Leadership Challenges – Providing Clarity: What I Learned from Rudyard Kipling

Leadership Challenges – Providing Clarity: What I Learned from Rudyard Kipling

I have had the pleasure of working with many organisations, teams and individuals and what consistently shines through in those who are under performing is a lack of clarity and understanding of a) What the organisation/team are looking to achieve b) What is expected of them c) What behaviours, when exhibited, will bring success d) The benefits delivering that success to the customer, them, their team and the organisation.

Conversely, where I see individuals, teams and organisations performing, they are clear on what they want to achieve and why and talk about this at every opportunity, sharing their successes in delivering this and celebrating their performance.

It won’t come as a surprise to read that clarity is the starting point of many of the development programmes I deliver as without doubt, it is fundamental to the long term behavioural and performance change both I and my clients seek. The one thing I am asked for most from the teams I speak with when diagnosing how the leaders I work with can improve the motivation and performance of their teams is clarity.

Providing clarity is not without its challenges…

During the diagnosis phase of working with my leadership clients I interview members of their team and often find, and without judgement, that the team are not as clear on what their leader wants them to achieve as they might hope they’d be, and most importantly why. In addition, when I ask leaders to convey their vision, goals, strategy and tactics for getting there to me, they are often less clear than they realised they were or indeed want to be. Here, coaching is often the first step in helping the leader to obtain clarity for them.

Having led myself, I know only too well the challenges to delivering clarity; ones own clarity, a constantly moving feast, staff turnover, time and the need to repeat messages (See my article “Leadership: It’s About Waves Up The Beach”), let alone the speed with which the team understand what you are trying to achieve and why, yet I know from experience that it can be done and to great effect.

So how can leaders provide clarity? 6 lessons from Rudyard Kipling

I have delivered many workshops and coached numerous people on how to communicate effectively using influencing skills, language filters and through the use of identifying and communicating to individual and team drivers. Throughout all of the development work I have delivered however, the greatest tool in communicating with clarity and to obtaining consensus and motivation is probably the simplest. It’s an approach, in fact, that I learned early in my career from Rudyard Kipling.

Having been approached to act as a change consultant (9 month secondment) on the merger between Nationwide and Portman Building Societies, overseeing and supporting the implementation of the change plans for three areas of the country, I realised that whilst I had been succeeding in my role previous role, I had been doing this in spite of a lack of real clarity.This lack of clarity (unlike the clarity I was looking to provide through the changes taking place across the two merging organisations), had really caused quite a considerable amount of inner turmoil and it wasn’t until I saw the impact on those I was supporting through change that I became aware of its impact on me. I was sure that I could perform to an even greater degree and that there must be a simple way to ensure that I and the leaders I was working with provided the clarity their people needed. This was when I came across this Rudyard Kipling Quote: “I keep six honest serving men, (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When, And How and Where and Who.” You may have seen this before, indeed you may not, my question to you is ‘do you use it?’

Let me explain…

I’d never come across Rudyard’s quote before and both reading it and using it has had a profound effect on the success I have seen and the performance of those I’ve led, coached and trained. When I read it the first time, it was my eureka moment! I thought to myself, I can use these “…six honest serving men” to provide me with the clarity I need to truly perform as I know I can.

At the end of my secondment, I arranged a meeting with my then line manager, talked about how much I’d enjoyed my time in change consultancy and how pleased I was to be back and how much I was looking forward to performing for her. She was pleased and reciprocated and told me how much I’d been missed. This was my opportunity, to seek the clarity I really knew I needed. Nervous at first, I began …”This Year…” I said “What I’d really benefit from you is six things…”. “OK” she replied. I went on “What would really help me this year is if you could share with me six things, they are:

  1. What you would like me to achieve?
  2. When would you like me to achieve that?
  3. With whom?
  4. Where?
  5. How would you like me to achieve that?
  6. Why would you like me to achieve that and in the way you’ve described?

Wonderfully my line manager confirmed that she could, almost sharing a sigh of relief. What followed was an hour of utter joy and, most importantly, the clarity I, and in many ways she, needed. I was so relieved, so clear and so motivated to achieve it for her and for me. She commented on how useful the session had been and how she’d use that approach going forward whenever communicating what it was she wanted people to achieve and commit to.

What was the outcome of having clarity…

The year that followed was one of the most successful periods in my career and, in many ways, led to the greatest leaps in my development, laying the foundation for the success I see on a daily basis in those I work with and develop to do the same. During those 12 months, I led numerous business development strategies to success, took over and led a team of 44 sales people to achieve target for the first time in nearly two years in only 3 months, was recognised for inspiring my people and developed 3 senior management teams to deliver target for the first time in over a year and more. They are 12 months, combined with 12 years of leading, coaching and developing people to perform that have led to the increases in performance I have delivered for organisations including Nationwide Building Society, NFU Mutual, Debenhams, Birmingham City University, Santander, The Co-operative Bank and Age Concern.

My questions to you…

  • How would you rate the clarity you are providing for your organisation and team?
  • How would your team rate the clarity you are providing for them?
  • How could you use Rudyard Kipling’s “six honest serving men” to enhance the level of clarity you are providing?

I’m here to help…Listening to, Collaborating with and Advising Leaders…

If you or your or any member of your organisation would benefit from greater clarity or being able to provide greater clarity through coaching, give me a call today on 07736942382 or e-mail me at stefan@yourleadershipcounsel.co.uk I can help you and more importantly I would love to…

Thank you for reading


Example Testimonial – Here’s just one example of the results you can achieve when clarity is provided by leaders to their team through coaching and support.

