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What can the DNA, a prosecution team and the ‘unindicted ejaculator’ teach us about leadership?

Do you know the kind of situation where you really believe something and you desperately want it to be true? For example, you believe that you are right about something and if it turns out that you were wrong it would be quite painful?

What if you believed that a person was guilty of something terrible in your company? What if you were sure they had done this dreadful thing? All your instincts told you it was their fault and your belief had caused you to act in a certain way and led you to taking drastic action. If you had to go back on this, it could cost your dearly in terms of finance and reputation. Heaven forbid you were wrong……

As a good leader, you would have checked your evidence... You would have been sure to check your facts… Surely you would have not have taken that action if there wasn’t the right evidence available….

Sometimes, despite our best endeavours, our brain plays tricks on us when our beliefs are challenged. Our brain tries so hard to up-hold our beliefs and can go to extreme lengths to maintain the status quo. Our brains don’t like our beliefs being challenged. Even when there is undeniable evidence.

The study of this human trait is covered by cognitive dissonance theory:

According to cognitive dissonance theory, (Leon Festinger) there is a tendency for individuals to seek consistency among their cognitions (i.e., beliefs, opinions). When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviours (dissonance), something must change to eliminate the dissonance.24 Nov 2010

There is a great deal to learn about this - especially as leaders. Important decisions are made all day, every day. All behaviours are based on beliefs and leadership behaviour must be exemplary. You act on what you believe in.

I’ve been blown away by what the excellent book “Black Box thinking” by Matthew Syed can teach leaders about cognitive dissonance. I would urge you to check yourself in relation to this. (In fact, I would recommend Syed’s book as mandatory for all leaders or potential leaders of the future, such is the importance of the learning contained within, not just this chapter.)

Syed describes, with compelling stories based in research and evidence, just how difficult it is for people to acknowledge when they are wrong.

When Alec Jeffreys had his eureka moment in a research lab in Leicester and realised that it was possible to identify a genetic fingerprint through examining variations of genetic code, and worked subsequently with Kary Mullins, these two scientists revolutionised criminology. Through their work it is possible, under the right conditions, to identify a human being by their unique DNA evidence. The chance of two people having the same DNA code is one in a billion.

This was a major breakthrough. It was suddenly possible to go back and re-examine

cases where people had protested their innocence. For example, in rape cases where sperm had been saved and the person charged maintained his innocence, there was now a definitive test which could prove it was or was not the same sperm.

The legal system had to stop and re think cases. It was no longer tolerable that an innocent man could be in wrongly imprisoned.

Imagine for one moment that you had dedicated hours of your professional life to “proving” a man was guilty of a horrendous rape crime. You had found some closure for the victim and her family. You believed you had done all you could to service the community. You had sent the right person to jail.

Then sixteen years later you discover that the sperm in the freezer cannot possibly belong to the guy you’ve sent to jail.

Your brain can’t compute the extent of the misalignment. Your brain goes into overdrive. You can’t bear to be wrong because it’s just too painful. For you and for your victim and the family.

Your brain finds ways to align to your beliefs. It goes to extreme lengths.

Matthew Syed writes about the many cases where this has happened and shows us how powerful cognitive dissonance is. It seems impossible that a rational, professional, experienced prosecutor could believe that an eight year old girl who was stabbed to death would have been sexually active with a third person in the crime scene before she was killed by the wrongly accused innocent man. Despite the evidence showing nothing of a third person in the room the prosecutor maintained that the jailed man was guilty because of the “unindicted ejaculator”.

This is so common in legal proceedings where cases are re-examined that the term now exists. So many incidences exist where there is a total inability to move to a different verdict by prosecutors since fresh DNA evidence comes to light that the legal system has recognised it as the term “The unindicted ejaculator.”

My significant point is that as leaders we need to be aware of cognitive dissonance. We could suffer from it because we are human, and it’s true to say that people we work with and lead may experience it to. Understanding it, working on it, using this learning to become a better leader could make the world of leadership a better place.

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When a new team member starts…

It’s been really interesting for me with my new business development of aligning my services with one of my clients.  I am strategically linked now with a fabulous company and this means for part of my working week I am part of their team.

For the last 4 years I have worked independently and been a bit of an outsider really, to a degree, in my working life.  I have been coming in and out the organisations I’ve worked with, whilst being quite well integrated -  not quite fully belonging.   

That’s changed now.  I belong.  It feels great! 

Previously I have been the observer of a situation like the one in which I find myself.  So being right in has been refreshing.

I am reminded of Tuckman's “forming, storming, norming, performing” four-stage model. This describes the process that happens when teams form. Of course when a new member starts and joins a team it sets the process of again.

