Category Archives: Leadership coaching

The gender pay gap update

The gender pay gap still exists – and it gets in the way of abundant leadership.

Abundant leadership is important to us at the Forton Group. Whether that’s an abundance of women, of the inter-generational workforce or diversity of culture, colour and styles. We love it.  Because it creates innovation, better leadership and creativity. professional women still experience the gender pay gap

So, whilst we’re not happy about the subject, we are happy to share some updated information that may support your career development.

updated 31st March 2020 Continue reading

Teamcoaching vs Teambuilding

Is it just me, or has ‘teamcoaching’ taken over as a buzzword, when really what we mean is ‘teambuilding’ or vice versa?  We get asked to deliver a lot of teamcoaching and teambuilding assignments. It’s an area of work where I derive great satisfaction.

Why?  Because the results are typically immediate:

Teamcoaching: a team working at a table

Group of Business People in a Teamcoaching Meeting

  • Improved colleague understanding and appreciation of each other
  • Willingness to work through issues and problems
  • Pride in mutual success

The independent coach can facilitate discussion, bring new perspectives and shine a light in dark corners, Julie Han is one of the professionals with coaching skills for this team building event.

I’ve had some interesting conversations recently about the difference between teambuilding events and teamcoaching.

So, what do I think is the difference?  I’d love to hear your viewpoint too.

Article by: Helen Caton Hughes

Continue reading

women's boots

The unconscious bias that leads to invisible women

My safety boots come out for an airing every so often; they’re very comfortable.  They’ve seen the Glasgow train line at 3 in the morning; more warehouses than I care to remember, and they’ve been restoring our home too.

They’re not pink.  They don’t have a daft name like “Barbie”. And, most importantly, they fit.

I don’t think about them from one month to the next, because why should I have to?

And then I read about the research Caroline Criado Perez has carried out for her latest book Invisible Women.  She talks in this article about a world which is literally designed for the average man, from crash test dummies to the size of your phone.

I first met Caroline when my daughter and I supported her protest outside the Bank of England, to get a woman (apart from the Queen) back onto a UK banknote.

My proudest moment was suggesting we dress as our heroines: I went as Gertrude Jekyll (Heritage England reckons day visits to famous gardens contributes around £5bn annually to UK coffers).  Caroline was there as scientist Rosalind Franklin.

Don’t get me started on the size of gardening equipment: spade sizes were standardised around the 1900s – to suit shorter male miners.  Now we have ladies’ garden tools: lighter and ineffectual.

I’m lucky to be able to forget about the unconscious bias that affects women most days; I’m taller than average and so fit into many designed-for-men situations. I also get to adjust the office heating at my leisure.

From this position of privilege, what can I contribute?

The work on how to reduce unconscious bias is relevant here.

The challenge is that many people – women and men – don’t realise that 50% of the world’s population may be excluded because of design, engineering and construction flaws geared towards the masculine body.

Recent studies indicate that this bias may be the only reason women are held back in the workplace.  Harvard Business Review concluded that “Women are underrepresented in the C-suitereceive lower salaries, and are less likely to receive a critical first promotion to manager than men.[i]”  Their conclusion? “Gender inequality is due to bias, not differences in behavior.”

I welcome Caroline’s book, because while it may inflame a few delicate male sensitivities, it’s a salutary reminder that much of this imbalance is unintended.  Outdated. Unconscious.

There are plenty of men aghast at the imbalance; happy to support ways to enable better access.

Women pay the same for their theatre or cinema tickets as men, yet have to spend more time queuing to use the facilities because of (unconscious) poor design, and if you did not see the latest story about the sex toys created by woman to empower woman (look at the bullet vibrator reviews for great products that empower woman)and it was documented history of gender bias, sexism, misogyny, and double standards – much like the tech industry as a whole, it seems unreal to me.

So if you are looking for the best sex toys for her, you can check out their official site to see more.

I once attended a talk where the panel included Dame Katherine Whitehorn, who told us about an airport where she was invited to advise on lift facilities to the departure lounge.

