Published date: March 29, 2017
Last modified: March 29, 2017

There are leaders, and then there are those who lead


Martin Rafe, Leadership and Talent Development Director, Join the Dots, discusses leadership – skills, traits and attributes.


I read week on week the various assessments of ‘how to be a good leader’ and all about the ‘successful leadership traits’ many of which we see on a repetitive basis, so without reading any manual or text book or with no real angle, I sat down and based on my own personal experience (which I may add has been both mixed in terms of success and blessed with variety also!) I’ve put together my own 10 skills, traits even attributes of how to be a successful leader (and probably manager also)


  • Awareness of your own personal impact

It took me nearly ten years (yes really) to figure this one out. My first managerial/leadership role at Nat West presented me with a team made up of many different ‘profiles’ of people, some more experienced, some less driving, some more career minded etc. I thought that one size would fit all in my naive world. Guess what, well simply it did not. I really did think that I could get people to do things for me because I was the ‘boss’ and that they would just jump to my call.

The key here is in Dwight. D. Eisenhower’s’ words that ‘Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it’, and because they want to do it, not because you want them to. In other words whether you are there or not it’s business as usual. Your own personal impact has to be one of a motivator, a creator of positive thinking, and one of consistency. People trust consistency (there is of course the likeability factor also).


  • Proactivity

What exactly do I mean? Well again I have been led by plenty of leaders with a laissez-faire approach, a leader who was happy to let things just run without playing an active role, but then initiated a blame culture when things went wrong.

Now in terms of active I’m not talking about interference or micro managing, but simply supporting people to get results and to perform. This of course will mean different things to different people, but in essence it’s having a leader who makes things happen and who importantly has a control over what’s happening, who is doing what, and with a target in mind, again consistently.


  • Visibility

I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard teams say ‘he’s/ she’s never around’. What do they mean? Well I think that people need and want to be led. There are several studies to evidence this. Teams and individuals want to see their leader as part of the team and also as part of the unit. I was in a role once where I was in back to back meetings, week on week. Now not only did that give me a time management and indeed a ‘getting things done’ challenge, but more importantly it meant that I was never with my own team for long enough to support, develop, and probably most importantly build relationships. Guess what, well the relationship house that I was building was based on very uncertain footings, and very soon became unsteady as people left, felt uncared for, and ultimately demotivated. This was my responsibility, which leads me into the need for a leader to take responsibility, accountability and authority (RAA).


  • Become people ‘savvy’ – understand people

One of my guiding principles this one. I have come across many leaders and managers who are technically gifted in their area of expertise. That’s great, but unless you can manage relationships, and build great communication processes there is only one way that you will go, and ultimately it’s down. Hard hitting I know, but true. Like it or not people are the reason that you will (or will not) be successful, so the key is to understand your people and to make them feel ’special’. The challenge here is that this has to be a day on day exercise so as to build trust and understanding, and yes its hard work, but hard work that comes with a win win.

During our workshops at join the Dots I regularly ask managers to describe the leader that they most want to be and also to describe the leader that they have previously worked for and would work for again tomorrow given the choice – YOU want to be that person who in next year’s workshop your team remembers as the one they’d work for again ‘anytime, anyplace’.


  • Humour

Someone asked me once if I was on some form of ‘drugs’ ( I think it was Prozac) because I was always so upbeat. What they really meant was that they liked being around me and that I was uplifting for them. Yes this can be irritating as well, but humour creates a positive environment that people will look forward to coming to, after all people ultimately come to work for and with you  (and others of course) and will leave for the same reasons. Culturally it’s vital to be able to have a laugh along the way.

I currently adopt a very colourful and positive approach to our team here. We laugh and smile a lot. Now I know that business is a serious issue, of course it is, but in my experience you can lead people far more productively within an environment of positivity where people can be themselves than within a suppressed, and therefore negative atmosphere. Gods knows I have worked in several ‘daunting’ environments where I did not know what to say, when to say things or how to say things to my leader. Indeed I lived in fear: humour I think not! You do not want to be the leader that people remember in the future as the one I’d ‘never’ work for again!


