Author Archives: Ian Sampson

What Happens When Leaders ACTUALLY Lead?- Part 3

A couple of weeks ago I met with one of my mentors. He was describing his approach to the current phase of his life, which he is calling “Liberation”; liberation to do the things he wants and liberation to be the person he wants to be.

I mentioned that in my current phase of life I regard private service as a key for me. His ears pricked up and he asked me to say more. I said something like this: “Well, I think that we may be entering into a new phase of society. Just as we are transitioning from the industrial age to the digital age, I am finding more and more leaders transitioning from beliefs about the importance of public service to what I am calling Private Service. By that I mean that people are abandoning political leadership and the notions of governments controlling every aspect of life. Instead, thoughtful people are just getting on with what they can do in a private way.”

My thinking about Private Service is rooted in my intuitive understanding of leadership and what happens in the moment when leaders actually lead.

When leaders emerge who combine:
their understanding of their surrounding situation with
some personal thoughts, learning, understanding, models and the like and they translate them into
an intention to move ahead and
genuine care for others,
something transformational happens.

A group in this situation doesn’t just transition from inaction to action; its character transforms. The leaderless group members choose to give up being victims and bystanders, rationalising their immobility with thoughts like “It’s not my fault.”
In the moment when leadership emerges, a transformation occurs and both leader and followers now begin to follow a clear pathway to action.

There seem to be four steps on the pathway.
The first is to combine everything they have experienced up to that moment into a new context for action.
The second is that they take on a new role and accountability. In clarifying their purpose (Like Simon Sinek’s “WHY”) and accepting personal responsibility, they begin to find new meaning.
The third is that they begin to act, usually with a new awareness of what they are doing
Finally they notice the results.

As I think about, refine and practise this approach to leadership in my everyday interactions with others I am seeing transformations take place in who both others and myself are being.

Leadership practised in this way provides access to transformation of lives and activities. It may also provide new frameworks for those involved in industrial age Public Service and help them rekindle their leadership and help societies they serve transform into the Digital Age.

Since that meeting with my mentor we’ve done a bit more thinking together about this and started to involve others. What do you think? What understanding of leadership works for you? What do you think about a Private Service approach to being a leader?

If you have read this far you might like to attend an event run by The Leadership Foundation ( The Leadership Foundation provides opportunities for leaders to reflect on their own understanding of leadership and to practise their further development in a supportive environment with other leaders.

Invitation to GROW Your Coaching











Ian Sampson, BComm, LLB, FAICD,


GROW Your Coaching:
Breakthrough Coaching Event
3rd September 2015

The Brisbane Club

241Adelaide St, Brisbane

Early Birds to 14th August
Cost incl gst: $200
Teams of three: $500 Teams of four: $600

After 14th August
Cost incl gst: $250
Teams of three: 600
Teams of four: $700

If you want to be a great coach, come to this event. No matter how good a coach you are now, you will improve your coaching ability so you can be the best leader.

Good LEADERSHIP requires great COACHING.
“I”m trying to work out where to take my business next year.”
“My team has lost motivation because of a difficult staff member.”
“I want to build my ability to coach a high performer to new levels.”
“I want to find a new job.”
“We want to be able to have effective problem solving.”
“I would like to build coaching into our culture.”

In this powerful 3 hour session you will:

Learn how to coach straight away
Discover insights you can use immediately
Meet experienced coaches and newcomers
Develop new skills that will build your coaching confidence and capacity.

Bring a coaching issue that you would like to achieve a breakthrough in and that is costing you dearly in dollar, emotional or productivity terms.
Easy registration process:
Email to reserve you places.
Remit funds to BSB: 124 121
Account number: 90613549
Account name: Ian R Sampson
If you are a coaching novice, you will gain the ability to begin coaching right away.

Great Leaders Know The Anatomy of a Good Apology

We all mess up. Some of us recover better than others.
A couple of years ago I learned a great approach, called “The Anatomy of a Great Apology” from Prof John Galtung. I carry it on a small card in my wallet; perhaps because I need to apologise a lot!

We all mess up. Some of us recover better than others.
A couple of years ago I learned a great approach, called “The Anatomy of a Great Apology” from Prof John Galtung. I carry it on a small card in my wallet; perhaps because I need to apologise a lot!

There are four parts in “The Anatomy of a Good Apology.”
1 Take the blame
2 Accept responsibility
3 Detail the wrong
4 Announce the program for reforming yourself.

Last week I worked with an executive who was shattered because he had lost the trust of a close colleague. The relationship is damaged. Both are feeling bad. Gossip is spreading. 
He saw that, unless he acted with genuine leadership, things would, at best, stay unpleasant and at worst, deteriorate further.

We had a coaching conversation to work through a plan and this is what he came up with:

“I am sorry for not keeping my promise about X.

“It was my responsibility to do what I said I would do and I didn’t do it.

“I promised you that I would do X (activity) by Y (time) and include A,B and C (other people) in developing the plan to do X. I didn’t do that. Instead I was late doing it and I only talked to A and B. I missed the agreed time and I didn’t talk to all of the players. As a result Z (consequence) has happened and that has caused B (damage) to you. All that has left you with S (flow on consequences) and it has caused you to lose trust in me keeping my promises in future.

“My plan is to redo X by Y when it comes up again next month. I will include A, B and C. I will repay the loss in the the next month. I am talking with A,B and C to explain what I should have done and ask for their cooperation again. I will detail each of the key steps in the plan and I will make sure the key pieces are scheduled in our diaries.