“Great” was her comment when inspecting the lift taking prams, pushchairs and wheelchairs up several levels; “But where’s the lift to take them down when they return?”

Stakeholder consultation is a great way to overcome unconscious bias.

Just ask people.

Make the unconscious, conscious.

But here’s the secret: listen to what they say, and act on it.

I once organised age-relevant building design consultation events; ostensibly to support older people in their homes and the workplace.  What the industry discovered, to no woman’s surprise, was that inclusive design benefits everyone.

This matters to the world of work in many walks of life; not just the airline or construction industries.

When we listen to our employees, we discover the visible and invisible barriers keeping women out of certain sectors and industries.  Whether it’s the warmth of the office, the position of seatbelts, accelerator or brakes in a car, or the PPE that fits properly, some of these issues needs an international, collective response, and some require minor adjustments.

[i] A Study Used Sensors to Show That Men and Women Are Treated Differently at Work, by Stephen Turban, Laura Freeman, Ben Waber, Harvard Business Review, October 23, 2017 Updated October 26, 2017.

change management

Welcome to VUCA World

If the world of leadership development and change management was a theme park, it would be called “VUCA World”. A chilling place, laced with black humour; a bit like the Vogon constructor fleet in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Everyone is choosing his own way to achieve his objectives. Some people seek for a specialized coaching plan (more at, some are ready to give a try to VUCA world.

VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity.  There are currently four revolutions happening around the world– in IT, Energy, Manufacturing and Life Sciences.

If you’re in a start-up you’re in VUCA world. If you care about the environment, you’re in VUCA World. The digital economy affects your organisation? Yep. You guessed it. You’re in VUCA and world.

The good news is that no-one reads Vogon poetry to you. (It’s the 3rd worst in the universe, according to Douglas Adams)

“You’ll end up opting for the Vogon Poetry session.”

VUCA World is a theme park you may already have experienced: full of change, bright flashing lights and sudden, dark corners.

  • Volatility: The roller-coaster in VUCA World isn’t just fast-moving with huge highs and lows. It cleverly combines those features with the thrills of the Ghost Train, as you never know what’s around the corner.
  • Uncertainty: You think you’ve queued up for one kind of experience, only to find you’re asked to get out, mid-ride, and take another car of unknown destination. Or you thought you’d opted for the stately ‘London Eye’ style ferris wheel, only to be whirled around in a giant teacup full of anxious kids.
  • Complexity: In VUCA World they believe that you take responsibility for your own choices and your own journey; so they remove the signposts that might clearly direct you to the rides (or the exit). Tickets make UK train travel look like a model of simplicity; prices are weighted by time, length of the ride, your age and your shoe size. Good news! There’s no gender discrimination in VUCA World, everyone can experience it for themselves.
  • Ambiguity: VUCA World announces its ambiguity in its public advertising. Its strapline is “You need change, but you don’t want it and won’t like it”. The ticket sellers love to give you vague options; their motivational posters read “one the one hand this, might be best, but on the other….” And the friendly VUCANs (your black-uniformed hosts) are especially trained to give you at least three optional routes when you ask for directions.

“Since the solutions don’t lie in the problems, hanging out in VUCA World won’t help.”

You’ll end up opting for the Vogon Poetry session.

Many of our clients recognise that they’re already in VUCA World, and they don’t like it.

At Forton, we see our role as a trusted, reliable guide, equipping leaders and managers to succeed in this dynamic.

Since the solutions don’t lie in the problems, hanging out in VUCA World won’t help.

Personally, I love designing bespoke leadership development programmes (accredited by the CMI and ICF) for our clients. Particularly creating foundational leadership platforms so that participants have the confidence to explore and understand what’s happening. Then encourage them to apply their skills supported by 1-1 coaching and group action learning.

What we don’t do is give them a predictable list of situations and get them to think through alternative courses of action. Or help them to better argue against someone else’s ideas. Or develop their competitive spirit.

