Winning the inner game!

andy murray 2

Imagine being the best you could possibly be!
By Doug Parkin

A piece about you and your potential – based on a short masterclass delivered at the AMOSSHE Annual Conference, Imagine, Liverpool 2013.

How often have you seen the line “creating an environment where students and staff can achieve their full potential”? It’s a great aspiration, that’s for sure, but what does it really mean and can it ever be possible? Well, we are all born with an innate capacity to learn, a sort of learning instinct, a playful spirit of enquiry and curiosity about who we are and how the world works, and this should never be underestimated, but as we progress through life blocks and barriers arise which limit and obscure the potential that lies within us. We are bruised by often brutal experiences in both work and education and we start to limit ourselves and the service we offer others in ways that are both conscious and unconscious.

So, how can we start to win this inner game? Back in 1975 Timothy Gallwey in his wonderful book The Inner Game of Tennis put forward in the form of an equation the simple but fascinating proposition that


This proposition challenges us to change our focus and our thinking. Rather than trying to push performance or naval-gaze at potential, it invites us instead to focus on the interference that inhibits the former and blocks the latter. Remove the interference and the other two can flow together. This can be a personal quest, a valuable piece of self-discovery, but it can also be the basis for an approach to leadership: liberating leadership which aims to set potential free by focussing on interference and which uses empathy, compassion and passion to move towards a more fully engaged workplace and learning environment.  Continue reading

Change: harnessing the slinky?


By Tom Irvine

Change and getting the best from your slinky. Anthony Forster – the VC of the University of Essex, TMPer and LF Board member – presented to a group of HR directors, OD directors and staff development managers at a recent LF event that was discussing the skills of ‘change capability’. I thought that blogging a little of the session would be an opportunity to share some of the insights from the day.

The event was part of the LF’s consultation process on how we are developing a range of services to support the change agenda. Mark Pegg and I have been out and about meeting with vice-chancellors, registrars, DVCs, PVCs, as well as senior colleagues from the HR, OD and staff development community. What came though really clearly to me from these consultations was the need for the LF to be offering support to senior leaders and their teams in the area of ‘change’.

Anthony’s presentation was a frank and powerful personal story about how he has led change at Essex, where he is coming to the end of his first year as VC. One of the most enlightening comparisons he drew out for his audience was the way that a change project was like a slinky – one of those loose springs that cascades its way down a flight of stairs. Anthony talked about the ‘potential energy’ stored in the slinky and how this was like a major change project – with all of the energy just waiting to be tapped into. Then he described how the slinky set off on its journey – with the project being led by the top of the slinky and with the coils following. He mused about the direction in which it set off – and whether or not this was the right way forward – but that the energy unleashed ensured that it would continue in its direction of travel.

Anthony talked about the power of evidence in leading a change project – the need to ensure that the slinky didn’t just head off in some random and unstoppable way – but that it harnessed the evidence of the need for change as a way of unleashing the energy at his university to achieve great things for the student.

We’ve been talking at the LF about how we can respond to the feedback we’ve had from our consultations – ways in which we can support senior leaders as they lead change in their institutions. What came through really clearly to me was the comment from senior leaders about the support that is required to major change initiatives. I caught up with a really interesting blog from the Harvard Business Review called “Change Management Needs to Change” by Ron Ashkenas. One of the things that jumped off the page for me was the following comment:

“The content of change management is reasonably correct, but the managerial capacity to implement it has been woefully underdeveloped. In fact, instead of strengthening managers’ ability to manage change, we’ve instead allowed managers to outsource change management to HR specialists and consultants instead of taking accountability themselves — an approach that often doesn’t work.”

Our response to this challenge will be to offer support to senior leaders to help them develop these skills – so that they can become more self-sufficient and skilled at leading change. We’re calling these people ‘change advisers’ – people who can advise and support senior leaders – but not to carry out the change for them. Our change advisers will focus on helping the leader develop the skills of change management and to support their learning and its application to real life change projects.

Do get in touch if you would like to talk about our new strand of support to change management – I’m more than happy to meet up with you to talk issues through. Make change by harnessing your slinky!

Tom Irvine is director of Consultancy at the Leadership Foundation

Moving offices: good for your health


We moved. It went smoothly, nothing was lost or broken. Something else happened. Our new offices are boosting creativity and teamworking, the new space has raised morale and our sense of wellbeing. On top of all this we are doing it all for less, as a lower rent means serious cash savings.

