Putting leadership theory into practice

Recently whilst reading an IIP re-accreditation review report for a client, I came across the comment that ‘Executives and Senior Managers have generally received a great deal of leadership development, support and training’.  It went on to say that “their biggest challenge is how to exercise these skills in the current environment”.

As a leadership development trainer and provider I had struggled with this view for years, concerned as what happened when participants on generic leadership interventions returned back to the workplace.  We all carry out post-intervention evaluation, either immediately at the end, or a short period after; seeking information on all sorts of things; knowledge of the trainer, their presentation skills, quality of the training rooms, even the food; but rarely do we ask ‘so how have you found putting the theory into practice!?’

The issue is that we use the theory to guide what and how we teach, not necessarily to enhance the participants’ performance.  For instanced a great deal of “leadership development” today, is in reality “personal development”; participants are given opportunities of all shapes and sizes, including psychological models, in order to look at their behaviour, and to enhance their personal development.   The end result often is that the participants feel they had a great experience even going so far as to call it life changing, but how to then apply such self-learning in the everyday working environment is a huge challenge.  The reality is, that we need to look beyond the learning intervention and the training environment where all we see are issues such as the quality of the presentation, how well the course facilitator conveyed the knowledge, and how comfortable and well-equipped was the training room.  We need to move closer with our leadership interventions to the everyday reality, culture and environment, of the participants.  We don’t need factional business case studies, but we do need to give illustrations as to how the application of the theory can enhance the participants’ leadership effectiveness in everyday work related settings. Knowing what to do however is one thing, wanting to do it is another matter; the latter  involving all the skills, all the new found knowledge, some of which might cause discomfort, combined with the emotional intelligence and awareness of how this will impact on self and others.

To influence leadership and to be able to enhance the capability and the effectiveness of the participants; requires constant feedback and reflection.  As trainers and developers of executives and senior managers we need to be working with the Board, with HR and or OD, to ensure that the interventions we offer are robust,  contextual, and are aware of cultural and environmental issues.  In particular, we need to be working together to ensure that the organisation is ready to support participants on their leadership journey; as they transfer the theoretical newly acquired learning into their working environment.

Oft quoted are analogies referencing the implementation of leadership development which quite rightly recognise the difficulties involved in areas such as style, behaviour and attitude development, without providing the answers. i.e. it’s like buying a pair of new shoes, which look great in the shop, but when you start to wear them they pinch a little and if you are not careful you put them at the back of the cupboard never to be worn again! How does that help, other than don’t buy new shoes!

We need to look beyond the intervention; to put ourselves into the mind of the participant, and in doing so, be there to help them as they try out the new skills, so that when faced with the inevitable ups and downs of trying something different, they reflect, understand, learn, and in the words of the old song “pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start all over again”

Let’s take an example.  As a leading executive, you have undertaken leadership development; you may even have a coach or mentor.  How can you use all this learnt theoretical knowledge to enhance your leadership effectiveness as you seek to take your team forward, together facing the next challenge; whether that is the launch of a major initiative, or even facing up to that difficult team meeting ; what could we tell you to do in order to convert theory into practice.

Well, we could tell you to:


  • STOP – take a deep breath
  • THINK – engage, brain, wisdom and experience
  • REFLECT – on where you are, what had happened, what you need to do
  • FINALLY – get yourself into the right frame of mind, where you can exercise calm, confidence, control; so that you can release that new learning


  • VIEW THE TEAM – where are they, how are they, what do they need
  • LISTEN – be aware, who’s energised, who’s motivated, who needs support


  • MOTIVATE – use inspirational language to explain where you are about to take them, the journey you are going on, and why.
  • ENGAGE – share the problem, co-create the strategy and plan; give them the task, encourage them to want to do it
  • EMPOWER – enable them to do what needs to be done, whilst you monitor and support them and the progress they are making

At the Worldly Leadership Foundation we build into all our senior leadership programmes  methods to help senior leaders put all the theory they may have learned into practice.

For more information about our senior leadership development programmes please get in touch

Great feedback from Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust CEO

We have been working with Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust and prior to its inception South Birmingham NHS PCT. We have provided board level interventions and more recently Leading Change: Developing Culture programmes to senior staff through our the Trust.

We are really pleased to have this feedback from Tracy Taylor the Chief Executive:

“Paul has worked with Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust for the past six years.  He has provided excellent support and expertise in facilitating a range of away days and workshops from board level down to individual team level.  Paul is adaptable, flexible and is always well prepared.  His knowledge at board level is wide ranging and he provides a high degree of insight to ensure those attending workshops facilitated by him get the most out of the event.”

Tracy Taylor
Chief Executive, Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust

Leadership, engaging or engaged ?

“It’s not just engaging others; it is equally as important to stay engaged yourself, particularly when leading major change.”

