Uncategorized - Symposium Learning

June 2, 2021

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The book is perfect for those interested in learning about Situational Leadership without having to address extensive Occupational Psychology theories and data.

Written as a dialogue that reminds of the Socratic method, Dr. Paul Hersey characters are modelled on “two giants in the field – Frederick W. Taylor, the father of scientific management (Task Behaviour) and Carl Rogers, who opened new horizons in interpersonal relations (Relationship Behaviour)” – page 126

The key themes are addressed in the dialogue and further expanded in explanatory sub-chapters.

The model of Situational Leadership has been adopted since the late 1970s and, as the title suggest, leadership is not be intended as a fixed skillset that a manager and leader can apply. Leadership is the ability to modify and interpret the situation, more specifically the requirements and readiness of the followers, and adjust the management style accordingly. This flexibility is well explored in Chapter Four Selecting Appropriate styles –

Rogers: You got it…and, you know, after a while, I could predict that Taylor would treat me differently depending on the job we had to do, how much a knew about it, and how much I wanted to get it done. (page 54)

Of extreme value is the chapter that covers Performance problems and more specifically performance discipline. The basic suggestion is that the modern negative connotation of discipline as a corrective measure has evolve from what used to be a more positive and constructive use of the term disciple “A disciple is a learner” – page 114.

Time, an essential factor in performance and management must allow for variation of circumstances, motivations as well as company goals. It is the role of the manager to evaluate correctly if there are events which can negatively impact performance.

“When people’s performance declines, the intervention needs to be made with a leadership style that is appropriate for their present readiness.” (page 115)

The model was first created by Dr. Paul Hersey in collaboration with Ken Blanchard and it was introduced as a “life cycle theory of leadership” in 1968. The two theorists subsequentially developed independent streams of the model. Dr. Paul Hersey founded the Centre for Leadership Studies which offers courses and certification to deep dive into the content and application of the Situational Leadership theory. Dr. Blanchard has also actively engaged with the model and created SLii© model and the Blanchard Training and Development Inc. (Companies).

Criticism of the theory are not address in this original volume, which in fact frames itself as presenting a model rather than a theory of Leadership “A model, on the other hand, is a pattern of already existing events which can be learned and therefore repeated”.


Dr. Paul Hersey

Wilson Learning Edition

Centre for Leadership Studies


127 pages

ISBN: 0446513423

Prologue and Post Prologue

The Story, the Background, The epilogue


June 2, 2021

Reading Time: 2 minutes

A. Montgomery is an awarded author, Harvard Business School Professor and Director in boards of two Fortune 500 companies. The content of the book is educated by her experience in running the Harvard’s Entrepreneur, Owner, President Program (EOP). Written with accessible language that uses minimal commercial jargon, the book clearly covers what set out in the contents outline: it explores what are the key responsibilities of a strategist and how to differentiate between strategizing and creating business models. Using approachable case studies such as IKEA, Gucci and Apple, Montgomery concludes the book by sharing an inspiring poem by Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day” (1992) which poses the question

“Tell me, what is it your plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?”

The aim is clearly outlined at the beginning of chapter 1: “My ultimate goal is not to ‘teach strategy’ but to equip and inspire you to be a strategist, a leader….” (p.5) The book is suitable as a bright read for a business owner, as an introduction to higher management responsibilities or for entrepreneur searching for inspiration while embarking in new ventures. It is not a workbook or a guidebook: it provides limited, but effective, diagrams and a very good FAQ appendix (which reminds of the usefulness of SWOT!).

Key points stressed throughout are

  • Leadership and strategy are inseparable (p.12)
  • Strategy is more than an aspiration (…) it’s a system of values (p.133)
  • Strategy can be a simple motto that translates the key purpose of the company: be unique
  • The strategist is not a super-manager: s/he employs a team key people with the correct specialisation and know how
  • Communications enables success

During the reading, Montgomery invites her audience to answer many questions, reformulated clearly on the final chapter (p.133)

  1. What does my organisation bring to the world?
  2. Does that difference matter?
  3. Is something about it scarce and difficult to imitate?
  4. Are we doing today what we need to do in order to matter tomorrow?