How did the apology go? The other person was initially taken aback. He started to get aggressive and then quickly became thoughtful. When the exec had finished, his colleague took a deep breath, offered his hand and they got on with the next thing.
Small miracles like these occur every day when good leaders plan well, carry forward their intentions well and apologise well when they mess up. As we all do.

Is this Coaching? Mentoring? Advising? Joint Problem Solving? Professional Development? Friendship? It’s what I do. And, it is a great privilege to help others.
Is this Coaching? Mentoring? Advising? Joint Problem Solving? Professional Development? Friendship? It’s what I do. And, it is a great privilege to help others.

What Happens When Leaders Actually Lead- Part 2

Recent research at the Monash University in Melbourne confirms that our brains function differently when we are relating to the leadership efforts of someone whose purpose we align with, who regard as making sacrifices for us and who uses inclusive language. ( compass

In a recent post I highlighted the four activities that seem to be happening in the moment when leaders actually lead:
They bring all their worldly context, learning, experience, models and the like to bear and they use the appropriate elements as they draw in their breath to speak or tense their muscles to move
They call up their knowledge in intense mental work
They bring forth an intention to move others, change a situation or call for action
They elicit care.

These four activities are being tested in our experience in The Leadership Foundation ( as we seek to identify and work with leaders who really want to lead better in their organisations and communities.

Leaders who speak and act with the ability to describe a compelling purpose in ways that followers can identify with, create a shared identity for the leader and the followers. They become aligned.
Leaders who demonstrate to followers that the followers efforts are being matched or even exceeded by the leaders will take the sense of identity and alignment to a whole new level. Of course, this sense of sacrifice needs to be conveyed with care, else it be seen as en ego trip.
Leaders who speak in “We” and “Us”, rather than “I” and “Me” terms take the sense of identity as part of a close knit group to an even stronger place.

In the moments when leaders are creating productive brain activity in their followers through these three actions they are sharing their understanding of the world, their knowledge, their intention to create “leaderful” action and their care.

The Leadership Foundation’s events are designed to allow members to play with these ideas in a safe and friendly environment so that they can practice them in their workplaces and community organisations. The next TLF event will be held on Tuesday 22nd July in Brisbane. Contact Ben on 0400743170.



The other night a senior government minister was being interviewed on TV. The early part of the interview was full of the usual rhetoric, avoidance and repetition of the party hacks’ scripts.
The interviewer seemed frustrated, the minister seemed tense and bored, the viewers (my wife and I may have been the only two watching at this stage!) were disappointed and angry.
And then it happened: the interviewer asked a question that touched the Minister’s deep values. He paused. You could see him go into himself. He took hold of something deep within himself. As he brought it up and out his complexion changed, his eyes became enlivened. Then he spoke.
He gave a 30 second response that showed what his values were, how he was acting true to his values in supporting controversial legislation and what he would do to argue his position until the legislation was passed. My bride of 40 years and I didn’t agree with his conclusion but we both looked at one another and agreed that the guy had demonstrated real leadership in action.

In the gazillions of interactions that occur every day, a few get recognised as real leadership acts. What makes them so?

The Leadership Foundation is working to build leaders’ understanding and awareness of how leadership actually occurs. There are host of materials that describe the characteristics of leaders and leadership but The Leadership Foundation has discovered there is little evidential research about the actual workings of leadership during an interaction between leaders and followers. In fact we have gone so far as to propose that leadership might actually be able to occur with followers if leaders know how to lead themselves. Followership might actually be a measure of the effectiveness of the leadership, not just of its presence.

The Leadership Foundation is proposing that at least four things are occurring in the moment when leaders draw in their breath ready to speak, or tense their muscles ready to move.

Firstly, they bring an awareness of their context. It might be as big a context as having a sense of their place in history down to a thorough appreciation of the business and economic drivers at the present time, right down to acknowledging for themselves that the person opposite them seems on edge.
Effective leaders seem to be able to operate in the moment from a context that is useful and appropriate for the situation.

Secondly, they bring all their knowledge and experience of leadership to this situation. The Seven Secrets, the Six Laws, the Five Pitfalls, the Four Principles, the Three Steps, the Two Turtledoves and the Partridge in a Pear Tree unite with the experience of when they stood in the gap, rallied the employees, saved the day or completed the deal that caused action to occur.
In the moment, the leader triggers something from their learning and experience that enables them to lead. It is unique for them. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes it does and in that moment the miracle called “Leadership” occurs.

Thirdly, they bring an intention. Most often it is an intention to move a situation forward. It might be an intention to ease suffering, raise the funds for the project, get the legislation passed, score the goal.
Where there is intention there can be a result. In the moment, when leaders intend, action occurs.

Fourthly, and perhaps most contentiously, they bring care. This is contentious because it seems that leaders must always care about a situation for leadership to occur. It seems more problematic about whether they must also care for the people involved. The Leadership Foundation proposes that the best leadership occurs when both kinds of care are present.
In the moment, elemental emotions of regard, respect, care, affiliation, affection, love, etc in some measure help to trigger what is going to happen next.
The Leadership Foundation is a new organisation whose aim is to promote leadership in organisations and communities. TLF doesn’t train or teach; it seeks to encourage members to reflect for themselves and learn from others in a leadership community as they craft their leadership identity and build their leadership practice.
The next TLF event will be held on 21st July in Brisbane from 5.30-9.00pm
If you would like to attend please send me an email at

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.