Self-deprecation is the act of mocking, undervaluing, or criticising yourself, usually used as humour and tension release.Self-deprecating leaders can be appealing on many levels. They appear modest, open about their inadequacies, humorous and empowering – or so we like to think.

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Raising Aspirations

One of the lesser-known leadership characteristics of the Ceannas Leadership Index is “Aspiration: I have high aspirations for other people”. This characteristic features as part of the Parent Lens.

Aspiration is usually something that relates to our own hopes and ambitions in terms of something that we wish to achieve. It is recognised that some people have high aspirations and others have lower aspirations.

As a former teacher and school principal I used to see children who were very motivated by high aspirations for themselves. Such individuals had a significant advantage over their peers whose aspirations might have been significantly lower, albeit their core ability might have been considerably higher.

The role of parenting plays a huge part in sowing these seeds of aspiration. Such motivation comes through role modelling, praise and encouragement, and support with the setting of goals. Of course, as ever, there are parents who don’t know where to set boundaries for themselves and it becomes obvious that the aspirations for the child were imposed from above – with all the disastrous long-term damage that comes from such interference. Nevertheless, the child who benefits from a balanced and encouraging environment, as regards high aspirations, is well placed to succeed in life.

Within the workplace it’s possible to observe many leaders who are primarily focused upon the achievement of the task at hand. They are satisfied if those whom they lead are task focused, effective in their role, and contented with their lot. At first glance, what more could anyone want as a manager?

However, it’s that last word that gets to the heart of the matter: manager or leader?

The manager is concerned with the fulfilment of narrowly defined objectives. The leader sees herself as having responsibility towards the achievement of the task, but also sees that task being complemented by ‘lifting’ the personal and collective ambitions of those in their team, organisation or company.

Think of those leaders who you have had throughout your life – can you distinguish between those who were managers and those who were leaders? What impact did their respective behaviour have upon how you felt about your job, yourself and your ambitions?

Our research indicates that the leader who creates such an environment consistently outperforms those organisations where aspiration is narrowly seen to be solely the preserve of the individual. In this latter scenario the manager typically sees their responsibility for supporting the aspiration of others to be limited to directing others towards the available development and training opportunities.

Yet what is fascinating is that the switch between being a manager and leader isn’t down to some innate behavioural capacity between the two types of behaviour, but a simple internal shift towards explicitly seeing their role to be one of seeking out those opportunities to raise aspirations.

In one sense this is potentially one of the easiest and high impact changes that a leader can make. However, and I’m sure you saw this caveat coming, such is the reluctance of some people to see the idea of aspiration being anything other than a personal driver that it prevents many managers from shifting into a truly powerful ‘leadership’ role.

Tapping into your previous self

Déjà vu (already seen) is that strange feeling that in some way you have already experienced what is happening now. In a psychological slip-up our mind tricks us into our own version of time travel.

I had that kind of experience a couple of years ago but it differed from the normal way in which we think about déjà vu. I was in Edinburgh and walking past the family home where I had been brought up. The date and time of day corresponded to exactly a moment four decades earlier where I had walked out of the house on my last day at school.

I couldn’t help feeling that for that brief moment this younger version of myself and I shared exactly the same space.

There was something in that moment that connected with the research I’d been doing on ‘wise’ leadership, where wise leaders can make productive links between the past, present and the future.

Much of my work up until that time had concentrated on the relationship between the present and the future. Even more recently I’ve been looking at how the procrastinating ‘present’ self, borrows time from the ‘future’ self with all the negative consequences that come to those who leave things until the last moment.

The traditional idea of the relationship between our ‘present’ self and our ‘past’ self is one where the wiser more experienced version could offer advice to our younger selves.

Yet in those years since that experience of bumping into my ’past’ self I’ve had quite a number of conversations with leaders where they have productively tapped into that earlier version of themselves.

One of the unfortunate realities of having many years of experience behind us is that it can sometimes ‘take the edge’ off us. Not in a debilitating way but just enough to make us less positive and confident in our abilities than we might have been earlier in our careers.

Of course, that younger self wasn’t burdened by some of the responsibilities their older self is, but it is more the optimism and boldness that can provide such a useful reservoir for the future self.

The advantage of this approach is that the example isn’t provided by someone else, but by no less an individual than the person himself or herself.

“If we can’t learn from ourselves who can we learn from?”



We occupied the same space,

This morning, you and I,

Outside 19 Bellevue Place;

You leaving for school,

A full family behind,

And me, walking to work;

And here we meet,

Crossing each other’s paths,

Forty years apart,

That boy, and this man;

I recognise you, and

You catch my eye,

A fleeting recognition,

We both, you and I,

Time travelling;

“Remember me”, you say,

“Enjoy yourself”,

I whisper.

