Re-Engineering Elephants

The most significant engineering challenge

The most significant engineering challenge we each face is self-engineering.  Changing our behaviour is critically important if we want to continue to be successful; What Got You Here Won’t Get You There is not only the title of a book written by Marshall Goldsmith‎, it is also an immutable truth for all of us.

Confronting yourself

To begin to address this truth, and find out what you need to get you to the next destination in your journey of continued success, you must confront yourself.  Challenge yourself to examine the beliefs and behaviours that are holding you back and preventing you from changing; this is the first step in re-engineering yourself for your next chapter.


Acknowledging your emotions

Knowing you need to change is often prompted by negative emotions.  Fear, shame, guilt, regret or some other negative emotion is often the catalyst that fuels thoughts about changing, but these negative feelings do not provide lasting motivation, quite the opposite they will hold you back.

Consider your negative emotions as messengers that are telling you something may be wrong or need to change.   If fear shows up, ask, what is behind the fear?  What ideas, scenarios, or possible future are you generating that has resulted in fear showing up as your emotional messenger?  To generate fear, we usually make future images that we don’t want; lonely, unsuccessful, poor, or lost.  Acknowledge your messenger and then use it to create a positive picture of what you want to have in your life.  Move through thoughts about avoiding your fears and go straight to establishing the picture of the future you want to build.

List your successes

It is easier to believe you can create something new again when you acknowledge how often you have done this in the past.   Generate a list of at least 50 successes, don’t be modest, allow the list to contain the big and the small, the personal and business, list every success you are proud of and enjoyed.

Your Manifesto

A manifesto can take very different forms depending on the creator.  Your aim is to make a physical representation that describes the future you plan to build, and communicates to you in a language you connect with easily.  If you are a writer, describe the future you want in 250 words or more; if you are a visual processor, make a mood-board or a vision-board; if you are more tactile, make a model. The vital message is that your manifesto needs detail, and it needs to be in the language you use to talk to yourself.


The process of building your manifesto is important because this gives you the time to go inside yourself and internalise your thoughts and emotions and use these to create long-lasting links to both altruistic, and selfish reasons for wanting to achieve your vision.  The product you produce should be in a format that communicates to you.

If you take time to create this artefact, it will be laced with meaning that will help you maintain your efforts to change.  Positive emotions are more powerful and long lasting than the negative messengers that kick-started the desire for change.

Tidy your Toolbox

Once you have your manifesto, your next step is to reacquaint yourself with your resourcefulness. Identify all the tools that have contributed to your past successes.   Marshall Goldsmith‎’s message is not to throw everything away; his message is to challenge your behaviours and beliefs, he observes that it is behavioural problems, not technical skills, that separate the great from the near great.

Significant change is often delivered by small changes and by going back to basics.  For example, if you want to lose weight, make sure the calories you take in are less than the calories you burn for a sustained period; make this simple change and you will lose weight.



Incredible results can come from basic behaviours like showing gratitude, listening to others, being genuinely curious, taking time to digest what you have heard before offering your ideas and owning your mistakes by talking them through with others.  Look through the lens of past successes and identify the simple tools that enabled you to see what you needed to see, hear what you needed to hear and do what you needed to do.

Tidy up your toolbox prioritising on simple tools first.   Then, trust the tools that need to be used carefully.  Lastly, challenge the most complicated tools; they may do more for your ego than for building the future you see in front of you.  When your toolbox is in order, don’t jump to a master plan before you consider the rules about eating elephants.

Elephant Eating

The first rule of elephant eating: Small pieces add up to the whole elephant.  Begin your plan by biting off small pieces of your manifesto.  Each small bite will teach you something important about your assumptions, old and new, and inform your next bite. Rewarding yourself for each little win will help you maintain your motivation over the long-term.

The second rule of elephant eating: Don’t eat alone. As you begin your journey of re-engineering yourself remember this is a journey best shared with others.  Building a support system of people will help you problem-solve, learn and stay the course.  Few endeavours of self-change demand isolation.

Lastly, Act and Learn. 