Tuckman’s theory says that teams progress through recognisible stages as follows: 

  1. forming 
  2. storming 
  3. norming 
  4. performing 

Here are the features of each phase: see

Forming - stage 1

Here there is high dependence on leader for guidance and direction along with little agreement on team aims other than received from leader. Individual roles and responsibilities are unclear. The leader must be prepared to answer lots of questions about the team's purpose, objectives and external relationships. Processes are often ignored. Members test the tolerance of system and leader. The leader tends towards directing the team.

Storming - stage 2

At this stage the decisions don't come easily within group. Team members vie for position as they attempt to establish themselves in relation to other team members and the leader, who might receive challenges from team members. Clarity of purpose increases but plenty of uncertainties persist. Cliques and factions form and there may be power struggles. The team needs to be focused on its goals to avoid becoming distracted by relationships and emotional issues. Compromises may be required to enable progress. The leader uses coaching skills. 

Norming - stage 3

By now there is a good degree of agreement and consensus among the team, who respond well to facilitation by leader. Roles and responsibilities are clear and accepted. Big decisions are made by group agreement. Smaller decisions may be delegated to individuals or small teams within group. Commitment and unity is strong. There is general respect for the leader and some of leadership is more shared by the team. 

Performing - stage 4

By now the team is more strategically aware; the team knows clearly why it is doing what it is doing. The team has a shared vision and is able to stand on its own feet. There is a focus on over-achieving goals, and the team makes most of the decisions against criteria agreed with the leader. The team has a high degree of autonomy. Disagreements occur but now they are resolved within the team positively, and necessary changes to processes and structure are made by the team. Team members look after each other. The team requires delegated tasks and projects from the leader. 

By adding a new person into a team it can tend to take a time to go back to Performing as the team dynamics change. 

What helps to reduce this disruption?

  • A good inductions process if the team member is a new employee.
  • A clearly define company vision, set of values and standards which are communicated well.
  • Honesty and trust in a culture of feedback. 

Of course, all of this is depends on a robust recruitment process!  

I’ll keep you posted on developments and hope that I’m not too distruptive!  

The Bespoke Training Eastbourne Award, University of Brighton in Hastings

What a wonderful day to see so many students succeed in their endeavours to change their lives for the better! July 13th 2016 was probably the last time that there will be a Graduation Ceremony for the University of Brighton in Hastings, as it is under threat of closure at the moment. I have been a sponsor of an achievement award for the last two years because I was once a student at Brighton University and subsequently worked at the Sussex Coast College Hastings. I saw students grow and develop into confident, skilled and enthusiastic people, ready to make their way in the workplace. Many of these people had come from backgrounds which wouldn’t necessarily predict such great outcomes. With the support of the University to bring out the best of their talents, they are set now to make their mark in the world.

Brighton University changed my life. In 1997 I was in a very tricky situation. I had a one year old and a three year old and a very unwell husband who couldn’t work and was not receiving sick pay. The house was under threat of being repossessed and it was a very scary time. I had previously had a successful retail management career but had given up work to follow my dream of becoming a full time mum. However I had to find a way to support my family in case my husband did not recover. I sought some excellent careers advice, as I knew that a full on career in retail would not suit our situation. I had no family around me to help and the hours in retail would not make it easy to balance home and work. I was guided to consider a career in teaching and within two years of hard study and balancing all the factors I become a qualified business studies teacher. During my degree the University supported me academically, emotionally and financially. In fact I would go as far as to say they saved me from the depths of despair. My life turned around and so did that of my family. I will always be grateful. That’s why I was moved to sponsor a prize. I vowed that if I could ever give something back then I would. (I am also pleased to say that my husband’s health has improved!).

I am saddened by the news about the future of the Hastings university centre. I hope this can be reviewed to continue the great work of encouraging people to access higher education in a town that will surely benefit from it.

I wish all the Graduation students of 2016 the very best and thank them for making me so welcome at their event. I wish Oliver Rimmer all the best as he was the most improved student across the year group.

What a Vietnam Prisoner of War can teach us about leadership.

One of my favourite books about expert leadership is Jim Collins’ “Good to Great”. There is so much in this masterpiece but my very favourite section covers the story of a US Vice Admiral’s experience as a survivor from the isolation on four years in solitary confinement as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Vice Admiral James Stockdale not only survived his incredible ordeal he used it to teach himself something. His survival tactics have been studied by those psychologists who study exceptional performance. Of course this area of study is significant because if a few people can experience exceptional success or achievements – then why can we all do this?

