Don’t write off the ‘Old Guard’

It has been an intriguing summer of sport already, and (thankfully) it has a long way still to go. What has struck me as interesting is that it has resulted in a large number of teams and individuals being toppled from the top spot.  In football’s World Cup we saw a shock early departure of Spain from the tournament.
spain defeated
In tennis, at Wimbledon, we saw last year’s champion, Andy Murray, and the world’s number one seed, Rafael Nadal, exit the competition – both beaten by younger rising stars of the game. In the women’s competition, we also saw the departure of Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, and other past champions. Here, as in the men’s game, there is an exciting emergence of new young talent challenging the ‘old guard’.  I have no doubt that the rest of the summer’s sport, in events such as the Tour de France, golf’s Open Championship at Hoylake and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, will throw up other demises, departures, abdications and shock defeats of established past winners.
While the emergence of new talent is both exciting and essential for the good of the sport, what is equally, if not more, fascinating is how the so called ‘old guard’ respond to that challenge, and the hugely important leadership role they play in creating the next generation of champions. Despite the performances of the emerging stars,  the four semi-finalists in the World Cup are all established ‘giants’ of the game, and the eventual Wimbledon winners in both the men’s and women’s finals this weekend were also past winners, and amongst the pre-competition favourites.

Which past champions disappear, slide off into the sunset, and enjoy the dreams of their past glories, and which go back to the gym, come back stronger, fitter, fresher and ready to mount another bid?

Continue reading


“The Vital Edge” is coming

Make a note of the date. The week commencing 14 April 2014 will see the release of

“The Vital Edge”……. (Sporting Mindsets for Business Performance)


Using anecdotes and metaphors from sport, combined with psychology and behavioural models, the book provides guidance and pointers as to how business performance can be improved and how common de-railers can be overcome. It is intended to be an easy to read and entertaining journey through a variety of sports, with an intriguing dive into subject areas as diverse as motivation, optimism, ‘flow’, neuroscience, leadership, teamwork and collaboration. It will include worksheets with ponder questions at the end of each chapter allowing the book to be used individually or as part of team-building, leadership development and coaching programmes.

I recently offered sneak previews to readers.

One reviewer commented: “Being an athlete, an improving coach and a sports policy maker makes your book talk to me in a very personal way. Its as if you have written this book just for me. I love it so much putting it down is a problem. All the elements that bind sport and business are there.” 

A number of people have requested details of how to get hold of the book on its release.  I will make sure you get those details. If you would like to add your name (and contact details) to that list please provide your details using the Contact Us Page and I will get back to you personally.


Louis Collins, Leadership Development Coach


You Cannot Lead without Inquiry (Update)

BLOG UPDATE:  This article was originally posted in February 2012, and I am delighted to see that Hamza Kashgari, the young Saudi writer who inspired the article, has eventually been released from his prison sentence in Saudi Arabia. If you missed the original story, Hamza was imprisoned for expressing views deemed blasphemous by the authorities.  

(see Freedom House article on his release here)


POSTED Feb 20, 2012      Too many people in positions of authority operate from a position of fear. Fear of not knowing, fear of being found out, fear of looking incompetent, fear of losing what has taken them years to attain.  This is true in companies, public service and politics. People who are in these positions are rarely stupid.  Being smart is usually a big factor in them getting to where they are. But, once they are there, something seems to kick in which is profoundly ‘anti-learning’. To paraphrase the great Chris Argyris, “Smart People find it tough to Learn”.

Today’s story in ‘The Nation’ of Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year-old journalist, who faces potential death for daring to question, shines a powerful spotlight on the fear with which ‘leaders’ operate. As a species we progress by learning.  We are problem solvers, we are cognitive thinkers, we naturally question, challenge and inquire. It is by doing so that we have overcome the multitude of obstacles that have stood in the way of our evolution over millenia. But, we do not and cannot stand still. To do so would consign the human race to extinction, probably through self-destruction. More than ever before, we requireenormous learning on a global scale. We need creativity and innovation, we need it networked and con-joined, we need collaboration, we cannot afford to shut down any avenues of possible learning. We need advances, leaps of logic, and ‘open and questioning minds’ that will take our species forward together to solve the biggest problems we have ever had to deal with – drought, famine, economy, conflict, climate change, energy, pestulance, AIDS, malaria, and the list goes on.

Shutting down inquiry, especially in our young people, is a fast-track to obsolesence. It may preserve the ‘Leaders’ position in the short term, it saves face, it avoids embarrassment, it re-asserts authority and quells insubordination, but all at the expense of ‘learning’.  The best Leaders through history have demonstrated that they contnue to change, they recognise that the circumstances that surrounded them while getting to where they have reached are continously changing, and so must they. They adapt, they are flexible in their approach, and they continuously learn. They do this by continuing to ask questions.  They do not fear that they will be seen as incompetent in doing so. They encourage others to do the same, they create a safe and open space for inquiry, because they know that this is the surest way to keep learning.

I wish Hamza well in his fight for justice and his right to learn.

Resist the temptation to be clever

I have often been asked by people who are unfamiliar with coaching, “How can you coach people in areas that you have no experience or knowledge of?”

