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What work teams can learn from Natalia Cohen



Do your colleagues sometimes rub you up the wrong way? Do you despair of team members who don’t pull their weight and get in the way of progress? Then spare a thought for the four woman team of rowers who have become the first female crew to cross the Pacific Ocean.

The crew spent 257 days together rowing for 24 hours straight in two-hour shifts. Their 29-foot boat contained a cabin the size of a two-person tent where the women washed and slept. Mind-boggling isn’t it? Such conditions are surely a recipe for tension, conflict, bickering and fall outs. But when interviewed, crew member Natalia Cohen said that the team (who did not know each other before the trip) got on extremely well and managed to work effectively as a team throughout – without any major arguments. How come?

Well, there’s something about being united to achieve a common goal that helps a team pull together against all odds. But that in itself is not enough. The crew did a lot of preparatory work with a sports psychologist which involved the use of psychometric tests and other activities to increase the team’s understanding of their individual styles, preferences and differences. This, said Natalia, was key to the team’s success. Their deep understanding of each other and the dynamics at work in a diverse group helped to manage potential conflicts and avoid what Natalia called the ‘hot buttons’ that tend to trigger arguments.

In business coaching and training we often use psychometric tests as a way of helping people to understand themselves first and then the people they work with. The results of these tests always lead to valuable learning. I have heard many ‘Ah-ha!’ moments when a team member might say “now I realise why Jim and I can’t get along” or “I now see that my approach really would upset Jill”. These test are not abstract exercises leading to little more than some interesting insights. They are scientifically sound and can provide the basis for practical strategies to improve team performance.

Conflict at work is all too common. And team conflict is draining, time-consuming and de-motivating. What’s more poor team performance can have a negative and damaging impact on the business.

If your team is not working consider what practical steps you can take to improve the situation – and be thankful that you are not spending 24 hours together for the next 257 days!

For more details about Executive Coaching and Team Coaching contact Jeanette Purcell Associates at

How to be a versatile leader


What are leaders required to do? We could argue that it depends on the circumstances but most people would probably agree that leaders are required to get results.

And what are the activities leaders engage in to get those results? When I talk to leaders I divide the key activities into three categories. Leaders need to:

  • Articulate their vision – identify a compelling goal and have a well thought out strategy to achieve the goal. (Strategise)
  • Communicate their vision – raise awareness and understanding with all stakeholders. And this means communicating regularly and consistently. (Communicate and engage)
  • Achieve their vision – plan, implement, recruit and develop others, manage performance, monitor and review. (Plan and Manage)

But the really difficult question is HOW can leaders do all those things? These activities require quite different styles of leadership. Setting and communicating your vision involves creativity, the ability to give clear direction, compelling others to follow your dream. Communicating and engaging with others requires good listening skills and the ability to bring people together, creating harmony and encouraging collaboration. And when implementing their strategy, leaders have to give attention to developing their people as well as managing performance which often involves taking tough and unpopular decisions. Is it really possible for one leader to do all of these things?

According to Daniel Goleman (“Leadership that gets results”, Harvard Business Review,2000) truly effective leaders are those who are capable of adapting their leadership style when necessary. Successful leaders are versatile in their approach and have a number of different styles in their repertoire. Not only that, they have sufficient empathy and emotional intelligence to understand what style to use in which situation. Goleman argues that aspiring leaders can acquire this versatility by taking the following steps:

–    Have a personal vision of the sort of leader you aspire to be. Visualise your ‘ideal self’ as a leader. Many people struggle with the idea of having a personal vision but we know that, without a vision, it is difficult to find the motivation to change and to work out a plan for improvement.

–   Carry out an inventory of what skills, attributes and qualities you already have at your disposal (these are your strengths) and work out where the gaps are between your self now and your ideal self. This requires a high level of self awareness. Think about where you can get good information (feedback from others, psychometric tests, coaching perhaps) to ensure that you have a clear picture of your real self.

–    Draw up a ‘personal plan for development’ that helps you to build on your strengths and addresses the gaps between your self now and your ideal self.

–    Practice. The only way to achieve versatility and develop new styles of leadership is to practice different behaviours. Challenge yourself to try out new approaches, resisting the temptation to rely on your default style. We are talking about changing habits here and that takes a lot of practice over time. Sufficient practice will mean that eventually the leadership style you aspire to will become natural – a new habit.

