About the blog

Welcome to 3minuteleadership.org and thanks for visiting.
Over the last few years, I have been observing different forms of leadership and management and thinking about what works in today’s workplace.

Striving to be a good leader myself and create an environment where individuals can thrive, I have spent much time pondering how to help people to achieve and deliver to the best of their ability.

Through this site, I plan to share leadership lessons in bitesize chunks of 3 minutes or less.  I hope that the blog can provide a space for likeminded people to share thoughts and ideas on leadership for the 21st Century.

By doing this, I hope that we can change the way we lead and transform the workplace, developing people that are inspired and empowered to make a difference in the world.


About the elephants…

I’ve chosen the elephant image because the matriarch influences the herd more than any other.  With a quiet and confident leadership style, she sets the direction and allows others to follow.


Featured post

What Strictly teaches us about giving A-MA-ZING feedback (dah-ling)

As we wait in anticipation for the Strictly Come Dancing 2021 final, it is the ideal time to set out what we can learn from the judges in how they offer feedback.

Giving feedback is something that many of us dread.  Perhaps we lack confidence in our expertise or maybe we anticipate that the individual will react badly.  Whatever the reason, we often shy away from giving feedback which actually has a negative impact on performance regardless of whether the observations are good or bad.

We know feedback is important for development and for me, I certainly know I want to receive it.  Good feedback gives me an important boost that keeps me motivated and driven whilst constructive feedback helps me to be the best I can be.

It is also fair to say that when we do give feedback, it doesn’t always land well and if you want to understand more about the responses people might have and how to deal with those, I recommend the work of Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen – Thanks for the Feedback: The Art & Science of Receiving Feedback Well (Even when it’s off-base, unfair, poorly delivered and, frankly, you’re not in the mood).  This can help if you offer feedback and the individual responds badly to what you are sharing with them.

However, what we have in Strictly is a masterclass in giving feedback.  If you watch carefully, you will hear the judges generally offering praise first. They recognise what went well and what has improved before honing on the next area of improvement. Generally, they make the individual feel a-ma-zing and then they offer some specific expert advice to help them progress.

On the occasions when things didn’t go well and they are unimpressed, they generally offer their feedback with care and compassion which allows the individual to feel supported whilst hearing something uncomfortable.

What can we learn from this when giving feedback in the workplace?

  1. Be positive – help the individual to see what was good and offer the feedback on what needs to be improved. Positive psychology says you need a balance of at least 3 positives to every negative so remember to share what’s going well before giving advice on improvement.

  2. Be specific – general statements don’t help the individual to understand and improve. E.g. ‘you didn’t get the role because you weren’t strategic enough’ – that is feedback that isn’t feedback. For this to be worthwhile, there needs to be detail that demonstrates what could have been different. To be effective, the sentence above needs to go on to give examples of what would have been better. Otherwise, the candidate is still in the dark and is likely to make the same mistakes next time.

  3. Be genuine – feedback is for the good of the individual so keep that in mind in the discussion. If you keep the individual at the heart and offer your feedback with sensitivity, compassion and with their best interests at heart, they should be able to open themselves up to whatever you have to say and feel glad that you are taking the care to offer it for them.

Do you have examples to share of good or bad feedback? What did you learn from this? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


How a broken childcare system and Victorian bosses create a crushing vice for women

‘Important: Changes to fees and terms’.  That was the heading of an email from my son’s nursery last week and I’m sure I wasn’t the only parent to feel panic at the thought of increased childcare costs.

It wasn’t long ago that nursery fees for under 3’s hit £60 per day at our nursery which is already very expensive so a further increase is not welcome news for many parents.

Anyone reading this that knows me is probably wondering what I’m complaining about given that I’m in a senior role and therefore in a position to afford it.  I’m also now in receipt of the Welsh Government’s Childcare Offer which means my son is entitled to 30 hours free childcare a week so this price increase won’t have a major impact on me but that is far from the point.

The reason I am writing this piece is to raise awareness of the high costs of childcare and how that affects women in particular. 