  • Consistent and fair

This is about acting or doing things in the same way over time, with fairness and accuracy, but every day (yes it’s hard work!). Become known for this. Individuals and teams whilst they might not like it will value consistent and fair. It’s a bit like consistency and trust – they go together.

Many decisions that you make will not be universally embraced, why should they be, being a leader is not a popularity contest, but it is about doing the right things at the right time,  in the right way. I have worked for and with several leaders who clearly had favourites, or who only wanted things their way, or actually couldn’t listen, (not didn’t, they couldn’t). So as time progressed what happened? well ideas from the team became less, communication with the team became less, relationships dwindled away, and hey presto results slipped away.


  • Make time for people

One of the skills of a great leader is to appear (regardless of what’s happening) to have time for people, but of course that does not mean that you actually have got time, but you appear in control. The trick here is to never say no, but to either help there and then (if you can) or to put aside time that will be convenient for all. Many leaders that I have worked for have repeatedly seemed like they were running around, stressed, uptight and mirroring their own challenges onto me. That’s ok to a point, but when I wanted something they were never available or gave me the time that I needed, especially in terms of coaching me. There is nothing worse than not coaching the team or worse cancelling appointments made especially appraisal meetings for example.

You will NEVER motivate people if you cancel their appraisal meeting. I waited all day once to have my performance appraisal at Marks and Spencer. It was cancelled every hour throughout the day. I waited until 5.30pm, then received a call from my line manager who asked if we could do my appraisal in 10 minutes. I thought he meant start in 10 minutes, but he meant do it, and complete it all in 10 minutes!! – I left Marks and Spencer shortly afterwards!


  • Walk the talk

Many of the leaders that I have worked for have simply been full of ‘BS’. They managed to pontificate, procrastinate, talk corporate jargon all day long, and in essence detach themselves from the team, indeed the real world of normal plain English language. Now I realise that there is such a thing as corporate etiquette, and we all try and say the right thing in the right places to the right person, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be putting on an act day after day. People like ‘real’ leaders, i.e. the ones that they can count on, the ones that say what they’ll do, and do what they say, and the ones that make things happen. Communication is key. Make it mean something to me, and don’t be a walking CIPD text book.


  • Team Meetings

So often the Cinderella to the business needs.

I was working within a major housing association recently and asked the question about frequency of team meetings to be met by a series of bewildered and blank faces. The response was muted at best as the managers stated that they had not got time for team meetings. Or hadn’t had a team meeting for months. Unbelievable! – can you afford not to have the time, well no you can’t, and here’s why

  • They’re great for building supportive relationships
  • They’re vital for learning about our colleagues’ motivations, fears, hopes, troubles, etc. So much communication is non-verbal, and face-time is the only way you can read it
  • Team meetings provide us with the opportunity to share information we wouldn’t be so comfortable sharing by email, or in a report
  • A team meeting is a level playing field and an open forum – everybody present shares the same opportunity to communicate and listen
  • They play a vital role in leadership – the team leader can rally the troops and remind attendees of the mission
  • Nothing can replace the closeness, security and intimacy of a team meeting, especially in times of crisis
  • Team meetings allows attendees to lift their head out of day-to-day operations
  • They create a space for giving each other feedback
  • Team meetings are a learning and improvement opportunity
  • They’re a great reminder, after all, that we are in fact in a team – and not alone!


  • Learn from your mistakes

This is a fundamental point. No leader, or successful person has always been right, or indeed got it right. The dragons den is full of successful business leaders who have in their time led failed businesses, and even the great sporting managers have led teams that have not achieved as they would have wanted. But the key is this, that they took stock, built knowledge from mistakes, and decisions that did not produce results and in essence tried again. You see it’s not that we get knocked down, it’s whether or not we can get back up, (and how long it takes us) that matters. You need to develop resilience, i.e. the ability to look yourself in the mirror and remember what got you where you are in the first place. There are of course several techniques here. The old NLP techniques called ring of fire works well, where you take off the imaginary ring of fire and put in on the floor and step into it. This is the ring of success and it takes you back to where you were at a time when you were completely and utterly self-satisfied and successful – try it.


