top of page

‘Flawless Consulting’ by Peter Block
Book Review by John Ainley

“In the end it is our authenticity, the way we manage ourselves and our connection to our clients that is our methodology, our marketing strategy and the fruit of our labour.” Peter Block. Peter is a writer about consultancy and a thinker about community; he is not a coach nor is he a trainer. He is a man who has discovered some simple truths through experience that, I believe, are extremely powerful in the world of coaching as well as in living our lives. Peter’s book is essentially about learning the art of influence without power, he encourages clients and consultants to work together as real partners and hold the perspective of consulting from the perspective of possibility rather than problem. He asserts that clients make decisions about consultants based upon trust, and that when we ‘sell’ ourselves potential clients feel manipulated. The suggestion is that we should enable the client to express directly any negative feelings, the more the client can express the feelings of distrust, the freer they will be to consider our offer on its merits. Resistance is not only predictable and natural; it is necessary. Peter encourages the shift of mind from: ‘we are here to solve a problem, to we are here to create a new future’ and that our key challenge is to help the client be open to discovery. He believes that as soon as we call something a problem we signal that something is wrong and needs fixing, and the danger is that the client may well start to believe that they are the problem. He believes that we live in a world that is more interested in our deficiencies than in our strengths and gifts and that this is so common that we have come to believe that this focus is useful, it is not. He suggests that organisations focus on weaknesses because they breed self-doubt and self -doubt enables control more easily. Peter’s work has parallels across the coaching world. He believes in strengths; (Buckingham etc.), He believes in the power of thought (Kline) and in Behaviourism (Peltier). I have found Peter to be an inspiration to me; he speaks to the authentic self and encourages open and honest conversations. He has been the best of influences on my own work and development.

Time To Think by Nancy Kline
Book Review by John Ainley

“Pay attention and be still, inside yourself” – Nancy Kline I had heard a lot about this book prior to reading it and I had also been a ‘goldfish’ in a Meyler Campbell fishbowl illustrating the Nancy Kline ‘technique’. I admit to going into reading this book with a degree of negative expectation. I had endured rather than enjoyed the fishbowl and, despite trying, had started to resent the incessant use of ‘and then?’ and ‘what more?’ in the session. In reading the book I quickly revised my prejudice. Many chords were struck with my instincts and experiences. I am a great believer in the concept of ‘Flow’ and found many parallels in Kline’s thinking, particularly In the intense concentration that shuts out the noise and see ‘Time to think’ as a very helpful route through to attaining flow. I also saw links with Kilburg’s work, particularly the ability that a Kline enquiry has to make the ‘unsaid said’ and make the ‘unconscious conscious”. I have long been a student of Peter Block, much of his thinking and Kline’s work are on the same page: ‘Change is chosen & not mandated’; we must feel we own an issue; ‘if I can’t say ‘no’, my ‘yes’ means nothing’; We must confront ourselves with the freedom to choose, what is possible here? the ‘enemy of commitment is lip service’ and ‘appreciate the gifts we bring not the deficiencies’. I have wondered about the link between Learning styles (Furnham) and Kline’s approach. Would the reflector benefit more from this style of enquiry than the activist or pragmatist? I suppose that it would simply be harder to engage these people with the Kline approach. In conclusion I have revisited my prejudices laid out in the opening paragraph and my thoughts have shifted through reading and thinking about the book. It is not a technique, more a way of being. When used in artificial circumstances such as a fishbowl it can feel like a technique. We all need to listen more and to set aside the noise that is in our brain and our surroundings. I do believe that “the brain that contains the problem also contains the solution”. However I do, as Nancy Kline states in the book, believe that there are times when thinking is helped by “Information, sometimes”.

The loneliness of the CEO, and the dangers for their business

We all need people around us who understand, support and challenge us, but increasingly chief executives are becoming isolated, with potentially serious consequences for our major businesses. The CEOs and chairmen of our largest companies report that they feel isolated and unsupported, according to a study we've done at The Leaders' Coach. This is worrying. All human beings, with the exception of psychopaths, thrive on relationships with other human beings, for learning and support. And it has a knock-on effect: people want to "mirror" their leaders; organisations become shadows of those at the top. The danger is that businesses become inward-looking; they stop listening to the outside world and simply focus on their own needs and ambitions. Some may say: "CEOs earn enough to be able to endure this pressure," but that is not the point. These emotions are damaging and we must not have isolated and lonely people running our wealth-generating industries. Our research reveals four major causes of this increased isolation. First, the financial crisis: the chairmen of old were sounding boards, coaches and mentors to the chief executive. Now the chairmen and non-executive directors are very aware of the risks to their reputations and future wealth caused by a malfunctioning business. They have seen the reputations of their peers trashed by the Government, the press of the regulator. Consequently, their focus is on governance, on being a policeman for shareholders and the regulator. The changed expectations of chairmen has caused some to become pseudo-CEOs, checking the work of the real CEO. This new abrasive, challenging style has dispensed with the supportive arm-round-the-shoulder role that they used to play. These days they can't afford to be seen to be siding with the chief executive. Second, the pressure to deliver results quickly has grown. The average tenure of CEOs continues to fall, now standing at just four and a half years, and most strategic plans have a five-year focus. This causes pressure for short-term results and generates insecurity. Quarterly reporting means that businesses are run for the short term, for the next quarter rather than long-term results. As one CEO put it: "There is no such thing as a constantly growing business; they all go through cycles of slower growth, but there is no sympathy for this from those who judge us." The combination of these trends attracts the independent, JFDI-style of leadership; yet the Government and regulatory rhetoric is for the creation of cultures where customer need, and ethics, drive all behaviours. This division is causing a conflicting set of dynamics to occur. The third reason is social media. Gone are the days when a CEO was protected from what was really going on for the customers of the business. With today's instant communication, they expect immediate access to the CEO to resolve problems. One retail CEO reported that he receives 15 emails a day, each expecting an instant response and threatening public complaints that could damage the brand if they don't receive satisfaction. This direct interaction causes our CEOs to be on call 365 days a year, ready to deal with customer needs. And finally, the majority of CEOs these days are former chief financial officers; most are male and financially and process-driven, not "people focused". There are just a handful of CEOs who were formerly HR directors. As one chairman put it: "The 'people ability' is absolutely vital for a CEO, not just with their staff, but also with the press and other key stakeholders, this has to be developed. Most CEOs don't have this." Many former finance directors "don't know what they don't know" and are struggling, without the wise guidance of more experienced leaders, to create a style that meets the needs of staff and shareholders. Of course, not all was well under the old model. The chairman and chief executive could become too close, non-executive directors were "managed" by the executive and too many non-executives turned up for board meetings not having read their papers. However, this new isolation of executives leaves significant concerns for the support, development, health and welfare of our CEOs and consequently the companies that they lead. Featured in The Independent: Wednesday 21 August 2013