Team Building – 10 alternative approaches

The four stages of team building: Forming, Norming, Storming and Performing have become established as the acknowledged method for any leader charged with building a new team.

In order to explore some alternative leadership narratives here are 10 rhyming options for leaders who find themselves facing different kinds of challenges thrown up by the circumstances. At the conclusion of each narrative is a short note about when such strategies might be appropriately adopted.

As ever, the wise leader would not stick to a strategy encapsulated by four rhyming words but select from across the range of behaviours in order to identify those they need to adopt during the team building process.

At the very least by getting a leader to reflect upon the ten options they begin to see that there’s a range of alternatives open to them – each dependent upon the circumstances they encounter.

1. Knowing – Showing – Flowing – Growing

Knowing: getting to know each other as colleagues.

Showing: showing each other how you do things way with a view to selecting/creating the best;

Flowing: allowing the ideas to flow in a free and easy manner to generate new ways of doing things;

Growing: all getting behind these accepted behaviours in order to grow the business.

When to use it: when the individuals are recognised as already being highly effective.

2. Exciting – Inviting – Uniting – Rewriting

Exciting: stimulating and inspiring people with a vibrant vision for the future;

Inviting: inviting people to either join in on this journey or to leave:

Uniting: coming together as a united team behind the vision;

Rewriting: creating a new playbook for doing business.

When to use it: when there’s a need to bring people together behind a new vision.

3. Diving – Driving – Striving – Thriving

Diving: diving straight into the change process leaving no time for people to think;

Driving: driving people hard to make the changes happen;

Striving: maintaining the urgency to succeed:

Thriving: celebrating every sign that shows that the change us delivering results.

When to use it: when it’s likely that individuals will put up strong resistance to the change process.

4. Shaking – Waking – Making – Staking

Shaking: shaking the entire business to its very core with new challenges and expectations;

Waking: waking people up from their slumbers to overcome long/term inertia;

Making: constructing new way of doing things;

Staking: getting everyone to take a stake in the future by taking ownership of the new ways of doing things.

When to use it: when there is a strong aversion to change, and a reliance upon the status quo.

5. Caring – Tearing – Sharing – Daring

Caring: caring for the people who are most affected by the change by showing empathy and concern;

Tearing: helping people to tear themselves away from the previous way of doing things;

Sharing: creating a bond by getting people to share their ideas to generate new practice;

Daring: helping and encouraging people to take the leap into the unknown.

When to use it: when people have been damaged by the change process and who’s confidence has taken a dent.

6. Revealing – Appealing – Repealing – Unsealing

Revealing: revealing a detailed plan for the future and the reasons why it needs to happen this way;

Appealing: appealing to people to join you in this course of action;

Repealing: deciding which rules and way of doing things no longer pertain;

Unsealing: releasing the talent in the group.

When to use it: when the team has lost confidence in themselves and their organisation

7. Leaving – Grieving – Weaving – Believing

Leaving: leaving behind the old ways of doing things;

Grieving: giving people time to openly grieve for those lost times;

Weaving: helping others to help you weave a new narrative for the business;

Believing: people get behind you and the future and make the vision their own.

When to use it: when people are likely to have exceptional difficulty leaving the past behind – especially after the loss of a great leader.

8. Liberating – Integrating – Activating – Accelerating

Liberating: freeing people from the bonds and boundaries that limited their potential;

Integrating: pulling everyone together behind the vision;

Activating: creating a momentum by tapping into their newfound enthusiasm;

Accelerating: using this time as launchpad for breakthrough.

When to use it: When people have been trapped in an unhealthy and unproductive way of working

9. Visioning – Missioning – Positioning – Commissioning

Visioning: creating a joint and powerful vision for what the team is going to achieve in the future and by what means;

Missioning: creating a shared understanding of why the team exists and its core reason for being;

Positioning: getting each members of the team in the right place ready to move forwards;

Commissioning: establishing individual purpose, expectations and deliverables.

When to use it: when a group comes together who quite obviously share a common vision for the future.

10.     Leadership – Stewardship – Membership – Partnership

Leadership: providing an unambiguous and clear lead to the rest of the team;

Stewardship: establishing the role of the team to maintain and sustain the organisation for an extended period of time;

Membership: every member of the team affiliating and assuring his or her loyalty to the team;

Partnership: working together to achieve the sustainability of the organisation.

When to use it: when the organisation is seeking to maintain a steady and existing direction of travel.