collective voice

Thanks for dropping by our blog page. Our team of over 60 full-time experts use the latest thinking in behavioural design and enablement via our people-shaped methodology to Make Better Happen for individuals, organisations and communities. Our specialisms of applied behavioural insights, design through co-creation and leading-edge social marketing and engagement are at the core of all that we do. Our mission is to be part of a society that is well, confident and resilient. If we can help you take a journey to be your best self, please call us on 0845 5193 423 - our promise to you is that we never settle for second best.

Cultivating clarity in a noise-filled world

March 8, 2019 14:47

I don’t know about you, but I can find myself meaninglessly flickering through social media channels at all hours of the night, responding to emails I know should wait until tomorrow and fixating on discussions I’ve had throughout the day. With all of this information in my head, am I truly allowing myself the ‘me-time’ that I so actively promote amongst my own team? To enable the change we wish to see in the world, we must be rested and considerate of our own wellbeing.

Only recently have I stopped to take a step back and reflect on what that means for me as a leader. There are times when emails are urgent and must be responded to at unfriendly hours, but there are also times when I must allow myself to rest in true and sustained periods of silence.

It’s a strange dichotomy – and I have taken steps to truly practice what I preach. Silence means a lot of things to different people. I myself have struggled with the concept of ‘silence’. I spend so much of my time travelling across the country on trains and driving endless hours on the motorway. How can I enjoy silence with all of the noise around me? For me, reframing how I think about silence has been so important in elevating my creativity. I’m incredibly social by nature, so I always found the concept of silence to be a bit lonely. However, I now see the value in solitude and the ways in which it can support me in achieving what’s important to me. It’s not about sitting alone in a noise-proof room – it’s actually about learning the skill of listening to your own needs and not allowing the noise into your mind.

I have started to pepper my meetings with ‘reflection time’ breaks – our team have fed back that this protected thinking time has been invaluable in allowing them to explore their thinking in new ways. We all have a limit, and work done once we’ve hit this limit isn’t always to the highest standard.

For me, silence is also about switching off from the technology that can also keep me so connected. There is so much talk of reducing screen-time for children, so why do we not prioritise our own development in the same way?

It’s so important to remember that your headspace is exactly that – it’s yours. There are times for absorbing information, times for reflection and times for joining in on conversations, but it cannot be to the detriment of your own clarity of thoughts and feelings.

To make better happen, we must let better into our minds. During sustained silence, we allow ourselves the opportunity to discover novel solutions that would have otherwise been batted away by countless other ideas that have been sitting within our minds for weeks.

Ideas, world-changing concepts and innovation can come from the most surprising places, and silence is absolutely an enabler of creative thinking.

- Stu

A World Cup lesson in leadership, purpose and empowering individuals

July 11, 2018 16:11

As I sat down with a commitment to watch and support England at this year’s World Cup, I couldn’t help but feel the usual undertone of cynicism. Now, as we prepare for England vs. Croatia at tonight’s World Cup semi-final, I’ve found myself eating my words. In fact, I’ve contracted World-Cup-it-is and the ‘it’s coming home’ belief – we can do this!

I was born in 1968, so I have no recollection of 1966. In fact, my earliest World Cup memory is from 1978. As a 10-year-old, I wasn’t able to support England as they didn’t qualify for the second World Cup in a row. Our colour TV was tiny. The aerial was placed ever so precariously on the sideboard, balanced on top of an Encyclopaedia Britannica. But no England.

Come 1982, this disappointment was continuing to fester, as the football pundit Steven Scragg articulates perfectly: 

“Of all the outlandish incidents in preparation for their first World Cup in 12 years 1982, it was Abubakar’s offer of witch doctor services that came from the outer reaches of left-field. Greenwood politely declined the kind offer, and instead took Don Howe as his trusted counsel. 

Howe, despite his organisational talents, arguably proved to be the handbrake which stopped England reaching the business end of Spain 82. Greenwood and Howe acted as two polarising counterpoints. 

Greenwood, one of the great free-thinkers of the English game and an advocate of open and attacking football, was offset by the caution and conservatism of Howe. Had the sliding scale between the two been tilted a degree or so more towards Greenwood than it was, then Ron’s 22 might well have gone all the way to glory.”  - Steven Scragg, These Football Times

With the hopes of a nation on their shoulders, it felt impossible to not dwell on what could have been achieved. The balance between risk aversion and risk taking is delicate. In the right hands, this can propel teams to not only meet expectations, but also to exceed them.

As England supporters, we have been criticised by fans and pundits world-wide for our apparent apathy in supporting our team. With our own media tearing apart our players in the run-up to this year’s World Cup, can our earlier apathy be put down to loss aversion? As a win seemed so unlikely (and almost farcical), was it easier to protect our pride by openly ridiculing our chances, instead of pinning our hopes on acquiring a gain through a win?

This brings me to the role of leadership and culture, and the inspiring and awe-inducing role Gareth Southgate is playing in England’s success as their manager.

