Author Archives: Ian Sampson

Managing Bosses Who are Bullies

Edwina is a successful manager working in Asia. In the last three years she has built an innovative strategy for her business. The strategy was endorsed by the business as being totally aligned with the overall strategy and Edwina is successfully completing it with active support from her widely distributed team. She has worked hard on developing her leadership skills and manages her professional discipline with recognition from her team, colleagues and those higher in the hierarchy.

Yet she is thinking of resigning. The problem is a new boss who she sees is acting against the interests of the company. None of his actions are illegal or immoral, although Edwina thinks some of his actions are unethical and violate the company’s stated values.
Two of her team and a colleague senior manager have told her they are thinking of resigning.

The situation came to a head for Edwina when the manager, Roger, spoke extremely rudely to her. When she asserted that his statements were inappropriate, Roger was even more rude and started making accusations about Edwina.

Her functional boss is aware of Roger’s poor management style and told Edwina that his performance was being assessed. Despite all the rhetoric, no action was likely to be taken if he produced the desired business results. Edwina could see that if any corporate action was to be taken it would be months away.

In the meantime she had to have a plan. She got her thoughts straight and called her coach.
In a mentoring and coaching conversation Edwina reviewed many ways of dealing with the situation and developed a multi-faceted plan with her mentor’s guidance.

First, she resolved not to resign immediately. She resolved to keep her colleagues steady by encouraging them to keep up their productivity and to manage their personal resilience, using some skills she shared with them.
Secondly, Edwina decided to keep a personal diary, recording her interactions with her boss and the logic she used in deciding how to respond when he acted badly towards her.
Thirdly, she decided to continue keeping good records of his instructions and demands.
Fourthly Edwina decided to take a short break and ensure she was approaching this situation properly. For her, this involved charting how she thought Roger’s actions were inconsistent with the company’s values. Then she charted how she saw her actions as being consistent with the company’s values. And finally, she charted what her deep personal values were and how she saw Roger’s actions being inconsistent with her values. She used this thinking to steady her emotions and to guide her actions in future interactions with Roger over the next few months.

During this time, with her mentor’s support, she stayed resilient, did not resign, pulled her work and non-work life into better balance and she used this situation to learn how to handle similar situations in future. Unfortunately the organisation’s leaders weren’t willing to lead the organisation out of the morass, so the productivity, morale and performance destroying behaviours continue.

One thing is sure: Edwina and organisational leaders across the world will deal with situations like this time and time again. The situations won’t go away. Good managers learn how to build their repertoire of skills for managing the unmanageable.

What ACTUALLY Is Executive Coaching

This week I worked with a business owner, Ron, on a problem that all business owners love.

We had a great coaching session and he got some great insights into the underlying issue and what steps to take next.
I also got some great learnings.

The first was when he asked me, a little shyly, “What, actually, is Executive Coaching, Ian?” I explained the differences between coaching, advisory and mentoring work.

Then he hit me with the blinder: “But I am not an Executive!”

Instantly, I saw that clients don’t need to be in “Executive” roles to receive Executive Coaching. That was learning number one.

Learning number two sprang from that quick insight: Executive Coaching is much more about the special nature of executive issues than the title or level of people in an organisation.

Some researchers and commentators call these special types of issues “Wicked Problems”, to distinguish them from other issues that people get coaching on.

Ron’s issue is a good example of a wicked problem:
•    It requires considerable mental effort to get its nature clear,
•    its symptoms are changing all the time,
•    the surrounding context is very fluid and
•    there are often multiple options on what to do next.

This is quite a different situation to other forms of coaching where, say, a player wants their coach to help them move their left foot in a different way when they are kicking the ball.

Albert Einstein said: “No problem was ever solved with the same consciousness that created it.” In the context of coaching, if you have a wicked problem you might resolve it by sitting alone in a dark room and “thinking” about it. But, you are likely to resolve it faster and better by having your coach help you get clear about what the issue really is and to bring new awareness of all the issue’s dimensions and options for resolution.