Re-engineering is a journey of discovery. We are now a society of life-long-learners.  Technology, social structures, politics and financial markets are locked into the ideology that economic growth is the only measure of human capital.  As jobs disappear, new jobs emerge and when we respond by learning we discover how to remain relevant.  We can’t control the future, but we can control our response to its arrival, and we can continue to learn and evolve.  Every action we take will produce some kind of a result – expected or otherwise. Our job is to learn and use this knowledge to inform our next action.

In summary, we can push past the barriers that make changing behaviour difficult by using CALM TEA 

C – Confront your desire for change
A – Acknowledge your emotional messengers
– List at least 50 past successes
M – make a Manifesto that talks to you

T – tidy your Toolbox
E – Elephant eating rules apply
A – Act and learn from each small step you take


What Colour are YOU?

We are all driven by values - they form the foundation of our lives.

Values act as a lens through which we interpret the world, and if you are a leader, they interpret how you judge those you lead.   

Your values will influence your decisions about people; who you promote and the kinds of activities you believe are worthy of your time.

Despite this importance, few leaders choose to understand and shape their values.  Instead, they allow them to sit in the background, unannounced, unseen, making judgements and colouring their decisions.

Values are established early in life; how your parents interacted with you, the rewards you received from the people in your social circle and how you achieved success.

Most people simply adopt the values of their parents and the dominant values of the society they grew up in. The values that you built as a child remain with you in adult life. Some may serve you well, while others – not so much.

As a leader, it is important that you understand values; yours and those of your team members, because the behaviours you see in your team are products of how values interact.  

To create a symphonic leadership team, you must start by exploring the values held by everyone on your team.

Start with yourself:

  • What words describe your values?
  • What beliefs are linked to each value?
  • What behaviours demonstrate your values?

For example, a leader who values Creativity believes that ideas can solve any problem, and often uses workshops and open-ended conversations to find solutions.   (UNICORNS)

In contrast, a leader who values Control believes that structure provides the foundation for success and often uses systems and processes to create solutions.  (EAGLES)

A leader who values Collaboration believes that teams are the best way to find solutions and will put teams together to resolve problems, creating flexible organisations with loose reporting lines.  (DOLPHINS)

Whereas a leader who values Competition believes in getting things done and uses goals and deadlines to drive performance. (TIGERS)

You can use this link to discover your dominant value.

Once you have discovered your values, help your team members do the same.   Then have each person share their values and ask their teammates to listen and look for the obvious common values – these provide a foundation for trust.  

Once the team understand where they naturally connect, they can work to mine the differences. When opposite values exist, so does the possibility for innovation.  

Looking at problems through different lenses gives the team a more holistic understanding of complex problems and usually leads to better solutions.

What are YOU doing to improve the culture inside your team?


What is the biggest LEADERSHIP challenge great leaders face head on?

It's time to think again.


A simple experiment uncovers this challenge every time.

Set an almost impossible problem scenario and then set your leaders up to fail. To do this, you have them answer the scenario alone. This builds the first barrier, ” I think my answers are right or almost right.” This psychological pneumonia studied and explained skillfully by Daniel Kahneman, in his work, highlights the struggle we all have separating intuition from logic.

Barrier one is created by the assumption that our intuitive answer is correct.

In my experiment, I then help leaders build barrier number two; confirmation. Working with one or two others I ask them to share their answers and agree on the new right answer. This kicks-off a process of trading, logical arguments, made up facts, and some coercion. This small group has now reinforced that they are “mostly right”.

Because the intuitive part of your mind is a lot more powerful than you may think, we quickly defend our assertions and develop “Logic” to support them – in the blink of an eye.

In his book How we know what isn’t so, Thomas Gilovich walks us through the process we use to reinforce our assumptions and biases and he shares strategies to overcome this natural way of thinking.

In my experiment, it only takes two steps and about 30 minutes to create factions. When the smaller groups are asked to work in a larger team to come up with the right solution they spend almost all of their energy trying to convince the other side that their answers are right and little energy exploring possibilities.

When one person within the group is the actual leader, i.e. the senior ranking officer, they often use positional power to force a conclusion, which, in many cases, resembles their first answer. They will then create the logic to support their actions and not waste time on reflecting on what just happened.

Most of us like to think we are not that kind of leader. That we are capable of making rational decisions, listening to other’s views and taking them onboard. The fact is we rely on our gut instinct and then create the logic to support this. Not always a bad thing.

