Are you a super-worker or a mini-queen?

I think that middle managers are forgetting that they’re supposed to do as much ‘work’ of the people below them as they are the ‘leadership’ of the people above them.

Middle managers are stuck between the workers and the queens:


This is a worker. There are many copies. Workers are great, they work in delivery; on the front line; with customers; they carry out the administrative tasks.

And at the opposite end of the scale:


The queen(s).  The queens are fewer in number and they hold all the power.  They’re the senior managers or leaders who set the direction, hold everyone to account and generally speaking – they run the show

But what about the people in between – the classic middle manager.  As I write, this is where I am.  One of the things that very often happens is that workers get promoted to become middle managers by the queen(s) above them on the basis that they’re such good workers.  This often leads to a cadre of super-workers.  However, the middle management role is one that is *supposed* to span the divide between the workers and the queens.  But we spend so much time, as middle managers, being super-workers that we neglect to spend time as mini-queens.

If you’re a middle manager think about how you’re splitting your time.

What might a super worker look like?

  • Correcting your staff performance by taking it off them (or not giving it to them in the first place?
  • Solving problems presented by your staff or teams?
  • Doing the ‘more difficult’ cases, managing the ‘more difficult’ clients?

And how about a mini-queen?

  • Sharing a vision or strategy with your team and helping them understand it?
  • Coaching your staff and teams so that they learn the skills to solve their own problems?
  • Putting people or systems in place to ensure that your staff are learning lessons and continuously improving?

Each (middle) manager needs to decide for themselves what is appropriate but remember to consider what it is of the worker that you need to leave behind and what it is of the queen that you need to get started on.


I ordered an old copy of ‘The Empowered Manager’ by Peter Block because it was on the reading list of the leadership course I attended a couple of weeks ago.  The book arrived this week and inside it was a letter and an itinerary for a training course.  It made me smile to think that it had been tucked away for 23 years.  I share it here for posterity (names removed).  I’ll link back to this when I’ve finished the book.  It looks to be quite mercenary based on the programme it inspires!


I am pleased to be able to extend an invitation to the above 2 day workshop which is being held at Crabwall Manor Hotel, Mollington, Chester (on the A540 Chester to Hoylake Road) and attach a copy of the outline programme.

Also enclosed, is a copy of Peter Block’s publication which forms essential pre-reading for the workshop.

Please note that the workshop is commencing on the evening of the 12th and you are requested to assemble at the hotel at approximately 17:00 in readiness for a prompt start at 17:30.  The following days will commence at 08:30.

The programme is residential and overnight accommodation has been booked for all participants for the nights of 12th and 13th of March, however, should you not require the accommodation and prefer to make your own way home after the evening dinner, please advise [NAME], on extension 5630 as soon as possible.

Dress throughout the workshop is informal although a jacket and tie is required for the dining room in the evening.

And the attached programme:




Workshop Purpose, Empowerment, Politics, Objectives

Creating an Empowering Organisation
The Bureaucratic – Entrepreneurial Choice
Anatomy of Negative and Positive Politics

Creating a Business of Your Own Choosing


Vision of Greatness
What is a Vision of Greatness?
Discovering Vision
Communicating Vision

Translating Vision into Organisational Structure and Action

Mission and Customer Strategy

Internal Obstacles to Empowerment
Dependency: Unstated Emotional Wants
Myopic Self-Interest: Right Use of Power


Translating Vision: Systems & Procedures

Allies, Adversaries & Political Scripts
Dealing with others: Allies, Adversaries, Bedfellows, Opponents and Fence Sitters
Political Scripts
Putting it to Work

Making the Vision Wowk – Courage

Culture and Outlook – Our Choices

Legacy you wish to leave behind in your organisation


This week I started a leadership programme which has helped me to hear what I’ve been saying to myself for a long while:

you can do this, really quite well

I’ve been very fortunate to have been able to take part in the Whitehall & Industry Group “Step Up Step Across” programme. It takes middle managers from both the public and private sector and aims to help them make a demonstrable change in their leadership. It’s a seventh month programme that starts with a two day residential with further one off days every couple of months.

This isn’t a review of the programme, although it is shaping up to be excellent, but more a reflection on one of the hardest aspects of applying such learning.

I’ve been trained in coaching, I’ve volunteered on a helpline and had the experience of a few leadership courses not to mention more than seven years of management experience. However, it’s safe to say that in the last five months I’ve lost my way. Instead of not solving the problems of my staff I’ve gone out of my way to do so.  This has left them and me feeling frustrated and exhausted.

