A tale of two bosses: the impact of leadership styles

This is a real example of two bosses I had and their dramatically different approaches to their leadership for the research projects I had been hired to run as a post-doc fellow.  Both projects had been funded to achieve a particular objective and both required a fairly specific methodology to be followed.


In my first fellowship, the boss invited me to a meeting to discuss the project.  He explained how this project was to complete the work started by a PhD student who had left after 2 years research.  My project was to extend the research to a wider geographic area in a way that meant we could make direct comparisons with the PhD student’s research and analyse all the data in a meta-analysis.  He asked me to come up with a plan that would best address these constraints and deliver the outcomes we wanted.

In effect, we both knew that this meant the style and nature of the experiments was already determined as it needed to be exactly the same as the experiments previously conducted by the PhD student, because this was the only way to make the data directly comparable.  However, at no time did my boss mention anything about the details of how to conduct the experiments.  He left it to me to do all the design and details, which we discussed at our next meeting, and agreed the standards and outcomes required.   In our subsequent meetings, he asked me about progress, results and my interpretation and how well (or not) I thought these indicated we were on track to achieve the project outcomes.  

The effect of his approach was to make me feel respected for my knowledge, expertise and professionalism.  It made me feel ownership of the project and responsible for delivering results.  I felt hugely motivated, committed and engaged in my work and I devoted (far too much!) time to ensuring we got great results.



My boss of my second fellowship was very different.  Again this was a project that had been funded to achieve a particular aim.  The boss and a third person had designed the project in order to apply for the funding.  They invited me in for the first meeting to discuss the project, and described in full detail exactly how the experiment was designed and to be delivered.  They hired me, they said, for my expertise in working with the system that was being used but would not listen to any of my concerns around implicit assumptions that were being made but not acknowledged.  These assumptions meant the biology in the system would create too much variability to be able to detect the results being sought.  I felt they were treating me like a technician and wondered why they had hired a postdoc in order to do a technician’s work.  In the end, I never had a real conversation with this boss until I gave up trying to speak with him and just started saying ‘yes’ to doing it his way.  The boss called regular meetings to discuss the details and how I was conducting experiments.  I was extremely demotivated, I didn’t trust my boss and this was the most disappointing job I have ever held. On the other hand, the prospect of potentially getting another boss like this was one of the triggers that spurred me to leave academia, so perhaps he did me a great service after all!



How effective were the two bosses’ leadership styles?

The first boss was effectively managing at a level to manage other people, especially experienced professionals.  His time investment in the project was 1) at the beginning clarifying the overall desired outcomes and standards and 2) in key meetings.  It resulted in the appropriate project design and delivery and a committed and engaged researcher.  Although he could have given me all the details the second boss gave me, he didn’t. He held back and let me sort out the details.  The time invested in creating the detailed structure for this project was all done by me, the professional – which was appropriate.  The style was very much outcome focus, which enhances and can further develop the professional’s expertise and ability to project manage.  It was an ideal style for someone who manages others to still be responsible for outcomes but deliver them through other people by delegating appropriately.  Note delegation is not abdication.  In this project, the outcomes were important to the boss’s reputation, so it was vital to ensure the results were valid.  He shared responsibility, and agreed clear standards and reporting with me, the professional, so we both knew what was required to recognise when we were on track and delivering outcomes at the right level.  Throughout this project, he did not get deeply involved in the operational side.  

He provided strategic direction and support, and at the same time showed respect for my expertise that resulted in commitment and engagement.  This freed up his time to lead a larger number of people and also have time to conduct his own research, which provided his fulfilment to still feel like the ‘expert professional’ that he was.  Note, however, that this style of leadership was not always appropriate at this extent of outcomes focus.  His new PhD students sometimes felt overwhelmed and a few post docs also preferred to have more hands on input and direction.  A little more flexibility to respond to individual needs could have paid dividends.