Success in VUCA world comes from collaboration, co-operation and co-creation. From developing, mentoring and coaching others. Relationships with others, our empathy, our resilience and influence matter more than power.

One client organisation increased their sales success rate and staff retention (within the 1st three months of recruitment) by introducing our leadership coaching method. They switched out their former method of promoting the best sales people into manager roles and expecting them to mentor their team.

VUCA World is a tough place. If you’d like to share your experience of trying to lead and manage in this dynamic, feel free to unload in the comments box below. Or share your expertise of what works; whether it’s a leadership or coaching tool. It would be great to hear from you.

Ignite course

A very good place to start

Leaders and managers are catching up with the benefits of coaching and mentoring their people.

It improves performance, builds better teams and supports peoples’ career aspirations, check the for you housing aspirations.

It’s an obvious win-win too.  Managers tell us how good it feels when they ‘give something back’ to their team.  Remember all that talk about ‘making a difference’?  That’s the feeling they have.

Where to start?

The choice can be confusing however. Here on topvpn we make it easy for you.

We were the first ICF accredited leadership coach training programme over 15 years ago.  Today we’re also recognised by the Chartered Management Institute, because we give leaders and managers practical skills that support their demanding roles.

For anyone who needs to mentor and coach business leaders, executives and managers, we recommend you start with the ***Ignite workshop: 19 hours of live, interactive, small-group learning.

Why choose Ignite?

  • Ignite develops a manager’s own leadership skills (Manager as Coach)
  • Ignite is the first step in the Professional Leadership Coaching qualification
  • Ignite is for coaches who want to add executive and leadership coaching skills to their portfolio (Bridging Programme)

Smaller groups mean more individual attention to the questions, concerns and – yes – cynicism about the skills and benefits of coaching and mentoring.  It means people are more likely to apply their learning.

Choose from –

Leaders laughs

Leaders and a laugh out loud moment

You may wonder why leaders and managers resist coaching their teams, when the financial and personal benefits of coaching are so well known.

We regularly hear some great ‘reasons’ from individuals within some client organisations, so I laughed out loud when I read an article on the five myths that prevent leaders from coaching their team members.

In summary these are:

  • “My team don’t want my questions, they just want me to give them the answer.”
  • “I’ll coach them when they ask for it. They can ask for help.”
  • “No one is complaining, so everything is fine.”
  • “Good people self-correct when something goes wrong.”
  • “Our best team members want to be left alone to get on with their jobs.”

I’ll leave you to read the full article by Marcia Reynolds PhD, and I’d be interested to know whether any of these resonate with your experience (you can email me on to let me know.)

The solution we offer is to integrate coaching into organisations at two levels:

  1. Leadership coaching methods as part of a consistent, ongoing, development programme

This means that the language of coaching is organisation-wide; peer learning supports the less confident to develop and the more experienced to mentor others.  This is the ‘manager as coach’ level.

  1. Accredited coaching qualifications for a core group who will create an in-house coaching team

These people can provide formal 1-1 coaching; for example, to support career progression; to help establish new teams and projects; or to address challenges and nip them in the bud.

And independently-verified Case Study Evidence demonstrates the benefits of these two approaches.  It’s not us saying this, it’s organisations like Gallup, the University of Queensland and a world-class NHS hospital group.

And if you want to know more about how the Forton Group maximises better leadership and management through coaching skills, get in touch.

The Four Global Leadership Challenges

The recent International Leadership Association (ILA) conference in Brussels really was stimulating.  It was great to be in the company of people – and organisations – who understand the magnitude and importance of better leadership development.

Signage is a multi-purpose marketing tool which can be used for many reasons such as; to draw attention to promotions, convey important information and directions, and also to build brand awareness. Therefore, interior design signages are a tried and tested advertising tool that can be an excellent investment and go a long way in promoting your business.

