The Leader’s role in setting and keeping the tune!

Recently, Julian Barson posted an interesting remark about the changing nature of business and the role of leadership (post can be found here).

I have posted before about Leadership (here) in the form of a jungle story. Reflecting on Julian’s remarks I believe that there may be another way to think of a leader though.

East Stroudsburg University

Leadership has been resembled by some to conducting an orchestra in terms of conducting a well tuned symphony. I think this is a good start but not the whole story. We should remember that

Excellent pre-work is what ensures the successful performance.


Imagine a very prolific conductor of an orchestra who is also the executive producer. She has the passion required, a limited budget and the whole genre of music to choose from, whilst she is operating in a rapidly-changing hypercompetitive environment.

Starting with a vision of where the orchestra should go towards (the so called, True North), putting a competent team together, setting the goals, selecting the orchestra’s target market (which involves the musical genre and particular segmentation and selection), identifying the value proposition and communication channels including frequency and style and ensuring that the “product” is differentiated enough to attract audiences as well as, ensuring that the resources available are best utilised and lobbying is performed for acquiring new resources are, only the start.

Then, the conductor/producer needs to select the orchestra instruments, the right orchestra performers, position them right, select the compositions to be performed, select the venues, the style of music, the time of the performance, keep the orchestra attuned and also get the orchestra to set its own tune.

Setting your own tune

Discussing music, the orchestra’s journey of setting its own tune is a big challenge as, unless there is some kind of familiarity the audiences may not attend.

It is thus worthwhile remembering that:

“We enjoy the familiarity of old tunes as we comfort in the security of the subsequent verse”

On the other hand though, the conductor needs to surpass this familiarity by differentiating the orchestra’s value proposition enough, to keep the audience captivated.

Perform and Delight

And as the saying goes “you are as good as your last performance”.

So, the pressure is on and the expectations need to be set high for audiences to attend. And then, expectations need to be met and hopefully exceeded, creating the much required sense of delight to the audience so that, these come back for more next time.

Continually adhering to these principles means that the conductor will lead the orchestra to success.


A great example of differentiation, as well as, transformation of a whole industry is, the paradigm of Cirque de Soleil, (you can read more in the now classic book “Blue Ocean Strategy” by Kim and Mauborgne) (a snapshot can be found here).

As Hubbard et al. detailed in another great book titled “The First XI” the “attunement” or alignment of key elements in an organisation is a key for organisational success.


“Alignment of External Environment, Strategy, Capabilities, Culture, Systems, People, Leadership, Structure, Communication, Perceptions” is a key to a winning organisation. – The First XI: Winning organisations in Australia. Hubbard et al.


A final note to consider.

Each of us can and should choose our own tune to orchestrate. A fantastic initiative from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra highlights this point. Enjoy the video below:

Each of us can and should aim to be an orchestra of one. Remember in an orchestra the conductor is the Leader but for example, you also have a lead violin and you can have solo performances equally captivating (see Zoe Keating’s one woman cello band).

As the saying goes said:

Life is not to be spend on the spectator’s seat, get on stage.

It is important to aim to Lead something of importance to us. And if we are in such a position to enable others to become leaders themselves (see here, here and here my posts on team engagement and enablement).

I do believe that the successful companies of tomorrow will be companies of Leaders. Each employee should aim to become a leader on a particular field and will be enabled by a Leader/Conductor who will be setting the tune.

What have you Lead lately?

[Image courtesy of East Stroudsburg University /]


Employee Engagement: Practical Tips for a more productive culture in the workplace – Presentation

Thanks to the Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport Australia (CILT Australia) for hosting my webinar “Employee Engagement: Practical Tips for a more productive culture in the workplace” on the 26th November 2013. The presentation was very well received and the feedback and questions I got afterwards were thought provoking. For those that missed it this is the presentation. Additionally, the sound recording can be accessed by CILT Australia members here.


This presentation was the culmination of various posts and years of work. If you want to revisit the Employee Engagement concepts in more depth you can read more here, here and here. The Productive Culture Survey background can be found here, details about NPS surveys here, thoughts on the basic qualities of a effective team member here and thoughts on the basic qualities of an effective team can be found here and here. Finally, if you wanted a simple guide on how to go about innovating, similarly to what I have done with various elements in this presentation, to suit your own individual needs read this simple method here and here.


Event Description:
What is the difference between motivation and employee engagement?
In this presentation the view that employee engagement should be the preferred target will be analysed.

Why is employee engagement important?
Practical ways to assess the Productive Culture in the workplace will be discussed.

What is the link between employee engagement and job satisfaction? What are the elements that constitute job satisfaction?

Practical examples on how these elements can be further stimulated will also be in the offing as well as the opportunity to download free material that will assist you to assess the existent culture of your team and make your team more effective.

Guest Speaker:
George Vrakas (MBA, CMILT)

“3C+1L”: The 4 basic qualities of an exceptional team member.

Can you describe an exceptional team member in five words?

Quite hard isn’t it. However, I believe it can be done.


A good team member should be:

  1. Caring
  2. Curious
  3. Courageous and
  4. a Good Listener

Let’s see why these qualities form the basis of today’s peak performing workforce.



As mentioned before here,the complexity of today’s team structures make it hard to have universal standards.