The second boss was still operating predominantly at the ‘manage self or project’ level, rather than managing other people at the right level.  He invested a lot of time overseeing the details of the work (the how) that could have been better invested in other things more appropriate to his leadership role.  He did not have time for conducting research himself any more.  He was heavily involved in the operational side of this project.   The result was demotivating, disengaging, lack of trust and a struggle to find commitment.  Now I know more about leadership and management I recognise this boss was using the ‘broken record’ technique on me during the first six months of my tenure.  This is hugely demoralising.  He never listened or responded to what I said, just kept repeating what he wanted to tell me.  I highly recommend that you never use this technique if you want to develop good relationships with people and engage your team.

Stepping up to manage and lead other people

Over the last few years in my role as an executive coach, I have subsequently worked with many managers to step up to lead and manage at the right level.  They felt there just wasn’t enough time to do everything they were required to do in their role.  They felt very time-stretched, no matter how well they managed time and scheduled their diaries.  They felt it was unreasonable for one person to be expected to do all this – the role was too big for one person.  Often their work/life balance suffered, they spent too long at work and took work home to finish off in the evenings and weekends.  Their home life suffered and they had too little time for friends and family or sport or other personal interests.  

They were still getting too involved in the operational and technical aspects of their direct reports’ roles.  They were deeply involved in the details and often telling their people how to do their job, in the way that was successful for them.  

They were doing this with the best of intentions, without realising how it could be destructive to their team’s morale, motivation, engagement and productivity.  They felt this was what was needed and expected of them to provide direction for their team, which was their job as the manager.  However, it didn’t leave them enough time to do their own work or focus on the far horizon and plan for longer term future strategy. Also, some found that they were not being seen as a peer by other managers at their level and people would primarily come to them for their expertise rather than strategic thinking.

They were effectively still managing at the ‘managing self or project’ level rather than managing at a level to manage other people and managers.  In effect, they were still ‘being the expert’ rather than the ‘leader of experts’.  Being the expert brings satisfaction and fulfilment, perhaps a sense of identity, and values their knowledge, skills and technical expertise.  Experts, or ‘individual contributers’, spend almost all of their time on work they directly control and value getting results through their own proficiency and delivering high quality work.  This value has brought them success in their career to date but gets in the way of being an effective manager and leader of other people.  Becoming a leader of experts requires a shift in values – to value getting results through others not yourself, to value time spent in developing your people, to feel their success is your success, to value the outcomes and success of your team or unit, to value your managerial work and getting the best out of your people, to value yourself as a manager and leader rather than as a professional expert. 

The key is to getting the right balance of where you spend your time.  The higher your leadership or management level in an organisation, the more your focus must be providing strategic direction and achieving results through others and less time being the expert working as an ‘individual contributer’.

Shifting values doesn’t happen overnight! It takes time to develop awareness of what is most important to you and what motivates you.  It involves developing a real and personal motivation to want to value your contribution in this different way.  Many leaders find this difficult transition is much easier with support from a mentor or coach who they trust to explore their values, thoughts and feelings; plan how to try out new ways of thinking and behaving; and reflect on what’s working well or what could be changed.

If you would like to talk to me about coaching around changing your leadership mindset or being  more confident, please do get in touch.  You can also check out our online coaching programmes on www.aeonacoaching.com or see the Aeona webpage for more information about what I do: www.aeona.co.uk

Sue Mitchell    email: info@aeonacoaching.com  telephone +44 1875 830708  or  use the contact form below – please make sure you spell your email address correctly for me to be able to reply to you.


What do you mean by changing mindset?


Your mindset determines your success, in any walk of life or aspect of your own life, at home and at work. Your mindset evolves throughout your life and can change from situation to situation. It is made up from many parts, including your experiences (and how you think about them), your thinking style, your attitude, your values, your beliefs, sense of purpose, focus of attention and so on. You have learned your mindset throughout your life so far, which is why you can learn to change it too.