Ron and I started by talking about business referrals, then we clarified that it was more an issue of managing growth and then quickly developed on to how to organise his whole business. He is wrestling with how to get more referrals while trying to establish a new branch, increase his revenue base, keep his franchisor on side, recruit new staff, work less extreme hours and focus more time and energy on high value tasks.

In less than half an hour, he saw that if he took a radical approach to his fixed costs he could increase his profitability, generate new referrals, grow his business and concentrate on more high value activities. This is an option he said he would never have come up with by himself. Whilst I suggested the focus on costs and the particular idea to reduce them, the subsequent design and plan came from both of us working together.
Ron will be able to take immediate action and in so doing he will cause a whole raft of ripple effects to occur to resolve some of his other issues like numbers and quality of referrals, his personal workload and the immediate need for a new shopfront.

And that breakthrough for Ron lead to a third learning.  In our coaching conversation, Ron got to see that the creative, energising and radical proposal he chose to take on came not from him sitting alone in a dark room, not from him listening to me being wise and experienced but from our shared thinking. “It’s like one plus one equals three,” he beamed.

That’s what Executive Coaching actually is.

Your Big Chance to Build Resilience as a Leader

I’m working with a Managing Director who was facing a potential revolt by his staff three months ago.

His staff respect him immensely for his meticulous issue management but many felt afraid when he interacts with them.

We’ve been working together on distinguishing the differences between two mindsets. The first is the mindset required to resolve issues in a command and control environment. This is the one that the client loves and feels is his real value-adding strength in the business. The second mindset is that required to build relationships of trust, improvement, mutual respect and resilience between the staff and the Executive Team, including the MD. This is the mindset that the client had low personal awareness of and when he did think about it dismissed it as “fluff.”

In our early conversations he defended his professional standards, expecting his staff to acknowledge that operating to high quality expectations was the name of the game. “If they don’t like that they can lump it,” he said at one stage, implying that the problems brought about by his approach were actually caused by those who were suffering.

Through conversations of exploration and reflection he came to see that it’s not a case of “either/or” for resilient leaders but “this and this and this and this.”

Resilient leaders build resilience for their people by they way they embrace multi faceted thinking.

Resilient leaders also build their own resilience by the ways they engage in reflective leadership practice.

In the moment when resilient leaders exercise leadership it seems they bring several levels of awareness from the background of a leadership situation to the foreground.

In that nano second before they begin to expel their breath to speak or they flex their leg muscles to take a step, resilient leaders marshall four levels of awareness to help them exercise leadership that will make a difference.

The first is that they bring a deep awareness of the situation that they are experiencing. They have done their homework. They know what the context is. They know the players, their agendas, values, thoughts and dreams. They know the history.

The second is that they have a deep mindfulness about their own self. They have reflected. They have dreamed the dream. They have counted the cost. They have summoned the intellectual insights to understand for themselves what is going on and what needs to be done. They have considered their own state.

The third is that they have clarified for themselves their intention. They have sifted the chaff of all the competing priorities and objectives and possibilities. From all that they have identified a clear intention or a couple of intentions that they find noble, worth the effort and that they hope will be effective The fourth is that they have a deep regard for the followers who are involved and who will be affected. They have developed an appreciation of who they are as people rather than statistics, They have dreamed the followers’ dreams. They have walked in their shoes at least metaphorically.

In the moment when they open their mouths or they take the first step, resilient leaders summon these four states of awareness and leadership occurs.

When my coaching client saw this for himself it revolutionised his approach to his people. Over a couple of weeks of practice he progressively saw that as issues arose, instead of just practising meticulous issue management he also could appreciate how his staff were being affected by the issue. He began to explore with them the processes they were using to solve the issue before he became involved. He began to offer his wisdom on different ways to approach complex problems, not just barking solutions.

In a month the whole office environment changed. Several staff who were contemplating leaving have suspended their plans. Others are tentatively engaging with the MD in new ways, testing the waters to see how he responds and how consistently he engages with them rather than merely seeks to “control.”

The MD is noticing that he has more energy and has recaptured his enthusiasm for his business. He has even been freed up from the unspoken mental anguish that this situation has caused, to allow himself to think about the future strategy again.