The Strategist has the responsibility towards its own firm as well as its own community; the purpose and values it brings and offers must be the most essential moments of considerations. The Strategist is responsible to define what a company is, what it exists to achieve. I recommend this book as a good introduction for Senior Managers to the concepts and mind-set that guide strategizing versus the more customary business planning approach.



Cynthia A. Montgomery

HarperCollins Publishers

(May 7, 2012)

208 page

ISBN: 9780062071019

Frequently asked Questions

Recommended Reading

Alphabetical Index

Available on Amazon



February 27, 2018

Reading Time: 2 minutes

5 Building Blocks to Harmony in the Workplace

CONSTITUTE your organisational tribe

Harmonious group dynamics and stimulating work relations are essential to the everyday life.

Motivational theories have demonstrated that financial return is not the only motivator drive organisational performance. Vast literature proposes an underlined theory of impact driven by shared purpose and vision and the desire to contribute to a culture, an objective, a tribe.

The organisation, its departments and teams epitomise modern tribal affiliations which can closely resemble familiar relation.

The entrance to the organisational ‘tribe’ occurs via selection completed by both the employer and the employee and here we outline 5 building blocks for any size organisation, or team to use to strengthen work relations.

(1) A Guiding Covenant

Rules of engagement and values shared by the teams and to which all can defer to.

Include simple and human rules of engagement such as: Freedom of ideas; Listening with the aim to understand not to respond; Courtesy and Respect and Ask for help.

A covenant will facilitate the on boarding of new people and reassure existing members of their individual values recognised by the organisational tribe.

(2) A Charter of Roles & Outcomes

Access to individual and team roles & objectives and encouragement to share challenge and success stories on achieving goals.

Understanding participation and recognition of contribution will enhance organisational cooperation towards achievement of business goals.

(3) A Communication Path Outline

Agreement on how projects updates are shared and via which medium.

Organisations information repository is essential and ease of access must be validated and reviewed.

Discuss Email policies as well as internal social media usage to ensure that there is an understanding and clear expectations on effective communication. Meetings, frequency and meeting rules be also agreed upon members.

 (4) The Decision-Making Framework

How decision will be brought to the group and which decisions will be open to proactive participation enables team to be prepared and alert.

The Framework aims to set clear expectations upon transparency and anticipate how affected parties can be involved in shaping decisions.

(5) The organisational Journey

Chart the last decade or last year of the business journey: the organisational tribe can see its stability or its transient nature.

Display your MILESTONES: each person will be able to recognise him/herself in the path and new employees can see how their role can fit in the overall organisational culture.


Employment allows the individual to participate and be part of a tribe.

Tribal behaviour is observable in organisations like Google, Facebook, Apple – the employee’s social life occurs within the periphery of the organisation.

Understanding group behaviours is also fundamental to small and medium organisations where more than 70% of Irish workforce is employed.

We recognise harmony in music when the totality of sound is pleasing to the ear. We know Harmony when we see it.

Harmony in the workplace follows the same aesthetic goals of pleasure and absence of strident noises that we find in nature. Harmony is not accidental – it is a durable entity built upon defined foundations.




February 12, 2018

Reading Time: 3 minutesIt came once a day when I found that process maps expressed better that which my mind was creating. Faster and larger in scope: the details within each cloud-shaped thought were bullet- pointed words carefully chosen to express concepts and complete ideas. My thoughts had become encapsulated in slogans. The minutia of tasks listing was no longer a boredom as quickly they resolved into milestones.

I then realised I was journeying my thinking from a tactically driven output to a strategically charged input.

Almost suddenly it was not enough to be given recognition of a well-completed project or brief. I craved the satisfaction to know how it would fit in the overall scheme of the larger project I knew it belonged to. The discovery that no master thinking, that no vision, that no world map may exist to welcome and house my projects generated great and painful dissatisfaction.

The journey from tactical to strategical had brought me to a cross-road of choice.

Tactical abilities are essential to the achievement of high-quality performance and care of the particular. Attention to tactical choices influences directly cost control, customer satisfaction and high product specifications. Tactical choices are, however, broadly defined by cruising plans, definition of destination and discriminatory result-outcomes.

