True “leadership development” can only come from “personal development”

We are human beings interacting with other human beings to get things done. We behave in certain ways that enhance or detract from our capacity to achieve our individual and collective goals. One’s behaviour is a product of the myriad internal processes that “make one up”. Since there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to the internal processes or external behaviours of human beings, prescriptive technical learning is of only limited value when it comes to personal and professional development.

Information and transformation

There are of course some technical / informational things we can learn that help in our development, so we teach those in our workshops or coaching contexts. Some examples are:

  • The Experience Cube®
  • Multiple Perspectives
  • Attachment Theory
  • Primary Emotional Systems
  • Complexity
  • Adult Development
  • Threat and Reward Systems
  • Managing Defensive Reactions
  • Mindfulness
  • Self-Differentiation
  • The Conversation Framework
  • Overcoming Immunity to Change™
  • Action Learning®

While useful on their own, their main purpose is to support the transformative work necessary for development and change.

People attend our courses or engage in one-on-one coaching in order to be in the world in some new or different way. The transformation that needs to happen in order to achieve that outcome must take place in the unconscious realm that generates the thinking and behaviour of each person.

Therefore, we weave the technical skill development into processes that help surface some of those (generally unconscious) stories or metaphors so they can be evaluated, questioned and re-worked. Participants have the capability to re-form themselves by making new habitual processes. Indeed, some of that re-evaluation, questioning and re-forming is done by the participant’s unconscious mind during and after our time together.

Our stories construct experience and hence behaviour. The most important part of what we do is to help those internal architects develop more adaptive stories in the ever-changing variable landscape that is one’s life. We help people construct an experience of life that supports their desired goals, including their Leadership capability.

We do not promise “quick fixes”. We understand that personal and professional development can take time and effort depending on the goals the participant might have. For that reason, our approach is, as far as possible, to develop relationships with our participants that extend over a period of time rather than lasting only for the duration of a workshop or coaching session. Where possible, that might take the form of phone calls, video connection, email reminders, face-to-face catch ups, etc, depending on the context and what is required in order to make the new learning “stick”.


Here are some examples of the application of the key ideas. In all cases the technical skills we teach were applied to the transformational work to achieve new outcomes. The names have been changed.

First, a video by my friend and colleague John Sautelle:


Janine had difficulty being genuinely collaborative – she thought of herself as “the smartest person in the room” and therefore “knew best”. Sometimes she said that in meetings. Janine and her team had evidence that she was, indeed, highly intelligent and strategic. However, you can imagine how her behaviour was affecting the team she managed and consequently her career prospects. She knew she didn’t need to keep proving superiority (because she was in her mind) yet was compelled to do so.

After a little work with Janine the hidden assumption driving her behaviour surfaced: “If I am not seen as the smartest person in the room I will have no worth. I will lack credibility in the eyes of my team and my career will be finished!”.

Let’s dissect this a little. Janine genuinely thought she was intellectually superior to her team members (and others). In other words, it was something she was consciously aware of and could point to good evidence to “prove it”. At the same time a hidden part of her internal processing held the idea that if others judged she was not intellectually superior she would be out of a job! Logically, Janine understood she was not the smartest person on the planet so of course she would encounter people more intellectually capable than herself. She could even concede that sometimes her team members had better ideas than she did.

However, what she was unaware of until the coaching session was her hidden belief that the judgement of others could put her career at risk. Of course, internally this represented danger. Her conscious belief she was intellectually superior represented safety from that danger. Her neural pathways for the safe route were so well trodden she had absolutely no awareness it was the “danger” that was compelling her to prove her superiority rather than the clear “fact” of her superiority. The level of intelligence was not the issue – the issue was what Janine thought others thought about her.

Further coaching revealed a rich vein of messages from her family-of-origin in the form of “stories”, beliefs and metaphors that made her hidden assumption a completely “rational” and intelligent response to maintain “safety” in a context where she was young and lacking power. Janine had no awareness of either the rules or that she was applying those rules as an adult with considerable power.

Janine’s unconscious mind was intelligently applying a rule to keep her career on track that was likely to cause the end of her career!

