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Lessons from Churchill - every leader has their time and place

January 19, 2018 13:40

Last weekend, I went to see the new film about Winston Churchill’s first weeks as Prime Minister - ‘Darkest Hour’. The film includes the rescue of our troops from Dunkirk; it’s a political story in terms of what, how and why Churchill came to power. It’s always interesting to me that leaders often have ‘a time and place’, particularly in times of change, conflict, and disruption. With this in mind, what really stuck out for me was the fact that actually, Churchill’s own party did not want him as a leader. Instead, they wanted the Foreign Secretary – Viscount Halifax. It was Clement Attlee, the leader of the Labour party, who was calling for a leadership change, and it was really only the Labour party who would accept Churchill as a joint collaborative leadership, so the parties agreed to work together.

So, what was it about Churchill that the Conservative party did not like as a leader? He would be considered a risk taker, emotional, and unstable, with the party citing a number of “poor” decisions like Gallipoli. But interestingly, as the film (I think) quite accurately portrays, the risk-taking was not extreme. It was focused and with clarity of intent, and as history tells us, was needed. Was the instability more about people misreading ‘stability’, misreading the risk-taking? Actually, Churchill was consistent, and in many ways very stable. He was very focused on what he believed was the right thing to do, and he stuck to his guns. So, is this not, in a way, a prime example of what stability is?

We know we can measure plasticity and stability via Alpha and Beta factors, which we do with the many leaders that we partner with in the NHS and wider public services.

Alpha and Beta factors are described as 'superordinate factors' which are on a higher level than the Big Five factors, as described by John Digman in 1997. Research has identified two measurable aspects of personality that are potentially very relevant to the idea of person/organisation fit:

Factor Alpha – a blend of characteristics that reflect degrees of conscientiousness, agreeableness and emotional stability – likely acceptance of rules, norms and conventions – "getting along"

Factor Beta – a combination of the effects of degrees of extraversion and openness to experience – "getting on"

My personal feelings are, not having met Churchill, and only being able to read biographies and auto-biographies and commentators’ thoughts like that of C. S. Lewis, well I surmise that Churchill would have been what we at ICE call a ‘Specialist Leader’:

Strengths: High level of drive and ambition. They are very committed to their specialism and take great satisfaction from achieving outcomes that are related to their cause or specialism.

Things to be mindful of: They are moderately social at work, however their drive and ambition could result in lesser interest in concern for others. Their degree of adherence and engagement to norms and expected processes may be variable and they need support in this area.

So, we find ourselves in, thank heavens, not a war period. Where we do find ourselves, particularly within our public services (NHS and social care), is in an extreme period where transformation and doing things differently are absolutely needed. What type of leaders do our STPs need for us to create radical new ways of work?

In our work with partners in STPs and more localised place-based care sub-systems (previously known as ACSs or ACOs), we are finding challenges of leadership and ground-holding in terms of illness, flu, diabetes, COPD, obesity, alcohol and drug addiction. These challenges are putting our NHS, Public Health and Social Care in the proverbial tiger’s mouth. We need leaders that are here to serve their country – their ‘Place’, and not their tribe or party. Maybe the writing was on the wall for Viscount Halifax: “We’re facing certain defeat on land, the annihilation of our army, and imminent invasion. We must negotiate peace talks.”

We need leaders that are flexible, open to ideas and change and that might have lower levels of compliance, higher levels of consideration and the ability to truly self-discipline. I suppose it’s about finding the right types of leaders for transformation – these leaders are not always popular, but they inspire us, they are authentic and exciting - if not a little scary to be around! A few other things come to mind in terms of the essential ingredients that leaders and transformation require. They need to have absolute passion in the things that they hold as important; they will remain focused, not always necessarily calm, but certainly focused. There is a scene in Darkest Hour where Churchill is interrupted and is asked to negotiate with Mussolini who would, on our behalf, go and plead with Hitler on a settlement. Churchill stops the conversation dead and says: “When will the lesson be learned! You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!”. 

I think it accurately summed up where we were with Germany and us being pushed out of France as a force. So, leaders in times of change need to be absolutely sure of what it is that they want to do. They need to be purpose driven, and they need to know the will of the people. To be able to take risk - to be given that space - they need to be wise, particularly with choosing their moments to act and knowing when to hold back.

As I sat watching the film, one thing that sprang to my mind is our Your Natural Leaders programme, where we often put people into those pressure points where they can examine who they are, how they lead, how they want to deal with risk, how they deal with communication and perception, and also how they manage people around them – not too dissimilar to the lessons Churchill learned, particularly in those first 10-20 days of being Prime Minister.