Earlier this year, Mumsnet carried out a survey of 20,000 people across the UK.  One third of participants said their childcare payments were bigger than their rent or mortgage and this rises to 47% of those with a black ethnic background, 42% of those receiving Universal Credit, 40% of the under-30s, 38% of single parents, and 38% of those who work full time.

At the same time, research shows that half of working mothers do not receive the flexibility they request at work.  This study of 13,000 women found that many were dissuaded from asking for flexible working because they feared a negative reaction from their employer. 

And yet, while I had been previously working reduced hours and was proposing an increase to full-time with a flexible compressed week, my employer still didn’t want to support it.  Thankfully, I had an indisputable case but many are not so fortunate which puts them in an impossible situation and forces many women into low-paid, part-time roles.  The patriarchal society that we live in has done a great job of creating this idea that part-time work is a choice when for many, it’s the only option in a family trying to balance work and care.

When we were considering a second child, the cost of childcare for two seemed completely impossible and that’s with two full-time working parents. 

#EqualPayDay last week was a stark reminder of gender inequality in the workplace.  The causes of this include stereotyping, occupational segregation and care.  Having access to affordable childcare, allowing mums to participate fully in the labour market, would help to tackle the gender pay gap so I am pleased that the Welsh Government is currently consulting on childcare for under 3’s.

Mums are role models for the next generation and the choices they make set an example. I’m very clear that the issues that underpin the gender pay gap are systemic and can be resolved if we are serious about gender equality.

Have you been affected by the high cost of childcare? Did you have a flexible working request refused? Share your experience in the comments below.


[Image: Pixabay]

How Olympic achievements can inspire us to aim high and keep going

After a long wait and a lot of uncertainty, the Olympic games have finally commenced.  For the athletes that have made it, this is their chance to fulfil a lifelong dream.  All the training and sacrifice has brought them to this point where they will be tested against the best in the world. There will be many competitors that are happy just to be there and beat their own personal best whilst there are some medal hopefuls for whom the pressure is great.

For me, the opening ceremony was moving as I thought about the dreams of all these athletes. Timing is critical and with an extra year to wait after the games were postponed in 2020 due to Covid, there must have been some who wondered if they would make it. Indeed, sadly, some have had their hopes dashed as they failed to qualify, found themselves injured or been prevented from travelling as a result of Covid.

One achievement that has shone through in the early days of these games is that of Tom Daley who many of us have been rooting for over the last 20 years.  He was 14 when he went to his first Olympics and we have watched him grow up with Team GB.

Tipped for success from the beginning, the main prize has stayed just out of reach. Securing his second bronze medal in Rio, Tom told journalists he was ‘heartbroken’ and would be at Tokyo for a fourth attempt.  The journalist very insightfully responded that it would make for a better story in the long term.

On Monday, Tom won his first gold medal alongside his diving partner, Matty Lee. Tom’s story confirms what I have always believed:

If you want something badly enough and are willing to work hard for it every day, it will be yours.     

After the games in Rio, Tom kept hold of his dream, focused on training and technique and achieved that long sought after gold medal in Tokyo.  We have seen him deal with many challenges throughout his journey and I certainly am so inspired by the resilience, grit and determination that has led him to this point.

Of course, Tom isn’t the only one celebrating at the games so far and many are hoping that their efforts will inspire others to achieve their own goals, sporting or otherwise. In an interview with the BBC yesterday, another gold medallist, Adam Peaty said:

“If there is one thing you do today, just do one thing better.”

Their achievements may be personal but their legacy is universal.  Each of these athletes have made huge sacrifices to reach the games and their families the same. They all have a unique story but it is ultimately about challenge and achievement.  We can all learn something from their efforts and the questions is… where will your journey take you?

Have you been inspired by our Olympic champions? Have you taken something valuable from watching them compete? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


In honour of Mother’s Day and the sacrifices women make for their kids

It hasn’t been a great week for women in the UK and whilst this might not be all that unusual, the juxtaposition with International Women’s Day has amplified the issues.  My own week has been similarly tragic with lots of consideration of gender specific challenges and the burden of caring responsibilities.

