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.

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

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