Right in the heart of London, our old offices were fit for purpose, but rather unexciting. Open plan on the 1st floor of a large office block, they were getting careworn and one area was always too hot when the rest was too cold. We were in the concrete jungle overlooking another tower block with little natural sunlight. Our lease was due for renewal with a substantial rent increase. We decided to move.

We searched for a while, looking to save money without going too far down market. Luckily, we found somewhere suitable only 250 metres away. We made sure all areas and levels of staff had an opportunity to see them and give feedback before the final decision was made. On a tight timetable there were some heart stopping moments while the lawyers did complex things with the leases. Deadlines met we moved in one working day and weekend.

Then we found we had gained much more than we bargained for. We are still in an office block, but the short move has been a revelation. Before we had been part of the commercial district with the constant buzz of the ‘midtown’ city to west end traffic highways, the pavements full of people hurrying along. But this is actually a veneer. Walk 100 metres along a side street and life is quieter, we are now in the midst of a real community and the effect has been transformational.

Dr Johnson said ‘he who is tired of London is tired of life’ and the inner heart that is the City London is now much nearer to us than we thought. From the windows of our 3rd floor office we can see skyline, that includes the Gherkin and Cheesegrater yet we are in the midst of an Edwardian social housing estate instead of other offices, surrounded by trees and greenery, we are next to a primary school and playground with happy little voices three times a day; a church is nearby with the bells chiming through the day and every Friday Muslims come to pray at the nearby meeting rooms. Leather Lane street market is barely 200 metres away where traders call you to buy at their stalls. It is as if this vibrancy transmits itself to us.

Our office is lighter, cleaner, brighter. We bought new furniture and laid it out better, we are more self-sufficient and have a better kitchen. We used the move to rid ourselves of lots of paper and created more usable space. The team’s creative juices were stimulated – our own staff acted as design gurus and fitted out the office using corporate colours as themes for carpet tiles, for back plates to desks and piping on the furniture. It is more welcoming for our visitors.

We find we now work better as a team, and the boost to morale is tangible. We have to work to earn a living, so let’s get lots of job satisfaction doing it, let’s enjoy working with each other. We spend long period of our lives in the office and decided to create a working space that stimulated us, pleased us and gave us positive energy.
Moving offices really can be good for your health, wealth and happiness.

The Leadership Foundation moved to Verulam St, Holborn in March; the official opening, with staff and board members took place at the end of June.

Higher ground: inspiring leaders?

Inspiring leaders
When I was asked to talk about an inspiring leader I was frankly nonplussed because I don’t think of people as being inspiring. When I think of what inspires me I think of books, music, theatre and art, for example – things that are constant in what they are.

To me thinking of a person as inspiring is more problematic. People do inspiring things but they are not necessarily inspiring people. We often only know their public persona not the face behind the mask.

People can act in a truly inspirational way, rising to a challenge in the spur of the moment, like the 3 women who went to the aid of the fallen soldier the other day. And then there are those who do inspiring things as part of their everyday lives.

When I started to think along these lines, about the people I admire, I realised that a lot of them have a trait in common that I really do find inspiring – they are people who rise in adversity – who have succeeded despite the odds being stacked against them. People who face adversity every day of their lives, often throughout their whole life, but overcome it through sheer determination and the will to succeed.

I was lucky enough to have tickets for the Paralympics’ athletics last year and watched Oscar Pistorius and the other blade runners compete. It was truly inspiring! An inspiring act but I’m not sure that any of us would think of Pistorius as an inspiring person just now! I have long been a fan and admirer of Stevie Wonder. Here is a musician who has influenced a generation of other musicians. Blind since birth, one of six children raised by a single mother in Detroit, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist developed into one of the most creative musical figures of the late 20th century – truly an inspiration. As indeed was his fellow blind musician – Ray Charles.

Stephen Hawking is another person I admire. A theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author, Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1963 at the age of 21 and given a life expectancy of two years by doctors. After a lifetime of exceptional academic contributions, last year, 49 years after his diagnosis, we saw Stephen Hawking take a key role in the Paralympics opening ceremony, narrating the Enlightenment segment. His sheer determination and will-power to overcome his disabilities is truly inspirational.

These really are the people who I admire. Inspiring people? I don’t know. Doing truly inspiring things? 100% yes. Influential? Without a doubt!

Susie Norton is the Leadership Foundation’s marketing and communications manager.