However, left unchecked it can create an enormous blind spot that blocks out the intellect and innovations that only teams can generate. When we hold that our beliefs, judgements and opinions are based on solid reasoning we put ourselves and our organisations in peril.

It’s time to think again.

Subscribe to learn more on maintaining a leadership mindset.  My next pod cast is coming soon…..

Good reads are:

Thinking, Fast and Slow

Thinking, Fast and Slow by [Kahneman, Daniel]

Prof Daniel Kahneman, from Princeton University, started a revolution in our understanding of the human mind. It’s a revolution that led to him winning a Nobel Prize.

How we know what isn’t so.

How We Know What Isn't So: Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life by [Gilovich, Thomas]
Thomas Gilovich
His research focuses on everyday human judgment: How do people assess what they and others are like, what the future has in store, and what events in the past “really mean”?

What Makes you a Great Leader?

What is leadership? Do a search and you will find endless definitions, but we think it is simple. Being a great leader is the ability to motivate yourself and others.

However, you cannot be a great leader on your own.

Napoleon’s leadership crystalised into using the best talent available. Until the French Revolution the aristos were keeping all the jobs for themselves, but once the guillotining was done and dusted, the doors were open for anyone who had something to offer. The French legal, education and social systems were founded in his short reign as Emperor.

He had the ability to lead but also the confidence to listen.

Knowing why you want to be a leader is a good place for you to start. So ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do I want to lead?
  • How will my life improve if I am a better leader?
  • How will my work improve?
  • How will my home life get better?
  • What are my measurements for success?
  • Who will I be leading?
  • What barriers will I overcome?
  • What parts of my personality do I want to be strengthened?

Leadership involves the practical and the emotional. Being there first, to meetings, to ideas, to innovations. Having empathy and understanding that those that want leadership need to be encouraged rather than bossed in the old fashioned way.

Most of all Leadership comes from being open. The confidence to say “I don’t know – tell me!”, the ability to say “Let’s try that” and the humility to realise “They are better at this task than I am.”

Leading a company, division or team needs the same skills. Your success comes from their success, your confidence grows as theirs does too and your empathy makes them want to do more for you. Once you have got there, you can truly call yourself a Leader.

To take the path to be a Great Leader – why not find out more about the Breakthrough Development Programme in October in London here

Breakthrough with Making Great Leaders.

Ok – so you’ve been working for ten years. Your education is finished, you’re getting along fine, but inside there is a frustration. How to get to the next level? Play corporate politics? Push your boundaries internally and externally?

Breaking through to the next level of your career can be difficult, especially if you are not sure about the best way to develop yourself.

  • You want personal success, but also to deliver for the business.
  • You have had ideas that you are sure will work, but getting them accepted can be daunting.
  • You want to develop your personal life, to be healthier, but haven’t worked out how to make professional and personal ambitions compatible.

With Breakthrough from Making Great Leaders, you will be in a position where you can make all those decisions successfully. The coaching is personal. You are not sitting in a lecture theatre, you are engaging with a maximum of 9 others. Tim Taylor knows you are not the same as everyone else. There is not a one size fits all solution, there is individual attention to what you need from the coaching.  

And when you walk out of the formal coaching sessions, you are not walking away from Making Great Leaders. Tim Taylor will be arranging to meet you for follow up sessions, and you will have each other’s numbers on your phones. Tim regularly supports his clients with help and advice, and sometimes just an independent ear to talk things over.

To find out about the Breakthrough Development Programme in October Click Here.

Which company would you like to lead – Apple or Samsung?

Two great companies - two very different leadership styles...

Tim Cook is the leader at Apple. He is up there alongside Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos as a famous tech leader. He had the unenviable task of replacing perhaps the most admired and loved innovator of the past 50 years, Steve Jobs.

This week he has had the enjoyable task of telling the stock market that Apple has delivered above expectations, always a welcome message for investors. They are seeing double-digit growth in almost every market, and their latest iPhone X has not sold quite as many, but they are getting a better price. The elasticity of demand in action.

Meanwhile, Samsung has seen a decline in their sales of the direct competitor for the iPhone, the Galaxy S9. Who announced it? Samsung. Not a person, but the company, Not one person but “executives” are quoted.

I Googled the same question about each brand. Who Leads Apple/Samsung. Look at the results.