Published date: March 21, 2017
Last modified: March 21, 2017

Why attitude is everything

I came across some one today who I recognised – his name Mr attitude, probably Mr wrong attitude, but definitely Mr attitude!

This team member got me thinking about that if you want to be successful in life, you will need to get cooperation from other people, and the number one rule for getting people to do what you want is to get people ‘buy in’, buy in to you, buy in to what you want, need etc as a leader.

How? well your  own attitude, ability, skill (indeed desire) to get on with people is fundamental to success, especially if you are a leader.

One of the most important steps you can take toward in achieving your greatest potential in life is to learn to monitor your own attitude and its impact on your work performance, relationships and everyone around you.

So having done this on to the team! Why is it that some people in your team have a great attitude?…you know what I mean? the person for whom nothing is to much trouble, where the desire to help you as their leader is paramount, where the motivation to gain success outpaces all else – what a pleasure this person is to have on the team!

Sadly this person doesn’t always make it into our teams, and yes teams are made up of lots of I’s some of which for whatever reason do have attitude, the wrong attitude! 9at least from where you stand) – why, well simply because at some point their reason for being, doing, was broken or challenged. Perhaps they became lost, or their motivation for being just got lost. It may have happened before they came to you, or it may have happened as a result of working within your organisation. No matter which, the challenge for you as a leader of having the ‘wrong attitude’ team member is immense. Immense on engagement, immense on ownership and immense on performance.

So, given that you success as a leader and manager is something like 80% down to your ability to manage people and relationships how on earth are you going to get people to have great attitude?, what can you do about it?

Well lets start with what you are not going to do!

Many managers go all out to smooth egos, sup up, spend time trying to cajole ‘attitude’ people, and what for…well at the expense of those who are already happy to help develop things.

What you cannot do of course is to ignore ‘attitude’ people. It’s about challenging, meeting people head on, and creating opportunities to take people forwards – work out what makes them tick, and what ticks/ticked them off. You need to become emotionally agile, and able to see the world through their goggles not your own!

How would you deal with this lot….indeed would you?

Antagonist: is rude and unpleasant to co-workers, vendors and customer

Blameless Bob: Always has an excuse for everything

Whiner: Complains no matter what he or she is asked to do

Thumb-Twiddler: Lacks motivation and initiative Insubordinate

Subordinate: Challenges you in front of other works and managers

Tortoise: Shows up late or not at all

Amy Attitude: Has negative attitude that  brings everybody down

Hand-Holder: Needs constant supervision

Early Retiree: Has been around a while and is beginning to practice at-work retirement

Worrywart: Has personal problems that infringe on the working day

Clock-Watcher: Refuses to work weekends or even a minute beyond “quitting time” – even during deadline crunches

Published date: March 16, 2017
Last modified: March 16, 2017

The 5 secrets of a great team

Real teams have a powerful purpose, goals and daily discipline to conquer any obstacle in their way.

Let’s look at some of those “secrets” of great teams. It takes time and leadership. It takes commitment and self-leadership of each person to create a win-win for the business and the customer.

1. Clarity of Purpose

When a team has a purpose, they understand the big picture. More importantly, they understand the WHY of their efforts and contributions. If people don’t understand why they are doing what they are doing in order to create success, they will be wondering aimlessly without knowing their purpose to win. That’s like telling a sports team in any field to just go out and play their best. But, what are they playing for? Is it the National Championship? Is it to win the Olympics together? There has to be a purpose to win together.

2. Mutual Goals

When we think about mutual goals, it’s not to say that each person on the team doesn’t have individual goals. But when you are leading a team, everyone needs to be aware of what goals the TEAM has to achieve collectively. For example, if a business wants to improve their customer service, they must agree on several goals in order to achieve customer excellence. How will they know? They can measure their results on performance metrics and surveys that will tell them if they are heading the right direction as a team.

3. Daily Discipline and Focus

Any group seeking high performance must focus on small daily habits and disciplines in order to win together. Leaders, must keep their team focused on results and demand consistent reflection on how their contribution impacts the needs of customers, employees and shareholders. Groups eventually progress toward great teams through disciplined action. These actions shape their purpose, goals and develop high level of accountability toward results.