Your mindset  determines the results you get

Did you know that professional and elite athletes attribute 90 – 95% of their success to their mindset. Even though we imagine that when athletes compete, it is their sports skills that are most important, the athletes themselves say the most important part of their success is their mindset, which includes their confidence in their abilities and their confidence that they can win. Two recent examples of this are Mo Farah and Andy Murray. Mo Farrah talked about how he used to want to win but in some part of his mind think his competitors were better than him and lose the race when they came up alongside him. Now he’s worked on his mindset and his inner knowledge that he can beat them and is going for it, he’s no longer focusing on the other competitors, he is focused on winning. He feels that confidence is like a weapon that gives you control, and you feel positive knowing you’ve prepared well. Andy Murray is another great example of a skilled athlete whose self doubts were the biggest barrier to winning. Self-doubt clouds your mind and focus with excessive negative thoughts about the outcome, not being good enough and so on. Andy’s ability in tennis was not the problem, he could pull marvellous shots out of the bag, but under pressure made more errors. Once he mastered his doubts and built his confidence, he could remain calm and focused under pressure. He won his first grand slam and then went on to win more.

Modern developments in neuroscience mean they can now record activity in living brains with imaging techniques. The fundamental organising principle of the human brain is that we are designed to maximise rewards and minimise threats. Neuroscientists call this the ‘walk towards, run away’ theory. Since the consequences of threats can be catastrophic, the ‘run away’ pathways operate much faster and stronger than the walk towards neural pathways in the brain, so we can respond immediately we detect any potential threat. The neuroscience research shows that our thoughts of self-doubt and self-criticism create the same effects in our nervous system and stimulate the same ‘fight-fright-flight or freeze’ response as situations of physical danger. This is the part of our brain that says ‘get me out of here’ and takes over from the part of our brain that controls our rational thinking. It means we can’t think straight, make the best decisions, respond well or listen well. Imagine the effect that has on how you present yourself and how effective you are in any situation – whether that’s sport, in work, in a job interview, with a client, doing a business presentation or in your home life and communities.

The neuroscience research shows that positive thinking rewires your brain (the official term is neuroplasticity). We can learn to focus our attention constructively and systematically alter brain circuitry underlying intrusive negative thoughts. Using mindful awareness, a self-observational skill, we can choose to respond rationally to emotionally stressful stimuli. We create new connections and the more you use them the stronger those connections become. After a while, you build a new good habit of positive thinking.


Your mindset is truly your own,
so that means you can control it and CHOOSE your attitude
but ONLY WHEN you are AWARE of it.


A large part of our mindset is usually in our non-conscious mind, where we park the things we want to do automatically without having to think them through all the time – things like how to drive a car, our practical skills we use in our work or at play, our good habits and our bad habits. This is where we hold our values and beliefs, that we’ve absorbed over our lifetime from the people around us, especially family and people we hold in authority. When we first took them on board they were undoubtedly useful for us then. However, life changes, the world changes, and sometimes if we don’t change our mindset too, we become mismatched to the world we live in, resulting in frustration, fear, anger, anxiety, and other negative outcomes.

This is why it is so useful to do a personal audit and raise to conscious awareness everything that influences our mindset and how we see and interact with the world. With that awareness comes choice. We can evaluate how useful each part is to us NOW, whether or not it was useful in the past, and choose whether we will hold that as a core part of our mindset now. We can try on different perspectives and assess what outcome that would bring for us and whether that would be a good outcome. We can clarify our core values that are most important to us, and understand how we express that in our lives, so we can choose behaviour and actions that are in harmony with what is important. We can then create a plan for how we will achieve that!

When we change the way we look at things, the things change too.

Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.” Henry Ford

Call or email Sue if you would like to explore what you might do with coaching to explore your mindset and set yourself up for success.

See our online coaching programmes for confidence here: Aeona Coaching http://www.aeonacoaching.com/confidence.htm

confidence lights way

If you let your own light shine it gives others permission to do the same” Nelson Mandela

If you would like to talk to me about coaching around changing your mindset or being  more confident, please do get in touch.  You can also check out our online confidence coaching programmes on www.aeonacoaching.com or see the Aeona webpage for more information about what I do: www.aeona.co.uk

Sue Mitchell    email: info@aeonacoaching.com  telephone +44 1875 830708  or  use the contact form below – please make sure you spell your email address correctly for me to be able to reply to you.

What does confidence mean to you?

When you think of confidence, what comes to mind?  What do you think of?  What do you see in your mind’s eye? How do you relate to confidence for yourself?

How important is confidence to you, in your life overall, and in your work? How consistent is your confidence? Does it change over time – in the longer term or from day to day  or from situation to situation?  What difference does having confidence or not having confidence make for you?