When I had my first child, my husband took 3 months of Shared Parental Leave while I went back to work.  It was transformational for us as a family and whilst he was very involved anyway, it truly changed the way he contributed to the childcare which has been positive for all of us.

There was never any consideration of working part-time for him though when he did return. He already worked a compressed week so had one day a week with our son.  He also had to change his hours slightly to accommodate the nursery pick up on certain days so that I had space to meet my work commitments too.  Despite the fact that he was off work full-time for 3 months, no one ever asked him if he was going back part-time and many asked me.

I worked a 4-day week when I returned, using my annual leave to reduce my hours and I later put in a flexible working request for compressed hours so that I could continue with my childcare day (saving us £260 per month in nursery fees).  My approach first of all was to ask if I could work my hours flexibly across the week to accommodate my childcare day because I knew that sometimes there were work commitments on a Monday and I was more than happy to be flexible in order to get the job done well.  The initial response was unsupportive and so I was forced to submit a statutory request which was successful because I’d already been working 4 days a week and would still be working full-time hours, flexibly across the week. There were literally no grounds to refuse it although my boss had made me feel like the organisation would try.

Later on, my husband secured a new role with more responsibility. In the first week, we realised my son had chicken pox. My husband felt there was no way he could ask for time off in his first week and I completely understand how hard that is but I also know that mothers everywhere would do it without question.

There was an article that I read the other day in the Guardian about the impact of Covid on women. One of the stats that hit me was this: ‘the UK public are four times more likely to disapprove of mothers with young children working full-time than fathers’.  I’ve definitely felt a lot of pressure for me to not go back to work full-time.  And yet, I’m the higher earner. 

Even though we are both on reasonable salaries, the childcare costs are crippling and we would struggle to pay for two.  Many would say, if you have children, you should pay for them and that’s fine in principle.  The issue is though that it forces women out of the workplace because society puts pressure on the mother to work part-time at most.  Then we make childcare ridiculously expensive and declare all decent work full-time only. Part-time jobs are typically low-skilled and low-paid and whilst I see no logical reason why skilled roles can’t be done part-time, it’s what we have told ourselves and I hear other women defending this.

The other thing we choose to ignore is that we need children for the future labour market. This is what pays for our public services. And yet, we are in a situation where families are choosing not to have children because the finances do not stack up.

The cost of 2 children full-time in our nursery, even with one receiving 30 hours free, is £23k.  The average salary for Cardiff is £28k (so there will be plenty earning less than this for full-time hours).

I’ve come to think of this today because yesterday we celebrated mothers across the United Kingdom. Mothers play a critical role in bringing up the next generation.  We rely on mums to reduce their working hours, take on low-paid, part-time roles and sacrifice their pensions in order to do this.  And they do it without question.

So in honour of Mother’s Day, I wanted to highlight the motherhood penalty and pay tribute to those making sacrifices for their kids.  Gone are the final salary pensions for husbands that might have kept us and gone are lasting marriages for that matter.

This situation won’t get better until women are valued for the contribution they make and that will be a long time coming as the patriarchy continues to gaslight us. 

It isn’t going to get any better until we see men making the same sacrifices and employers being more flexible.  “Covid has made employers more flexible”, I hear you cry. No. Covid has forced employers to facilitate remote working and let people work more flexibly. However, for many ‘working flexibly’ means working your full-time hours around home-schooling which means a double shift, every day.  

What we need for the future is affordable (even universal) childcare and part-time work opportunities at all levels along with employers that don’t see time out for family as a lack of commitment to the work.

Does this ring true for you? Or do you think it’s way off the mark? Let us know in the comments below.


Image by Iuliia Bondarenko from Pixabay 

Passion and purpose – what Tom Brady’s record-breaking career tells us about motivation

According to the talent scouts, Tom Brady was far from spectacular.  He didn’t have any of the things that marked him out as in an up and coming sports star which meant he was overlooked when it came to selection time. 

And yet, on Sunday, Brady won his 7th Superbowl at the age of 43 with a team that was bottom of the league last season.  To date, he has started a record 10 superbowls in his 18 year career.  With an average career of 3 years in the sport, Brady defies the odds and shows no signs of retiring just yet. 