4. On-going Communication

The best teams foster open communication and trust. Without it, any team can simply fail. Each person is part of the whole and has a voice in how we win together. I have worked in both great teams and bad teams. One thing in common that I know for sure is that communication or lack of it can derail trust and morale very quickly. Communication allows you to build relationships based on trust, expectations and honest feedback. If you want your team to win, you must create a culture of where everyone is heard and respected.

5. Team Accountability

At the end of the day, everyone has a stake in the outcome. Success or failure, we either win together or lose together. Holding each other accountable, creates more ownership and trust. Each person on team needs must feel that they are not only contributing, but also holding themselves accountable for the results.

Building a winning team takes time and leadership. Leadership from everyone involves individual sacrifices in order to win together. Each player can support and compliment their team-mates in order to find meaningful ways to sharpen each other strengths.

Published date: March 9, 2017
Last modified: March 9, 2017

Are your leadership team and/or your people brexit ‘ready’?

is your senior management team fit for brexit

So how do you position your people for Brexit. Have you even thought about it? What have you got? What is needed? Who do you need to lose if you want to get through this? Who do you need to bring in? Who is going to lead the business through such rapid change? How are you going to deal with the change saboteurs? Will your staff want to stay with you and work hard for you?

To cut to the chase and keep it simple, here is a two year guide to positioning yourself for successful leadership through Brexit.

Key Leadership Skills Needed:

April 17

Vision and Insight: The answers and relevant information aren’t yet available so do you have a team with the vision and insight to identify what might come to help you plan and prepare? If your senior team is sitting back and waiting to be ‘told’ then ‘Houston, we have a problem’. You need at least a few to have great vision and insight about what shape the business might take in the years to come and how business plans might be impact by Brexit and what opportunities might be opening up too.

Excellent Communication: Staff need to know what you are doing and why you are doing it. Employees are seldom comforted by silence just because there is no ‘news’. Communication needs to be regular, both in writing and verbal, plus given through social media and using every communication channel you have. It needs to address employee concerns about job security, pay, business continuity, fears and worries. You can never communicate enough or in enough different ways.

Confidence: If your senior team run around like headless chickens, then your staff will have no confidence they are going to be successfully led through Brexit. Can you afford to lose good staff because they feel the business lacks confidence? This will be especially important in those businesses with a leadership team who were vocal Remain supporters, especially if some of them continue to bemoan what has happened rather than focus on the future.

Knowledgeable: Senior teams need now more than ever a really firm grasp of their own business, industry and sector trends. They need to read and network and be fully up to speed all of the time. Plus, senior teams need to grasp the financials, not just leaving it to one FD. Financials including vulnerabilities, market segments, profit margins etc. They also need to know what staff you have, what the characteristics of those staff are, and the what and why of current resourcing needs. Lots of knowledge about every single aspect of the business. This is not a time for complacency or guess work.

October 17

Planning and organisation: There comes a time when some solid planning and organisation is required to ensure stability and security. If you have a senior team who is better at the talking than the doing, then you will have a problem. If you have a senior team that is full of egos, then equally you will have a problem when some of the jobs like planning and organising, that seldom carry much ‘glory’ are being handed out. Get rid of the egos. Its time to stand up and get on with what needs to be done.

Communication: We’ve talked about communication so here’s a little quote to serve as a reminder: “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”. Who is doing it? Who is being missed out of the message? Who is getting mixed messages? Who thinks that what is being communicated is a load of cobblers with little clarity or clear thinking behind it?

Ability to inspire and create trust: When people are wobbling, unsure of their jobs, unsure of security of family income, when life is changing almost chaotically, staff need a leadership team that inspires and creates trust. Who in your top team would be considered genuinely inspirational? If you have no one, you need to sort this fast. You need someone your staff will look up to and wait to be guided by. Equally, if you have someone in your top team who does the exact opposite of this, is it time to consider whether they have become too dangerous to your business success?

