Leading Self

Right now there are a number of challenging and significant issues that this generation of leaders need to grapple with — at work, at home, and in the community. They are all interconnected and systemic in nature, each one impacting on the other. Strategic leadership is more important than ever before. Not only to improve the performance of organisations, but also to create empowering, healthy and safe work places.


So what is strategic leadership?  How can leaders prepare themselves to think strategically, as well as building empowering team cultures that put a spring in the step of their people?


Strategic leadership boils down to some timeless qualities that are central to Leading Self, Leading Others, Leading Teams, Leading Strategically, and Leading Organisations (or communities). Over the coming weeks,  I’ll have a go at sharing my views and experience, beginning with a few words around Leading Self, as the first step.



Leading Self is about being authentic. Having good values. Being generous of spirit. Being prudent. Expressing gratitude. Being patient. Persevering. Saying sorry. Delivering on your word and your promise. Doing the right thing. Having the courage to be tough when necessary. Showing compassion to others. Being kind to yourself. Keeping healthy in both mind and body.


In a nutshell: being a good person and staying in good health emotionally as well as physically. Qualities that are derived from working on self, effective mentoring, and some self-discipline (easier said than done, I agree).


Matters to be mindful of:

  1. It takes years to build the respect and trust of others (a leadership brand), and only a few minutes to destroy it. Leaders are being watched and assessed 24/7, even when shopping at the supermarket, having a meal at a cafe, or posting on Twitter.
  2. None of us are perfect. Don’t measure yourself against Selfie Leaders on social media — they will always look and sound better. Be true to yourself. Trust in yourself. Be your best and keep learning and growing. Find a mentor who will give you honest feedback and wise guidance. Know that you are more than good enough.
  3. Leadership is something you should be enjoying. If you haven’t been enjoying your work over a prolonged period, despite best endeavours, do yourself a favour and find another role or place to work. It’s just too unhealthy to battle on, both for you and for those you are leading. Without passion, you can’t engage your team or make things happen. Life is too short to spend 75% of your waking working week doing something that’s not enjoyable or adding value.


In the next volume of this series, I will share my thoughts on Leading Others. In the meantime, I hope this this musing provides you with food for thought and serves to inspire any form of meaningful change.


“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” – Nelson Mandela


How to Improve Leadership Performance


There is nothing more powerful than seeing your leadership through the lens of others. It is a scary process for many, but the insight it gives to areas to improve your leadership is worth it.

Over 750 leaders and 6500 of their direct reports, peers and bosses have now used our SmartLeader Apps 063 tool, a 360-degree feedback tool that allows leaders to look in the mirror (a good place to start). After this many, we can begin to gain some insights into the leadership strengths and areas of improvement for New Zealand and Australian leaders.


5 Things Leaders Are Great At


Our analysis shows five things our leaders are great at;

  1. Honesty. New Zealand and Australian leaders take pride. We are considered by those we lead as exhibiting integrity, honesty and fairness, and we apply ethical considerations to guide decisions. This makes sense. As a society, we are quick to come down on those who transgress and we consistently rate as having low levels of corruption.
  2. Passion and Commitment. We are passionate about work, life and the future. We deliver on the commitments we make and go the extra mile.
  3. Role models. We consistently behave in ways that align with team and organisational values, we admit our own mistakes, we demonstrate accountability, we continuously learn and grow.
  4. Emotionally intelligent and resilient. We are self-assured, focussed, show care and compassion and see the positive in most situations.
  5. Influence. We have the respect of others and we represent our teams within our organisations well.



5 Things Leaders Must Get Better At


If one person tells you that you have a tail, you might not be too worried. If two people tell you that you have a tail, you might be curious. If over 750 people tell you that you have a tail, it might be worth taking a look. Here are the 5 things the people we lead are telling us we need to be focused on improving.

