Online and Print Articles

Women are better leaders...but we need to be more than that to get promoted

First published on the Women's Agenda website (18th January 2016) by Anneli Blundell. Source:

7 signs your new team will make it

Relationships drive results—especially in a new team. When new team members form bonds quickly, their results accelerate; when they don’t, their results stall. Building strong relationships that fast track performance is about supporting the ongoing conversations between people when work gets tough, ideas get tested and people get confronted.

Are You Pregnant? How To Recover From A Faux Pas

We have all been in that screamingly dreadful position where we have said the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time.

It might be asking a lady, who is not pregnant, when her baby is due. It might be asking a gentleman if he’s enjoying being a grandpa, only to learn that he is the child’s father.

But how do you fix a terrible first impression? Author and communications expert Anneli Blundell told The Huffington Post Australia there were three golden rules to follow.

Getting to Know Anneli Blundell

I’d always wanted to do something I was really passionate about. I wanted to come to work with a fire in my belly, a passion to serve and a feeling that I had found my place. I knew my strength was in understanding people, building relationships and helping other people do the same. It seemed a natural leap to start my own coaching and consulting practice based on decoding people dynamics for improved performance.

My aim is to help leaders engage, motivate and develop their teams. My valuesare connection, personal responsibility, courage, accountability, play, and passion.

The better you are at giving critical feedback, the faster and deeper your people will develop

First published on Modern Magazine March 2016

Great leaders give critical feedback. They tell it like it is. They are heard. They inspire action. Leaders, who give targeted, real-time feedback— both good and bad—supportand challenge their people to develop.

Giving critical or corrective feedback can invite negative reactions: denial, hurt, blame, and anger are possible responses. Most of us are not eager to upset others, which makes it easy to justify delayed responses or missed feedback opportunities. However, avoiding the tough stuff can have major consequences. Leaders must make the effort. They must confront their own comfort and confidence levels when faced with having hard conversations.

Withholding critical feedback is like asking someone to complete a crossword without providing all the clues. It’s simply not possible.

Sue (not her real name) worked as a Community Support Manager. She moved through several leadership roles in various divisions within five years. Sue was liked as a person but not respected in her role. She sat on decisions, was easily overwhelmed, and was seen as a bottleneck to progress. She did not deliver.

When June was appointed as Division Head, she quickly noticed the issue. June gave Sue the feedback that no one wanted to give. She respectfully yet firmly laid out the situation. Sue was shocked and distressed by her apparent underperformance. Missed feedback opportunities meant Sue was not given the chance to modify her behaviour. After a few months of coaching support, things were looking up. Sue’s projects were on track and she noticed a change in how others treated her. Sue thanked June for her candour and willingness to invest in her growth. Without critical feedback, we don’t know what we don’t know; we become blind to our potential. The better you are at giving critical feedback, the faster and deeper your people will develop. Here’s why:

People need challenge. John Di Martini, an American researcher and best selling author in human behaviour said, ‘People grow at the boundary of support and challenge’. We need just enough challenge to keep us growing and developing and just enough support to feel encouraged and on track. One without the other can lead to boredom and stagnation, or burnout and stress.

People need clarity. We can’t see our behaviours as clearlyas others can. Sometimeswe’re not as good as we think we are (The Dunning-Kruger Effect), and other times our performance deserves more credit (The Worse-Than-Average Effect). Without an outside perspective, we remain blind to our development opportunities and strengths. It’s a leader’s role to provide the clarity we can’t see for ourselves.

People have courage. It turns out that people actually want the bad news that their leaders don’t want to give them. In 2014, Zenger and Folkman surveyed 899 individuals globally about their relationship to feedback. They found that people want corrective feedback, more than praise, if it’s provided in a constructive manner. 72% said their performance would improve if their manager provided corrective feedback.

Leaders who sit on feedback because they don’t have time, don’t think it matters, orare reluctant to have a hard conversation, stifle the growth of their people. I bet there’s a Sue in every office ready for feedback and waiting to flourish. 

Have annual performance management systems reached their use by date?

First published in Modern Magazine Feb 2016

Change in business is moving at warp speed. We are constantly updating systems,

upgrading service offerings, rolling out new products and learning new skills. If we can’t keep up, we get pushed out. Annual performance conversations no longer cut it. Targeted, real-time feedback means we can change, grow, and develop the skills needed to stay in the game.

Performance development needs a performance upgrade

‘Managers who provide regular feedback and opportunities to improve are far more likely toeld high-performing teams than those who retain once-a-year rankings.’ —Deloitte

People need constant and targeted feedback, in real time. That’s how leaders create high performance. Imagine the coach of an elite sporting team giving performance feedback once a year: ‘Ok Ritchie. I really like how you improved your kicking accuracy this season. That second-quarter goal in the third game was amazing. If you could do more of that and pass the ball more often, our results will improve. I’ll sign you up for a collaboration workshop and we’ll see how next season goes’.