I found myself saying that recently to one of the directors of an organisation which launched a major change initiative just over eighteen months ago. The change was considerable, involving a change of leadership; of location; with new staff, many at senior level; and new ways of working.

Culturally such change was always going to be difficult. The attitude and behaviour of staff to any change, was always going to be challenging. Recent history bore the scars of a painful failure of leadership, to implement change effectively.

The simple fact is that change requires good leadership. Leadership which shares a clear vision of the future understands where they want the organisation to be. Leadership which has a clear and intelligent sense of what needs to be done to get there, and one which role models the the behaviours and values such a journey will need.

For the CEO this means not only being the catalyst of change; they should be the owner of the vision of the future. They need to be engaging and inspiring others to help co-create the strategies required to make it happen; but above all, they themselves must stay engaged.

All too often we see change initiatives fail because the executive fail to understand the time it takes for true cultural change to take effect. They move on to other things, in other directions; assuming that the reports, and busyness of the organisation means that everything is moving forward, in the right direction.

Leadership for change requires the Executive to be constantly visible; role-models of the future; leading by example; constantly taking stock.

The reality is that perhaps during this process the leaders need to look more closely than ever at themselves. Indeed perhaps they have to change themselves as much if not more than others.

Time to stand and stare ?

“What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare”

                                                                                                                W. H. Davies

Working with a group of senior managers, this quote kept buzzing around and around in my head, as the day was constantly punctuated by the sound of ringing mobile phones. Each ring tone seemed louder and more outlandish than the previous one. Each ring made everyone stop and look as someone dashed out of the room to answer it, or even worse, sat there and talked over everyone else. Every call was treated as “urgent”, every call had to be answered, every call was followed by profuse apologies; “I just had to take that.” “It’s manic at the moment”. “We are just so busy.” “We just don’t have time at the moment.”

Interestingly, viewed another way, what was really being said, could be interpreted as …look how important I am…I complain at those around and below me for not taking responsibility, but they cannot cope without me…my importance is proven by how busy I am…if I treat the call as urgent, then it must be important.

In the middle of such hustle and confusion, decisions are made or not, on the hoof. There is no time to reflect, to connect with the overall vision and purpose of what you are doing at the moment; checking the alignment with current objectives; giving yourself the space to allow your wisdom and experience to come into play.

Robert Holden says: “Leadership is learning to stop, if only for a few minutes, in order to take control.”

A few years ago, I had the privilege of working with a board of directors, one of whom was from Senegal, whilst he had sought education, and had become a lawyer; his twin brother still remained in the same village in Africa. Regularly, when faced with change, doing something different, particularly changing how the board worked together; the response was “we don’t have enough time”.

Catching a twinkle in his eye, I invited Joseph to comment. He said;

“Well Paul, it is very interesting, in the western world you have many watches, but no time; in Africa we have no watches, but lots of time.”

Role Modelling Leadership Behaviour

Sitting on the train reading the paper, my eye caught a small headline about the Prime Minister of New Zealand, and as my youngest son lives there, I couldn’t help but read it. Apparently he had been very derogatory about David Beckham, and the press were recording this as yet another gaffe by a very outspoken politician.

Alongside the article was a photograph of David Beckham, flanked by The Princess Royal and Lord Coe, as they went out to try and win the Olympic Games for Great Britain.

Beckham looked immaculate, beautifully groomed, smartly dressed, confident, and obviously at ease; a perfect role model for today’s young man.

Role modelling is an all too often forgotten leadership responsibility; to be the very picture of what you expect, both visually and in terms of attitude and behaviours;  not just for today, but for the future: if you cannot be an example, and portray that person, how can you expect others to!

Time devoted to role modelling, to visibly demonstrate the behaviours of a leader in your organisation, is time well spent.

So ask yourself; do you portray a smart, well groomed image; presenting a professional manner, behaving with honesty and integrity, listening to people, treating them with respect; knowing when to be the team player, but retaining the right distance.

Regardless of gender , we all could perhaps reflect on the image of Beckham, who throughout the summer was often to be seen on our screens; polite, smiling, confident, calm, diplomatic, in control; I would be very happy if my leaders portrayed themselves like that !

Superstorm Sandy Engaging Leadership

Source: The Telegraph www.telegraph.co.uk

I was watching the news, looking at the destruction and havoc caused by Superstorm Sandy as it swept across the southern states of America; when there he was, President Obama, in his jacket and jeans running down the steps of Airforce One on to the tarmac in New Jersey.

This was not the normal, formal picture of the President; it was not even the image we occasionally see, of him off duty! This was the President showing the world and the American people, that he was in control, and that he was going to lead by example.

The result and the pictures that followed of him comforting ordinary people, said that here is a man showing that he cares, that he is committed to supporting people; that he is leading. The outcome was that even one of his most staunch critics, Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, could only look on in admiration and say “It’s really important to have the President of the United States here!”