If you are a leader at any level in an organisation, this post serves as an invitation. If you are feeling “out of sorts”, “off your game”, if you are losing sleep over an issue involving your relationships with others you lead: get a coach. It may not be me but you owe it to yourself and your people to rebuild your passion for your own life and for your business.


Don’t Seek A Board Position UNLESS….

man having presentation at seminar

In my work as a coach to CEO’s, Chairs, Directors and senior executives we often discuss what makes for a good Board applicant.
Chairs are usually thinking about this from a recruitment angle, the others from being interested applicants.

From a combination of study, research and personal experience here is a checklist that I use in advising Boards on who to look for and in advising applicants on what they need.

1. Relevant skills and experience. There is no point seeking appointment to a government racing board if you have no interest in racing and can’t tell a totalisator from a horse’s tail!

One of the very positive transformations occurring in director recruitment is the move away from requiring detailed skills and experiences that limit the field. A long list of mandatory skills and requirements has created a tendency for Boards to clone themselves. This is not a good governance practice in itself and certainly not a good way for an organisation to grow.

Skills and experiences must be relevant, with very restricted numbers of mandatory requirements.
Skills and experience must be contemporary. For example, it is hard to think of a Board that needs directors who are not IT savvy.

Also, good Boards, even those in the Not For Profit space, should not assess applicants just on the basis that a Board skill can supplement management skill gaps.

So, don’t seek a Board position unless you have relevant skills and experience.

2. Strategic Thinking. Strategic thinking is not just skill in planning. Strategic thinkers can see opportunities and pitfalls ahead. They are not just focussed on the short term tactical requirements but combine an ability to assess how current operations might be increasing risk, reducing sustainability or digressing from the mission and goals.

Strategic thinking is a key mindset and ability for directors to ensure that they operate at the right level in an organisation. Strategic thinking keeps directors out of operational matters that should be capably performed by CEOs and their teams.

So, don’t seek a Board position unless you are a truly strategic thinker.

3. Financial acumen. Many CFOs and Finance Managers make good Board members. They can bring detailed professional knowledge and literacy to the Board table. For non accountants, there is hope: learn to capably understand, interpret and interrogate financial matters. This is a relevant skill for virtually all Boards today. It is also a key requirement for capable strategic thinking.

Boards don’t need to be full of accountants however. Such imbalances create myopia, miasma and misanthropy.
Good Boards have a great balance of skills; one of them must be financial acumen in the Board as a whole but it is not the be all and end all.

So, don’t seek a Board position unless you can hold you own place on the finances of the organisation.

4. Keeping ahead of the game. This requires an ability to synthesise strategic thinking, risk management, innovation, goal congruence and planning. In some ways keeping ahead of the game requires the same mindset that good leaders have: they are always thinking about the context, what the context means at a personal level, how both those factors can be used to take a situation forward and how all that can be done with deep regard for the human beings we all are.

So, don’t seek a Board position unless you are accomplished at keeping ahead of the game.

If you have ticked all these factors in the Checklist then go out with confidence and seek to make a difference as a great Board member.

If you could not tick all four areas, talk to a good coach who works in this area to build your capability, confidence and networks.

Peak Organisational Performance

Excellence compass
Great CEOs are increasingly realising that the value of having a coach. They highly value the opportunity of meeting regularly and discussing what’s on their mind with someone who is independent, discrete and knowledgeable about organisations and people.

The CEOs, Chairs, Directors and senior executives I coach say repeatedly that they get far more value out of our meetings than the cost of an hour’s coaching ($500 +GST).

These meetings provide a safe place to “think out loud.” Sometimes they are wrestling with a dilemma. Sometimes they are refining plans. Other times they need to pull back and look deeper at the underlying context. Sometimes they are looking for exit plans. Sometimes they seek new entry points.

Our conversations usually require me to listen deeply to what is said and what is just below the surface. I seek to reflect what I am hearing and to create opportunities for consideration. I’m old enough to realise that I don’t know it all but I have had enough years of experience in serving senior colleagues to be able to help them find new ways forward.

The very best leaders have a coach as a sign of their commitment to high quality personal performance. They meet with their coach regularly.