I sometimes use this as an opportunity to help people obtain a clearer understanding of what coaching actually is.  I spend time explaining that coaching is not the same as mentoring. That it is not about specific knowledge or skills transfer. In fact, it can actually be an advantage to ‘not know’, as it makes it easier for the coach to ask totally naive questions with no pre-judgement.



To emphasise this point, I will often allude to the possible dangers that can emerge when you are too close to an area. When the coach is carrying their own ‘baggage’ around, they can slip into expressing their own views, or ask questions loaded with judgement. This can be one of the biggest challenges facing the internal coach. I worked as a coach within a corporate environment for a number of years. It was hugely rewarding, and offered a tremendous opportunity to be part of great change within the organisation. However, I know from personal experience, that when certain issues arose during coaching sessions, where I as the coach had specific knowledge about something, it presented me with a dilemma. I could, and sometimes did, inject a piece of knowledge that would help clarify some confusion, and help move the client past a particular obstacle.  Indeed, it would be wrong (and could be argued as unethical) not to. However, it is important to recognise that when you are doing that, you are no longer being a coach, and it is very important to tell the client that, so as to avoid any confusion about your role as a coach.

There is a real danger however, particularly for a new coach (as I found to my cost on occasions), that you may slip in and out of your coach role too many times, or for too long. The relationship may even morph into one that is no longer ‘coaching’, and into something else entirely. You may find yourself Continue reading

Are your people ready to change?

If you’re in a bad situation, don’t worry it’ll change.  If you’re in a good situation, don’t worry it’ll change.  ~  John A. Simone, Sr.  

At a time when most businesses are seeking ways to emerge from the effects of the recession, and get themselves back on the road to economic growth, one inevitable question their leaders will all face will be, “What things are going to have to change around here to start us moving again?”  

  • Will the strategy and tactics they have been deploying during the crunch be the same ones they need to drive growth?  
  • How do they shift mindsets on their management teams from ‘cost avoidance’ to ‘growth and profit’? 
  • Do they need different types of people in their company to take them in a different direction?
  • Will their own leadership style need to be different as they move forward?
  • Are they even the right leader to take the company forward and be successful?

Some of these questions can be extremely daunting, and will challenge even the most competent leaders. However, much will depend on how the workforce has been led during the period of recession. 

Have people been continuously aware that this day was coming, or will it come as a surprise to them  that they are now expected to do things differently, think differently, perhaps adopt new practices.  Remember, even unpleasant circumstances become comfortable after a while, and people will resist moving away from the ‘way things are’ even if they are promised a better future.polar-bear-ice

It’s not enough to simply promise things will get better and hope they will change.  One major reason for this, we now know, is because of the way our brains are organised. Regular patterns of thinking and behaviour become ‘wired’ at the neural level. It is certainly not a trivial matter of expecting people to one day waken up and operate as if they had a different wiring pattern. Not even after the most rousing and stirring ‘all-hands’ kick-off event !!  Our brains need to have new connections created (and old connections disused and atrophied) over a period of time in order for new patterns of thinking and behaviour to take root. New visions, positive futures, different expectations, alternate rewards, all help generate these new connections, and ultimately, different behaviours.

That’s why the best leaders Continue reading

What’s a genius anyway?

Pablo Sarasate (violin virtuoso) stated “A genius!  For 37 years I’ve practiced 14 hours a day, and now they call me a genius” (cited in Simonton, 1999) *.

Last week I wrote a post called ‘Stroke of Genius’ and it attracted a pretty high level of interest. Clearly a popular topic. And many comments I received were along similar lines, mentioning that identifying talent in the first place is often the most difficult challenge faced. I figured that I owed it to myself and readers to address this area in today’s post.



Well, right up front, we need to think about recruitment.

Recruiting talent
Do you know what you are looking for in the first place?

This is not as simple a question as it might first appear. For example, if you are a company, can you answer the following questions?

  • What does the company look like today, and what will it look like in two, three, or four years time?
  • What is the company’s medium to long term strategy?
  • What sort of people will it need to succeed in that strategy? Same as today or very different talent?
  • What sort of roles will be most critical in the future? And how much market demand will there be for those people?
  • What aptitudes will it take to operate in these future positions?

Are the people who are making recruitment decisions and identifying talent sufficiently aware of the future strategic plans for the business? Or are they blindly cultivating talent based on a model of today’s business? Continue reading

Get Less Busy

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People in our workforces are under serious strain.  They are constantly being asked to do more with less. Our businesses and government departments are responding to the austerity drives by trimming more and more from their budgets, which inevitably means fewer people are left to do the work. Meanwhile the demands are increasing. With everyone in the economy tightening their belts, company profits are falling, which means that a smaller and smaller workforce is being challenged to work smarter, harder, more innovatively and to ‘keep their chins up and stay engaged’.

In the midst of this, what are our leaders getting up to?  Well, from what I can glean, I see leaders who feel a great deal of responsibility for this state of affairs, and who are responding by working themselves harder and more intensely than ever.

