Stong Leaders

Strong leaders don’t run, they walk fast in times of crisis

By | Leadership | No Comments

Back in the 90s when I had an entertainment business I received a powerful lesson in how to be a strong leader. I was taught never run but walk quickly when there was a problem or crisis. It was during a large event of about 1000 people when one of the performers was standing behind a lit screen and everyone could see their shadow. Hardly a crisis I admit but one that gave me a valuable lesson in leadership. Seeing the shadow, I started running towards the stage to tell the performer move, when my producer at the time quietly said to me, ‘don’t run, walk quickly’. Running (or panicking) does three things.

  1. As you run you are in danger of tripping and causing more havoc.
  2. People will notice you running and assume something is up and panic results.
  3. Your decision-making process goes south as your knee-jerk reaction cuts in.

Good advice. Especially now.

As the impact of Coronavirus takes hold ask yourself if you or your leaders running or walking quickly? Not literally of course but metaphorically.

Strong Leaders are adaptive while staying the course

An attribute of strong leaders is adaptability. I like the way Jay A Conger (2004) puts it when he talks about ‘Chameleon Leadership’. The next 6 to 12 months will test the ability of businesses and their leaders to adapt to change and deal with the impact of the Corona crisis, while still maintaining course. That requires taking decisive action in a calm and non-emotional way. It requires good communication, so everyone knows what expect (well… as best as possible) and what steps have been put in place.

Strong leaders are consistent communicators

Your team needs to feel safe and certain that you as a leader are not panicking yet, at the same time, not deflecting a crisis. They need to know what the plan of action is, and they need to know that things could change at any moment. They also need to feel they have a say, that they are contributing, and they need to know that the little things they do, which to them may seem unimportant, will make a big difference. A strong leader addresses these.

If a leader runs, they will not just panic their staff and their clients, but they risk making bad decisions.  As my manager, Simone Ashton’s partner put it (who is ex-defence force) ‘officers don’t run, it panics the troops’.

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great leaders

Great leaders – are they superheroes or villains?

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I remember rocking up to my dad’s office as a young kid during school holidays and asking to see his films. He didn’t work in the film business; he was in advertising. His secretary (I don’t think they had executive assistants back then) would amuse me by setting up a 16mm projector in a spare room and bringing out a pile of Dad’s advertisements. I would sit there for hours, just watching the ads and promo reels, playing them again and again and again.

I used to love the sound the film made when it was running through the sprockets, seeing the light glow in the projector and how the dust would flitter and play in its beam. Sometimes, just for kicks, I would play the films backwards. Very cool. My dad never said no to me watching his films. He was never too busy to bring a projector home to set up in the living room.

Great leaders are supportive

A few years later, when I was a teenager, he set up a meeting with a family friend who was a film producer, to chat with me about a career in the film business. That led to me getting work on TV and film.

Around the same time, my mother owned an art gallery, so much of my teenage years were surrounded by people who appreciated self-starters, entrepreneurs and successful business people. People who also managed to make a living, and some of them very good livings, from their ideas and their creativity, (at 80 my Mother still painted). People who understood that success takes both passion and good business skill and that it doesn’t happen immediately but takes effort and time. That it’s a game of inches on all levels.

Great Leaders have influence

I am incredibly grateful that people who were supportive and open to entrepreneurial endeavours surrounded me in my youth. People who didn’t judge, mock, or try to interfere, but instead mentored, guided, and led by example. Just being who they were and doing what they did was an enormous influence.

There lies a great lesson. I learned at a very early age, without even knowing it, that we each hold an immense power of influence over other people and that we can either draw the very best out of them or shut them down. We can inspire people to be their best or we can point them to mediocrity – without even knowing we’re doing it. We can also inspire ourselves to be our best or we can point ourselves to mediocrity – without even knowing we’re doing it

We can be superheroes or villains. A great leader knows that the first choice is a nobler one. Inspiring people to be their best is a much better pursuit.

To find out more about how Nigel can help your leaders be superheroes with his leadership presentations.

Others articles on leadership include ‘Change management requires ownership, not buy-in’ and ‘How do I foster an innovation culture in my team?

The Power of Incremental Change

By | Change, Leadership | No Comments

There’s an old zen koan (story) of a wealthy man who wanted to build a new house that illustrates the importance of incremental change. He wanted a three-story dwelling so he could look out over his land and marvel at the beautiful landscape for many miles around, and more importantly because the higher one lived the higher one’s status.

And so he contracted highly skilled builders to build his beautiful home. Being a busy man himself he then left them to do what it was he was paying them to do and set off on his business travels. Upon his return several weeks later he decided to see how they had progressed.

To his horror he found that they had only started on the ground floor. ‘Why have you not begun work on the top floor?’ he cried. There could be no status living on the ground floor and much loss of face.

The builders, of course, explained to the wealthy man that they must start at the bottom before they could begin to move up to the next floor and ultimately the top floor. But he wasn’t happy because he didn’t want the other floors, he only wanted and desired the third floor. The others were not needed.

Change is incremental and happens one step at a time

Many business leaders and entrepreneurs are like that. They want change to happen all at once. They set out with massive visions and write enormous BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) and get miffed if it doesn’t happen fast enough. They want to jump straight to the endgame. Many managers are like that as well. They want the yearly budget done by September, or need the return on their innovation investment before the product is ready. The effect of incremental change is often overlooked

Yes having a vision is vital because otherwise how do you know where you are going. Having goals are vital because they make your vision a reality. Without either business doesn’t grow.