Strategic thinking: Once some of the details begin to become clearer then comes the time to utilise the strategic thinking skills of your senior team. What needs to change? What doesn’t need to change? Do we have the right people and equipment in the right places? Where are the opportunities? Where are the challenges? You might also think about whether your strategic thinkers get enough air time in meetings. Sometimes it’s the thinkers that get talked over, meaning that you don’t get to hear their great ideas. Give them air time.

April 18

Project management:  With the potential for the business markets, resourcing, legislation etc. changing, you will need to be setting up and running numerous projects if everything is to be delivered in time and without stress. This is going to require strong project management understanding and skills. Do you have that on your team? If you intend to ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ with nor real project management process, what is the worst case scenario if deadlines or opportunities are missed?

Communication: We’ve said it before, so we’ll say it again! Communication, communication communication and here is another quote to serve as a great reminder: “sometimes what a person needs is not a brilliant mind that speaks, but a patient heart that listens”. Not everyone considers listening an essential communication skill… But it is. Do not underestimate the power of listening.

Confidence: When all of the world feels as though it is in chaos, you need a leadership team who will remain strong and confident in the plan and in their own skills. They don’t want to show arrogance, but confidence in what they say and do and confidence in the top team will spread a sense of ease and well-being, this is essential if you want business to grow and prosper during changing times.

Empathy: Whilst many in the top team won’t, can’t or don’t show their worries and stresses, this is not the case for many employees who will thrive best in a challenging environment if their leaders are able to demonstrate they are good listeners and empathetic to the concerns and stresses of others. Emotional intelligence might be a term that is bandied around too much, but don’t underestimate the importance of leaders who are in tune with and demonstrate a concern for their staff. You might also take time to challenge some of your top team who don’t show their emotions, hidden emotion does not equate to no emotion or stress, provide an opportunity for them to talk and be listened to just as you do for others.

October 18

Problem solving: During any period of change, the obstacles we all face are constant and often enormous. So you need a leadership team that solves problems easily and with enthusiasm. You can’t afford a team that dwells on problems and loves to the play the blame game. Instead you need positive, solution focused problem solvers and hopefully you will have a few innovative and create thinkers amongst them as there will be no ‘precedent’ for what we are about to go through in business.

Communication: Ah! This old chestnut often done badly or too little and the bane of every leaders life so here’s another quote to keep you thinking! “a lot of problems in business would disappear if we talked to each other rather than about each other”

Drive: It takes energy and determination with a hefty dose of resilience to push through to get to the other side. Brexit is going to be a long drawn out period of intense change, lots of uncertainty, and probably business instability too. You need to make sure your senior team are fit for the long haul, that they don’t just think they can work a few weeks of long hours and it will all be done. This will be a marathon and they need to pace themselves so they have the drive to push through right to the end.

Team Working: If your leaders work on another ‘floor’ and act as if they are on another planet (often a far more lofty one than the worker bees) then you might be in for trouble. This will be a time for leaders to roll their sleeves up, be seen in and around the business and to get stuck in to show that they are true team players when working towards a common goal. Time to get rid of any leaders who are just in it for the ego, prestige or because no one has yet dared tell them they are past their sell by date.

Interested in some key tools to support?

Thomas 360 leadership survey – why not survey your leadership team now and identify the key skills different individuals would benefit from developing? It’s rare that leaders ever get genuine and clear feedback on how they are doing and how they are perceived and whilst it’s not always a comfortable experience, how on earth can they know what to work at if they never get any feedback? Find out more

Success Insights or Thomas Profiling – see who you have on your senior team. Do you have the required mix of personalities and traits required to see you through? Take this opportunity to use profiling to ensure the top team understand how they can work most effectively together and play to each other’s strengths. Find out more

Developing people management skills – put your senior team through a  programme that ensures they understand how to manage people, deal with difficult people, support through change, dismiss the saboteurs and emotional vampires, set realistic targets and coach their team to achieve high performance. Find out more

Emotional Intelligence Profiling – another tool available from Jaluch for you to assess where the challenges and opportunities will lie amongst your senior team. Do you understand where the strengths are? Do you know who might undermine your best efforts at staff morale? Time to bite the bullet and find it all out. Find out more

Published date: March 6, 2017
Last modified: March 6, 2017

Love Them or Loathe Them……Recruitment Agencies

 The truth is that some professions are loved and loathed in equal measures… Would it be fair to say that recruitment agencies certainly fall into this camp. Like all professions, including HR, there are the good, the bad and the ugly.