-    Build trusting relationships. While you are following your plan for development you will need people to talk to, to share your successes and setbacks with, to spur you on and to give you feedback. Find people who you trust and respect and tell them what you are trying to achieve. Check in with these people regularly.
Being a versatile leader is not easy. But there is no longer ‘one right way’ to lead. What is needed is the ability to understand people and situations and to adopt different leadership styles in response. In other words, successful leaders do the right things at the right time in the right way with the right person.

No-Nonsense Networking:
Six Steps to Raising Your Profile

A free eBook by Jeanette Purcell

Through thirty years of experience in business and academia and countless conversations with great networkers, I have observed that surprisingly few people network effectively. Yet good networking skills are essential if you want to get on in business and have a fulfilling career.

This is why I wrote this book. 22 pages full of practical tips and ideas on how to build long-lasting successful business relationships. It is for anyone who wants to grow their business, extend their business networks or raise their profile within their profession or working environment. If you are looking for a job or preparing for promotion, this book is also for you.

In No-Nonsense Networking, I take you through a practical approach to building a successful network in six easy steps:

1. Developing the right attitude.

You need to approach networking in a positive frame of mind. We debunk some of the myths about networking and deal with the common issues that hold people back from being enthusiastic and confident networkers.

2. Preparing your pitch.

With the right attitude and a clear idea of what you want to achieve from your networking you are ready to write your ‘pitch’. We look at how to tell your story and present your skills in a concise, positive and memorable way.

3. Managing your existing networks.

It’s not only about making new connections but also about managing your existing contacts. How well are you managing and tapping into your existing networks?

4. Preparing to network.

Successful face-to-face networking begins with thorough preparation. We will cover the preparation required for every networking situation.

5. Networking events.

From social gatherings to business meetings we look at how to manage networking situations, make the right connections and get results.

6. Building and maintaining the relationship.

Truly successful networks require maintenance. We consider the follow up required to convert a new connection into a productive business relationship and how to sustain and grow your networks over the long term.

Each step is explained in comprehensive detail, with achievable exercises at the end of every section. After reading this book, you will be better equipped to network confidently, successfully and intelligently.

Download for free

You can download this eBook for free from any of the following sources (click on the icons to open in a new window).

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Download for free from Amazon Kindle Store, iBooks or as a PDF

About the author

Jeanette Purcell is the founder and Managing Director of Jeanette Purcell Associates, specialists in leadership development and change management. She is a leadership specialist, providing coaching, lecturing and consultancy services in all aspects of leadership development and organisational change. Her focus is on giving leaders and their organisations practical solutions that have a measurable impact on performance.

Jeanette is a Visiting Lecturer at Cass Business School and has over 30 years practical experience in management and business leadership. Until establishing her own business, Jeanette was Chief Executive of the Association of MBAs (AMBA), the global accreditation agency and network for MBA students and graduates. In this role she succeeded in raising the profile of the MBA as the premier qualification for business leaders and developed a range of services and support for MBA graduates throughout the world.

Jeanette is an accomplished international public speaker. She presents and writes on issues relating to leadership, business development and business education and has been instrumental in the delivery of Cass Leadership programmes in Dubai. Current corporate clients include Pfizer International where Jeanette delivers ‘networking skills’ training to high potential female managers.

In 2013 Jeanette founded the Brain Exchange, an exclusive forum for business professionals to exchange advice, knowledge and support in a confidential and professional environment. The Brain Exchange meets monthly in London and is achieving growing recognition as a high quality business network.

Do we really need appraisals?

smith and jones

I spoke to a Chief Executive recently who was leaving the position they had held for over ten years to embark on a portfolio career.  “I will miss many things about my job” he told me “but I won’t miss appraisals.”  Now, every good Chief Executive is expected to support and embrace the performance appraisal process.  We are told that appraisals are an essential part of performance management.  They provide an opportunity to evaluate an individual’s performance and also to consider their development and training needs.   The existence of a comprehensive appraisal system is normally thought to reflect well on employers, indicating their commitment to developing their staff and their compliance with best practice in performance management.   Why then did this Chief Executive hold such a negative view about something that is universally considered to be a ‘good thing’?   

I too have experience of performance appraisals in a range of organisations and, although I appreciate the rationale for appraisals, I too have some reservations about their value. 

Appraisals are often considered to be a time-consuming chore by both the line manager and the person being appraised.  A great deal of form filling is normally required both before and after the appraisal and the meeting itself can take more than two hours.  For one line manager with ten or more staff the amount of time involved to complete the process can easily exceed thirty hours.    And what is the return on this considerable investment of time?