The quality of our leadership, and the way we conduct ourselves as leaders, is a crucial factor in our ability to engage people; to create that vital emotional attachment to us as their leader and to the organisation we lead.

It’s engagement that motivates and energises people to do things because they want to, rather than to do them because they have to.  To want to give more, do more; go that extra distance. This isn’t rocket science, we all know this, but how often do we really think about our leadership, and the impact it has on those we lead. How often do we ask ourselves,  are our people engaged , motivated and inspired?  As leaders, let’s not forget that it is within our grasp, our responsibility, to do this.

The storm gave America the chance to see Obama being the President, and it looked good, it looked engaging, it looked inspirational.

Being the Leader – thanks Pastor Mullins

I always knew I listened to Radio 4’s Sunday Worship for a reason other than to sing along to familiar hymns from my past. As always I was half listening, my head full of ideas and reflections on the time spent in the week working with a group of senior NHS people, exploring with them the meaning of leadership in their context, and how to actually be the leader; when Pastor Barrington Mullins, from Brooks Bar New Testament Church of God, delivered his sermon. Suddenly I was listening, the sermon was all about leadership, and in particular what he called Spiritual Leadership!

He said….” It has to do with influence and example….all leaders are flawed and how people in the public eye act really does count.” He went on to identify the particular traits of those he called spiritual leaders…” not just dynamic power….it has the purpose of delivering service to others….a privilege and responsibility to benefit the lives of others….encouragement to the discouraged, support to those who are weak….to positively affect the lives of the people they encounter “ every day. In understanding these basic tenets, we can use them…. “as criteria to assess the integrity of all that we do.”

It struck me that as leaders, using the above thoughts as a means  to reflect on our own behaviours, attitudes and motives;  would be a good start to incorporating reflective practice on how we are leading!


Some thoughts while reading back over a couple of leadership quotes….

“The very essence of leadership is that you have a vision. It’s got to be a vision that you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”  Father Theodore Hesburgh

  • Effective leaders, use  inspirational language and imagery, to model and convey to their people an appealing vision of the future.
  • In order to know the route of travel they are to undertake, people need a sense of direction; they need to know why they are travelling, and what lies at their destination.
  • Vision is an inspirational picture for people, of what life will be like, and the behaviours and attitudes needed in order not only to get there, but to continue to grow and flourish when they do.
  • A “shared” vision, that all can engage in, can sense and feel, is a fundamental requirement when embarking on a period of organisational change.

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”   Warren Bennis

  • Effective leadership ensures that the vision is “shared” by all; that it is communicated to all; and that everyone is helped not only just to understand, but to see their role in helping to make the “vision” become reality.

A vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more.”  Rosabeth Moss Kanter

What do you think ??

Reflections on Transformational and Transactional Leadership

“Transformational leadership occurs when leaders raise people’s motivation and sense of higher purpose. It is distinguished from transactional leadership, which involves an exchange between leader  and  followers that typically provides a material or psychological reward in return for their compliance with the leader’s wishes, policies and procedures”  (Roger Gill).

Transformational leaders:

  • Have strong value systems
  • Stimulate imagination and creativity
  • Raise motivation , self-esteem , and self-confidence
  • Build stronger relationships
  • Inspire followers to dream beyond what is expected

Transactional leaders:

  • Initiate a transaction between the leader and the led
  • Set objectives and standards
  • Monitor and enforce rules and procedures
  • Have relationships built on reward in return for compliance
  • Are strongly directive, gaining compliance rather than commitment

“Most organisations will benefit from moving in the direction of more transformational aspects in their cultures, while also maintaining a base of effective transactional tendencies” (Bernard Bass).

Thanks to Roger Gill for permission to use material from his book “Theory And Practice Of Leadership”  second edition, published by Sage

What is ‘effective leadership’ ?

A question regularly asked by participants, particularly when addressing the issue of enhancing organisational leadership capacity and capability.  For inspiration, and a thoroughly researched answer, I have gone to a former colleague, and good friend, Professor Roger Gill.

In his book “Theory And Practice Of Leadership”, Roger identifies “Six core themes and practices of Effective Leadership”:

VISION. Effective leaders define and communicate a valid and appealing vision of the future.

PURPOSE. Effective leaders define and communicate a valid and appealing mission and purpose.

VALUES. Effective leaders identify, display, promote and reinforce shared values that inform and support the vision, purpose and strategies.

STRATEGY. Effective leaders develop, communicate and implement rational strategies that are informed by shared values and enable people to pursue the vision and the purpose.

EMPOWERMENT. Effective leaders empower people to be able to do what needs to be done.

ENGAGEMENT. Effective leaders engage people to want to do what needs to be done by using their personal power to influence, motivate and inspire them.”

– Roger Gill “Theory And Practice Of Leadership” Second edition, published by Sage