Collins studied many highly successful companies and compared them to their next best competitors. It was the sequel to “Built to Last”, but should really be read first! “Good to Great” looks into those companies who really gained massive traction and powerfully took their results through the roof over a period of about 15 years or less. The factors leading to this success were studied as a piece of empirical research. If you haven’t read it I highly recommend you do. There is much to learn and it contains a few surprises too.

The major piece of learning that comes from the section based on the Vice Admiral’s achievements deals with attitude. Many gurus cover the topic of a positive attitude and the trait of optimism. James Stockdale revealed a slightly different view.

The Stockdale Paradox emerges from Good to Great as a way of looking at positive psychology and adding in another factor. Facing the brutal truth.

There were many prisoners in the same situation as Stockdale, although they didn’t survive. They based all their survival efforts on being optimistic about their fate and hanging on for the day they would be rescued. Studies revealed that many died of broken hearts. They hoped for a release at Christmas, then Easter, then in the fall and so on. Their optimism wasn’t enough to keep them alive on its own.

Stockdale, on the other hand, coupled optimism with facing up to the brutal truth. Collins claims this as one of the six key concepts in his Good to Great Flywheel model.

He famously said “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade”

His efforts were channelled into accomplishments to defy the enemy and to take an element of control. He developed a tapping code to communicate with others, he sent a coded message home to his wife which relayed vital information about the enemy and he used a system of milestones to keep him alive.

Since the study of his ordeal the “Stockdale Paradox” has been discussed in leadership circles and it is simply this:

  • “You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties."

AND at the same time…

  • You must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

This is something that underpins my coaching practice. I work with business owners and senior leadership teams to help them build faith in themselves and face the brutal truth. In business organisations it is sometime shard for the truth to reach the right ears. I train and coach leaders to develop a coaching culture where feedback is key. This leads to expert leadership and excellent results. The powerful Best Year Yet programme has helped my clients do just that. Would you like to have your Best Year Yet?

If you would like to find out more about the coaching and training packages that Bespoke Training Eastbourne delivers please do get in touch. You can call reception on: 01323 332316 to book in for a consultation or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We have availability from September.

If you quote this article and call before July 21st you can claim a free copy of the resources from the 2015 Leadership that gets Results Conference materials.

What’s the link between the pot-bound plant and leadership?

A key feature of successful leadership is to be found in the story of the pot-bound plant.

My lovely plant, which I had bought for one pound many, many months ago had become pot-bound. It wasn’t looking so good. It was squashed up and failing to thrive. I looked at it often and mumbled to myself “I must re-pot that plant” and busily got on with my weekend.

Many weekends came and went. I kept looking at the plant and saying “I must get round to re-potting that plant”. The thing was, it wasn’t urgent and other priorities took over. I knew I would probably get round to it eventually.

Then it came to crisis point. It looked like it was about to die! I simply HAD to take action. I needed to save it. Quickly.

So I urgently went to the garden centre and bought the necessary items. A bigger pot and some nourishing potting compost. I focused on it and made it happen. The key was the focus. I tenderly nurtured the plant and saved it. It’s definitely thriving now.

I wanted to take some learning from this experience because I knew that what had been lacking to cause this near miss was my focus.

A successful leader needs focus. It’s so hard in this busy world to keep priorities front and centre. It’s so easy to get distracted. There are so many ways to let your attention get sucked into so many things trying to grab it from you. The skill of discernment has never been as vital as it is today.

How do you develop excellent focus?

One sure way is to use the power of compelling deadlines. I worked with a graphic designer who had a massive tendency to dwell in being creative – mainly for the pure joy of it. I highlighted that she could never have a successful business if she just carried on drifting into creativity without taking action, and completing things! She knew this to be true. I asked her what work did she always manage to get completed successfully and she thought about it for a while. It was always the work she did for couples getting married. She never failed to move to completion when the deadline was crucial. Without the beautiful table settings and seating plan etc on the day she would let the couple down. There would never be that special moment again and she felt this deeply. That made her take action.

So getting focus is connected to having a compelling reason to take action. This is what differentiates exceptional performers from average performers. Connecting with what really matters so that the deadline is non-negotiable. I often work with successful business owners and senior leadership teams. We work together to develop a plan for great achievement through expert leadership. Part of that work is to develop a real connection with what really matters and that boils down to focusing on PURPOSE.

Having a powerful purpose sets a chain reaction in motion. It enables you to see clear priorities. From there you can develop productivity and from that you can access success.

If you want to get clarity of purpose so that you can build a focus on your priorities please get in touch. Lots of research has been carried out into the effects of writing goals down and on average research says that this makes you 39.7 % more likely to achieve them. Having someone to hold you accountable each week (such as a coach) makes you 74.9% more likely to achieve them.

Please call 01323 332316 to book in for a chat or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.