Line managers often lack the skills required to conduct an appraisal.  The process requires them to listen, ask relevant questions, provide clear feedback, address performance problems, and so on.  All these skills need to be learnt and practised – not all line managers have that opportunity.  And it is not easy for a manager to both give encouragement and raise performance issues at the same meeting.  Yet most appraisals require managers to adopt these apparently contradictory attitudes –  is it any wonder  that the person being appraised often leaves the meeting not knowing whether they’ve been praised or admonished?

The mistake that companies often make is to assume that the implementation of a performance appraisal process represents good performance management.  This is not the case.  Good performance management requires regular and consistent communication with employees (at the corporate and individual level) about what is expected from them, how their performance will be assessed and how well they are doing against those measures.  Line managers should recognise their responsibility for giving clear direction to employees.   They should be communicating with their staff every day, encouraging and a two-way dialogue so that employees are able to raise concerns, put forward suggestions and ask for support.  I often think that, if line managers were better at leading, motivating and managing the performance of their staff, the annual appraisal meeting would be irrelevant and unnecessary. 

“If we stopped doing appraisals I wonder if anything would change” mused my CEO friend.  I wonder.

JPA Master Class Series – Session 2

Leading and Working with Teams
Tuesday 8 April 2013 (9.00 to 16.30)
The Grand Connaught Rooms, 61-65 Great Queen Street, London WC2B 5DA

“Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare”

Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (2002)


With the move to flatter organisational structures, more complex processes and an increase in global working, successful teamwork has become synonymous with business success.  Yet efforts to create high performing teams so often fail because the basics of good teamwork are overlooked.  This practical Master Class will help you to understand how teams develop, what makes them successful and why they fail.  You will develop and practice essential team skills including the skills involved in leading virtual and complex teams.  Whether you’re a team player or a team leader this Master Class will give you the tools and techniques you need to achieve peak performance.

How much does it cost?

The Master Class fee is £235 per delegate payable at the time of booking.

The fee includes all materials and refreshments including lunch.

Available for bookings shortly


Where is the Master Class being held?

The Grand Connaught Rooms, 61-65 Great Queen St, London WC2B 5DA. The venue is easily accessible and close to all London transport links. The nearest tube is Holborn which is served by the Central and Piccadilly lines.


JPA Master Class Policy

JPA accepts firm bookings through the JPA website – in making such bookings clients accept our bookings and cancellation policy.

Provisional bookings may be made but must be confirmed at least 30 days before the course date or else they will be considered a firm booking and will be subject to our standard booking and cancellation policy.

Confirmed bookings may be cancelled up to 21 days from the course start date without any penalty. Cancellation within 21 days of the course start date will mean that the full fee is payable for the course and there will be no refund. We will however consider transferring your place to another course date if a suitable course and place is available.

Name substitutions can be made at any time before the course without penalty.

Only one discount can be used per booking.

JPA does not store credit card details nor do we share customer details with any 3rd parties.

JPA reserves the right to cancel a course if insufficient bookings have been received. Delegates will be offered an alternative date or a full refund of the course fee. We reserve the right to make changes to the programme and the right to refuse any booking.





Alex Ferguson’s leadership legacy



Alex Ferguson, the world’s most famous football manager, announced his retirement today.  He was the man behind Manchester United’s success and was known for his unwavering determination and steadfast focus on results.  But what can we learn about Alex Ferguson as a leader and would his leadership style work in the real world?  Here are Alex Ferguson’s top three leadership lessons.

 Inspire your team with passion and commitment.  Nothing motivates a team more than a leader’s own determination and exuberance.  Alex Ferguson inspired his team by getting them to believe in themselves, telling them stories and helping them to visualise victory.  He said:

“I remember going to see Andrea Bocelli, the opera singer. I had never been to a classical concert in my life. But I am watching this and thinking about the co-ordination and the teamwork, one starts and one stops, just fantastic.”

Don’t be afraid to deal with under-performers.  OK, we have to steer clear of employment tribunals but Ferguson put performance and results before everything.  He supported and defended his players for as long as they performed. But he managed talent effectively, having the courage to move players on when the time came.

“You can’t ever lose control — not when you are dealing with 30 top professionals who are all millionaires. And if anyone steps out of my control, that’s them dead.”

Give praise when it’s due.  Ferguson was a tough, uncompromising and sometimes aggressive boss.  But he knew how important it was to give praise.  And because he was so demanding, that praise was all the more effective when it came.

“For a player – and for any human being – there is nothing better than hearing “well done”. You don’t need to use superlatives.”

Alex Ferguson has done what many leaders cannot do  – made his exit early, leaving the crowd wanting more.