The Apple results show the people, the Samsung results show leads.

What we are seeing is a difference in leadership, culture and branding. The leadership in Apple is visible. They are easy to find. They are also prepared to carry the can. If Apple makes a bad move, the shareholders will be gunning for people they can see. But they are also cheering and clapping those people when they make the right decisions, and Apple make more right than wrong moves.

You can find out who is the leader of Samsung if you dig about a bit, and in South Korea, they are public figures (particularly as one, Lee Jae-yong is in the slammer for corruption).

There are two types of leadership going on here. The visible, responsible, engaged, public leader that is Tim Cook, and the invisible and corporate leadership of Samsung.

If you were given a choice of leading either company, which would you select? There is no right or wrong, it might be that your personality suits one more than the other. You might be thrilled by the opportunity to stand on stage and get wowed to the rafters, or that might be the last thing you ever want to do.

Leaders do not have to fit one category of person, but they do need to decide what type of leader they will be. Breakthrough Leadership Coaching helps you uncover your strengths and how to maximise them to be the best leader you can be. Working with Tim Taylor and a small cohort of fellow leaders, you will be given the tools to lead effectively.

The next Breakthrough Leadership Programme is in London in October, three days leading to three months of engagement and learning how you can use your skills and experience to become a leader.

Find out how to Breakthrough to the next Leadership level here.

No one wants to tell a CEO-owner that their baby is ugly

separation = feedback powerful

Building a company is a very personal matter. Anyone who has ever started a business from scratch knows that they feel sensitive about every aspect of the business, like a parent you are proud and protective. Good feedback is welcomed with a smile. Bad feedback, on the other hand, is usually met with a defence.

No one wants to tell a CEO-owner that their baby is ugly, or even that they have some blemishes because they don’t want to deal with the defence mechanisms, usually displayed with at least a touch of anger and aggression.

As a leadership coach and development consultant, it’s my job to go in and do just this, to fearlessly point out the good, the blemishes and the plain ugly. To do this well, I have had to adopt numerous strategies to get past the angry stage. In one case I start feedback sessions with “we need to go to lunch” which has become code for “I have some ugly feedback, and if we go to a restaurant you’ll think twice about getting angry.”

It is not that my clients don’t want to hear feedback, it’s that it feels very personal because they are all working so hard to build a good company and a great place to work.

This issue is not one that only founders face, many caring executives running businesses or institutions feel the same pain when confronted with feedback that is not as good as they hoped.

Everything and everyone is connected. What happens in one area has a butterfly effect in another, this can make the possibility of creating a great company seem too complicated.

The power of separation

There is power in stepping back periodically and separating yourself from your business. Developing this ability is key to using feedback to maintain the good and address the ugly.

It requires a mindset shift created by checking into your beliefs about you and the business.

  • You are not the business, and it is not you.
  • Your actions matter and so do those of your leaders.
  • You don’t have to fix everything yourself.
  • Your leaders will take responsibility for the culture and performance.
  • People come to work to do a good job.

Overseeing the leadership behaviours of your leaders should receive the same attention as your financial performance. Admittedly, the data sets are not as clearly defined or as well organised as management accounts, but it is still possible to collect and assemble data on leadership and use this to make decisions and build strategies to grow the business into a great company.

Tools, Values, Language, Artifacts, Myths, Stories and Rituals

Leadership is an experience people get working inside a company. It is experienced through the interactions people have with their manager and other leaders.

Tools and Language

We use tools every day; spreadsheets, PowerPoint, Word, email, SLACK, meetings, briefings, conference calls, and so on, but it how we use these tools to share information, collaborate and manage that provides that basis of the leadership experience we give to others.

It is therefore essential to also adopt leadership tools to enable you to get the most out of your interactions with others. These can include tools that allow you to understand your people to tailor your approach to their needs. Tools that enable your managers to build a shared vision that aligns their objectives and priorities.

Adopting leadership tools will allow your leadership team to create a language about leadership and strategise together about building a sustainable performance culture.


Values are the foundation stones to build a culture that supports your business ambitions. These exist within everyone that comes to work for you. Creating a healthy culture requires values to be acknowledged, talked about, understood and lived, this is not something managers do to their people, quite the contrary, this is something a leader does for their people.