The Oxford English Dictionary defines confidence as

  • the feeling or belief that one can have faith in or rely on someone or something;
  • the state of feeling certain about the truth of something;
  • a feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities; and also
  • the telling of private matters or secrets with mutual trust.

The word confidence comes from the latin word confidentia, from confidere  which means to ‘have full trust’.

When we talk about having confidence or being confident, we are usually thinking of the third ‘feeling’ meaning – self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.  Self-confidence is an attitude which allows individuals to have positive yet realistic views of themselves and their situations.

Our sense of confidence imbues us with the personal power to be all we can be – to do more, to do it better, to have a go at something new, to achieve our dreams and more.  Confidence is the foundation for our success – in whatever way success is meaningful to us.

Confidence makes the difference in life, as it gives us the means to be who we really want to be, to express ourselves with ease, to be comfortable with people and in ourselves, to stretch out of our comfort zone, to know that we CAN do what we want to do and to take the first step towards making it happen.  Luckily everyone can learn confidence, though it is not just a skill you can learn by applying a set of rules.  Confidence is an attitude or state of mind that sits at the very core of our being and transforms our life in a positive way. Confidence is the outcome of a whole lot of things including our experiences (and the way we think about them), personality, emotional well-being, self-awareness, and our thinking style which can include how we make decisions and solve problems or find solutions.  Learning confidence is a journey about changing your state of mind by raising your awareness and changing the way you think, the way you see things and interact with the world. 

confidence lights way

In my view,

Learning confidence leaves behind the “I can’ts” and opens the doors to your brave new world full of “I cans” and possibilities, where you SEE and seize the opportunities that come your way.

Learning confidence dares you to listen to your heart and tap into your motivation and ambition and only then let your rational brain work on how to achieve that.  Confidence opens the way for ‘I will’, ‘I want to’ and ‘I like to’ and leaves behind the ‘shoulds’, ‘musts’ and ‘have tos’.  Confidence lets you stop giving priority to your brain ‘rationally’ talking you out of what you want, to settle for an alternative option only because it is safer or expected of you or … the list can be endless and not always true!  Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not talking about absconding from responsibility or taking on a self-centred hedonistic life style where all you think about is you and what you want.  I’m talking about changing the way you think about your responsibilities so you want to do them and feel positive about them, rather than just complying and feeling you should do them but don’t really want to.  Maybe that also involves learning the confidence to say no in a positive way.  I’m talking about knowing yourself, assessing your strengths, your personal values and purpose and what you want from life and making sure you follow the road to make that happen by ensuring the things you do are in harmony with who you really are.  Assess whether you are in the right job for you – does it or could it ever give you fulfilment?  What do you need for fulfilment?  What do you give and get from your relationships?

Learning confidence gives you personal power to be yourself and let your own light shine.

Hello confident you!

If you let your own light shine it gives others permission to do the same” Nelson Mandela

If you would like to talk to me about coaching around being more confident, please do get in touch.  You can also check out our online confidence coaching programmes on www.aeonacoaching.com or see the Aeona webpage for more information about what I do: www.aeona.co.uk

Sue Mitchell    email: info@aeonacoaching.com  telephone +44 1875 830708  or  use the contact form below – please make sure you spell your email address correctly for me to be able to reply to you.

Be accessible, listen well and be consistent! 8 simple management rules from Google

The New York Times published a fascinating article about research at Google on what makes effective managers. Although it was published a few years ago, it is still useful today.

Google noticed that their best managers “have teams that perform better, are retained better, are happier — they do everything better” says Laszlo Bock, Google’s vice president for ‘people operations’ (HR).  It was down to the quality of the manager and how they made things happen.  Google collected masses of data to answer questions about “What if every manager was that good? What makes them that good? And how do you do it?”

Google’s data showed that managers had a much greater impact on employees’ performance and how they felt about their job than any other factor.  Poor managers are the biggest variable causing people to leave the company (the other two reasons people leave are i) are lack of feeling their work matters or a connection to the company’s mission and ii) not liking or respecting their colleagues).