How do you think you did?

After running a residential weekend on Leadership Skills for some MBA students I was keen to make sure they applied their learning when they got back to work.  I wanted them to commit to at least one action that would change the way they work and improve their management skills.  “So what are you going to differently tomorrow?” I asked.  The responses were many and various but were not specific enough for my liking.

“I’m going to try to listen more and talk less” one said. “I’m going to improve the way we make decisions in my organisation” offered another.  These were encouraging resolutions but were not specific enough for my liking.  Then one of the quieter members of the group said “Well from now on, whenever I am giving feedback or carrying out an appraisal, I’m going to start the conversation with ‘How do you think you did?’”.  It’s a little thing, but her words made my heart sing!

The weekend course had involved a lot of group work where individuals gave feedback to each other on their performance after each exercise.  At first they approached this by immediately reeling off a list of what they thought the other person did well and what they didn’t do well (sadly the emphasis was nearly always on the negatives).  However, I had been encouraging them to start each feedback session with a question: “How do you think you did?”.  Gradually, they got the hang of it and began to see the benefits of this approach.

There are many situations where managers are called on to comment on the performance of their staff.  It could involve one of those difficult conversations where concerns about performance need to be raised.  It might be part of a performance appraisal or it could just be because someone has asked you for feedback.  If the feedback is positive the conversation is fairly straightforward.  If not, the approach needs careful handling.

There are two main advantages of starting with the question “How do you think you did?”:


  • If things have gone wrong or there are performance problems there is a good chance that the other person will talk about these problems in their response to your question.  How much better is it for them to raise the issues rather than you?  Immediately you have been offered a way in to a discussion about why these problems came about and how they can be addressed.  Yes, I know that there are some people who will never own up to mistakes or short comings but in my experience most people are reasonably self-aware and, given the right environment, they are relatively honest.
  • If the performance issues are identified and raised by the other person, rather than you, there is a much better chance of them taking responsibility for the problem and doing something about it.  When a person is simply told that they’ve got something wrong, even though they might agree, they are more likely to question their manager’s judgement and go on the defensive.  In this situation they will feel much less inclined to address the issues, and so improving their performance becomes an uphill battle.

Giving feedback and managing performance involves a lot more than opening the discussion with a question.   But that question can make difficult conversations a whole lot easier.  I loved my group member for giving herself a simple practical action that she can implement immediately at work.   Just six words – “How do you think you did?” – can be surprisingly effective.



Say what you mean and mean what you say

I don’t know many people who have been gripped by the recent round of political party conferences in the UK.   Despite the effort that goes into staging these events and the forensic analysis by commentators, political conferences are generally dismissed as being high on theatre and low on substance.  However, I must admit to taking an interest this year from a professional point of view – it is the presentation skills on display at these conferences that fascinates me.

The two main party leaders, Cameron, and Milliband (sorry, I didn’t watch Clegg), have more or less mastered the basics of good presentation skills (no doubt with a lot of help from advisors, trainers and experts in the field).   In fact the format and style of their delivery is so similar that there is little to differentiate them.   Both speeches were evidently well prepared ; there was a coherent structure which included repetition of the key messages (‘One nation’ for Milliband and ‘Aspiration’ for Cameron).   Each speaker included some sort of personal anecdote to show the softer more human side of their character.  And both finished with a clear ‘call to action’ to demonstrate inspirational leadership  (Milliband:   ‘A Britain we rebuild together!’;  Cameron: ‘Let’s get out there and do it!”).

Both leaders looked relatively at ease and authoritative.  Their speeches were polished and obviously well-rehearsed but, so as not to appear too scripted, were littered with conversational touches.  For example both Cameron and Milliband seem to favour “y’know”  as a way of showing informality and mateyness.

So  Cameron and Milliband both did a thoroughly good job?  Well, yes to an extent.  But there were two problems for the party leaders.

First, neither appeared to be clear about who their audience was.  Ostensibly the speeches were directed at the party faithful in the auditorium waiting to be reassured and inspired to support their leader.  But as Radio 4’s Carolyn Quinn said to Michael Gove yesterday ‘at the end of the day, it’s the public’s reaction to (Cameron’s) speech that really matters’.  One of the rules of successful presenting is to know your audience and respond to their needs.   Unfortunately the party leaders were attempting to speak to two quite different audiences – their party and the electorate.  Trying to keep both happy detracts from the overall impact.