If you are a CEO, Director, Chair or Senior Executive, you might be surprised to know how many of your senior colleagues have a coach. It’s a good investment.

If you would like a trial please contact me by clicking here.

Talent Pool: People Who Can Help You To Do More In The World

talent concept
Ian often comes across talented colleagues who have more to give. They might be:

  • Looking for a new role whilst still employed
  • In transition from one role to the next
  • Employed and wanting to complement their main role with something additional
  • Retired or semi-retired and looking for new areas to contribute
  • Offering professional services and have capacity to take on new work

I meet 50-75 people a month. Some are new friends and colleagues, others are long standing acquaintances.

Throughout my career I have met hundred or maybe thousands of talented people.

I realised several months ago that we are quite a community.

I also realised that many of us are seeking to maximise what we do well in the world, whatever that might be.

Some are looking for new roles, new directions, new opportunities to contribute to the community, new areas of personal development.

So, I have developed a Talent Pool for all you knowledgeable, experienced, energetic, creative folk who want to do more in the world, and have it listed as a reference on my website:

If you have something to offer, please feel free to send me a paragraph describing what you do well, what you are interested in doing and why others might be interested in you. Keep it simple and jargon free. Click here to send me your description.

Here’s an example:

Talented finance executive and company director seeking board appointments. Expertise in private wealth management, corporate finance, corporate governance and risk management, strategic human resource management. Currently a senior leader in an iconic blue chip financial services business and holds various board appointments. Well qualified with a Masters in Applied finance from Macquarie University, a Bachelor of Commerce and a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Providing that it is an appropriate fit, I will post your paragraph on the website.
If someone contacts me expressing interest in your offering, I will contact you first and then link you up.
No promises, no obligation, no cost.

Talented and innovative business and personal branding specialist and Director of a boutique digital marketing agency. Works with a select group of clients who are leaders in their fields to position them as a leading authority online. Will create an authority branding strategy for you, premium web design and content marketing strategy. This website is an example of their work.

The Extraordinary Relationship Between Chairman & CEO

Handshake between business men
The relationship between a Chairman and a CEO is special. Great Chairs often act as a confidant, mentor, adviser, sounding board and interpreter for the CEO.

Last week, I had the privilege of coaching a Chairman who fulfills this role with distinction in his organisation.

In some other organisations, I get to play the role that this chairman fulfills with his CEO by coaching the CEO directly, but in this case the CEO has such confidence and trust in the Chairman that I don’t need to do that.

However, I do coach this Chairman. Why? Because the Chairman has a deep commitment to his CEO ‘s success and he knows first hand the benefits of having continuing coaching.

He meets with me regularly and together we design the important conversations he will have with his CEO. He gets me to road test his thinking, perception and ideas before he meets the CEO, as a demonstration of his desire to ensure that these special conversations land well.

We’ve been having coaching conversations together now for two years. The results are reflected in the emerging culture of the organisation: deeper respect, greater respectful honesty, increased performance and efficiency and some impressive innovations at several levels.

A typical coaching session will identify what is going on at present, how that fits with the Chairman’ intentions, the impact of that on the values and principles of the organisation, the impacts on relationships and how information is shared and freed up and the effects on strategy and structures.

From that point on we get a clear design of what the Chairman will say and how and when to have the conversation so that it has maximum benefit for the CEO. I also usually get him to reflect, so that he continues to extract learning and insight.

Successful, functional leaders of organisations, in my experience, have coaches just like others at the peak of their performance: musicians, sportspeople, actors, government ministers.

I believe I have one of the best jobs in Australia: coaching Chairs, CEOS and their teams for peak performance and efficiency.

Please contact me if you would like to explore how to create a coaching relationship like this one.

“What Stands In The Way, Becomes The Way”

look forwardMarcus Aurelius, the last of the Five Good Emperors said: “ What stands in the way becomes the way.”

One of the approaches I use in coaching executives and directors is to help them identify obstacles (what stands in the way), to help them see what they can do next (what becomes the way).

This is a somewhat different situation to that where executives and directors want to improve their performance; for example by being coached on improving their leadership presence.