The 5 Dysfunctions of Teams by Patrick Lencioni 
Book Review by John Ainley

“ If I cannot say no, then my yes means nothing”. Peter Block One of the most difficult and rewarding aspects of coaching is to help a CEO coach, develop and facilitate their top team. Group coaching contains additional layers of complexity, in that one has to be aware of the feelings of each individual team member and the dynamics operating between them. Team coaching is not a part of the Meyler Campbell programme, but is a feature of many coaching assignments. In pursuit of improving my effectiveness as a team coach I sought knowledge from two sources: Manfred Kets de Vries and Patrick Lencioni. I have been familiar with Kets de Vrie’s work since the late 1980s and have met and studied under him at Insead (Advanced Management Programme). I have always identified with his ideas and direction but have found his writing style to be a difficult one for me. Kets de Vries contends that “Humans are driven to be together, but are often mutually repelled by disagreeable qualities of others, a simultaneous need for and fear of intimacy….this is why people find it hard to work in teams”. In my experience most executives work from a belief that human beings are rational and therefore fail to understand and take account of the unconscious dynamics that affect our behaviours. Lencioni translates this insight into a process for enabling teams to perform. In my experience his approach is effective and valuable. The book is written in the form of a case study and I find this approach distracting, however the key points that the book makes are invaluable. Lencioni asserts that there are 5 key dysfunctions of teams that need to be considered, in hierarchical order, for the team to be effective: 1. The confidence that peers intentions’ are good and that there is no need to be protective or careful in the group. The leader must demonstrate vulnerability; 2. The group must engage in productive conflict knowing that the only purpose is to produce a better solution. The leader must not protect team members; 3. There must be clear and timely decisions, people need to be heard but don’t need to get their own way. The leader must push for closure, be comfortable that a decision might be wrong and be clear about timescale for implementation; 4. Team members must be willing to call each other on performance or behaviours that might damage the team. The leader should ask the team to be the primary accountability mechanism and finally, 5. There must be an unrelenting focus on objectives that drive outcomes. The leader must be focused on results and reward those that get them. In discovering Lencioni I have found a coherent and easily understood approach to coaching a team. It is a very useful model for entering into conversations about what an effective team is as well as how to become one.

Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra. 
Book Review by John Ainley

Two key ideas form the core of this book: that we should determine our career steps by trial and error and that we should accept our ‘myriad possible selves’ rather than view ourselves as constant. Professor Ibarra’s researched those that have achieved much in their working lives and are happy with their work. She concluded that such people did not achieve their state of satisfaction through the pursuit of a traditional planned career development route. Through her research Ibarra identified key successful career strategies: • Act your way into a new way of being; one does not discover oneself through introspection. It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than it is to think your way into a new way of acting. • Stop trying to find your ‘one true self’. Instead focus on which of the many possible selves you want to test and learn from • Take a transition period and oscillate between holding on and letting go • Resist taking a big decision that changes everything at once, use a strategy of small and incremental steps • Find people who are already doing what you want to do and talk to them • Don’t wait for a revelatory moment; use everyday events to find meaning. Practice telling your story, overtime it will clarify and become real • Step back…but not for too long • Change happens in bursts. There are times when you are open to change and times when you are not, seize the opportunity presented by those times. The book caused me to consider the work in the context of Rooke and Torbert’s ‘7 transformations of Leadership – Harvard Business Review Magazine, April 2005’. This research argues that in order to make significant change the individual has to have progressed their development to a Kohlberg ‘Post conventional’ stage, i.e. to live by their own ethical principles that typically include such basic human rights as life, liberty, and justice. People who exhibit post-conventional morality view rules as useful but changeable mechanisms. Ibarra’s research has real merit, but is it a ‘post conventional’ approach to change? and as such it may not be available as a way of thinking to those earlier in their personal development journey. The danger of trialing and experimenting in someone who gains their joy at work from achieving or pleasing their superiors could be considerable. As one individual who has recently changed my career significantly, I did find Ibarra’s thinking useful and would counsel those who are considering a significant career change to read and consider it.

What's going on in our boardrooms?
The impact of the financial crisis on the boardroom

Loneliness of the CEO White Paper

"We all need people around us to provide support and challenge; increasingly CEOs are becoming increasingly isolated, causing potentially serious consequences for our major businesses."

Mail white large


Twitter white small




bottom of page