories — into freezing cold water and hope to survive? He decided to jump. Somehow he survived the impact and was picked up by a rescue boat just before he would have frozen to death. When asked why he jumped, he replied, “Better probable death than certain death.”

The apparent application of this story to a business context is that fear and urgency are not only necessary but desirable motivators for change. But while a burning platform can spark leaders into action, my research and practice strongly suggest that a mindset of urgency and fear is not conducive to sustaining change over time.

In a world of burning platforms, there are many pyromaniacs. It is, in fact, a burning ambition — a strong desire driven motivation — that enables leaders to accelerate and sustain transformation efforts over time.

When was the last time you paused to reflect on what’s working for you, and what’s not?

The festive season offers us the opportunity to press ‘pause’ on our busy professional lives and reflect in a way that can be difficult at any other time of the year. If this sounds appealing to you, the goal of this blog is to help you get started with this important task, so that you can come back in the New Year with renewed clarity, insight and energy.

I use the word ‘pause’ very deliberately. Often, we can feel like we are stuck in a repetitive loop – a bit like Phil Connors, the Pittsburgh TV weatherman played by Bill Murray in Harold Ramis’s classic Groundhog Day (1993). At six o’clock every morning, Connors wakes up to Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” playing on the radio, and to the dreaded realization that he is doomed to repeat the same day over and over again. He is trapped in Groundhog Day.

Like Bill Murray’s character, we sometimes don’t comprehend how we are perpetuating our own Groundhog Day through our actions and impact on others. We need the time, the space, and the reflective capabilities to plot a way out.

To get out of Groundhog Day, we must pause and reflect on our actions – a bit like visiting an editing suite to watch the movie of our professional life played back to us. From this more detached vantage point, we are more likely to see how our actions are helping or hindering us.

The really god news is that if we visit the editing suite often enough, we can eventually develop the capability to reflect in action – an ability possessed by every successful and happy leader I know. Have you ever had the experience of being in a conversation and also observing that conversation at the same time?  This is reflection in action – a heightened state of awareness that effectively slows our movie down. From this place of stillness, we can draw upon past learnings, insights and strategies to choose more effective actions – in real time.

If you would like to reflect this festive season on what’s working for you, and what’s not, you can start by watching the three minute animation below. Once you’ve done that, you can complete the ‘movie’ exercises on my Leadership Transformed portal, which is completely free to use.

The journey to increased leadership effectiveness starts with increased personal awareness. I hope this festive season proves prosperous for you on this journey.