Ridiculous concept, isn’t it? Sport is fast. It requires skill, teamwork and individual performance.

What makes us think the game of business is any different? Leaders need to pay attention and give feedback in the moment—not in a year’s time.

State of play for performance reviews

Many large companies remain loyal to annual performance reviews, much to the frustration of those involved. For employees, it can be an administrative formality that ‘ticks the box’ but doesn’t develop or change actual performance; for managers, it’s an administrative burden that interrupts ‘real work’. Research is beginning to empirically support what we intuitively know: annual performance evaluations don’t positively affect performance.

  • Feedback interventions, like performance reviews, improve performance 41% of the time and make matters worse 38% of the time .
  • 58% of executives believe their current performance management approach drives neither employee engagement nor high performance .
  • 70% of respondents to a Deloitte survey stated that they are either ‘currently evaluating’ or have recently ‘reviewed and updated’ their performance management systems .

The annual evaluation is a time consuming, non-value adding,

and possibly destructive process that does not positively improve performance at work. The future of annual performance reviews, as a management tool, is bleak. So what’s the alternative?

The performance conversation trifecta

The simple solution is regular performance conversations. Timely, targeted development conversations that drive engagement both develop performance and produce results. However, simple does not mean easy. Effective performance conversations require the right consistency, style and mindset.

1.     Conversation consistency

‘Organisations where employees reviewed their personal goals quarterly—or even more often—were nearly four times more likely to score at the top of the Bersin by Deloitte’s Total Performance Index.’ Developing performance requires feedback that is regular and in real time. You develop a better kick by doing it repeatedly and getting real-time feedback. Regular conversations mean in the moment, unscheduled feedback, when it’s needed most. Establishing a regular conversation cadence gives the brain the attention and repetition needed to create sustainable behaviour change. The greater the gap between action and adjustment, the slower any change takes hold. On-going focus and reinforcement provides optimum conditions for growth and learning.

2.     Conversation style

‘High performing individuals, teams and organisations focus on exploiting development opportunities in the workplace because that’s where most of the learning happens.’—Charles Jennings

Leaders need to coach and develop their staff, not just direct and control. A coaching conversation is more than a simple check-in about daily tasks. It includes a broader conversation about career potential, role progression, required skills, and new opportunities. It covers both the skill and the will.

Motivation and engagement, barriers and blockers: these are the topics required to kick organisational goals. The new player on the elite team is ambitious. They want progress; they want to know what’s next, and they want opportunities to get there.

3.     Conversation mindset

‘Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.’ —Jack Welch

The leader’s mindset towards performance conversations plays an important role in how effective the conversations are. A leader’s role is to develop their staff. This is not in addition to their regular work: it is their regular work. In fact, some progressive organisations, for example, Hindustan Unilever, the Indian subsidiary of the consumer goods giant, feel so strongly about the competitive advantage this mindset offers, they expect their leaders to spend 30–40% of their time developing their people—hence Unilever’s reputation as a ‘talent factory’ .

It’s not rocket science. Leaders who have not embraced this idea will struggle to make the time to develop their staff. Eventually, their staff will leave in favour of a manager who will make the time. If the leader does not embrace this mindset for themselves, no amount of policy, sophisticated performance systems or culture change programs will to make a difference.

The elite player wants to play for the best team. The team that is continually challenged and growing and called forth into their greatest potential by the coach and leader. They want to be inspired.

A call to action

Leaders can take action today with regular, real time conversations and a mindset that embraces the crucial role leader’s play in developing high performance. There is no need to wait for the cultural tide to turn or for new processes to be developed and sanctioned. As the leader, you’re the coach on theeld. Are you giving your team the performance feedback they need to win?

Why overcoming the 12 leadership derailers requires a focus on intention and not behavior.

First published by Modern Business magazine (Feb 2016)

Leadership derailers are part of every great leadership journey. Leaders must look beyond behaviours, and engage in development conversations targeting the intentions that drive the observable behaviours. With real-time coaching and performance feedback that acknowledges, elevates and leverages inside intentions, leaders can develop skills effectively, on the job.

It’s not just about strengths

Engagement specialists like Gallup, and positive psychologists like Martin Seligman have built a compelling case for focusing on strengths. Their research tells us that focusing on strengths improves engagement, satisfaction and performance in the workplace; it fuels people’s internal fires and significantly impacts organisational results. Yet in harsh reality, derailers get in the way. It’s like driving a high-performance vehicle with one foot on the accelerator and one on the brake—until the brake is released, the car will never reach top speed.

It’s easier to ignore behaviours that threaten to derail leadership, in favour of a strengths focus. Developing leadership requires more than focusing on strengths; it requires leaders to overcome derailers by focusing on intention not just behaviour.