When planning a banquet, the occasion will determine the menu and the menu will determine the recipes and preparation time. An attentive tactical execution within the parameters given by the occasion, which will inevitably include budget, will signify the quality of the banquet and the overall experience of the execution itself.

The questions that interest me are: is the journey from tactical to strategical automatic? Is it necessary and is it an actual journey of knowledge acquisition and discovery?

The relevance of the question aims to understand how career paths and, more crucially, career expectations can be generated, evaluated and managed. Career here can also be more loosely interpreted in terms of ‘life-span’ of a product, a project team as well as referring to a specific individual growth.

It can be observed that some professionals always initiate the conversation by drawing ‘the big picture’ and only after this can they move to the tactical aspects. One can also admit that same professionals are rarely occupied with the outcome or the larger setting where an item or a task might find its place.

At the same time, it is my experience and conclusion that sustainable strategical planning exists when a significant tactical apprenticeship and experience has occurred. Even there where talent for lateral thinking, for finding creative and imaginative solutions is available, the transformational of innovative ideas into tangible innovative outcomes only occurs when the creative mind has gained sufficient acumen on delivering high-quality projects and tasks.

The chef who is able to recognise the flavour and texture of a pea taken from a frozen bag from one freshly squired from a pod will successfully generate menus that will match and deliver on the banquet sense of occasion.

The journey from tactical to strategic seems therefore not to be automatic: there, where talent and interest are available, the path to sustainable and successful strategic planning is filled with restrain and patience. Often frustration might lead to a change of direction by the actor.

There, where enforcement of quality and attention to detail is prevalent, the move towards strategical thinking is to be encouraged, nurtured and occasionally imposed. It will require coaching and mentoring and external motivators.

This evaluation does not, however, make me doubt that the term journey appropriately applies and as such a sense of adventure and discovery will accompany those that commence it.

January 15, 2018

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Multi-tasking: Myth or Reality

Can multi-tasking decrease our performance?

We have 5 senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.
Those senses collect information from the external world and translate those into input and signals which allow us to generate thoughts, decision and actions.
As human beings, we are complex and legendary – and yes, there are plenty of things that we can do “at the same time”.
Consider walking: we move our legs into steps, we follow the road, we read directions, we hear noise and traffic: we can listen to music or have a conversation.
Consider eating: we can chew, smell and taste the food. We can walk while we eat. Some of us can drive while eating. We can even talk … (even thought my mother would say it was unpolite). Many of us watch TV while eating: we can therefore listen and watch two things “at the same time” – the food and the TV program.
It seems therefore that MULTI-TASKING is a reality: we are capable do involve our senses and bring knowledge to our mind on different tasks, simultaneously.

Health advisors, however, recognise that “mindless eating” is a cause for unhealthy overweight – we stimulate our brain with distracting information while we expect our stomach to deliver the message in time and inform our mind that it is satisfied – a brain who attention is taken by other sense.
The same considerations are applied to multi-tasking while driving: most countries today apply a heavy penalty system if you are caught driving and texting. The rational is that while we can perform more than one task simultaneously, we cannot give our ATTENTION to more than one thing at the same time.
We share our attention: we can shift it quickly between our fork and the TV screen, making sure that we eat the right food and while not missing a goal. We can change gear in our car, pick at the light and press that button that will open an email. But we cannot give attention do all 3 actions AT THE SAME TIME.
Our own language in fact informs us of this distinction: we can see or watch, hear or listen. The difference is in the attention.

Multi-tasking & Performance
It seems therefore valid that while we can “do” more than one thing at the same time – like listening to music while writing, it is not possible to give attention to the content of an email while talking on the phone.
We should therefore re-define “multi-tasking” when applied to a business environment.
Multi-tasking can be intended as: our ability to manage more than one project running at the same time by allocating the sufficient ATTENTION to all aspect of the projects sequentially and appropriately.
A working day may include maintenance of relations with colleague, of correspondence with clients, completion of assigned reports, review, production etc.
The number of projects which will be running successfully at the “same time” will very much depend on the individual ability to “switch” attention.
Some of us can regain the train of thoughts held in a specific conversation quite quickly – some of us have learned to use techniques like note taking to ensure that we have a repository of memory.
For some to “move” focus between two tasks comes more difficult – and the distraction, especially in certain jobs, can only be equated to a costly interruption.
It is not our ability to do more than one thing at the same time (eat and watch TV) that affects our performance: it is our ability to move our ATTENTION between tasks that will determine if we are successfully “multi-tasking”.