And why, despite the polished performances, did these high profile presentations fail to impress the general public?  The problem is that politicians are not widely trusted.  Both Cameron and Milliband are dealing with an electorate that is losing its respect and confidence in politicians who are known to say one thing and do another.  One fantastic speech is not going to change that.  Every good leader knows that demonstrating competence, honesty and integrity can only be achieved by your actions over time.  Our political leaders have a bit more work to do before what they say can be believed.

Get JPA’s top tips on delivering the perfect presentation here. Top Ten Tips for Presenting

Why diversity targets won’t help the Big Four

The spotlight appears to be on the big four accountancy firms as they struggle to address the lack of diversity in their partnerships.  The domination of white men from elite universities continues in these firms with Ernst and Young, for example, reporting that just 17% of its 549 partners are women.  Clearly the people occupying senior positions in these companies ought to more closely reflect the diversity of its client organisations and society as a whole – it makes good business sense quite apart from being seen as a progressive and fair employer.  Yet the pressure to address current imbalances at the top suggests that some firms are placing more priority on the achievement  of  diversity targets than on the quality of their partners or the inherent causes of male-dominated workplaces.

Ernst and Young has announced that, within 3 years, at least a tenth of its new partners will be black or from other ethnic minorities.  It has also pledged to make at least 30 per cent of its new partner appointments women in the same time frame.  Such ambitions might be impressive but are surely misguided.  Where are these senior women and ethnic minority partners going to come from?   We know that most women entering management roles in the city tend to leave in their thirties or fail to achieve promotion to senior levels.   Maternity breaks and child care responsibilities and are part of the explanation for this but there is also evidence that corporate culture discourages women from aspiring to senior management roles.  Being a partner means long hours and the high stress involved makes it difficult for women to cope with the demands of work and family.  On top of this, the male-dominated, performance-driven culture is off-putting to many highly capable young women.

Any company that is serious about achieving diversity at the top needs a long term talent management strategy.  The aim should be to ensure that the firm’s organisational culture and policies reflect a genuine desire to engage, develop, support and promote talent – wherever it comes from.  The desire to achieve diversity at senior levels in business should be welcomed, but the problem cannot be resolved overnight.  A slavish and superficial focus on targets alone suggests that the top firms are paying lip service to what is a complex and more deep-seated issue.

Why 360 degree feedback works

One of the most valuable attributes a leader or anyone in a management role can have is self awareness.  With a deep and accurate understanding of yourself;  your strengths, weaknesses, habits and preferences, you have the basis for becoming a great leader.  Not only can you make the most of your strengths and address your failings, but you can also build a team around you that fills the gaps in your own skill set.  For instance, I am aware of my tendency to get excited about new projects and my desire to get going as soon as the idea finds general support.   I tend to overlook the detail at this stage and can overlook potential risks.  As a Chief Executive I made sure that my top team included someone I trusted to always consider the detail and to keep my enthusiasm in check if necessary.

But self knowledge can be difficult to acquire – we are often blind to our own personality traits and don’t see what others see in us only too clearly.  That’s why it is important to get feedback from people you work with in a carefully managed and anonymous way.  I use 360 degree feedback quite regularly with senior managers and teams and I have seen how the results can change behaviour and improve performance.   The feedback gives you better self knowledge and shows you how you are perceived by others.   Such rich information not only forms a great basis for self development but also provides a tool for measuring improvement (by repeating the same feedback exercise in, say, 6-12 months time).

360 degree feedback involves the identification of a group of people who you work with whose opinions you value and trust.  Normally the number of people chosen will be between 6-12.  The selected group should include a good cross section of work contacts (for instance a mix of peers, managers, juniors, external clients, board members etc).   Ideally you should avoid choosing only the people you like or who you know like you, but you should be confident that the feedback you receive will be constructive and helpful.

The feedback questionnaire can be designed to give general feedback on a number of management issues.  Alternatively it can be specific, focused on giving some in depth feedback on an issue where the aim is to build new skills (e.g. effective communication).  An independent expert should develop the questionnaire ensuring the questions are valid, clear and fair.  All questionnaires are completed anonymously and returned for analysis by the independent expert who then presents the results to the people concerned in a professional  and constructive way.  Of course, the results might be surprising or even upsetting and so this stage must be handled sensitively.  However, it is often the case that people recognise the need for improvement when presented with the evidence.  They are also pleasantly surprised at positive feedback which they hadn’t expected.

There are a range of costly and sophisticated business tools used to help improve self knowledge and our understanding of the people we work with.   I prefer 360 degree feedback above all of these.  It’s simple, relevant and cost effective.  Most importantly, it works.

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