Within 20 minutes of the programme starting I had a feeling that can best be described as when you remember something and smack yourself in the forehead with the palm of your hand.  I forgot to be a coach.  For the last few months I’ve not taken coaching clients and I’ve not approached management as a coach.  This is where I’ve gone wrong.

The reason this post is called listen is because I was telling myself I was a transformational leader who doesn’t solve his team’s problems – all the while I was solving their problems.

I’ll post much more about this in the future but it was important to me to share this here as placeholder.  The hardest part of applying any learning or changes aren’t, for me at least, the initial stages, but when it *almost* becomes second nature.  When it’s only *almost* second nature it can slip through your fingers and you’ll have to start all over again.

The Social Animal

I’ve been meaning to read this for a while but haven’t managed to get round to it until now. I’ll post a few useful observations as I make my way through but it makes for a very interesting read so far.

A stand out point so far is that emotional intelligence is key to success in a great many areas.

“The male brain” and “The female brain” are very similar to this book in content and style so if you enjoyed those you might also get a lot from this.

using bullet journal to be a more organised and strategic leader

For the last two months I’ve taken a new approach to managing my activities, my staff and my own development and the results have been phenomenal and it only involves a pen and a notebook.  Two months in I’ve got everything at my finger tips, I’m giving much more responsibility to my staff for their own work, and I’ve got a much better grip of the strategic aspects of my role.  When I told someone about the system I’ve been using they described it as ‘a system for the super-organised’ which I jumped on immediately to correct:

this isn’t a system for the super-organised but a system that can make you super-organised!

I was surprised to find that the system does more than just create order out of chaos.  I came across this system, Ryder Carroll’s bullet journal system, one Sunday morning at the end of May.  After spending the better part of a day what I expected from this system was that my note taking would be revolutionised and I would be much better able to find a note that I’d made about team meetings and then quickly be able to find notes about the Board meetings I attend.  I was right, it did do this and then some.  However, two months in I can tell you that it has also made me a better manager and much more strategic.

This system has allowed me to improve my management style by giving me the structure to better package and give context to work items and shows respect to my staff for their own time and contribution.  Before I started to use bullet journal if I had a question, task or project for my staff I would politely interrupt whatever they were doing and share it with them.  As I was getting to grips with the basics of the bullet journal I was reflecting on this approach and it struck me quite powerfully that this behaviour was at complete odds with my own perception of my management style.  I now capture all the tasks, questions and projects and share them with each member of my team in a weekly one-to-one meeting.  A lot of the time my staff members have caught up with a lot of the items that I might have on my list for them without them knowing I was tracking it and this gives them the freedom and responsibility for sorting out their own areas.  This then means that I can spend time discussing what they did and the outcome of it which is much more about leadership and coaching than it is about functional line management which, at their level, is frankly unnecessary.

The third standout difference from using the bullet journal system is that I’m better able to now focus on the strategic, as well as the fire-fighting, aspects of my role.  There is something about the bullet journal system that encourages you to think in themes/categories which is at the heart of the indexing system that supports bullet journal.  With such a focus on themes and categories it wasn’t too long at all before I started to notice that I wasn’t spending any time focussing on the long-term for my organisation or for myself.  So, I stated a spread in my bullet journal for just this purpose and almost straight away I found myself spending quality time progressing my own career agenda to the benefit of my staff, my Director and the organisation.

When I started to use my bullet journal in June I made myself a promise: if I’m still using it after a month I’m going to share it with the people I work with.  I was and I did.  I created a prezi that explains how to use the bullet journal system and you are more than welcome to use it yourself if you’re familiar enough with bullet journals to be able to use this.

If you’d like to know more about bullet journal visit Ryder’s bullet journal website.


Who is it that we are trying to hire?

Smile, it may never happen

In a recent post by one of my guru’s, Seth Godin, he discusses how we look to hire employees and suggests that we’re interviewing for the wrong skill set (Sight Reading).  Seth suggests that instead of testing whether one can adapt and change, think flexibly, that we should be looking for people who are ‘consistent, persistant and brave’.  Whilst I don’t disagree that we shouldn’t be mesmerised by style over substance I wonder whether Seth has really explored what it is to be on an interview panel and the motivation behind your hiring decision.