Leaders need to address values continuously to ensure they create the DNA they want for their business. It is healthy to allow values to be interpreted uniquely by each group within the organisation; this is an organic and fun way that helps people find real meaning and connection to the company’s culture.

Stories, Myths Artefacts and Rituals

Humans have been using storytelling to communicate concepts and complex ideas since the dawn of language. Cave painting was the antecedent of PowerPoint and used to teach, record history and inform a community. From these stories and artefacts, we can determine a lot about our ancient ancestors.

Similarly, the people working in your organisation can determine a lot about expectations through the stories they hear, the images that are used to teach them and how history is reported.

Leaders (and leadership teams) that pay attention to the stories they promote, the rituals they use and the artefacts they create are superior to those that allow these crucial elements to exist by accident.

Your baby never need be ugly if you take leadership development seriously.

Humility = Great Leadership

Becoming aware of Ego


To develop humility in leadership you have to learn about you and become especially aware of your ego. The ego is your sense of self.  Your boundaries; a feeling of being you. Ego gives all of us definition in the 3-dimensional world:

”This is my body. This is my mind. This is me. These are my preferences, my limits – my, me, mine.”

Ego is a necessary component of human life. It informs you of your choices in the world and it prevents you form being harmed. It gives you the power to act and keeps you feeling independent and strong.  It allows you to value your uniqueness and, when properly tended to and channeled, prepares you for greater service to others.

However, ego is by definition limiting.  Its function is to keep you safe, to contain you. The ego understands only that which it can grasp; “I am safe because I have a house, money, food in the fridge” is typical ego reasoning. Putting security in that which can be seen is what the ego does.  Also the ego thrives on comparison. ”Why does he get that and I don’t?” is a familiar phase from your egos repertoire.

For these reason the ego it finds it easier to generate fixed mindsets.  “When I have X I will be a success.”  “When I have Y I will be more important.” These limitations create rules and belief systems that can make it hard to become a great leader.

Why is it difficult for senior executives to form teams?

Most people believe teams outperform individuals. However, this is not always the case, and certainly not when it comes to top teams.

I have met many CEOs who have told me about their frustration trying to get their top executives to act as a team.  They talk about silo thinking and lack of the four C’s; cooperation, collaboration, communication and compromise.  Listening to their stories, I understand why they want teamwork, but I am always struck by their misunderstanding of teams.  The fact that how they work together depends on the structure and purpose of their meetings and the choices they make implementing a work-group process or a team process.  I think the four C’s might make life more enjoyable, but I am not convinced that these behaviours alone can improve the performance of a team.


Solving your dilemma


Watch a few meetings, and note two things; the purpose, and the way members are asked to participate.  After a short period of observation you will notice a number of similarities. Notably, most executive meetings tend to fall into a one of a number of categories; readouts, where members give each other information; governance, where members discuss specific propriety issues; policy, where members decide on principle actions to be adopted by their organisation; and strategy reviews, which examine planned versus actual.  The nature of these meeting and how they are structured makes teamwork unnecessary to achieve the outputs required, therefore trying to force the participants of these meetings to be more of a team is counterproductive. 

These types of meeting are designed to use a Working-Group, not a TEAM.   They require a strong, focused leader to manage the agenda and work through each topic.  Individuals are accountable for their piece of the work, whether that’s a report, a policy update, or information regarding strategic decisions.  The group’s purpose is the same as the broader organisational mission and individuals produce separate work products that add value to the agenda.  These meetings need to run efficiently, and the measures of effectiveness indirectly influence others (such as the financial budgets, headcount, benefit schemes etc.).  Inside these kinds of meeting senior leaders use the 4Ds, they discuss, debate, decide, & delegate.

This working-group was defined in ’93 by Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith in the HBR article The Discipline of Teams.  A Working-Group is highly effective and appropriate for senior executive meetings.  Time is at a premium; everyone is a competent professional in charge of their piece of the pie, and required results are well understood.


Is it ever appropriate for senior executives to act as a team?


The answer is yes when the propose requires teamwork; this is when it is important for CEO’s and other senior leaders to be precise about their definition of a team and what they are trying to solve.   I always remind CEO’s that a team is only required when there is no obvious solution to a problem and no single person can solve it.