One of the key themes throughout his career has been the lack of recognition for his talent.  Before he began his time with the New England Patriots, he played for Michigan college team.  In his sophomore year, a new quarterback joined the team and the coach was unsure which of them to play.  He kept switching them to keep them both in the game.  Many times, the coach had to bring on Brady to save the game and he did it. He came on to the field and brought them back from the brink for a win. This happened so many times, they called him ‘the comeback kid’.

Despite this, when it came to the draft, he wasn’t selected until the 6th round. Number 199 out of just over 200 places, making him the 7th quarterback taken. His nerves were on edge as his time was running out but he was finally signed and so began his professional career in American football.  Brady is now considered best NFL draft pick of all time.

The report on him ahead of the 2000 draft was unimpressive. It included:

  • Poor build
  • Skinny
  • Lacks great physical stature and strength
  • Lacks mobility and ability to avoid the rush
  • Does not roll a really tight spiral
  • System type player who can get exposed if forced to ad-lib
  • Gets knocked down easily

Brady was hugely under-estimated and struggled to gain recognition but he never lost his self-belief.

Throughout his time with the Patriots, he demonstrated the talent and skill which has made him the sport star he is today. Still, his talent was played down and often attributed to the coach. In his latest Superbowl achievement, he has finally proven that he is the magic ingredient and getting the credit he deserves.

According to his Dad, when they carried out that assessment: “they missed the most important thing: heart.  They didn’t understand what drives somebody.” It isn’t something that can be measured. And it cannot be defeated either.

Others have commented on his backbone and resilience: “All the intangibles that a quarterback is supposed to have? They were overlooked. Because with him, it was burning on the inside”.

What can we learn about leadership from the greatest quarterback of all time?

  1. Never let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do – it isn’t for someone else to decide what you are capable of, it is up to you.  If you are willing to work hard, take on board the feedback and improve, you can achieve your goals.

  2. Resilience is about understanding your values and purpose and staying true to them – it doesn’t matter what people say or think. To succeed, you need to keep your goal close to your heart and keep going.

  3. Follow your passion – if do something you love, you will bring maximum energy which will drive you to work hard, master your discipline and achieve success.

Have you been inspired by Tom Brady’s success? What is it about him that stands out to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Image by Alexandr Nebesyuk from Pixabay 

Exploring the central principles of resilience through the portrayal of PoW Louis Zamperini in ‘Unbroken’

Resilience is a theme we have probably all been thinking about over the last year as we have been delivering in extreme circumstances with the additional pressures of home schooling and without the relief of being able to see family and friends.

I’ve been thinking about writing a piece on resilience since Covid hit and whilst I have given it a lot of thought, the inspiration to write would not come to me.  Until last night. 

If you follow my blog, you will know that inspiration for my musings often comes from film or television and the source of my motivation today is a result of the film ‘unbroken’. This true story of World War II veteran, Louis Zamperini, provided a raw demonstration of resilience which has moved me to write this piece.

The film shared the true story of a young airman who survived 47 days in the ocean after the bomber he was flying, crash landed and left him and two others stranded at sea. Only two of them survived the ordeal when they were captured by the crew of a Japanese war ship and taken to a prisoner of war camp.

Zamperini had been an Olympic athlete and, having not read the reviews, I had been expecting an uplifting film, focused on his triumphs and achievements.  Instead, this was a film about one man’s courage and his fight to survive through the darkest of days.

This extreme example has enabled me to sum up the central principles of resilience which I have observed in others and have been crystalised for me through the telling of this story. We are lucky that many of us will never have to face such an extreme test but many have over the history of time and here are some fundamental principles that can help us to get through challenging times.