Lessons for us all: when it comes to great leadership, it’s not always the leaders we assume that should be the leader – those who feel like a more ‘natural’ fit. Instead, I am a firm believer that we can develop leaders as Churchill did. We can create accelerated experiences that will allow people to get back to the day job and lead our teams in transformation to create the real lived experience of a New Model of Care and to help lead our people and places as populations to a much more engaged prevention to drive for wellbeing, happiness, and health.

A warning - at the end of this transformation, the likelihood that those same leaders, who have done their job exceptionally well, will need to find fresh challenges is high. Whilst we build in succession plans for leaders who are happy to lead in times of peace and times of stability, they are not the same – every leader has their place and their time.

- Stu

For more insight or to find out what type of leader you may be, we would be pleased to send you our Talent Map© insight tool – contact Anita on 0151 647 4700 to find out more

Are you a boss, or are you a leader?

October 30, 2017 10:43

The distinction isn’t always clear – surely if you’re a boss, you’re also a leader by default? I have a great working relationship with my teams at ICE. They know me very well and frequently tease me by saying ‘Okay, boss. What are we doing?’, knowing that this term makes me cringe. To me, the term ‘boss’ is synonymous with a blame and shame culture. It’s an archaic term that has no place in today’s modern and transparent organisations.

Instead, I take pride in being able to call myself a leader. As a leader, I’m aware of my own limitations and I create energy by nurturing and developing the people I work alongside. Being a leader is about creating a climate of mutual accountability, shared vision and like-minded values.

After much reflection, the Natural Leaders experience was designed to help unlock leadership potential and to create teams that are thriving, not just surviving. We’ve even recruited man’s best friend to help!

“It was a really interesting way of looking at leadership and working with people and looking at it from a completely different perspective.” – Dr Rachel Preston, GP, Cumbria CCG

Consider this scenario: someone approaches you and asks what your organisation’s purpose is. They probe further – “what is your organisation’s ‘why’?” Do you intrinsically have your answer ready? Would all members of your team be able to answer without hesitation? A boss would be confident in their ability to answer, and would reprimand any individuals who they deemed to ‘fail’ this role-play. A leader makes it their mission to support all individuals, exploring what’s important and co-creating, resulting in engaged teams with confidence in their individual and collective autonomy.

And that’s the difference. A leader becomes immersed in their teams, never turning their nose up at a challenge, regardless of how mundane it may seem. In contrast, a boss stays at arm’s length, never dirtying their own hands or opening themselves up to a critical friend.

On the field with our working sheepdogs and sheep, you will be transported to a safe learning environment. Free from existing social hierarchies, you and your team will be free to explore, engage and connect – the results will amaze you.

“I know that the majority of our 12-strong team had mixed ideas in terms of what lay ahead as the day began; never in their wildest imagination did they envisage how interesting, challenging and thought provoking it would be.” – Hilda Yarker, Communications Consultant, Your Housing Group

How often do you truly connect with your teams? You might have a handle on what they’re working on, but does this go both ways? Top-down management can lead to organisational disconnect and fractured teams. As people struggle to identify their role in an organisation, paternalistic behaviour further reduces ownership of your vision and your ‘why’.

At Natural Leaders, we explore the symbiotic relationships between the leader (the shepherd) and our teams (dogs and sheep). To successfully shepherd, you don’t have to be a natural with animals! Much like the workplace, success lies in adapting to different personalities, building rapport and playing close attention to our communication and commands. I do mean verbal commands to some extent, but you’d be really surprised by how much of a difference our body language, facial expressions and tone of voice make on the road to successful leadership.

“It gives you a different perspective on how others lead and actually makes you reflect on how you lead yourself.” – Fiona Stobart, Chief Executive, Hospice at Home Carlisle and North Lakeland

To instil positive change in your organisation, a change of environment is essential. Natural Leaders provides this; you will be exposed to a whole new set of behaviours and will be given the time and space to discover how this can be brought back to your day-to-day working environments. Using our framework of strengths-based investigation, you will build new insights and strategies that will propel your organisation towards your desired future state.

“Months later, I still find myself replying in my mind what happened in the Natural Leaders experience in order to help me change my behaviour and generate a different more powerful outcome.” -  Fiona Harris, Senior Public Health Consultant Hampshire

If you’d like to explore your future as a leader and cement your organisation’s ‘why’, purpose and vision, Natural Leaders is the perfect space for you. Come and practice your team learning at an accelerated pace, strengthening and refining your leadership attributes throughout the day. Let your teams know that you’re a leader, not a boss.

