Being comfortable feeling uncomfortable

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As I run my own company I have to juggle things around a bit to make sure I spend my time earning money as well as investing time in exploring new avenues with new clients (some people would call that marketing but I’m not going to compare my activities with those of true marketeers as I know there are very few similarities 😊.   

Marketing makes me feel uncomfortable.  Networking makes me feel uncomfortable.  Infact anything that requires me to sell myself makes me feel uncomfortable.   Most of my work thankfully comes from repeat business (~50%), with referrals probably around 30%, leaving a somewhat generously calculated 20% for uncomfortable marketing activities that I have to partake in and which this year I have to say I’ve seen greater success.  You see just because something makes me feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean I can’t, or don’t do it.

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An exercise to help you define what “leadership” means to you

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I am currently designing a modular based leadership programme Follow a Leader’s Journey© using insights, tools and techniques from my own career on areas that I believe were instrumental in my own leadership development.  I’m hoping my learnings and experience will inspire those that attend to embrace their own authentic leader’s journey.

I’m so excited by all areas of leadership it has been tricky to narrow it down to the topics I believe will bring the greatest value and therefore success to others.  I’m not going into the programme content or design here because it is the process of deciding what to focus on that I found interesting as a blog topic. I hope you do too!

Narrowing it down

I decided to start by writing down what I see as the enablers of memorable leadership (i.e. what does my own experience tell me and what do I hear people say when I ask them about their leadership role models – “what did they do that made you see them as a role model?”.  I asked myself – what really allows a leader to influence people to achieve something together?   I ended up with enough potential content for a 6-year programme!

I then decided to try a different technique – one I use sometimes when I want to trust my inner me and let ideas flow.  Below is the outcome of this exercise.

You will see the word LEADERSHIP in purple across the center of the page.  This simple exercise was to find words that have a connection for me to leadership and fit them up or down corresponding letters.

Clearly it isn’t rocket science – there are so many letter combinations the critical readers will say any word would fit.  Maybe they would.  But without studying my output try the exercise yourself.

There are lots of ways to complete the “puzzle” but even if you take the simplest approach of writing down all words that come to mind and then force fitting them into LEADERSHIP you will still have too many words and you will have to make choices.

Lesson learned

I left out so many key word like vision, communication, empowerment and included words that I know some people will question have any link to leadership.  But you see that’s the lesson – I had to prioritize based on what connected me to leadership and make difficult choices that fitted with my values and my preference.  Leadership is personal and this exercise reinforced that to me.

When I finalized the puzzle and looked at it again the following day what heartened me was it was largely reflecting HOW a leader should BE and not WHAT a leader should DO.  Perhaps at an earlier stage of my career my focus would have been different and words like accountable, strategic, agile, team work, decision making would have appeared.

Reflecting on why

When I looked at the words I had chosen some were because of experiences I had during my career that I knew made a difference to people at work (e.g. at Roche Wellbeing was not just a through-away word – there was true commitment and encouragement to “Live well, find your balance “.

Below are other thoughts, quotes or feedback I’ve had in the past that perhaps drew me to pick the words.

Influence: “Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” – John C. Maxwell

Wellbeing: Live well, find your balance (a wellbeing week held at Roche sites once a year to promote awareness of and education about healthy lifestyles, nutrition, emotional wellbeing as well as resources offered by Roche to its employees).

Motivate: “What I have learned is that people become motivated when you guide them to the source of their own power and when you make heroes out of employees who personify what you want to see in the organization.”  Anita Roddick

Diversity: As a leader it is importance to promote acceptance, respect, and teamwork despite differences in race, age, gender, native language, political beliefs, religion, sexual orientation, or communication styles.  For me I wanted to surround myself with people that not only embraced those but also thought differently – I have always delighted in honesty and diversity of thinking.

Engagement: Ultimately a leader is not judged so much by how well he or she leads, but by how well he or she serves.   The more you engage with those around you from a place of service, the more effective you will be at harnessing their talents, and the stronger the results you will achieve through them.

Courage: I think courageous leadership is not fearing being different because when all we do is try to fit in, we negate the difference our difference makes.  I also think speaking up takes courage and sometimes I got it right and sometimes I did not.  I’ll always remember my boss at Roche writing in my leaving announcement “I knew I would be working with someone…. very different from me and who will unhesitatingly enlighten me in the areas where I lack natural insights” 😊

Inspire: Literally means “to breathe life into” – so for leadership it’s about giving life to a vision that really motivates people.  It’s about believing in people so they feel you’ve breathed life into them so much so they share your vision and have a real desire to reach your shared goal.

Change: It’s a reality of day-to-day life inside and outside of work.  Today it is not about a leader sponsoring a change initiative or budgeting for posters or t-shirts.  Leaders have to embrace a culture of co-creation, create communities and listen to people because that, alongside a shared vision, is what will change an organisation. The Global Head of my change group at Roche enlightened me very early on that “organisations don’t change – people do”.