  1. If you can take it, you can make it – Louis had a mantra that was instilled in him by his brother.  This mantra gave him focus and strength to endure through the most difficult of circumstances.  We know that negative self-talk is defeating so at all times, especially those which we find most testing, we need to repeat a positive mantra in order to overcome and keep going.
  2. One day at a time – when you are faced with a major challenge and no end in sight, you need to hunker down and face one day at a time. Louis was in the very worst of conditions, where thinking about how long he might be trapped in those conditions would only make the ordeal impossible to face. Instead, he concentrated on what was immediately in front of him and lived in that exact moment with the central belief that ‘this too will pass’.
  3. Values & purpose – being true to his values and purpose in life, gave Louis strength to face his tormentors.  There was a point where he was offered the chance to escape the horrors of the prison camp but what they were asking him to do went against his values and so he refused.  His character shone through, and whilst it angered the prison commander, it made him truly ‘unbreakable’.  As long as you know what you stand for and keep the reason for your being at the centre of your work, you will have a driving force that keep you going, no matter how difficult you find it sometimes.

Does this article resonate with you? Do you have a story to share about resilience? Let us know in the comments below.


Image by Pavlofox from Pixabay

Humanity, courage and integrity: how Winters inspires values-based leadership in HBO’s Band of Brothers

From the very first episode of Band of Brothers, I have wanted to write about the leadership theme within the series and this need has grown ever stronger as the series has progressed.

In Episode 1, ‘Curahee’, we meet Captain Sobel, Commander of Easy Company whose drive for excellence makes the group of paratroopers stand out from the crowd.  The way Sobel achieves this though is through misuse of power rather than respect.  The soldiers of Easy Company think he hates them because of the way he pushes and tests them to do better all the time.

It’s also clear that the Captain is useless in the field, putting the lives of the men at risk and trying to cover up for that by exerting his authority.

An early scene shows Winters’ values, courage and integrity as he is unfairly disciplined by Sobel and rather than accept a punishment when he has done nothing wrong, he requests trial by court martial which leads to the platoon demonstrating strong support for him and really is Sobel’s downfall.

As the series progresses, we see a contrasting leadership style in Winters who starts the series as platoon leader and finishes as a Major which is demonstration of his skills.  It is the values of Winters and how they inform his actions that have inspired me to write this post. 

What you can see in Winters is that he cares about the men he is responsible for, so much that he is willing to put his own life on the line.  From the beginning, he demonstrates great courage and as a result, they trust and follow him.

In Episode 2, ‘Day of Days’, Winters charges ahead and tells them to only follow on his command.  In Episode 7, ‘The Breaking Point, he can see that the Officer in charge – Officer Dyke – is being completely ineffective and putting lives at risk so he starts to run towards them to take over only to be reminded of his post at which point he promptly orders someone else to go and takeover.

The ultimate example for me was in Episode 8, ‘The Last Patrol’, one of the later episodes when he effectively disobeys orders to prevent needless deaths.  At this point in the series, they are extremely close to defeating the Germans and ending the war.  The night before, they had been asked to send a patrol to capture German soldiers that they know have based themselves in a building the other side of a river in the French town of Hagenau. 

A patrol is chosen and they complete the mission with just one life lost.  Because they achieved a good outcome, Lieutenant Colonel Sink commands that another patrol be scheduled for a second night.  All are dismayed and Winters cannot see anything further to be gained from sending a patrol for a second night.  They have taken prisoners from the first mission and capturing more would not give them any additional intelligence.  When Winters brings the men together, he gives instruction of the mission in line with his orders. He then goes on to tell them to get a full night’s sleep and report to him in the morning that they went on patrol but were unable to take any prisoners.  This to me is evidence that he cares about the men and values their lives.  So much that he is willing to risk his own career by disobeying what they all thought were unnecessary orders. 

Many of the men at Hagenau had been on the frontline, in battle, many times and Winters believed it was a high price for them to lose their lives so close to the end of the war when there was nothing to be gained from the mission.  To me, this act showed courage and integrity, saving the lives of his men.

Whilst I’m sure there may have been some artistic license used in making this series, the characters portrayed are from true life and provide narrative around the drama.  Richard ‘Dick’ Winters was recognised many times through awards for his contribution.  Despite this, Winters remained humble about his military service.  At the end of the series, Winters quotes a passage from Sergeant Myron “Mike” Ranney: “I cherish the memories of a question my grandson asked me the other day when he said, ‘Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?’ Grandpa said ‘No…but I served in a company of heroes’.”