The dirty dozen leadership derailers

Leadership derailers are as unique and prolific as people’s personalities. In researching Developing Direct Reports: Taking the guesswork out of leading leaders, my co-authors and I drew on the latest in leadership theory and our professional experiences as executive coaches, to determine 12 globally recognised leadership derailers. 

1.     Staller – analysis paralysis

Taking too long to take action: perceived as blockers to progress; missing deadlines or opportunities.

2. Controller – command and control

Highly directive: sti ing initiative and innovation.

3. Cyclone – bull at a gate

In a hurry to achieve results: leaving a wake of destruction and disengagement.

4. Doer – can’t delegate

Hording work and responsibility to the detriment of themselves and their team.

5. Avoider – conflict averse

Reluctant to face tough conversations and situations: creating challenging team dynamics.

6. Fence-sitter – indecisive leader

Unclear leadership and direction: creating bottle necks in progress and frustration for others.

7. Know-it-all – closed to other ideas

Reluctant to consider new ideas or input from others.

8. Guardian – inability to innovate

Prefers the status quo: reluctant to change, low focus on innovation.

9. Micromanager – management on a leash

Excessive supervision: perceived as sti ing and untrusting. 

10. Poker face – showing no emotion

Non-expressive communication style: direct verbal communicator; frustrated by inference and reading between the lines.

11. People burner – poor people skills

Prioritisation of task accomplishment over people and relationships.

12. Tactician – poor strategic thinker

Reactive to daily pressures, buried in the day-to-day; unable to hold the broader, strategic view.

Poker face: A derailer in action

Sam wanted to understand why he was receiving feedback about his poor communication and relationship skills. He expressed his concern following feedback he received after an important meeting: ‘Stephanie thought

I wasn’t listening and wasn’t interested in what she was saying. But I was listening and I was interested. Knowing how the meeting went was important to me—there was a lot riding on it.’ 

During our coaching sessions, we discovered Sam listened with his ears not his eyes when Stephanie offered feedback on the meeting. His head was turned away from her; he didn’t show any facial expressions; he did not make eye contact. He listened, but Stephanie didn’t feel heard. Sam exhibited classic behaviours of the Poker-Face derailer. To others he appeared cold, uncaring and a poor communicator. This was not his intention; it was just his action (behaviour). His intention was to focus on the message and it’s impact on the work. 

We judge ourselves by our inside intentions; others judge us by our outside behaviours. Sam knew he was listening, but Stephanie didn’t ‘see’ him listening, ergo he ‘wasn’t listening’. When it comes to relationships in the workplace, perception is reality; therefore, Stephanie and the team felt the boss didn’t care.

During our coaching program, Sam worked hard to close the gap between his inside intention and outward behaviour by changing some of his actions. He made eye contact, smiled more, nodded as people spoke and held an open, approachable facial expression with lifted eyebrows, whenever possible. He didn’t listen any differently; he showed that he listened differently.

Separating behaviour from intention

People are not their behaviours but we treat them as such. When a driver ‘cuts us off’, we label them stupid, irresponsible, or a bad driver. (In Sam’s case: a poor listener.) Yet that one behaviour or situational response doesn’t de ne their entire character. It’s not necessarily an enduring personality trait; it’s just something they did.  

Our human tendency to judge someone’s character based on the situation or exhibited behaviour is the result of a cognitive bias called the Fundamental Attribution Error. We are quick to judge others from their outside behaviours yet when it comes to developing new skills, focusing on behaviours does not motivate people to change those behaviours, especially if they are not helpful ones. Working from their intention will produce better and more sustainable results. 

Think about the last time you cut off a driver. Perhaps you didn’t mean it? Your outward behaviour was not your inside intention. When they react by beeping their horn at you, it is unlikely to have a positive effect on your behaviour. Rather than apologise, the other driver is now treated to a return honk of the horn—hardly a productive exchange.  

Moving beyond behaviours

It takes a lot to look beneath the behaviour and focus on the intention. Lets face it, it’s much easier to respond to what’s in front of us and assume people’s behaviours de ne their character. It’s easier and less complicated. It’s also less effective in building relationships and overcoming leadership derailers.

To overcome leadership derailers (and help people take their foot off the brake), it’s critical to focus on the inside intention driving the outward behaviour.

  • People who feel seen and heard are more willing to make an effort.
  • People are less defensive when you validate their good intentions rather than focus on their negative behaviours.
  • People respond better to ‘redirecting their behaviours to better support their intentions’ than ‘changing their personalities’.
  • People are more engaged when they know they are on the right track, which leads to greater openness, creativity and insight.
  • People are open to change when the conversation acknowledges their effort.
  • People see themselves from the inside and sometimes can’t relate to perceptions from the outside.

Leaders need to polish the edges to get to the next level of leadership. Focusing on intention, not behaviour is the cornerstone of developing leadership, on the job— where real growth occurs.