Authentic: Tell stories – about yourself in particular.  When you share your own opinions, thoughts, fears, choices, challenges, failures and decisions and talk or write about it people will begin to see who you are and what you stand for – it makes you genuine. Authentic leaders tend to be genuine, transparent and trustworthy, display a strong moral code and can be counted on to keep their word.

Passion:  I have to be honest and say I struggled to not be too passionate from an early age.  Even at school one of my teachers wrote “Jacqui needs to learn to channel her passion….”  😊   I still believe you should be passionate about what you believe in and live by your values – as a leader don’t look upwards for instructions or downwards for gratitude.

Passion, like negativity, is contagious. “Rather than trying to light a fire under people, great leaders light a fire within them. So, are you clear on what it is that you are truly passionate about … and do you inspire passion in others?” Todd Cherches

Over to you

Now you have your words representing LEADERSHIP, take some time to consider why they arrived in your final selection.  Then if you are a leader or an aspiring leader honestly ask yourself “how am I doing and where do I need to focus more?”  If you are a courageous leader – share your story and ask those around you the same question.  Be genuine 😊

10 Clever Things Great Managers Do

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When I run courses for line managers or speak one on one with line managers I nearly always talk about the line manager sandwich – it’s not a pleasant analogy because it relates to the fact that line managers often “sit” in an almost impossible place in-between senior leaders and direct reports.  With everyone wanting something from them but not always getting much in return.   It often must feel like a no-win situation.  It therefore takes a special person to fill that sandwich.

A line manager is the first port of call for their reports; their supporter, motivator, teacher, counsellor, communicator and font of all knowledge.  The expectation is that a line manager knows everything that is going on but in reality, they often have to spend time extracting what they need to know from senior leaders, pushing for information and news, protecting their staff from unrealistic deadlines and impatient leaders and walking a precarious tightrope to manage everyone around them.

Senior leaders sometimes believe that line management isn’t a full time, dedicated job, or that line managers cannot manage people if they are too removed from “the business”.   This often results in line managers having dual responsibility for people and for business projects, activities, systems or processes.   Their sandwich then becomes a triple decker!   I could write an entire blog on the pitfalls of such an approach but suffice to say whatever approach an organisation takes they must follow one simple rule:  A line manager has to be able to put their line management accountabilities first.

In my experience expert line managers, comfortable in the sandwich do 10 very clever things:

  1. Proactively network with other line managers – because of their own challenges around access to information and timely communication they happily give and share information openly with each other. For example, when one has discovered the timelines that HR have set for goal assessments they quickly and expertly make sure everyone has the details.  Knowledge sharing and networking saves time and that’s the most precious commodity for a line manager
  2. Actively listen – not just acting as a sounding board (although this remains a regular occurrence) but listening attentively to what is being said and what is not quite being said, and demonstrating they ARE listening
  3. Treat people as unique individuals – when it comes to line management there is no “one size fits all” model. Employees are unique and have very different needs that change at different stages of their lives. Expert line managers know that and continuously adapt.
  4. Invest in employee engagement – the single best predictor of employee engagement is the employee’s relationship with their immediate line manager. When line managers are given time to manage effectively then they can demonstrate they care, they can show interest in their repots lives, they can care how their report feels and they can support their health and well-being.  They can show a genuine interest which fosters a strong relationship.
  5. Understand their role in managing change – change in organisations isn’t an event it’s now a way of working. Managing through constant change takes resilience and that is what great line managers have.  They can be agents for change and help others to explore and commit to change
  6. Create trusting relationships through vulnerability – this is with those more senior than them. By expertly talking about and describing the impact behaviour, lack of information, poor communication, ineffective change leadership or other challenges are having on people in the organisation, the line manager can be the eyes of the organisation for senior leaders.  By carefully sharing the reality rather than trying to fix or hides things very powerful, trusting relationships are created.
  7. Remove obstacles – understanding what is keeping people from moving forward to do their job or increase their knowledge or progress their career and put in place a framework to overcome the obstacles that can mean direct reports can move forward (however small the steps may be)
  8. Adopt a growth mindset – line managers that ensure their direct reports maintain a growth mindset (believe that failures and setbacks always provide an opportunity to learn and improve) help develop employees with perseverance and a passion for long term goals (both personal and professional).
  9. Understand the importance of delegation – creating an environment where the line manager is actively relying on others to help carry projects/business goals.  Still informed, but letting others lead so they can grow their abilities and perspective
  10. Laugh – It may well be a coping mechanism to survive the roller-coaster world of line management but successful line managers I have worked with don’t take themselves too seriously and make sure fun and humour is part of work. People like to laugh and it’s good for wellbeing so strong line managers never forget to bring fun into the work place.


I know from personal experience when I was a leader my global departments greatly benefited from the partnerships I had with the line managers I was lucky enough to have alongside me.  At times of expansion they had to drive the recruitment and training of new team members and yet in times of reorganisations then had to play key roles in redundancies or restructuring.

My managers were well positioned to identify problems with our strategic planning and their input was essential for organizational learning when planning for and executing organisational change initiatives.

Now working at Anything Is Possible I strive to make sure the leaders I work with appreciate sandwich they can create for their line managers and make sure they appreciate the clever things they do.


Jacqui Spencer