Google used to think it was vital that managers had deep technical expertise and be more expert than their team members.  Their management philosophy was to ‘leave the engineers to get on with their stuff and they will ask when they need help’.

BUT their in-depth data analysis showed that people valued managers MOST when they made time for them, listened and were consistent.  Employees valued most their even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped them puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in their lives and careers.  They found that technical expertise is important but ranked last among Google’s eight key factors of great managers.

Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers

  1. Be a good coach
  2. Empower your team
  3. Express interest in team members personally and in their success.
  4. Be productive and results oriented
  5. Communicate well and LISTEN WELL
  6. Help your employees with career development
  7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
  8. Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team – but you don’t need to be as expert or more expert than the experts in your team!

Three pitfalls of managers

  1. Have trouble making the transition to team / leader (from being an expert / individual contributor).
  2. Lack a consistent approach to performance management and career development
  3. Spend too little time managing and communicating.

Google makes the facts known to their managers, so they know what works and doesn’t work. They don’t tell the managers what to do, managers decide for themselves.   Google’s data for how to be a great manager in their company echo’s other research about what makes managers effective in other companies. These 8 rules are simple and probably applicable in most companies.

8 rules

If you can make yourself accessible, listen well and be consistent, and apply these 8 rules in the priority listed above, what difference will that make to your own and your team’s performance?

If you would like to talk to me about coaching around being a more effective manager, please do get in touch.  You can also check out the Aeona webpage for more information about what I do: www.aeona.co.uk

Sue Mitchell    email: coaching@aeona.co.uk  telephone +44 1875 830708  or  use the contact form below – please make sure you spell your email address correctly for me to be able to reply to you.

Leadership makes a difference

Abundant evidence shows that great leadership makes a difference both personally and to the organisation’s success and results in higher performance, productivity and profitability.  Great leadership also leads to higher performance in the triple bottom line – organisational health, people’s engagement in the workplace, how much they commit to doing the best they can, having a positive culture at work, long term sustainability for the organisation and the sense of responsibility to the community and environment.  It’s not just about work and making money, but also making the world a better place while you are doing it.


I believe everyone is capable of being a leader and my purpose is to liberate the leader within each one of us.  Leadership can be learnt and it is about mindset, behaviours and emotional intelligence.  I am currently part of the team delivering a massive leadership development programme for a global company that’s based in UK.  They are investing millions to secure their future sustainability and success through improving leadership at all levels throughout the company.  I want to make leadership development more accessible for smaller businesses and organisations because I believe it will make a real difference.  I’m offering discounted leadership programmes for women leaders and aspiring leaders in Scotland and for people in Midlothian and Edinburgh as many small businesses find it difficult to justify the spend.  These programmes are  eligible for FTO grant funding.  Also, I think many business owners don’t see how leadership would be relevant to them.  I often hear “well, I can see why it’s relevant in larger organisations but I just have a few people, we don’t need it…”  I wonder how much this is due to not really appreciating the difference good leadership makes in groups of all types and sizes – whether it is a family, a business, a volunteer group or a multi-national organisation.


Aeona’s summary combining concepts of authentic and centered leadership

I often encounter situations that resonate with my first experience of leadership.  No-one ever thought to mention to me that leadership is something you can learn, that it even exists as a subject.  I got a job leading an expedition to the South Pacific and my focus was entirely on the tasks required to deliver results and make it happen – logistics, planning, developing connections with relevant local people, designing the study projects, budgeting, raising sponsorship, etc.  I ran a team building event, where we all met each other for the first time and it went down very well.  If I ever thought about it, I assumed everyone was motivated for the same reasons I was and that what worked well for me would work well for them.  How wrong I was!  I’ve subsequently learnt that everyone brings their own perspective, own desires, own motivations, own personality and own ways of doing things to the table, and when you can recognise, understand, empathise and engage with all of that diversity, and connect their own meanings with the organisation’s purpose, then everyone will achieve tasks so much better, drive performance and have fun too.