Teams come in many sizes and have varying interests and targets. They can be self-organizing, rigidly structured, matrix, adhoc etc.

Thus, you would employ your team depending on the unique qualities required each time.

For contemporary teams though, one thing is for certain:

One size doesn’t fit all.

In saying this, I believe that there may be some underlying qualities that EVERY supervisor, team leader or manager would want their team members to have.

I call these the “the 3Cs and 1L of an exceptional team member” and they are:


Good projects are those that meet the requirements in time and quality and also over-deliver. Those that, as marketing gurus would put it, delight the customer and aim to do more than just satisfy the stated needs.

Practically, what this means is that, taking advantage of good listening skills, you develop what is required (what is required can be describe as the stated needs) but at the same time also prepare for the unasked question, the remark that will inevitably be made. Then build this solution into the project or have the answer ready to go.

Caring enough to endeavour to reach an exceptional outcome is a great quality to have in every team.

Caring enough to consider alternatives, contingencies and ask questions is the key to successful task and project deliveries.

This means that the team member desires to do exceptional work, works on the skills required to take his/her work onto the next level and finally aspires to become what Seth Godin so eloquently described in his great book Linchpin (a book that is highly recommended. A visual summary can be found here).


As mentioned and elaborated on here, innovation and continuous learning are qualities that will be essential for the workforce of the future.

Innovation means that teams are curious enough to ask the right questions, clarify the essential facts, look outside the organization for best practices and bring new ideas to the table.

A guide to a simple but effective method of innovation can be found here and here.

The most important question to ask

in the 21st century is not Why but

Why not?


In the past century, especially considering the era of the Ford product lines, obedience was a quality that was highly regarded. Obedience in the sense that workers needed to blindly follow orders. This makes sense when the expectation was to work in factory process lines doing repetitive tasks over and over.

Well, we changed century since then and now, the common denominator is not blind obedience anymore but thinking, creating and “contributing” (as Peter Drucker would suggest).

Process work becomes more and more automated. This is because computers and robots can perform transactional /process work much faster than you and I can, at a fraction of the cost.

So, the right question to ask now is: “What is the value that each team member brings if process work becomes more and more extinct?”

As discussed here innovative thinking, having new ideas and also having the courage to challenge the status quo are qualities that are and will be much in demand in the 21st century.

So, if you have hesitations speaking up, I am afraid that in the near future there will be very few positions left, if any, that would not include the courage to articulate your ideas as a key skill.

Of course, speaking up means that you provide a meaningful, respectful, positive contribution to the organization towards securing the organization’s success.

4. GOOD LISTENING SKILLS (active listening)

Team work’s inherent requirement is to be able to effectively collaborate. Active listening is one of the cornerstones of collaboration.

From simply specifying the deliverables to “selling” the final project outcome, today’s organizational culture requires this essential skill.

Especially, considering the risk and repercussions of conflict in a team environment, which is notoriously emergent when deadlines are tight and/or stakes are high, good listening skills is something every team should have in abundance.

For an analysis on Conflict Management and reference of active listening as a very effective tool towards conflict resolution see the Harvard Law School’s special report here.

For me, these are the four underlying qualities which are the sine que non for every team member.

What do you think?

Image courtesy of Flickr user lumaxart of


12 Essential Tools to maximise Productivity, Profitability, Employee Retention and Customer Satisfaction!

In previous posts (here and here) I explained how by using the concept of (Net Promoter Score) NPS you can establish  whether your notion of running a great Team / Organisation can be measured by this simple feedback loop.

But, how can you tell which areas you need to improve on when your internal NPS score is low?

Let’s look at a simple and practical method to do just that.

East Stroudsburg University


The method I am suggesting is a simple 12 questions survey as detailed in Marcus Buckingham‘s books, “First Break All the Rules” and “Now, Discover Your Strengths”.

The survey was developed by the Gallup Organisation after their 25 year study of more than 1 million employees and 2,500 business units. What they found was a strong correlation between positive answers to this 12 question survey questionnaire and the below key business outcomes:

  • Productivity
  • Profitability
  • Employee retention and
  • Customer Satisfaction


    1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
    2. Do I have the materials to do my work properly?
    3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
    4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?
    5. Does my supervisor or someone at work seem to care for me as a person?
    6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
    7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
    8. Does the mission of my company/department make me feel like my work is important?
    9. Are my coworkers committed to doing quality work?
    10. Do I have a best friend at work?
    11. In the last six months have I talked with someone about my progress?
    12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

                                                                                                   Marcus Buckingham, First Break all the Rules


As you have probably distinguished the above 12 questions form 4 distinct clusters:

  1. Questions 1 and 2 -> “What do I get as an employee?”
  2. Questions 3 to 6 -> “What do I give as an employee?”
  3. Questions 7 to 10 -> “Am I in the right place to make the greatest possible contribution?”
  4. Questions 11 and 12 –> “How can we all give as a group?”


As with any such survey, running a productive culture survey means that you have established trust within your Team so that the survey outcomes are useful.

The survey can be run anonymously. This is recommended especially, the first time you run it as this can be used as a benchmark.

Thereafter and provided that you have worked on overcoming any trust issues, it is recommended to seek eponymous feedback so, you can discuss specifics with the respondents afterwards.


[Image courtesy of East Stroudsburg University /]

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