Unlike so many of his predecessors and dare I say, many of his contemporaries, he strikes me as a thoughtful, passionate and considered leader. Drawing from his own experiences as an England player, Southgate has achieved an admirable transformation. In fact, it’s been so natural and organic that the uproar surrounding his initial appointment now seems laughable. Like many, I questioned his authority, his experience and his ability to lead. 

Well, the quiet man has shown us. As a nation, we have seen him rise to the challenge. In a recent interview, Southgate stated “if players feel you respect them, they are more likely to follow you.”

Take a second to read that quote again.

Southgate continued, saying “I like players to know what responsibility they own; to think and act about what we are asking them to do, to have an opinion on the way we are asking them to play and the way we are asking them to train. I think if the players have some ownership of what's going on, then that's going to help them make better decisions on the field and also buy into the way that we are trying to progress.”

“I like the players to speak up in meetings... like them to have an opinion on the game, because in the 85th minute they have got to make a decision that might win or lose the game and we can't make all those decisions from the side-line.”

Now, we must talk about England’s current position. In their latest game against Sweden, apprehensions had been high that Sweden would out-play England. See, Sweden’s reputation was formidable. They regularly play as one tight unit, entirely in-sync with one another. England displayed a united front, with each player rising to the challenge. Kane’s delegation of the ball to other players led to England’s two goals, and it was invigorating to watch their success.

I feel privileged to work alongside and within the NHS. Our work starts by exploring what’s important to the people we are supporting. We need to identify their motivators and support their purpose. Southgate puts it like this: “I think it is important to get a feel of what motivates the individual.” 

Psychologists and neuro-science have been used to support England’s team, management and support network. They work with the brain, understanding the power that lies within it.

Our NHS and Social Care teams live in a pressured world where quality, cost reductions and results matter. In our work, problems of performance in places like acute trusts and accountable care systems are answered by more regulation, guidance that tells people what to do, legislation, KPIs and targets. These ‘changes’ are being driven by people who think they can inspect improvement into performance, when in actuality this reduces creativity and often impacts upon patient experience and outcomes.

Lessons from Southgate:

  • Leaders are visible, have a vision and share it, often.  
  • Leaders create the time and place for good people to do great things.  
  • Great leadership come from all types of people.
  • We must create the environment for people to be their best, even in the penalty shoot-out.  

By giving each player the freedom to express their talents, Southgate is facilitating and allowing players to create their own history. By developing individuals on a player-by-player basis, Southgate is improving the overall team. Individuals are being given the opportunity to be accountable for their own results.

Leadership and great teams are built on functional relationships that demonstrate 4 key attributes, and they blend into seamless high performance:

  • Team members trust one another.
  • Team members engage in unfiltered conflict around their ideas.
  • Team members commit to decisions and plans of action.
  • Team members hold one another to account for delivering against those ideas and plans.

This encourages people to play a part larger than their job or role. This commitment goes beyond a contract - everyone has clarity of the plan; they know where they are in this plan and they commit to action.

What’s coming home is a team committed to a purpose - to enjoy playing their best football, no regrets - led by a manager/leader who has been to the pit of failure and built a vision and purpose to achieve his best and wow, he is.

This model works, and we need to support our nurses, doctors, managers, operational health and social carers to reconnect with their purpose to make a difference to society, building wellness and resilience. We need to offer the support and resources that will help them to be confident in making decisions in the lived environment of work, to speak up in meetings and to have an opinion on the way this should be done to get actions. I call this thinking out loud and ‘I intend to…’

This builds capability and allows creativity and ideation to grow and blossom. We have to celebrate those who ‘Make Better Happen’. What is your commitment to the people you lead? What will be different for you tomorrow?

-          Stuart

Modern leadership development must be a lived experience

June 13, 2018 14:26

At ICE, we believe that individuals, communities and organisations can achieve great things that will go on to not only change their lives, but also the lives of others around them. When we ask our partners ‘what’s important to you?’ and ‘what matters to your leaders?’, we are not looking for a rehearsed elevator pitch. In fact, the vulnerability to admit that there are unknowns, uncertainties and unease within an organisation can lead to the most successful and sustainable organisational transformations.

When it comes to leadership development programmes, we think it’s a bit like picking a restaurant. You may be looking for a Michelin star tasting menu, or you could be after an all-you-can-eat buffet that will fuel your teams for days. Whatever direction your taste-buds take you in, you’re placing a lot of trust in that restaurant. From cleanliness standards to cooking techniques, you’re likely to be limited in how tailored your dining experience will be.

By their nature, leadership development programmes can be very hit and miss. Get it right, and your organisation will become future-proofed to thrive, not just survive. However, if you expose your teams to a ‘rotten egg’ leadership development programme, you can expect bouts of nausea, and your organisation can become infected with the kind of limiting factors that you’d hoped to expel altogether.

So, why not visit an experience that encourages off-menu orders? When it comes to developing your leaders, we are always led by your unique requirements. Using our expertise across the fields of behavioural insights and research, culture, engagement and design for transformation, we are well-versed in preparing your leaders for any and every challenge they may face. We’ve also unlocked the potential of our working sheepdogs and Herdwick sheep, and trust us, they’re a high performing team. Using their raw, unfiltered feedback, you will discover things about how you work and why you work, including how you communicate (verbal and non-verbal), your style of leadership when under pressure vs. feeling confident and how to be ‘at your best’. All of this can be applied to any and every situation you will face.