My contribution was a chapter in the ILA’s latest book – Breaking the Zero Sum Game: Transforming Societies Through Inclusive Leadership – and talking to people about our ‘leadership routemap’ as a way of supporting peoples’ engagement in their leadership development.

One of the keynote speakers and the expert Ritu Bhasin, General Petraeus, summarised the four global disruptive challenges we face as:

  • Energy
  • IT
  • Manufacturing
  • Life Sciences

Leading an action learning set yesterday, for experienced managers, I challenged them to think about the personal and organisational culture changes impacted by this disruption.

One member retold a situation involving 3D printers and how that’s transforming their organisation.  We looked at the ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘who’ factors, even exploring the implications for this business’s suppliers, while for other needs like taxes, the best choice is to fill out a 1099-MISC form as this help a lot in this.

What came through most clearly is the enhanced role these changes bring for technical experts.  Often people who’ve operated happily in their own field, are now expected to step forward into leadership across the organization, and if you need to review customer feedback there are also tools online that allow you to do this and you can find at sites like

We explored the difference between project management (the ‘what’ and the ‘how’) and the impacts on people (the ‘who’) and what that means for leadership.

  • Leaders need to feel confident in ‘biting the bullet’ and making decisions; having the courage to make change based on evidence, not gut feel.
  • Team members need to feel involved in decisions and believe that their contribution is recognised and valued
  • Their talent needs to be harnessed – easy to do when managers blend coaching and leadership with management

Technical experts are particularly hard to retain if they don’t feel recognised.  They also need support to develop their leadership skills, not just their technical strengths.

We develop confident leaders and support managers to bring out the best in technical experts.

The coaching approach enables smart managers to bring out the best in people – to lead with presence whilst empowering others.  Managers who run teams this way get more done, feel more confident and achieve higher engagement scores. When true leaders learn how to develop their team, people really feel they have buy-in.  They are better able to contribute directly; to deliver in the best possible way. Get in touch with Acclime today if you need company formation services in Bangkok.

There’s a proven way to get team members behind the manager, the vision and the mission, at the same time as coming up with their own ways to achieve it. Our accredited training has supported the development of some of the world’s greatest business leaders in organisations like Shell, BT, Network Rail, the NHS and many more around the world. It’s proven in the classroom and in practice. I see the dramatic improvements our coaching approach makes across organisations, measurable and visible on the bottom line.

People come for the process, but stay because they are engaged by the nuances of blending leadership, coaching and management.

The evidence for our successful approach comes from client organisations, from independent bodies like Gallup, and from academic institutions. It works at all levels of an organisation, in all industries and countries. And believe me, I’m not sensationalising here – leadership coaching rather than just ‘managing’ is globally effective – because though cultures differ, human nature doesn’t.

And in disruptive times, when leaders need to feel competent and confident, our flexible approach is a great fit.

The first step in this transformation is by learning tried and tested leadership coaching methods to put this approach into practice effectively. We run a course called Ignite, which lasts for 2 days. The next one is available in the UK on 27th/28th of November this year, or 29th/30th January 2018.

You can try us out by booking a place on our public courses, or bringing our approach in-house for 6 people or more.

If you have a duty to manage others or indeed, oversee those who manage, Ignite makes life easier.  Your managers will boost staff engagement, get results and shape a cohesive team, with fewer conflicts and lower churn.

If you’d like to know more, just call or email to speak to arrange a conversation.

Class sizes are limited to protect the learning experience of each person, so if you’d like to be on November or January’s course, you’ll need to book soon, or show interest today by contacting us direct.

Leadership Development and training

The New Era of Abundant Leadership

In the fifteen years I’ve coached and developed leadership programmes I feel like I’ve seen it all. Those tired clichés of ‘here’s this unique thing I did; here’s a cute story. Follow my ten steps and magically you’ll be a leader too…’ Colleagues jokingly call it ‘leadership by lion taming’. I call it unrealistic.