  1. Thinking Strategically. Thinking strategically is, on average, the lowest rated skill among leaders. Engaging in an organisation’s external strategic context, creating a compelling shared vision and communicating that vision in an engaging way are key areas to improve. People want to be part of something that is bigger than themselves.
  2. Delivering Strategy. Having a compelling strategy is one thing. Collaboratively crafting and delivering an effective implementation plan is another critical factor feedback suggests we can improve on. The big picture is ultimately delivered ‘on the ground’.
  3. Leading Change. We live in a world of change. The scale and speed of these changes are unprecedented. We need to be better change leaders by engaging people in the need for change, recognise different personality types are more comfortable with change than others and keep everybody well informed to minimise uncertainty.
  4. Innovation. Change is being driven by innovation. Creating a culture of innovation and co-creating innovatively with customers and suppliers to improve products, services and customer engagement is a critical area of improvement. If we don’t, competitors will eat us for lunch.
  5. Motivating and growing people. Many of us can be better at recognising that people have different preferences, styles and needs in order to tailor our leadership and communication style. Providing more regular coaching and feedback, as well as being better at managing conflict will be welcomed.




Improvement of five low rated attributes would increase team engagement and amplify organisation-wide performance. On a personal level, it would enhance your leadership effectiveness and reputation.

ISL offers diagnostics, workshops, and programmes, to develop both individuals and teams to create high-performance organisations through the power of leadership. For more information – read about our programmes, our team workshops, or Contact gareth.lorigan@leadership-au.com.


Passing a Leadership Legacy of Inspiration

Investment in People – The True Measure of a Strategic Leader

It’s not how many
countries you’ve visited,
mountains you’ve climbed,
bungies you’ve jumped,
or caves you have dived.


When the sunset arrives
it’s the role model you’ve been,
the positive changes you have made,
your generosity of spirit,
that’s what will matter the most.


It’s not how many
university degrees you have gathered,
how far you have gotten,
your status or title,
it’s only your legacy that will survive.


When the sunset arrives
it’s the ways you have supported,
the growth and the confidence,
of the next generation.
that’s what you will find will be valued the most.

Leadership is Personal


Chris Nassenstein (SLP 24), shared his experience of Millbrook, the impact and insights it gave him and what he is up to now. Chris has kindly given me permission to share his story… 


“I have very good memories of that week, not only the individual courses and certainly the environment was awesome, but the sharing of experiences, the connections with other people, yes and the ceremonial parts as well. One of the many things I took away from there and something I shared with many of my people afterwards would perhaps be a surprise to you (or maybe not). There were people of all walks of life at the course, some young and up and coming managers, some older people like me (I was 60 at that time) and some very senior people, very high up the ladder of hierarchy. But you know what? At Millbrook we were all the same: I saw some of these young managers do better and acting more mature than some of the more senior people there, I saw a very senior person, who had achieved much in his career, absolutely in tears at one emotional stage of the program (which was not a negative thing, he showed his humanity and his courage to expose himself as a human being). What it showed is that no matter where we are in life, rich, poor, labourers, government ministers, military generals, senior managers, junior managers: in the end we are all the same: you don’t have to have superior intelligence or a lot of money or other superior capabilities that are given us from birth: we can all get “up there” as leaders.


After Millbrook, I spent three more years at Air New Zealand and was then approached by Qantas to “clean up” their Engineering Division. Which we did, but that’s a whole other story. I retired July last year. I think that I can safely say that I learned more in the past 10 years until my retirement than in all my career before that. But again, another story.


I’m now involved with something quite different; I’m helping an old priest, fr. Joseph Maier, who has done some amazing things in his lifetime, reorganise an orphanage in Bangkok, Thailand. It involves setting up a new Board of Directors, a new management team and finding him a successor. His Mercy Centre has educated more than 72,000 kids living in poverty in the slums of Bangkok, it now operates 30+ schools and cares for more than a hundred orphans and children living with AIDS. And guess what their biggest problem is? Leadership. Why is it so difficult to find good leadership in NGO’s? I guess one problem is a lack of funds, so the salaries are low and nobody wants to work for peanuts. Finding good leaders is also a challenge. Another thing might be that very few people want to work in a crime-ridden slum, with drug gangs, prostitution and HIV/AIDS. But once you’re involved with some of the kids there (we sponsor 4) there is no going back, you’re hooked. So we’re going back on Thursday for a couple of months. Finding leaders, and trying to train them. Or just good people and making leaders out of them. I wish I could find the money to send at least one of them to Millbrook, but Mercy needs that money to feed the kids and Millbrook would be a luxury that it could ill afford.


But perhaps, one day. I do have a candidate, a lady who heads up our AIDS program at Mercy Centre. She’s a slum kid herself, but somebody discovered her, educated her in the UK and she is now one of our senior leaders, incredibly articulate and motivated, and with the right leadership training she could one day take over from Joe. She’s an amazing person.”