By using our cultural diagnostic tools with your teams, we are able to deep dive into understanding your organisation’s drivers, energy levels, competency alignment and any potential barriers that may be blocking you being ‘at your best’.

Recently, 13 STP place-based care system leaders partnered with ICE to explore their strengths, purpose and behaviours. Here’s a little of what happened:

Technically, modern leadership development can be taught in a classroom, sure – but do you really want the developing leaders within your organisation to be spoon-fed lengthy PowerPoint presentations that leave little to no time for individual reflection, development and growth? We know we didn’t, and so we created Natural Leaders! Modern leadership is a lived experience, and we have created spaces away from stuffy meeting rooms for you to acquire the tools and behavioural techniques that will be essential in achieving your outcomes.

Partners have fed back that their partnership with ICE achieved:

  • Increased levels of trust amongst team members, which they attribute to their teams’ willingness to embrace our cry for vulnerability within the group
  • Commitment to a clear plan of action, with both personal and group accountability being cemented in a series of ‘I will’ and ‘We will’ statements
  • The skills to deal with conflict and a shift in mindset, with challenge now being seen as a positive
  • All team buy-in – making the implicit, explicit
  • A greater sense of what’s important to each other, as well as their teams as a whole
  • Accountability and step change in delivering what was promised.

As experts in the field of behavioural insights and design, we will work closely with you to ensure that your transformation is a sustained change that will become embedded as your new ‘business as usual’.

To find out how our immersive vivid action learning programmes can benefit your organisation, please get in touch via

5 achievable and actionable traits of Natural Leaders

March 9, 2018 10:44

The rhetoric around leadership can all too often feel exclusionary. With so many ‘secrets’ to successful leadership being shared globally by Chief Officers, thought leaders and influencers, this dialogue can create a knock-on effect of reinforcing organisational hierarchies, with leadership seeming aspirational, other-worldly and ultimately, a path that only some are destined to tread.

At Natural Leaders, we fundamentally disagree with any discussions that make leadership seem elusive and only for the ‘chosen ones’. Instead, we are powered by the belief that we all have the potential to be Natural Leaders, and we have identified 5 achievable and actionable traits of Natural Leaders.

1: They’re purpose driven

Successful organisations and leaders are able to succinctly describe their reason for doing what they do – and we don’t mean via a pre-rehearsed elevator pitch. They display ultimate commitment to their work and its impact, taking real pride in communicating this internally with their teams, as well as with external audiences. Pride is contagious, and leaders who possess this trait will create an environment within their organisation whereby everyone is inspired, engaged and ready to commit to action.

2: They’re listening – they’re really listening

Oftentimes, leadership articles will make an absolute meal of the importance of eye contact, and how it is a sign of respect and shows that you’re being listened to. We completely disagree. This focus on eye contact is ableist language that ostracises the potential of so many people, including those with autism who may give less eye contact. Instead, we define really listening as being given the confidence to speak and really be heard. These leaders are not waiting for you to stop talking so they can start. Instead, they are building rapport, engaging and facilitating a genuine conversation – creating a culture of shared learning within each and every interaction.

3: They display empathy for others

On a similar note to listening, empathy is a trait that shows commitment to the people you work with, and the people you are all working for. Empathy creates a natural affiliation that can strengthen bonds, as well as creating them in the first place. If a leader is unable to understand any perspective other than their own, they will struggle to connect with others, and they will also limit their organisational outcomes. This trait shows a maturity to recognise where people are coming from, and highlights a respect and awareness of each individual’s motivations and actions.

4: They aren’t afraid to fail

The beaten track is beaten for a reason. The path of creativity (ideas that add value) that ultimately leads to innovations (scalable improvement and growth) is unlikely to be signposted. Leaders are willing to take risks, and will upskill others to bring them along on the journey. A true sign of a leader is somebody who dares to lead, sometimes against the current. This trait is transferable across the board, and the bravery shown will inspire teams to follow their lead.

5: They hold themselves to account

Speaking of England’s recent loss to Scotland in the Six Nations, head coach Eddie Jones has been very open of the leadership issues within the team. Instead of publicly attributing the blame to certain players, Jones said "Again, I blame myself for the result. It's my responsibility - I didn't coach well enough." This accountability creates a culture whereby individuals feel more free to speak up. Whether it’s suggesting new ways of working or highlighting issues that are affecting the quality of work, leaders who hold themselves to account will enjoy the benefits of an organisation that feels safe to speak out. When this is linked with the skill of really listening (tip 2), leaders are in a very strong position to inspire and motivate teams.

At Natural Leaders, each experience is tailored to suit the needs of your leadership requirements. We all have the potential to become Natural Leaders; when combined with an appetite and the hunger to succeed, this potential will become a reality.

Natural Leaders invites you to get in touch to find out more about how their blend of behavioural expertise and sheep herding can accelerate your organisation’s mission, purpose and goals. Now is the right time to future-proof your organisation. You can contact Natural Leaders on 0845 5193 423 or at

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