Whilst I read extensively about human rights and the effects of war, I was unsure about whether this series would be for me.  What I discovered was an inspirational story of humanity, courage and leadership which I felt compelled to share with others.

END NOTE: This blog post marks Remembrance Day 2020 and is published in memory of all those who gave their lives so that we can be free.

This year, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the Royal British Legion is relying on digital donations to support their annual Poppy Appeal which supports members of the armed forces and their families. If you have something to spare, please donate here.


How to avoid ‘car crash’ conversations and make sure your feedback lands well every time

Have you ever received feedback that you reacted badly to?  Or tried to give someone else feedback and found they have flown off the handle? 

Feedback can be something people avoid because it can go in lots of different directions with so many of them not the route you wanted to take!

And yet, timely, constructive feedback is essential for the successful management of teams. It is also be critical for professional development so it is important that we create an environment where we can have open and honest feedback conversations which lead to better performance and development.

After a few car crash feedback discussions, I decided to find out more about the theory of good feedback and how to make sure I can deliver this effectively each time for the benefit of those in my team.

Types of feedback

The first thing to notice is that there are 3 different types of feedback.  All are important and you need to know the appropriate type to use in different situations and ensure that in your leadership practice, you are employing a balance of all types on a regular basis.

  1. Coaching – this type of feedback aims to help the receiver ‘expand knowledge, sharpen skill, improve capability’.  If you want to have a conversation about how an individual can improve, then coaching is a good way to go.  Beware though, a coaching approach is about asking questions (and the right kind of questions) to support the individual to explore the issue for themselves and come up with their own solution.  You can guide, you can support but you cannot ‘tell’ in a truly effective coaching conversation.
  2. Evaluation – this is to ‘rank against a set of standards’.  An example might be the classic performance review conversation where you are discussing how the individual has delivered against what was agreed.  It requires someone to rate an individual so for this to be effective, there needs to be agreement at the beginning about the measures they will be assessed against and support to help the individual meet expectations.  If you don’t provide this clarity and the individual scores badly, they will feel angry and frustrated which will lead to a difficult conversation and probably more to follow.
  3. Appreciation – this is feedback where effort, commitment and achievement is recognised.   You might also call this type of feedback ‘praise’ or ‘gratitude’.  Some leaders find this uncomfortable but it should be used often to motivate.  Appreciation encourages the   
    release of oxytocin which is important for connection and vital for building relationships and strong teams.

When feedback goes wrong…

We have to give feedback at times and even in the very best relationship, it can sometimes go wrong.  If you find that the receiver reacts emotionally, you can be sure that one of these triggers has been activated:

Truth trigger – it may be that the feedback appears untrue to the person on the receiving end. Maybe they think you don’t know what you are talking about and if this is the case, you could perhaps consider whether they are right and what you could do to build your own knowledge (being honest about your own weaknesses can also improve the conversation). 

The other possibility is that you have hit on a ‘blind spot’ which means they genuinely don’t see that the issue you raise is true of them.  It is not in line with their perception of reality and in this instance, a coaching approach could be beneficial to support them to explore the issue for themselves and allow yourself to understand it from their perspective.  If you are the receiver, you could test the feedback on people you trust which may help you to understand your blind spots in a safe space.

Relationship trigger – have you ever been in a relationship that has turned bad and everything you or they say leads to a negative response?  This can happen in work too. Having a good relationship is critical for successful feedback conversations.  If there is an issue with the relationship such as a lack of trust and respect, it is likely that the feedback will not land well.  Relationship triggers can create ‘switchtrack’ conversations where the receiver will retaliate by raising another issue they feel is related.  In this instance, it is important to recognise all issues and discuss them separately.  This will ensure both parties feel heard and respected.  If you notice this trigger, it might be worthwhile taking a step back, acknowledging the problem and taking steps to address the relationship issue.

Identity trigger – in this instance, the feedback is not in line with the individual’s perception of ‘self’ and challenges how they are wired.  For example, the receiver may be told that their actions were unfair when they believe that fairness is their core value.  An identity trigger can cause real distress so needs to be talked about openly to find out all points of view and help the individual understand how their actions have been perceived and if there is anything they could do differently in the future.   