If you would like to experience Natural Leaders or would like to share some thoughts with me, I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me at

The Spirit of Dunkirk

July 28, 2017 17:49

Critics are already calling it the best film of the year. Everywhere I have gone this week literally everyone is talking about Dunkirk! Whether it’s colleagues in the office, clients in workshops or fellow travellers on the train, it’s the hot topic so I thought I’d take the opportunity to treat myself to a bit of time out and took myself off to the cinema.

 I had given very little thought to the storyline other than it was a significant event in the history of our country and so I settled in the comfy seats with my popcorn and soft drink at the ready, waiting for the lights to go down. The picture begins - a story about the events of late May 1940 where allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.

 As the film began, we soon witnessed the enormity of the task. Within minutes, the picture on the screen showed rows and rows of soldiers standing patiently and looking out to the sea and the skies ahead of them with one thought and one thought only…home. It struck me at that very moment: each and every person was connected and committed to a vision and a purpose and they knew the role they played within that. Their ‘why’ was to protect our freedom and our liberty, and they were willing to do whatever it took to achieve that. I have always respected our armed forces but even at this early stage of the film, I felt humbled not just by their willingness to serve but by their unreserved commitment to both the mission and the vision.

As someone who works with organisations and teams of people every day, it struck me that there were 400,000 men on that beach, (I am reflective that at that moment in time, we did not have women serving on the front line, although they played their part in so many other ways). It was the biggest team you could imagine and yet one of the most highly functioning teams you could ever hope to have.

It struck me that the thing that set them apart was their one common vision - a purpose that they believed in. They were passionate about their vision and they were prepared to fight for it. I was left sitting thinking, there is so much that we can learn from Dunkirk, that we can apply to now…so much learning that organisations and communities can benefit from, that would free people to be able to connect and contribute in a different way. I sat there thinking: ‘we need the Sprit of Dunkirk now, more then ever before’.

 I should say that many of the teams and organisations that I work with are in the public sector, mainly in the NHS and social care sectors. They are facing enormous challenges, not on the scale of Dunkirk, but I am sure that many of them feel like those men did on the beaches - trapped and surrounded, being forced to retreat. They have very little control over some of the external factors that have got us where we are today and that are driving our tomorrow. The strategy of Dunkirk was a success from failure; it was one of our biggest success stories. It was leaders being brave enough to say ‘we need to get to a place of safety so we have a chance to regroup, to set a new strategy and to go again to achieve the vision.’ At no time did anyone lose sight of the vision. They just knew that to achieve it, they needed to do something different. 

I sat thinking about some of the teams that we are working with. The face a fight for survival – they are not fighting people as such, but instead they are fighting austerity, lack of budget, increased demand and an ever-changing landscape. They feel trapped on all sides, trying to defend the services that they have and struggling to understand how they can make this work.


Without doubt, their challenges will never be on a scale close to Dunkirk; that was unprecedented and something I hope we never have to face as a nation again. However, the same feelings exist in organisations today, just on a different scale. I was gripped by the Spirit of Dunkirk and over the last week, I have sat on many occasions and thought ‘what can we learn from Dunkirk that can have an impact today?’ For me, there are a few key learnings that, if adopted, can transform organisation today:

  1. Everyone on that beach had signed up to a clear ‘WHY’. As part of that, they knew that no matter what, the mission at that time was to get everyone home, whether that be by carrying the wounded on stretchers, building temporary piers out of abandoned vehicles or standing in line and waiting patiently with their battalion, they understood what they were there to do and they did it.
  1. They had clear leadership that they respected. The leaders led from the front but also were the ones that stayed back. Their thought processes were agile and outcomes focused. There was no 5 year forward view strategy to follow; they had the autonomy to make decisions on the front line and they had the trust from the men on the beaches who followed them.
  1. They mobilised the people like never before – accepting the enormity of the challenge, they didn’t just look at what the armed forces could do. The navy and RAF mobilised people like you and I. Ensuring they were aligned to the ‘WHY’ and that they understood the mission, they mobilised 800+ small boats, because these boats could reach people far more effectively than any frigate, battle ship or destroyer could. They were agile, could change course faster and could get closer to people than any large boat ever could. Armed with a clear directive and an outline plan they set sail, knowing what they needed to do but with the autonomy to make decision for themselves, as long as they helped to achieve the mission.

 These are three simple principles and actions, yet they are the difference between success and failure. There is so much to learn from Dunkirk and I will add detail to all these three points in follow up blogs over the next weeks. 

It’s important to understand that the initial aim was to get 30,000 - the navy and army hoped for 45,000 of the 400,000 men home. I immediately felt disappointed that Churchill set the bar so low, and then realised that this truly was the enormity of the challenge!