Leadership happens in our relationships with people and differs according to the different contexts and situations we find ourselves in.  Yet how often are managers and other people in leadership positions focusing primarily on the tasks involved?  How often do people end up in leadership positions or running small businesses because of their expertise and knowledge, but don’t get any training in leading  and inspiring other people to do the work?  How many people have created processes and ways of working for the team, company or business because that’s the way that worked successfully for them in the past?  How much of your people’s skills, creativity, knowledge and capability remains untapped because you don’t know about it?  How often do you take time to discover what motivates your people and tie this in with their work?  How much more could your people be engaged at work and what difference could that make to your organisation’s performance?


If you can

  • be authentic, be yourself, be confident and live by your values,
  • create an inspiring purpose and meaning for the work in the organisation,
  • inspire your people so they know how they make a difference to the company success,
  • give them autonomy and encourage their desire to do their job to the best of their ability and maintain high standards,

what difference would that make to how it feels to come in to work and to your company’s future?

What difference would that make to your own future?



Please do get in touch if you’d like to talk about it.  🙂



Please contact me if you’d like me to send you some of the evidence for leadership making a difference or about the FTO grants for training in Scotland. email info@aeona.co.uk


For the specially discounted leadership programmes please see these links:

Women Leaders Special:    http://aeona.co.uk/aeonaILMwomen.htm

Midlothian and Edinburgh Leaders Special:  http://aeona.co.uk/aeonaILMmidlothian.htm




Why do values make a difference?

What happens if your boss or someone at work asks you to take short-cuts? Do you think this is a great idea and will save time and money?  Do you think this will compromise your work or other issues you think are important, such as safety, health, legal regulations and so on? Do you feel able to say no or discuss it? Do you think your boss recognises the implications? Do you feel they just don’t get it? Do you feel your job may be under threat so you just need to go along with what you are asked? How stressed would you feel?

Values play a fundamental role in how we perceive and interact with the world, how we interpret events and other peoples actions and behaviours. Its not always obvious. Our values and beliefs are often a sub-conscious filter through which we interpret everything around us and so play a fundamental role in how we respond – in our thoughts and behaviour. This sub-conscious influence sometimes leads to apparently irrational behaviour and decisions that are at best not constructive and often destructive or disastrous.

We acquire our values and beliefs over our entire lifetime, accepting the ways of our culture, our parents, our teachers and others around us. They may have been extremely valuable at the time we took them on board, but sometimes they outlive their usefulness and lead to behaviour that is no longer helpful in our current situation. Time spent reflecting on knowing our values and beliefs and evaluating how useful they continue to be to us right now, is time well spent.

Raising our conscious awareness of our values and beliefs gives us much more control over our personal thoughts and behaviour and makes us more aware of why we feel the way we do about a situation or person. It guides our choices and decision making at a conscious level and helps us to recognise when a choice does actually exist, even if the alternatives are somewhat unpalatable. We might recognise when our subconscious hijacks the decision making process when we feel there is only one way forward and no options.

So how does this extend to a team or whole organisation? Jeremy Darroch, chief executive of BSkyB, gave three great examples at the recent Institute of Directors Annual Convention. Fostering the mindset “Believe in Better” has created a culture where everyone at BSkyB applies innovative thinking to everything they do every day, right across the business from product development to accounts. Maintaining a consistent value set and core beliefs guided Procter and Gamble to move quickly and grow sustainably from a small enterprise selling soap up the Ohio River to a global company.

When values are a key component of strategy and are motivating – made real and alive from the executive team down, not just words on a page – they give people guidance in a way that rules and procedures alone do not. The strength comes from a clear value set that reaffirms the behaviour, actions and decisions made by all in the organisation. Getting everyone in the organisation involved and knowing how their role connects with the company success, focuses and guides everyone in one direction, even when facing new situations that rules and procedures do not (yet) cover. In contrast, consider Jeremy Darroch’s third example, the recent banking debacle – once people crossed the line beyond the rule book, they could and did go anywhere. In a rapidly changing world, consistent values and beliefs guide the way to sustainable success.

Values and beliefs are a core component of Aeona’s new open programmes for leadership development. Please tell us what you think is important to include in a leadership development course or programme. Enter our short survey here and you could win £50 in Amazon Vouchers.

Click through to our website for information on the short course, Inner Leadership, or 12 month Exceptional Leader Programme.