Let’s define a team.

A team is a small number of people with complementary skills and knowledge who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and an approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.

The discipline required for effectively forming and operating as a team is very different to that needed to run a work-group.

Each element needs to be in place.

Small means between 2 and 7.

Complementary skills is a diversity of skills such as creative, process, people, task, financial acumen, visioning, sales and production.   A diverse and complementary skill-set aims to ensure that the team can see the problem from many perspectives, all with equal merit, and can find a solution that is a product of the team’s thinking, not one dominant player.

Being committed to a common purpose encompasses two elements, commitment to stay with the team and work through issues, and common purpose means a shared goal or objective.

Performance goals are agreed amongst the members and measure outputs as well as the quality of the team’s interactions.

Lastly, an approach for which they hold themselves accountable means that the team agree on the way they will work as a team.  This is a mixture of values, rules of engagement and the problem-solving models they plan to utilise.

Successful teams spend time considering how they work together and make adjustments to improve performance.  They review how each person is contributing; asking each other for suggestions to improve; talking openly about feelings and performance without blame, and they understand that are subjugated by their purpose, not my organisational hierarchy.     Each member knows that they win only when the team wins.

Where to begin?

Once everyone understands the definition of a team, the CEO, or Executive taking the lead, lays out the problem to be solved.

The next step is critical.  Who is needed to solve this problem?  Forming a team that can be successful, requires members with complementary skills and the capability to make decisions.

Once the problem has been defined, and the team has been selected, they will need a process for working together. Team meetings are very different from work-groups.  Firstly, the leadership is shared amongst the members.  Secondly the meetings are messy, the agenda is open; teams value conflict, and are comfortable letting topics lie unresolved over multiple sessions.  Not every meeting ends in resolution, and it may be necessary to start over several times to find the most valuable solution.

Once the team is formed allow them to progress without interference, offer coaching and mentoring but not drive the solution.  The solution must belong to the team so that ownership and accountability remain shared within the team.   While oversight is always important,  trust is more important; teams need to know that they are trusted to find the answers this is the only way to build the capability of teams.

Think before you choose


Many meetings are designed to use a workgroup because of the structure used the outputs required.  Choosing to work in this fashion is a perfectly acceptable approach to executive leadership.  Individual leader structures are fast and efficient and work well when one person really does understand what is needed.

The most important consideration is the time/value equation. Establishing a top team requires time to build high performance, so it’s always worth asking if the rewards merit the investment.  The next consideration is whether your top team is aware of the diversity of the members and is willing to value the mix of complementary skills and knowledge. Organisational status, as in job titles, are not part of team working. Next, consider if the mix is fit for purpose, i.e. can this group of individuals  deliver the goal?

Lastly, consider the long-term benefits.  Building the leadership bench strength in your organisation requires opportunity.  In teams, the leadership role shifts among the members giving opportunities for less experienced executives build up their knowledge of what works and what doesn’t when enabling a team to achieve its goals.  The collateral benefit is that executives who learn to use teams in this way are more likely to cascade the practice inside

their part of the of the organisation, thereby building the overall leadership capacity of the organisation.   They will also learn how to make the crucial choice between workgroups and teams and deploy the right organisational structure appropriately.


Where do executive teams find opportunities for teamwork?

Complex issues where the answer is not an extension of, business as usual, is a great place to mine for opportunities.  These include business turn-a-rounds, vision building, new business model creation, value proposition design, new product strategies, integrating acquisitions, market disruption, and innovation projects.

These types of challenges have common characteristics:

  • The solution is not obvious, and obvious solutions will not deliver the paradigm shift required.
  • The solution requires a complementary skills-set
  • There is an urgent need to find a solution
  • There is a clear advantage for using a team over a workgroup
  • The rewards are worth the risk of investing time and energy

The answer to why is it difficult for senior executives to form teams comes down to the choices they make about what model fits the purpose of their meetings.

There is no doubt that teams need time together, they need to work on real issues and learn how to be a successful team by following the deceptively simple rules of the discipline of teams.

A workgroup is fit for purpose.   A team acts differently from a workgroup, and that is good when that is the most appropriate choice.   Remember, the events in life and business will continue to challenge all of us, the response we chose creates the outcome we experience.


We are the masters of our destiny