Change: the new norm

In my regular conversations with senior leaders around the UK, they usually ask me how their peers are getting on adapting to the new challenges they face. They want to know what I see as best practice, how the best performing universities are building up their capacity to change, to be more proactive and seize new opportunities. Many tell me they want their senior teams to sharpen their skills and drive transformational change in a complex and uncertain world. They want to know how they can do this from within without re-inventing the wheel. How can they learn about change and adopt best practice in the most effective and economical way?

Change is the one constant in higher education – and is becoming more profound. Leading change, leading the organisation, leading high performing teams are part of the essential skill set for leaders and many vice chancellors tell me and colleagues in the Leadership Foundation that they want better leadership in their own senior teams, more effective team working, and more leadership in their organisation to handle their pressing change agendas.

They want to nurture the conditions where faculty continue to thrive, fulfil their potential, secure great teaching and research when resources are tight. Many tell us they must change for a sustainable future, at every level, from student engagement through up-and coming academic and professional staff, right up to senior team and beyond into the governing body.

From its beginning a decade ago, the LF has been helping leaders in their own organisations. A third of our current business is devoted to customised working with organisations to help with their own leadership and change agendas – pedagogic, structural and financial. This is an important complement to the LF’s brand reputation for world class individual leadership development.

The LF lets you choose how we can help. It could be you just need a bit of a vital spark – the inspiration to kick start an initiative, or some diagnostic work, an external and independent view of your challenges. Perhaps you need to see some provocative and insightful examples where something has worked for others and how it might work in your context. Or it is only a matter of helping to ask and respond to the right questions, or pointers to the approach your organisation needs to solve change problems better and unblock the barriers? Often, all you need is a skilled, knowledgeable change advisor to facilitate vital conversations and encourage decision making, to get on the right path.

One university was inspired by participating in an LF Change Academy: they were determined to engage with their staff better, changes that continue to this day. Another has invited us to help them build some fresh thinking and give more energy to an existing change initiative. For some a small development project can bring teams together and inject new thinking. Involvement in the Hefce funded ‘Changing the Learning Landscape’ initiative, open to all English HEIs, may help to unblock old attitudes.

Elsewhere, we have been asked to work with the senior team to help them develop their relationships in handling change, others simply want us to give them an external check on their progress to date. Even small institutions on a limited budget have benefited from our MASHEIN services to help them access change advice. All LF members can call on one free day a year on a change theme of their choice.

How we do it is by choosing the right people, faculty with deep sector knowledge and assignment experience. We support with focused research, on leading edge thinking about how successful institutions change. The LF anticipated a growing demand for the change agenda some time ago and has been building its capability and developing a team of change advisors you can call on to help develop change skills in your university.

We believe you should have real ownership of change by your own leaders, your own staff and students. We are enablers and facilitators of effective change. We don’t tell you what to do or impose a method, which is unlikely to be enduring. Instead we help you draw on your latent talent and help you build from within. If the LF’s role is successful, the outcome for your institution will be doing it for yourself, more self-sufficiency in change techniques and more deeply immersed in change processes.

Dr Mark Pegg is chief executive of the Leadership Foundation
Engage Summer 2013 – Editorial

Cambodia: Action-Learning goes East


In a short update on his recent project in Cambodia, international projects director David Lock, explains the leadership programme he delivered and how UK universities might like to get involved in future Leadership Foundation international work.

Last month the Leadership Foundation delivered its second programme to a group of 82 higher education leaders in Cambodia.  The 2-day programme for rectors, vice-rectors and ministry officials focused upon strategic planning, HR and stakeholder engagement.

The ASEAN integration [scheduled to take place in 2015] provides an imperative for Cambodia to raise its higher education game if it is to compete on equal terms with its neighbours. The World Bank had identified the development of leadership capacity as a priority and approached us to design and lead the work.

Leadership Foundation key associate John Fielden and I led the programme in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh. The original programme had been a five-day programme in Seam Reap, in the northwest of Cambodia  last autumn. While the content was important, it is the introduction to Action-Learning in this most recent run of the programme, that will leave the sustainable legacy.  The climax of the programme was a mass Action-Learning session with each group taking forward aspects of their emerging strategic plans. The technique, which was new to all the participants, was embraced well with one participant feeding back ‘It is wonderful; we learn from each other.’

Talks are on-going with the ministry about further engagements including a study visit to the UK for 15 -20 rectors or their deputies. LF member universities or higher education colleges interested in hosting such a visit, or providing a half or one-day presentation about aspects of ‘stakeholder engagement’, entrepreneuralisation or education for employment do please  contact me, at david.lock at

David Lock is the director of international projects.