Business growth and change takes time. Meeting budgets takes time. Developing your people takes time. In order to get to the endgame, whatever your vision and whatever your goals are, you need to work meticulously on getting every stage right and complete before you move onto the next. Always remember that business is a ‘Game of inches’ and change is incremental.

Like the top floor, your business will only be solid, secure and lasting if you take the time to build everything correctly on the way up. Desired change can only happen in increments.

Related articles include ‘How the McVikers Cashed in on Change‘ and ‘Change Management requires ownership, not buy-in’. Also ‘The Tasmanian who changed an industry’

Find out how Nigel can help your conference delegates make change happen or about his executive coaching and other keynotes.

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How do I foster an innovation culture in my team?

By | Innovation, Leadership | No Comments

Building an innovation culture is a ‘Game of Inches’ and not a one-off event or a single “eureka”’ idea.

Success comes from incrementally moving forward and finding innovative ways to consistently improve your business. So how do you help your people be innovative every day?

As an innovation speaker, one of the challenges with this is that innovation is seen too often as large-scale radical disruption. There’s a stance out there for many businesses that to become more profitable and move to the next level they need to find the next big thing. As a result, most of your team see innovation as a scary and inaccessible proposition because it is too complex, too risky and too hard.

Let’s face it: most people in your organisation are simply trying to keep up with their own workload and their own processes on a day-to-day basis, so they don’t have the time or inclination to focus on innovative solutions for the entire business. But what if you shift that?

What if you change the view of innovation and its role?

What if rather than seeing it as disruptive you see it as an achievable everyday process and encourage your people to find ways of improving their part of the business, no matter how big or how small the improvement may be? Imagine the difference that would make throughout your organisation because great ideas and solutions are ones that are workable, profitable and make a difference to your business in a positive way.

To do that requires not just a shift in mindset from large-scale innovation to small-scale innovation.

Give your team permission to be innovative each and every day.

It also requires you to give your team permission to seek ideas that improve their world and more importantly act on those ideas. If they don’t feel they have your permission to do so then chances are they won’t .

You also need to be brave enough to give them permission to make mistakes. The good news is if you fail on a small-scale improvement it’s not going to break you. As Mark Evans, owner of Paronella Park in Queensland once told me: “You don’t learn anything if you don’t fail. ”

So always ask: “What did you learn and what can be done differently next time?”

Your team needs to measure the difference their innovative ideas are making.

Finally, great innovative ideas need to make a difference to your business in a positive way so you need to know how effective any improvements are. That doesn’t need to be complex because it could be as simple as measuring time saved, improved conversion rates or cost savings.

Here’s a case-study we did a while back on how a small change (16 footsteps in fact) added $30k difference to the bottom line of a restaurant.

It’s a shift from big to small – when researching innovation cultures I see it all the time

Remember business success is a game of inches. Ask your people to invent the next Google or come up with the next Uber and they will freeze with panic and fear. (The myth of big is one of the challenges to innovation in most organisations). But fostering a culture of achievable small-scale innovation and they will achieve greatness.

Related articles include ‘What Phrenology can teach us about creative thinking‘ and ‘How 16 Footsteps Added $30k To Bottom Line Profit’ and also Strong leaders don’t run, they walk fast in times of crisis

Find out more about how Nigel can help your leaders and teams through his executive coaching, and other keynotes

How 16 Footsteps Added $30k To Bottom Line Profit

By | Innovation, Leadership | No Comments

A very clever restaurant in Port Macquarie is boosting its bottom line profit by focusing on the little things – the inches.

Overlooking the harbour and village green of Port Macquarie is a restaurant called Chop and Chill, (one of my favourite haunts). Not only do they make great coffee, really good food and have an awesome view, they leverage inches really well.

Let me give you an example.

A while back a new head chef was brought in who, along with one of the restaurant managers, noticed something interesting. It took 16 extra footsteps to plate certain meals. A bit like a game of football where the backs cook the food (in the rear of the kitchen), the midfield move it through the centre and the forwards (front of the kitchen) serve the food onto the plates.

Solution and results.

Rather than re-configuring the kitchen they just reconfigured the process of plating the food. Meaning one less person needed in the kitchen saving them between $30k-$35k per annum. Directly boosting bottom-line profit

A Second Gap

Being an ingenious business they noticed another profitable gap. Having an outdoor seating area, tables and chairs needed to be moved in and out each morning and evening. This took up to two hours each day. That’s about $50 in wages per day, $350 each week, or $18,000 per annum. Add to this the wear and tear of constantly moving the furniture, as well as the odd bad back.

Install security shutters which can be drawn down at night and lifted in the morning. The shutters will cost about $20,000 and after 12 months they will be literally adding $18,000 to their bottom line each and every year. That’s a lot of meals and a lot of profit.

Every business, although doing most things well are letting these small steps, (inches), fall through the cracks. After all what difference can 16 steps make? It’s only a couple of hours and moving furniture and shutters are expensive right?

You see… everyone is searching for the next big idea. But here’s what I’ve seen having interviewed hundreds of businesses and their leaders, it’s actually the multiple of small ideas which are often overlooked. And are faster and easier to address and more profitable in the short term. Innovation is constant and these guys have found the secret to incremental innovation. The trick is for leadership to set the right culture and process to allow their people to find and act on them.

Similar innovation blogs posts you might enjoy are ‘Business reinvention and the town that changed itself and ‘Keep the barges coming’ and ‘Ingenious Oz Project reveals the secrets to business growth and innovation’ 


See how you can help your team find small gaps through the Game of Inches process, and innovation presentations and workshops

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