Obstacles arise in many ways.

Last week I worked with a CEO who is thinking about the challenges in his industry sector arising from disruptions to traditional technology.

He is confronted by an obstacle i.e. the plethora of health-related Apps. He is worried that his business will potentially be wiped out if consumers using these apps go straight to medical specialists rather than through his business.

His thinking model was that the traditional B2B model he had found successful was going to be replaced with a B2C model.

However by rethinking what is really going on in the market, he got to see that the consumers’ involvement through apps is actually going to be a boon if they handle it cleverly. Instead of being a B2B business where he is selling a particular health service in response to a prescription from specialists, his business is actually morphing into a B2C2B business. It’s just that now the consumers are taking a more active role in their health treatment and will actually increase demand for his company’s services if he acts strategically.

By thinking about the obstacle (the rise of medical apps) in a coached conversation, this CEO got to see that the apps actually provide him with the way forward (a new channel to market).

If you are facing obstacles as an executive, CEO or Director please contact me for a no-obligation exploratory discussion about how coaching can provide new ways forward.

What are Pecha Kucha Presentations?

pecha kucha ian sampson
Have you heard of Pecha Kucha? It’s a way of presenting that is fun, short (six minutes and 40 seconds to be precise!), involves virtually no text on the slides and requires presenters to become very adept at refining their message.

The 20 slides in a presentation cycle through every 20 seconds, so the messages have to be clear, crisp and precise. As a result it becomes a wonderful antidote to the disease called Death By Powerpoint!

I made a Pecha Kucha presentation last week to explain the work I do to Business Network International’s Brisbane B2B chapter, of which I am a member. BNI is a great organisation. Please contact me if you are interested in building your business reach through BNI’s networks of business people.

The Pecha Kucha presentation described an approach I use in coaching executives and directors of organisations on complex problems. It must have been OK because it received two rounds of acclamation! Click here for the download link if you would like to see it.

Dealing With Seemingly Intractable Situations

Risk ConfusionLoneliness in decision making at the top is generally recognised as a phenomenon of modern business life. But support is rarely accessed when those at the top of an organisation feel they have to deal with complex matters, just relying on their own resources.

While CEO’s, Chairs, and senior executives spend their days with people, solving, representing, promoting, managing, creating and doing all the myriad of things that make up a busy day, they sometimes are faced with issues that they cannot discuss with colleagues, professional advisors or even within their families. This is a strange and often dangerous place to be: surrounded by others but unable to draw on their guidance and support because of the highly delicate nature of the issue. Sometimes the issues concern colleagues. Sometimes they are about a deeply personal dilemma. Sometimes they are highly sensitive and strategic.

Recently I worked on just such an issue with the CEO of an ASX listed company. We met away from the office and over four hours developed a plan to take up a $200m investment in a new area of activity and to do it in a way that also provided great personal satisfaction for the CEO. The complexity came from the interweaving of two goals. The solution emerged by decoupling them, working through the best solution for each and then recombining them into a coherent plan.

Often complex issues can be unravelled like this to make them more tractable. Sometimes they are so complex that ways have to be found to just cope with the mess until a solution emerges.

These kinds of conversations can be short or long. My shortest has been 15 minutes and we came up with an outcome that initially shocked the other person but then delighted them. On other occasions the time horizon of conversations can spread over many weeks or months as their complexity unfolds.

Einstein is credited with saying that “no problem was ever solved with the same consciousness that developed it”. Working with a trusted advisor can produce new insights and understandings that build creative solutions to seemingly intractable situations.

In each of these situations the aim is to create the conditions where transformational outcomes can emerge both in relation to the issue itself and often for the other person to experience for themselves. I have also learnt that this kind of specialised work requires various skills like deep listening, coaching and the ability to give careful and considered advice.

You may be a CEO struggling in your relationship with the Chairman of the Board. Perhaps you a Board Chairman confronted with a fellow director who is acting against the agreed business strategy. Or you could be a senior executive unable to flag a financial impropriety for fear it will bring down the organisation and your own career with it.

Sure issues such as these can be deeply worrying – but you don’t have to deal with them alone!