December 30, 2017

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Manager Tool Kit: Empathy at work

Why “walking in other people shoes” is not empathy.

Understanding the position and experience lived by others is a very complex skill.

Driven by our instinct to belong and desire to create shared-meanings we rely on generic interpersonal & communications skills in order to create a connection with a team member or a colleague.

As the person describes in words what is happening in their personal or professional life, we cannot help but to think how their experience compares with ours.   We search closely into our direct experience as finding a link can warrant understanding and comprehension.

In my experience empathy requires “emotional imagination”: the ability to imagine how we personally would feel and react if confronted by a specific situation.

However, this exercise, this thought experiment, may not create a valid understanding as the historical emotional make up which characterises us is different.

Scenario 1:

You have been appointed as new manager you an established team. Team Member M, who also applied for the role, is challenging directly your authority.

As a competent manager you would be looking to use “empathy” and try to understand the reality for the team member and define a suitable and appropriate ground of connection.

You would ask “How would I feel if I were to be passed over for a promotion?” “How would I feel if the new manager is my junior in experience?”

Just these 2 questions are asked in a moment when you, a newly appointed manager, are channelling confidence, strength and energy to engage with the new role.

Can we paraphrase and ask if a hungry lion is able to put himself in the shoe of a reindeer?

The 2 questions ask to compare experience of unsuccess and perceived ageism– two extremely personal experience which, when combined, can create a multitude of possible outcomes and life expectations.

Scenario 2:

A team member is having a private challenge and, during conversation, we might want to show support by saying “I know how you feel.” Often, we do this even if we do not have direct experience of the challenge, we are just “putting ourselves in the person shoe”.

But – can we really walk in 4 inc heels?

In reality, we might actually being denying the other person the right to express their personal point of view and story, as they would feel discouraged if they believe that they cannot add anything new to our knowledge of the world.

Scenario 3:

You are line manager of a Junior supervisor and your role is to coach him/her

The challenges s/he will face are quite “stereotypical” of the role: for example managing time-keeping.

Our own direct experience, in this case would be extremely useful and we could say “when I was in your place” as a way to guide and give practical examples on how to handle specific situations. But is the situation really similar or just comparable? Did you have a senior manager to guide you? Or how large was your team? Did you have the same level of management education that the junior supervisor has gained?

In all 3 scenarios, is impractical to attempt to imagine the exact combination of life experience, even when we have direct personal or professional experience, seems therefore to suggest that is is not possible to create a sense of true connection with a team member.

The great American Novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” suggests that

First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” (3.85-87)

I believe that this sense aims exactly how IMPOSSIBLE is to climb on somebody skin and walk around it and that empathy is the ability and emotional “awareness” to understand the differences with others rather than attempting to focus on limited and confusing similarities.

When confronting any of the above situation the right step towards an empathic connection is to open the conversation and allow the other person to give us information on “how they feel” as this experience is occurring to them, not to us.

Empathy occurs when we allow ourselves to consider and address those differences with the other and within our own world of differences local small and relevant point of connection, upon which a strong interpersonal relationship can be build.

For the Line manager coaching a junior supervisor the understanding of the difference is actually the crucial point: the learning is not on how we solve the specific challenge but how we have got to the conclusion, to the solution of the problem – which can be solved only by ensuring the team achieves a good attendance.

The learning preferences of the junior supervisor are key to his/her ability to succeed in communication with the team and with the line manager.

A counter – argument to the theory that empathy begins when we acknowledge the differences rather than the similiaries is when we are considering the effect that our actions might have on others.

How would a reindeer feel next to a lion? How would I feel if somebody would tell me “I know what you are going through” or “This is how to deal with this specific situation, I know because I have done it before you”.

To use another commonly used sentence we would say “treat others as you wish to be treated” – the well known golden rule.

The application of the golden rule is based upon the basic application of empathy and, correctly, relies upon the idea that, in most cases, we would not take a decision that would be harmful to ourselves. Similarities are here to be considered rather than differences.