The irony is, that at this time, perhaps more than ever before, our leaders need to be making themselves much less ‘busy’, and focusing more than they ever have done on nurturing their workforce.So, what can we be asking our leaders to be thinking about right now that will help them to do just that? Continue reading

Leading with uncertainty

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” ~ Thomas A. Edison

I’m getting more than a little concerned about the world’s changing attitude toward ‘risk’.


A fundamental part of our biological makeup, and a reason for the way our limbic systems work the way they do, is that we are well equipped for surviving. The very fact we are around today, writing and reading this post, is evidence of our species’ success in navigating millenia of ‘survival’ challenges. Being able to assess risk, and make decisions based on the available information, is key to that continued success. Certainty and absolute prediction do not exist in nature. The best we can do today is build up banks of data based on past events, use super-computers to model trends, and use experts to ‘predict’ based on probabilities. And, even then, it is remarkably difficult to get it right. The US Presidential elections were being predicted by political analysts and pollsters using many different indicators of what has happened (or not happened) in the past. But, they did not all get it right. Hurricane Sandy was being tracked minute by minute, modelled by the most powerful computers, and its likely course predicted by the best weather forecasters, but no-one could be certain exactly where, and how it would strike, and with what level of ferocity.

Now, I like to think that, as humans (who are inherently wired to understand probability, risk and prediction), we are tolerant and acceptant of the fact that getting predictions absolutely correct is simply not achievable.  But, I fear I am naive in this belief. I sense Continue reading

Woody – Leading without authority

2012 is the 100 years anniversary of the birth of Woody Guthrie. Woody is a legend and is recognised as the “grand-daddy” of folk music tradition. But he was much more than that. He was a poet, a writer, and a social commentator. He spoke out against injustice at a time when it was dangerous to do so. He inspired new generations of musicians, from Bob Dylan to The Clash.

I attended a tribute and celebration to Woody this week in the traditional coal-mining community of Treorchy in the South Wales valleys.  This was led by Billy Bragg, who has worked closely with Woody’s daughter Nora, to put music to lyrics by her father that had never been recorded. Billy, like Woody, is a songwriter and performer in the Guthrie mould.  Politically active, angry about injustice, optimistic about humanity.  It was a touching, funny and moving tribute, where Bragg warmly and respectfully held up a lens into Woody’s world and into his incredible mind.

His legacy is enormous and more than I could ever do justice in this short post.  To discover more about Woody go check out the official website.  I do, however, want to highlight some words he penned that he called his New Years Rulin’s. These words were written as simple resolutions, and, although simple, are both profound and meaningful words of wisdom that would not look out of place in any self-respecting ‘self-help’ book….This is a selection of his Rulin’s (for a look at his original list in full go to this link)

  • “Dream Good”
  • “Stay Glad”
  • “Keep Hoping Machine Running”
  • “Love Everybody”
  • “Make up your Mind”
  • “Read lots Good Books”
  • “Learn People Better”
  • “Help win War – beat Fascism”       (note: Woody was not afraid to dream big and believe that his music could achieve big things. He famously had the words “This machine kills fascists” written on his guitar).

How appropriate might these simple guidelines be to leaders, in all walks of life, today?

Woody Guthrie was a special kind of leader. He had no formal authority, he had no position of power.  He did not command political position, nor did he operate within corporate, government or religious frameworks. Yet, he Continue reading

Are you a popular Leader? Then what are you doing wrong?

If you want to be popular, leadership is probably not for you. At least, not if you want to do it right.

Leading is all about challenging the way things are. If nothing needs changing, if everything is alright the way it is, then fine, enjoy it while it lasts. Of course, people will instinctively resist suggestions that things need to change. Any attempt to challenge the things that people hold dear, such as habits, routines and traditions will be met with strong feelings, opposition, and possibly even aggression. Yes, leading can be dangerous.

But, taking popular decisions to appease those feelings, keeping people sweet, and avoiding the tough messages is not leadership. Leading involves disturbing people, putting provocative ideas out there, and challenging people to face up to tough realities.

Of course, good leaders do not do these things for kicks. They risk upsetting people and being unpopular in order to get people to take responsibility for solving their own problems, taking tough decisions, and facing up to the adaptive work that is always required in any change process.
Leaders who get seduced by people’s appeals to do the fixing for them, to come up with
the answers for them, and to take all the tough decisions, are doing both themselves and the people a major disservice.  Themselves, because ultimately they will be blamed when things do not work out, and the people, because they will have been robbed of a chance to grow, learn and adapt.

Every day, people in all walks of life, have the opportunity to lead and they choose not to.  When you sit in a meeting room and watch and hear people dance around the real issue, you could be the one who calls attention to it. By doing so, you could lead the meeting in a more constructive and adaptive direction. But, you choose not to. It could prove unpopular. You might upset people. Meanwhile, the issue will stay unresolved,and remain the ‘elephant in the room’ for months. More than likely, others are going through the same thought process as you, and everyone loses.

The dangers of leading are well researched and documented in Leadership on the Line by Ronald Heifetz & Marty Linsky.

So, what does it take to be a ‘brave’ Leader – Continue reading