How can you ensure feedback lands well every time?

Firstly, for feedback to land well every time, you need to have a good relationship where both parties feel comfortable to talk openly about their thoughts and feelings.  It is important to create a safe space for discussion where there is no judgement, only acceptance and constructive intent. 

Few people want to create conflict but sometimes the thought of giving feedback can lead to a situation where those involved enter the discussion already on the defensive.  The best attitude for a difficult conversation is a positive and constructive one which allows the problem to be discussed, addressed and resolved in partnership.

Whist a good relationship is important for feedback, so is feedback important for good relationships and strong teams so should be something we engage in at all levels on a regular basis.  If you create an environment where this can be shared constructively at all levels, you should have a space where everyone can thrive.

Do you have examples of good or bad feedback?  How have you ensured an environment where constructive discussions can take place?  Share your experiences in the comments below.


Photo credit: Gary Scott from Pixabay

How praise and positivity can make your organisation fearless

When I was growing up, I remember my mum having difficulties with the head teacher in the school where she worked.  He was mean and enjoyed making people feel intimidated which stifled creativity and made everyone miserable.  My mother would come home stressed, depressed and wondering how she could go back to work the next day. 

Sadly, there are many bosses like this in the workplace and far too many employees who are unable to reach their potential because they are held back.  This means that organisations are limiting their own capacity.  To survive and thrive, especially in the current climate, employees need to be given space to deliver to the best of their ability.  They need to be encouraged and supported to make a full contribution and grow from their experiences.  If we can achieve this, organisations will truly know success.

If I asked you what makes a good boss, you certainly wouldn’t respond with the qualities displayed by the head teacher in my story.  More likely, you would say a good boss is someone who is trusting, supportive, listens to your views, believes in you, shows appreciation and so on.  Which boss are you likely to go out of your way for?  And therefore, which would you say is able to get the best out of people?

In his work on ‘fearless leadership’, Richard Varey explores the importance of kindness in leadership.  It isn’t about the leader being brave which is what I thought at first, but about creating an environment where people feel safe.  The foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is security. Individuals will not reach the lofty heights of self-actualisation if the organisation’s culture is based on blame and fear.

Varey says ‘if you are kind, people feel safe; if they feel safe, they can grow’.  And actually, it’s better for everyone because kindness increases the levels of oxytocin for all involved which increases optimism and makes everyone feel physically better.

Compare this with an environment where people are scared to do anything wrong.  In a culture of fear, people shut down because the stress response is triggered when they sense danger.  When this happens, cortisol floods the system which creates a fight, flight or freeze response.  This literally shuts down the rational mind and short term memory.  In a culture of kindness, no conversation is off-limits because people feel secure and are more open to discussing whatever you need to address.

In this work, I really like the idea of ‘emotional collateral’ and it reminds me of something else I read in relation to ‘difficult conversations’.  It’s basically about the emotional bank account.  This needs to have enough in it for some to be taken out of the account.  If an individual’s emotional bank account is depleted, they are unlikely to receive any ‘constructive’ feedback positively.  It’s a bit like getting your bank statement and seeing it in the red… especially if you have just been paid!! You feel panicked immediately and that is not a good place from which to deal with the problem.

So what do you need to do as a fearless leader?

  1. Offer praise – if you want to inspire people, you need to tell them they are good. In a study of praise and effectiveness, the most improvement was achieved through praise (71%) compared with criticism (19%) or being ignored (5%).
  2. Focus on the positive – make sure you get the ‘balance’ right with at least 3 positives for every negative. Basically, every time something good happens, say so.  That should give enough credits for when you have to talk to them about improvement.
  3. Praise for effort rather than ability – telling someone they are good at something is not effective. The trick is to praise for effort rather than ability so notice when individuals try hard and tell them they did well.


Praise builds people up and makes them resilient.  Resilient people lead to resilient organisations and we have never needed that more than now so go ahead and tell everyone you work with that you see them and they are amazing.

Have you created a culture of kindness? Have you experienced the limitations of fear?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.




Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

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