In my opinion, however, to try to imagine how we would feel if we were to be treated in a specific way does not attempt to go far beyond our own direct knowledge and experience, as imagining to walk in other shoes. The thought experience is in fact based on “us” with all the knowledge we posses of our own preferences and experiences.

In summary, when taking decisions in management, I strive to adopt best judgement in considering the effects the decision or change might have on other, by considering my own preference first. I surely avoid to implement changes that I would not be able to cope with myself or that I would find morally and ethically questionable.

I wouldn’t however ask my decision-making process to stretch by including considerations regarding other interests as I would not be able to tally correctly and account for all the possible variation of experiences and expectations within a team.

Dublin, December 2017

November 27, 2017

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Many of us many have used either sentences “Making Decision” and “Taking Decision” interchangeably, without much thinking about the difference that underlines the decision process.

The difference is more than mere semantic: those translating from Italian, French and Spanish often struggle on when is the correct moment to use “Take” or “Make.” Like in the case for shower: in Italian we would say “I make my shower”, in French we would say “I take my shower” while in English it translates into “I have my shower”.

Making a decision includes the mental process of defining the problem, creating a list of all the possible solution and accordingly, present opportunities and options that best suit the problem resolution.

Taking a decision exclude the creative process of definition and solution ideation and focuses on the act to choose a solution instead of another.

As managers it is important that we correctly define what we want our team to do and provide the correct framework to allow the correct decision process to occur.

How often we ask a manager to return to us with a decision on a problem and they present us with a list of options when we infact were looking for a final choice between possibilities that are already clear in our mind?

Have you seen a team member “frozen”, unable to decide as s/he is not equipped in successfully engage in the creation process of making sound decisions, therefore analysing and weighing all the options?

As leaders is therefore important that we are clear on our language and ensure that our teams understand what we are asking.

Cultural diversity plays surely a role in the matter and it Is often connected with the ability to say “no” to a request and ask for clarifications.

When working with a team in Tangier, Morocco, it took me 3 meetings to catch up on the fact that a newly appointed Team Leader did not understand my English and my vocabulary. She was nodding along in the meetings and then asking her colleagues to translate all that was said in the meeting afterwards. I was able to detect the challenge only as I noticed that an email I receive with the completed assignment had an identical text used by another team leader. By reviewing back all her email communication it was clear she was not using “her own words”. When I addressed the issue discovered her challenge: she was learning English as well as learning how to do the job!

We tested all appointed Team Leaders by their colloquial English which was sufficient to hold generic conversations. It was however not developed enough to discuss matters like performance, reporting and management. By creating a specific glossary, which contained acronyms like KPIs and words like “management”, “leadership”, “coaching” “shadowing”, we overcome a significant linguistic challenge and at the same time opened a strong line of communication within the Management team.

“Be specific in your request” is one of the pillars of good management – and it includes clarifying the process that a team member or reporting leader needs to undertake to produce the results expected.

To ask for clarification is a difficult thing to do, as we do not want to be seen as incompetent or unable. Nevertheless, misunderstandings are easily created: using “take” and “make” without clarifying the intention behind it may cause challenges that can be easily addressed by being aware of how we use language.

September 27, 2017

Reading Time: 3 minutes

5 Communication Tools

Recently I joined a new venture and a key objective has been to be connected as quickly as possible. Within 24 hours I had access to core business applications, I established links with the entire team via over Skype & LinkedIn, set up a Slack Team to exchange with the Board.

Connected …. Anytime, Anywhere and about Anything.

Over the course of my career I have accumulated countless stories on how the use of the wrong communication tool affected performance, motivation and overall project success.

Reliance on applications like Same Time and Skype can create an expectation of immediate response to such an extent that missing a message or a delay in reply results in concerns over performance.  I have personally received updates on key business decisions in unplanned phone conversations during which I was not in suitable location to be able to engage appropriately in the conversation.

Poor communication is not limited to the technology used: abuse of face-to-face conversations may cause meeting*atis:  effectively slowing down the completion of daily tasks, bringing distractions and accumulation of unproductive times – we always go to get a coffee, take a break before meetings – and after we might linger in the corridors for a friendly catch up!