I happened to ask the new boss of a very close friend how he had secured the job:

‘he was the first person to walk in smiling and to ask how we were doing.”

I’ve sat on many interview panels and I remember the very first one I sat on as an undergraduate intern looking to replace myself as I went back to University to complete my degree.  What I learned that day I have never been able to forget and it’s a story which I’ve recounted many times.

My own interview with the PR team had taken place only just 12 months before and it was my first interview for a full time job and so I asked around for advice.  My mum, who had been a manager for many years, explained that interviews are generally behavioural, they’re about how you answer more often more than the answer that you give.

Taking on board the advice I made a conscious decision to be a human being (which is ironic because to make such a conscious choice could be argued as in-human or sociopathic).  I decided to be really chatty and friendly and not let my nerves show through.  I don’t think I remembered the interview questions much longer than about a week afterwards but I do remember the chat with one of the interviewers as she showed me out after the interview has concluded.  In that two or three minute walk I made my best effort to befriend her and I think it may have worked; I got the job and I’m still friendly with that same person who interviewed me 12 years ago.  She actually told me later on that our little conversation is what sealed the deal between me and her and she reflected back on my interview positively when they came to decide whom to hire.

“Too weird, too boring”

On the day that I conducted my first interview I sat next to that same person who had interviewed me and along with the chair – another colleague in the office – we reviewed the afternoon’s three interview candidates.  I was there to observe and ask questions but I wasn’t a voting panel member. We were really looking forward to the first two and agreed that number three was an outside bet at best.  The first applicant came in, we stood up, shook his hand, we exchanged hellos and sat down – this was probably less than 30 seconds – we hadn’t even asked the cold open (something like, tell us why you’re interested in this role) before I was able to have an opinion.  The interview lasted about 15 or 20 minutes.  Immediately after he’d walked out and with the door closed we looked at each other, I was actually too nervous to say anything because I thought I’d make a mistake.  My friend went first ‘no, he was weird, I’m saying no’.  The chair was mortified ‘you can’t say that, you’ve got to judge him on the interview’.  ‘I did’ she said ‘and he failed.  I wouldn’t want to work with him, he was creepy’.  They looked at me, and I told them that I was in shock.  I explained that having an opinion of ‘yes’ on paper it felt like ‘no’ in person and within those first 30 seconds. He gave good answers but didn’t demonstrate any of the values of our team and gave legitimate reasons in support of my ‘no’ decision.

The second person came in and I was quickly struck by his attitude and at the end of his interview my friend said as much before I had a chance.  By now the chair was mortified because she felt that our mutual friend wasn’t taking this seriously and that we’d have no decent reasons for saying no other than ‘weird’ or ‘boring’.

Motivation of interviewers

All three of us were nervous of the final candidate because if the first two looked good and turned out terrible, how would she fair?  At the end of her interview we looked at the chair ‘Okay, I get it.’ She said ‘I knew straight away with her’.  My friend and I chipped in ‘me too’.  In the first 30 seconds she had smiled, lit up the room, made us smile and laugh a bit and got on with the interview.  The chair called her that day to offer her the job, she accepted and turned out to be brilliant in the role.

What my friend had said after the first interview about working with the person we would hire stuck with me that day and ever after.  If you’re on an interview panel and – if all other things are equal (that is to say they were able to demonstrate the required skills and you’re in the position of choosing between candidates) what you’re left with is their ‘fit’ within your team or organisation. If you don’t think like the person in front of you is going to work well with your or your team and you can justify this fairly and if necessary to the candidate when asked then it is valid.

This isn’t an excuse to allow personal prejudice to sway the decision, if you have a man or woman and you ‘prefer’ one gender of applicant over another that is not the same as thinking about fit with the organisation. Nor is race, sexuality or age. This is about thinking about the qualitative skills that a person possesses and what this tells you from the interview answers given.

Side note

Subsequent to my experience above I’ve had formal training on how to conduct interviews and I can see why the chair of that panel was mortified by some of the reasoning given following the candidates interviews. What I understand better now is how and why it is appropriate to use the formal structures of an interview process to allow parity and comparability in combination with qualitative assessment of the values and style of working that a person demonstrates during the interview.


Passion is a desire, insistence, and willingness to give a gift. The artist is relentless. She says, “I will not feel complete until I give a gift.” This is more than refusing to do lousy work. It’s an insistence on doing important work. This relentless passion leads to persistence and resilience in the face of people not accepting your gift.

Seth Godin, Linchpin