Having worked with some of the best recruitment agencies and been burnt by some of the worst, I wanted to share my personal thoughts.

My in-house recruitment team recruit a high proportion of roles themselves. I too recruit most of the Senior Leadership roles through my network. From a HR perspective, agencies are one of our biggest costs and the candidate experience and engagement with the brand is critical. We therefore prefer to keep a tight control of it.

There are however a handful of reasons when I need to engage with my trusted partners:

  1. The role is a unique specialism that my own network cannot reach and I am not able to engage those already in roles;
  2. I may want to reach out to a particular business or sector and have not got the relationship;
  3. I may use ‘my trusted partner’ for advice or guidance on a particular role where I have insufficient knowledge;
  4. They also offer Geographical knowledge and are a good data source for what other companies are doing, the challenges they are facing and benchmarking.

The good agencies have a relationship with you and your business. They reach out to you before you have a requirement to use them. They have conversations that are not always about ‘selling’ me a candidate. They touch base regularly and they support the business on social media by engaging with their news. They point out potential candidates to watch for and give feedback on new recruits they may already know.

Due to this relationship they generally know the vacancies that are coming up, before we even advertise them. When we do advertise, they don’t send me relentless emails or pounce to try and engage with me, they respect the fact that we can do our own recruitment and they know that if I need them they will be first on the list. There is mutual respect for the roles in which we both play. Similarly, if they are recruiting for a role for another company they call to see if I can recommend anyone and spread the word. The relationship itself is more important than how much we spend or how active they are or have been.

The good agencies also know that if the relationship is strong, it is likely that I will recommend them to other companies, friends and acquaintances. I have at least three agencies that I could name without hesitation, having taken them with me from Company to Company.

The relationship is however much greater than just knowing me. They make time to thoroughly understand my business, understand our principles and our candidate journey. They get to know the in-house team and are extension to it.

So, for the loathed agency.

The cold calling and bombardment of emails are nothing short of poor selling and an old school sales pitch. They are usually justifying why they are different and why I should engage with them, with little consideration of the audience. The really ugly, can come across as nothing short of arrogant, implying and undermining our own capability to successfully recruit a role.

Then there is the persistence when you don’t engage with them. Sending two or three emails from a variety of social accounts and the calls that just don’t get past the gate.

I very rarely know their names, they have made no attempt to understand me or my business and have made no attempt to build a relationship. I can’t speak on behalf of anyone else, but these tactics just make me want to instantaneously press the delete button.

Agencies that ‘fish from the mouth in which feeds them’ are totally unacceptable to me. Unfortunately it does happen, particularly when the candidate is closer to the agency than the client. In my view this is totally unethical.

The objective for the bad agencies is to fill the vacancy and charge the client a significant amount of money for the most minimal amount of work they can get away with.

The objective for the good agencies is to build and sustain relationships with clients and ensure that every candidate has a great experience. The amount of money paid for this service is suddenly worth it’s weight in gold and seen as an added value service.

Tips to be a good agency:

  • Be a true brand advocate by understanding; the business, the vision, its challenges and its opportunities;
  • Understand thoroughly the role which you are undertaking; the culture, the environment, the work, the team and the expectation and benefits;
  • Agree the Candidate Experience upfront by setting clear SLA’s and communication channels;
  • Add value to the client by offering additional services like advice, experience and support;
  • Be open and respect the experience of the in-house recruitment team;
  • Work with the client to achieve the best experience for the candidate;
  • Deliver on your promises;
  • Build a relationship with companies that fit with your values and beliefs;
  • Work with the business to ensure candidates are retained long after being appointed;
  • Do not solicit business or poach employees from the company in which you placed them.

We work with some pretty awesome agencies that have our best interests at heart. For those agencies who ‘just want to do business’ we are not the client for you.

Original extract by by Alyson Fadil