Technology tools support us in enhancing performance and speed. Here a short guide on how to use 5 communication technologies:

  1. VIDEO CALLS (Skype, Google Hangout)

PROS: it facilities distant conversations as it is possible to read body language and encourages attention by all involved. It does require learning of appropriate video behaviour like how to take turn to speak and an appropriate body language when on camera.

CONS: it is still a mediated conversation and it might not suitable for highly sensitive conversations regarding performance and behaviour in the workplace. Dependent on technology functioning well, to have a serious conversation with sound/video delays would challenge the most effective communicator.


PROS: extremely efficient tool for short conversations which require immediate answer/action. Any conversation that leads to a decisions should be summaries in an email, adding to the conversation other key contributors and potentially follow up with a call/meeting to validate findings.

CONS: not easy to use for long conversations. Complex thoughts are not easy to read as the txt format does not allow the eyes to identify clearly paragraphs and overall sentence tones.  Easy to get distracted and multi-task using other applications or having multiple conversations

  1. SLACK:

PROS: communication style is close to that of instant messaging with is the opportunity to have easy access to past conversations historical –  multigroup chats (teams) and makes it easy to share knowledge between different participants.

CONS: fast accumulation of content – easy to fall back on the reading. Trails of communication overlap when used in the “Team” mode.

  1. FACEBOOK at work (old Intranet)

PROS: creates an internal area of communication – like intranet which supports the communication of news and events. It encourages employees’ participation in the communication network.

CONS: like social media it can be distracting at work and replicate the culture of the long chats at the coffee machine. Team and users would require suitable training to be able to distinguish content that is relevant to the work team rather than using the tool as an internal exchange system.

  1. EMAIL:

PROS: email communication is now pervasive in our society as well as in business. Excellent tools for communicating content that requires some consideration and planning.

CONS: not useful for short communication – notifications like “can you please close the file as I need to access it” fills in the inbox unnecessarily and a Same Time conversation APP is best suited. Drafting email content is also to be carefully planned – do not fill the content of an email with information that should be contained on a more structured report.



The core to my learning rests on the principle that the WHAT determines the HOW:  we must carefully consider which piece of information is to be communicated, to whom and how the recipient is most likely to react.

To address any sort of performance concern other than in a direct and in person conversation will prove ineffective and demoralising.

The feedback giver must adjust tone of voice according to the reaction to the first words, to avoid challenges in listening or undesired resistance and confrontation. Immediate reading of body language (reactions) can only be done by experiencing each other body language, live and in an unmediated form.

Digital communication allows to bright the gap of time and space between co-workers. It should not, however, be used as a substitute to in-person interaction.

May 29, 2017

Reading Time: 2 minutes


The 19th of May was an exciting day for Symposium Learning. As we exhibited at the Momentum Summit 2017, organised by the Dublin Chambers at the AVIVA Stadium, “standing out” took on not only a figurative but also a literal meaning for us.

What makes you and your business stand out from the crowd? What is your Unique Value Proposition (UVP)? How can you tell your story in a way that others will listen to it in an overcrowded digital world?

These are just some of the intriguing questions that were raised during the day. Thinking back on the event, all the great conversations, interesting ideas and the buzz of our stand, still charges me. So, I decided to share with you some of the key components that I believe have contributed to our success.

Our colourful infographics and various handouts with experiential learning exercises have undoubtedly played an important part, together with providing the possibility for attendees to win interesting books. Our banner with the beautiful tree of Symposium Learning could be seen from far away.

However, the most important element that helped us stand out was less tangible and more subtle than that.

We truly came together as a team.

It started much earlier than of the actual event with careful planning and preparation. Thus, we arrived at the summit being crystal clear about our goals and how we were going to reach them.

On the day, our CEO was always active, striking up conversations wherever she went and driving more and more people to our Stand. We divided the tasks organically between the three of us, allowing ample time for each to gain new knowledge and inspiration, and exchange meaningful conversations, while at the same time always being mindful of our stand.

It could have been easy to get lost between the different locations for insightful sessions, masterclasses, networking and being an exhibitor at the same time. Not to mention lunch… However, harnessing the Power of Digital, we seamlessly managed our presence between various locations.

Without Symposium Learning truly coming together as a team, we would not have been able to stand out and close the day with such success.