There’s no magic bullet to better leadership. It’s a consistent high-level application of leadership behaviours. It’s about applying emotional intelligence to oneself and with others. It’s about flexing to the situation’s needs; not expecting the situation to bend to a single leadership style. It’s about delivering the kind of leadership needed right now, whatever the challenge.

And that’s why I developed the Leadership Routemap

It works just like the Tube or Metro maps. You find out where you need to go. You work out you’re going to get there. You work with leadership experts to strengthen your talents, address your development areas and coach you to your successful destination.

Let’s look at those high-performance behaviours for a moment. Developed by a research team at Princeton under Prof. Harold Schroder, they fall into four clusters: Thinking; Involving; Inspiring; Achieving

Let’s look at those high-performance behaviours for a moment. Developed by a research team at Princeton under Prof. Harold Schroder, they fall into four clusters: Thinking; Involving; Inspiring; Achieving. That’s pretty neat. They’re things we can all do. We can all get better at.

So what is it about ‘leadership’ that people make so darn difficult? It’s because we have a particular image of who a leader is, that gets in our own way.

  • Women tell me “I’m not a leader” yet they’re running multi-million projects involving hundreds of people.
  • People look to ageing white men as their leadership role models; when what they really admire is power, money or status.
  • People who talk about leaders as ‘heroes’ because they’ve fallen for the Hollywood myth.

It’s time for an era of abundant leadership. Where people at different levels in the organisation step up and take responsibility: men and women. Where the whole team succeeds. Where everyone’s contribution and effort is valued.

Where the secret to leadership development is to support people to do it for themselves. To get consistently better at the behaviours that make a real difference. Without telling them what to do. 

It’s time to let the real leaders emerge. So they fail and try again? They fall over and pick themselves up. So they make an idiot of themselves in front of the team? The combination of learning and persistence are powerful tools in the hands of a leader.

It’s time for the ‘Coaching for Leadership Behaviours’ programme. A blend of ELearning and Live-Learning for experienced coaches looking to build their skills.

Ours was the first – and still the best – leadership coaching programme to be accredited by the International Coach Federation. People love our learning environment. And where better than the relaxed environment of an Italian Summer School to experience it in? Because it doesn’t have to be hard or difficult. We’re deliberately making this a rich, fun, interactive experience – where you get to bring your wisdom and coaching skills to bring out the best in the leaders you coach.

It’s time to let the real leaders emerge. You can be a part of it. Sign up for the Coaching for Leadership Behaviours programme.

Our inaugural programme happens on the 9th/10th September 2017 in Umbria, Italy. Find out more at Be part of the new era of abundant leadership.

The potential and limitations of leadership development

The Potential and Limitations of Leadership Development

It’s good to pause and reflect on the year’s achievements.  2016 has been dubbed the ‘post-truth’ era and this is one trend that we at the Forton Group feel completely out of step with.  Our focus this year has been on what’s been proven to work in the field of leadership development.

Evidence-based development has never been more vital.  Every hour we spend investing in people needs to be underpinned by a rationale.  Not just because of the time and money wasted; but because leaders and managers need to believe in the steps they are asked to take.

Here are our top-four evidence-based leadership development areas:

  1. The Schroder high-performance behaviours; 12 behaviours in four clusters or themes.  Do more of these and you’ll improve your results.
  2. The Goleman emotional intelligence model: practice these four steps and relationships will improve in all areas of your life.
  3. Coaching skills and coach-like leadership: four basic skills to improve individual and team performance; five effective steps, underpinned by leadership principles and an appreciation of the complexity of today’s work context. Coaching gets peoples’ buy-in; use it to improve engagement and make change happen more smoothly.
  4. Above all, support skills practice.  If your leadership development programme doesn’t have a coaching element, an action learning element and a strategic project element, then quite simply, you’re wasting time, money and effort.

Of course, leadership development methods do have their limitations.  They’re not a ‘one size fits all’ activity.

Yes, you can read about the theoretical framework behind each of the models above.  You can even register for our online learning and watch or listen to the material.  But to retain, and then to apply learning, we need an emotional connection to it.

