Leadership Insight


We are fortunate enough to have brilliant people within our network of clients and friends from whom we learn so much. One of our fabulous supporters, a senior leader within the Banking Sector, has kindly shared these thoughts on our MD Catherine’s three questions on strategy, leadership and mindset.

1. I always learn so much from you every time I see you. You recently took me through the 3 key questions you ask any group or organisation trying to plan a strategy. Could you share these with us?

Thanks Catherine, I guess flattery will get you everywhere! In reality there is nothing earth-shattering or groundbreaking by what I’m about to say. It’s just sound and simple common sense. We spend so much time these days in a jargon full world trying to make what should be simple seem very complicated or maybe it’s done deliberately to keep out the un-initiated or make us seem more clever than we are.

My questions are these:

- What are we trying to achieve?

- What is the stuff that could trip us up or prevent us achieving that?

- What are we doing about it?

That’s it really. The problem comes of course that most people get question one wrong. They answer it in terms of what they are trying to achieve in this instance, as opposed to what we’re trying to achieve overall, and in so doing they lose the context.

Let’s take fraud for example. If you’re the anti-fraud team in your organisation, you may answer question one as “reduce fraud to a minimum.” Seems sensible, until you realise that the anti-fraud team are spending more money on combatting fraud than the cost of the fraud. If you don’t think that’s a problem, ask yourself if you would spend more on insuring your household contents than the cost to replace them?

So, going back to our example, perhaps the organisation’s aim is to be number one supplier in the market place. The answer to question one is now, “we want to be number one in the market place.” Now we can address the issue of fraud as to whether it will prevent us getting there. That will of course then depend on how much fraud we are prepared to tolerate in order to be able to achieve being number one in the market place. Which is a wholly different ask of the anti-fraud team, and in fact if we don’t see it as threatening our goal of becoming number one in the market place, the answer to question three maybe, “nothing,” or, “we’ll keep an eye on it and see if we need to do something if it starts getting worse.” (Always worth planning what that might be. If this happens then we’ll do this)

2. You have a vast amount of experience in leadership. What key lessons can you share with our readers?

Gosh, where do you start? I think leadership is a lifelong learning journey, and it’s never done. What works in one situation, may be completely counter-productive in another. But here are a few things I’ve been thinking about / discussing recently:

  • Leadership is an intensely human thing. It is all about human beings, and unless you are genuinely interested in people and see them as humans it’s very difficult to be a leader. If you see people as simply resource to do tasks, I would argue, you’re not leading, you’re managing.

  • What is a leader? I read a great book recently by Stan McChrystal about Leadership Myths and Realities. He suggested that sometimes we look at leaders and leadership the wrong way. We see leaders as being at the apex of a triangle. It’s true our org charts often have the leader at the top. But in reality, most leaders are a node in a network, they potentially are part of a team themselves, or at least part of something else. I really like this view, it gives a different perspective of the role of good leaders.

  • I think the other thing I’d like to mention today, is be present. It’s sort of linked to my point above. You can’t hide from your team, you need to be present. It also means you can’t be what you’re not. You have to leave from what is within you. If you try to be something else, you are hiding from your team, and they will see it.

I could go on, but I’m sure I’d rapidly become the cure for insomnia, so three thoughts is probably enough.


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3. What do you see as the key benefits from Sport and Beyond's ATLAS Mindset Programme?

I think this is related to the comments I made above with regard to leadership. The mindset programme deals with giving people the tools to help them create or become high performing teams. To do so, is intensely human. The programme helps people build their own human capabilities, but also see that there are a range of responses in others. They learn about themselves and they learn about others. They are equipped with tools that allow them analyse human behaviours and see things from different points of view.

That’s the technical stuff. Here’s the cool stuff. I think that having an elite athlete in the room who can empathise with everyone and see that the skills and techniques athletes use are just as applicable to them in their work and everyday lives. It’s also pretty cool to come home and answer the, “how was your day dear?” question with, I spent the day learning with an Olympic medal holder!

And the other Fab thing about the programme? It’s fun, and everyone gets engaged. The feedback I’ve had from my teams and colleagues has been immense. On of my colleagues said it was the best and most worthwhile personal development training he had ever been on in his 18 years of being in business!

An interesting and little known fact I’ve picked up recently is that people learn better, perform better and make better connections when they’re feeling happy and having fun. Well done for creating a great learning environment!

Catherine BAKERComment