By connecting people to a very clear ‘WHY’, leading them with passion, determination and absolute skill and empowering people to be involved like never before, they didn’t just bring 30,000 men home, they brought 324,000 men home. 

If this can be achieved in such desperate times, then what could we achieve as organisations if we just applied the same thinking and principles.

  • Everyone signed up to a clear ‘WHY’ - one that belongs to them.
  • Give clear leadership that knows how to serve.
  • Mobilise people like never before.

 We need the spirit of Dunkirk to carry our country through the present challenges:

  • We all need to be connected to a vision we believe in and that we will fight for
  • We need to understand the part we can play and be prepared to play it, knowing that if we don’t, we will have a detrimental impact on the vision
  • We have to develop and grow leaders who will be respected and trusted and who people will want to follow
  • We have to mobilise ‘the small boats’, whether that be teams, communities, families etc. - helping them to connect to our vision and giving them the plan with the autonomy to help us achieve the vision. 

So the question to end on is: “Can our organisations develop Dunkirk Spirit?”

At ICE, we believe that they can, and we would love to hear you views too…

- Rachel Stamp

Revealing our true emotional selves – leadership lessons learnt from a day on the fellside

January 23, 2017 15:37

What can the limbic emotional systems of working sheepdogs and sheep teach you about yourself, about those you work with, and the impact you have on each other?

Natural Leaders is a leadership development experience like no other. With traditional team development, teams put their best foot forward for fear of showing their vulnerabilities. This veneer of bravery limits learning and is potentially damaging to your organisation.

The supportive and safe learning environment of Natural Leaders was created to go beyond traditional team building – providing a vivid experience for leadership exploration on an individual level, as well as within teams.

 “It’s in the most fantastic setting, a really, really interesting day. You’re there in front of a bunch of peers with you, a dog and some sheep and you’re expected to make things happen – and wow, it happens.” - Julian Parsons, Head of Service Delivery, Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire & Rescue Service

Using the latest behavioural science, you will unpack your unique leadership attributes and come away with new strategies, skills, behaviours and models for effectively handling situational leadership like change, strategy development and challenge.

“It gives you a different perspective on how others lead and actually makes you reflect on how you lead yourself” – Fiona Stobart, Chief Executive, Hospice at Home Carlisle and North Lakeland

You may be surprised to learn that sheepdogs and sheep use their limbic emotional systems to react, build communities, function effectively and instil leaders and followers.

Despite their capabilities, sheepdogs are not inherent leaders. Instead, they are naturally bred to want to serve and to be a co-worker. Like your best manager and leaders, they know one truth and that is to work for their shepherd.

“It was a really interesting way of looking at leadership and working with people and looking at it from a completely different perspective.” – Dr Rachel Preston, GP, Cumbria CCG

Are you the shepherd or the sheepdog of your group? In many ways, both act as leaders in a symbiotic way. The trust relationship is very powerful and built on love and relationship, knowing how each other will react at any given moment.

"The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers." – Ralph Nader

Our limbic emotional systems read body language immediately. With just 20% of communication being verbal and non-verbal making up the other 80%, we cannot afford to underestimate the importance of body language and emotional management.

The unbiased feedback from our working sheepdogs and sheep will enlighten you beyond your imagination. Once you are in the field, job titles, responsibilities and hierarchies become irrelevant. Our animal teams respond to your commands; they read body language and leadership in a pure and telling non-judgemental manner, giving infinite opportunity to improve how we work for ourselves, with others, and for others.

During this immersive experience, you will enjoy a team breakfast and a home-cooked lunch, with refreshments available throughout.

This is your space away from the distractions of everyday life; you and your team will be made to feel at home in our beautiful 1790s converted barn, equipped with a modern learning centre to maximise your experience and outcomes.

Reflection is encouraged throughout your experience. You’ll be amazed as you begin to notice behaviours in the field that reflect experiences in your daily working life.

“I know that the majority of our 12-strong team had mixed ideas in terms of what lay ahead as the day began; never in their wildest imagination did they envisage how interesting, challenging and thought provoking it would be.” – Hilda Yarker, Communications Consultant, Your Housing Group

We learn and grow and our creativity is most encouraged when we are in new environments and situations. To achieve our true potential as leaders, we must test ourselves and stretch ourselves. It’s amazing what happens when we use the natural rhythms and forces of nature to learn, grow and succeed.

This is what a team shared with ITV Boarder News when they visited Natural Leaders.

To find out more about the Natural Leaders experience, get in touch with Stuart Jackson on 0151 647 4700 or at