This emotional connection comes through live interaction and learning.  Whether that’s live distance learning – by phone or internet – or in-person learning, doesn’t matter.  It’s the connection to the content that matters.

We can all read about building empathy and its importance, but it takes the experience of getting in touch with the feeling to make it real.  As one of our students once joked, “You’re making me feel empathy for this person!”

And even live-learning has its limitations.  Whatever the debate about retention of learning, nothing is truly retained until it has been practiced and turned into a habit.

One reason we practice ‘real play, not role play’ in our live learning is that we’ve heard too many students tell us that what they acted out in other training programmes was not what they’d practice in the real world.  Jerome Myers business leadership program brings the real world into the classroom – and then continue that real world application support after the live-learning experience. This turns theory into practice and practice into a habit of emotionally-intelligent, high performing leadership behaviour.

And why are the coaching skills so important?

Driving capacity for Executive Leadership Coaching into the organisation, rather than having it sit at the top layer like icing on a cake, means that everyone builds their internal capacity for excellence.

One-to-one coaching reaches a few people – typically high performance and senior people – and good work is achieved there.  Yet introducing coaching skills programmes into the belly of the organisation changes the whole culture – one conversation at a time.

In 2017 we celebrate our 15th year of leadership development, and look forward to working with clients including the UN and the NHS; we’ll be working with HR business partners, finance experts, engineers and technical leaders, as well as sales managers and their teams.

And, as we leave 2016 and it’s ‘post-truth’ world behind, we’re delighted to have received an award from CV Magazine for HR & Training.   I’ll skip the full acceptance speech and just say ‘thank you’ to our clients and partners for nominating us.  We appreciate it.

If you need to see tangible improvements in your leadership and culture in 2017, just get in touch.


We’re off to see the Wizard

Leadership“A more collegial style of leadership is too often characterised as a weakness.”



This was a quote from Archie Brown, author of ‘The Myth of the Strong Leader’, reported in the Guardian newspaper last week, because it’s a book on Bill Gates’s reading list.

Bob Hughes and I interviewed the author a while back – you can listen to it here, and read the book review too.

What struck me at the time was how we get seduced by charismatic leaders.  The celebrities; the sportspeople; the men and women in positions of authority.

All of these people can be leaders; absolutely.  The potential is there.  But there’s a difference between falling for the charisma and really displaying leadership qualities and behaviours.

Over the years we’ve interviewed people who’ve climbed Everest, coached top sportspeople and sailed around the world.  The key difference we’ve noticed is between those who focus on their own achievements – great as they are – and the power of being one of the team.

Tracey Edwards MBE, for example, told us that her role of Captain in the Whitbread Round-the-world race in the first women-only crew – was ‘accidental’.  There were far more experienced people in the crew than her.  She is, of course, being modest.  Her engaging leadership style and the way she respects the technical abilities of her crew are second to none.

Tracey is a great motivational speaker too.  But that’s often the only thing some celebrities have going for them – the ability to look and sound good.

Today we live in the ‘plasticine’ era – we’ve all got feet of clay.  And the media are happy to expose our shortcomings.  Especially when we stand up for something, and raise our heads above the media parapet.

As leaders we can be flexible in our approaches, but our values and authenticity need to shine through.

But don’t mistake this collegiate approach with weak leadership.  Whether it’s a more collegial, a more coach-like, or more inclusive approach to leadership, engaging leadership draws on the power of the whole team – not one individual.

And it’s why a systematic approach to leadership development matters.  Building leadership on a foundation of consistently-observed behaviours that evoke high performance in the people around us is essential.

Leadership qualities build on our emotional intelligence too.  Which is why the Forton leadership programme combines emotionally-intelligent leadership styles and competencies, along with the high-performing behaviours.

So whether you need to develop your technical leaders to be more engaging, your sales-force to be more effective, or your managers to get their best out of your people –  and you want tangibly better leadership – get in touch. You’ll find us at +44 (0) 345 077 2980 option 1, or email