Janine could now “see” the pattern hitherto hidden from awareness. Over time and with the support of trusted allies she was able to test the validity of her hidden assumption. She found she was able to be more collaborative (her improvement goal) as she was increasingly comfortable with the idea she did not need to constantly demonstrate her intellectual superiority. She even began to challenge the idea that she was intellectually superior. She found she could use her intelligence in ways that bought the best outcomes by including input from others and in so-doing enhanced team cohesion (rather than the opposite).

To minimise the chances of “slipping back” into the safety of her hidden assumption Janine kept a journal detailing her experiments and the outcomes. She had the courage to share her journey with her team and found a great deal of support and encouragement there. That, in itself, was “pushing the envelope” on her big assumption. She made herself listen when she received feedback about her behaviour and used the fact that she did listen and write down what was said as evidence of her progress. She kept in mind that her old behaviour was being driven by an old story that she was in the process of changing. She reminded (re-minded) herself that stories are just thoughts that can be rewritten.

Journaling around the big assumption is a vital part of the change process because it provides a tangible and growing evidence base for a new way of being (i.e. the desired outcome). It helps move the big assumption from the “shadows” to keep it in “the light” where it can be watched, changed and acted on in new ways.

With this example I hope you can see how the four key ideas play out: unconscious stories compelling behaviour and an experience of the world somewhat different to others. Having only their experience of Janine’s outward behaviour to go on, Janine’s team members held somewhat less charitable stories about her motivations until she shared her “story” with them. Her capability as a leader grew in line with her deep personal change.

Some summarised examples:


Ahmed realises he needs to be more confident. He has a lot of subject matter knowledge yet holds back in meetings and defers to others, especially those more senior, even when he thinks their understanding is flawed. Consequently, he tends to be disregarded by his manager(s) as having “nothing to offer”. He used to get very frustrated that he was being ignored until he realised he wasn’t speaking up.

Hidden assumption: “If I challenge the views of others I might make a factual mistake and be utterly embarrassed and punished. This would be especially painful with my manager, or even worse, with my Branch Head!”

Origin: An uncompromising school teacher; a family culture of “respect for authority”.

New story: “If I test my thinking in meetings rather than challenging others by asserting my view, I can put my view without risking “being wrong”. And anyway, even if I am wrong sometimes, the world will not end!”

Outcome: Ahmed’s manager(s) now realise he has a lot to offer and while they do not always agree with him they value his expertise and contribution. His new capacity to engage has enhanced the possibility of an upcoming promotion.


Kim’s story of herself, as well as a being a source of pride, was one of being a “peace keeper”. She shied away from “difficult conversations” because “conflict is not the way to peace”. Unfortunately, Kim found herself working for a demanding manager who kept piling on the work without checking Kim’s capacity to deliver. Kim’s high level of capability was being stretched to breaking point and Kim recognised she had been there before. As a “peace keeper” she did not discuss her distress with her manager. Her normal pattern was to persist, be quiet and put up with it. While Kim thought her long hours were normal, others thought of her as a “workaholic”.

Hidden assumption: “If I speak up or take action, even to protect myself, some terrible consequence will befall me.”

Origin: Kim grew up as the eldest child in a household where her mother was gravely ill and her father was away working to support the large family. It was expected that Kim would “keep it all together” which meant managing and keeping quiet a large number of siblings upon pain of an “explosive” and fragile mother. Kim learned valuable skills in “peace keeping” and survived that very difficult time in her life.

New story: “My adult life is not my childhood (even if it feels like it). I can use my finely tuned negotiation skills to work with my manager to work things out. She is not my mother and she can be a reasonable person. I do not need to just “put up with it” – I think I can talk about it with her.”

Outcome: Initially, Kim just watched her pattern with new eyes and journaled her observations. She practiced preparing a conversation with her manager using the technical tools she learned at the workshop while paying attention to the feelings of “doom” that arose as she did so. Over time, those feelings subsided, especially as Kim also journaled the experiences of her manager being a reasonable human being. She formed a new story of her manager as being someone who trusted Kim to deliver with minimal fuss.

Her rehearsal and preparation paid dividends at a one-on-one discussion with her manager where she was able to test her new story of her manager. She discovered that she was on the right track and her manager filled in a few gaps in Kim’s understanding. Her manager was deeply concerned she had misinterpreted Kim’s acquiescence as “all good” and was a little ashamed that she had not stopped to think more deeply about how she might be impacting Kim. Of course, her manager was being run by her own “hidden assumptions”.