“After Meeting Stefan it was his passion to understand the business and work with us as a partner…Stefan has been really valuable in guiding us as a company on our journey of cultural change, his passion to ensure we succeed as a company shines through…Thank you, we look forward to our continuing journey” Paul Hunt – Managing Director – Phoebus Software Ltd


Leadership Challenges: How to Motivate Your Team; Some of the most powerful things you can say to your team…

Leadership Challenges: How to Motivate Your Team; Some of the most powerful things you can say to your team…

Hello, how’s your day going?

So often I am asked, how do I motivate my team? In future blogs, I will describe in more detail what has motivated the teams I have worked with and lead to deliver massive uplifts in performance. In the meantime here is a starter for ’12’; some of the most powerful things to say to your team to motivate them to deliver the performance you desire:

  1. Thank you…
  2. Please…
  3. What do you want to achieve?
  4. What will achieving that do for you?
  5. How can I support you best?
  6. That was fantastic…
  7. How do you think we could solve this?
  8. You rock…
  9. I am really proud of you…
  10. I believe that you can do it…
  11. Shall we set some time aside to discuss that fully?
  12. I’ve made you a cup of tea…

Some questions for you to reflect upon:

  • How many times have you had the opportunity to say these things this week?
  • How many times have you said these things to your team this week?
  • What would be the impact if you increased the number of times you had said these things by 10 or 20?
  • What stopped you?

I’m here to help…Listening, Collaborating, Advising and Speaking…

If you or your or any member of your organisation find it a challenge to motivate and inspire your people, give me a call today on 07736942382 or e-mail me at stefan@yourleadershipcounsel.co.uk I can help you and more importantly I would love to…

Thank you for reading


Example Testimonial – Here’s just one example of the outcomes working with me through coaching and collaboration can achieve:

“Stefan helped us focus on our goal neutrally and objectively, could we have done this on our own, probably! Would we have done it probably not! A great comparison is a professional Golfer they are the best at what they do, however still need to identify the little habits that need to be improved on to either maintain or maximise their form. Great work, we look forward to working with you in the future”. Russell Hobson – Agent – NFU Mutual Chesterfield

Why do I do what I do? Leadership and My Purpose

Why do I do what I do? Leadership and My Purpose

Why do I do what I do, it’s a question I get asked nearly every other day. But why do I get asked it so much? I’m told it’s because of the passion, commitment, enthusiasm and dedication I bring to every piece of work I do and my desire to help leaders, business owners and their teams, no matter how challenging the situation. I’m told I’m motivational and inspiring and I often say that no matter how big the problem or challenge is, if we can get it on the table, I can fix it… but I guess I think I’m just me.

Stopping people from crying, led and brought success…

As a change consultant I spent 6 weeks stopping people from crying during a merger between two building societies, where overnight, employees of one organisation had to become seamless employees of the other. Queues forming along the length of the high street with teams not sure how they would cope; my job was to help them and I did….but why did I do it and how do I find the patience and strength to help others facing adversity?

I’ve led cultural change and national projects and taken charge of sales teams that haven’t performed for two years, de-motivated lost and with no purpose, and empowered managers who felt that nothing could be done to change things; at a loss for what to do and with no desire to be ‘helped. My objective was to help them achieve target, which I did, often within a few months and against all odds…but why do I do what I do, when the odds might be stacked against those I work with? …

I’ve worked with leaders, business owners and sales teams who have never performed to their true potential due to a lack of support from their own manager or due to a lack of some straight forward practical and trusted guidance or fear of change…something I see so often…but why do I do what I do, when those I work with appear in the first instance to not want to change and are mistrusting of the support I have been contracted in to provide?

I have worked with people who no one else has been able to ‘turn around’, opening myself up completely to them sharing my own hopes, fears and aspirations to ensure they feel comfortable to let me in, overcoming for example a 20 year barrier to performance. It’s an approach which has given flight to sleeping leaders, turned under performing teams into stars and given confidence where none could be found…an approach that has meant totally putting myself on the line…but why do I do what I do, when it leaves me open to challenge and the insecurities that can be felt when sharing ones own frailties?

Why do I do what I do, no matter the weather?

Why do I do what I do, no matter the weather? I’ll tell you. It’s because I understand what it’s like to be floating up stream without a paddle, without the knowledge, belief, confidence or skill needed to be able to achieve what you are being asked to do – without the environment you need to grow and be successful. It’s because I care about people and people performance, be it CEO’s and MD’s, Boards, Leaders, ‘Middle’ managers, front-line staff or indeed anyone who wants to do a great job, who for a multitude of reasons, feel they can’t.

It’s because I know what it’s like to feel a ‘failure’ and to feel unable to do your job.

My first management role…

When I was given my first management role looking after a team of 9 people, I felt equal parts trepidation and equal parts excitement. I wanted to be everything to the team, I wanted to generate an environment for growth, developing my team, supporting them and helping them to be what they wanted to be. I was promised support and mentoring from a line manager and the standard training that goes with the new line management responsibility. There was only one snag. The mentor who was due to look after me was called away to look after another team and with little or no mentoring, I quickly found that I was floundering under my own expectations and desire to ‘hit the ground running’.

The team I was managing seemed happy, my manager was happy and nothing I was doing was called into question, yet I felt that I was drowning under a sea of paper work, expectations and merely treading water. So, after 3 months, I made one of the hardest decisions of my life up to that point. I put my hand up and said I can’t do this, please can I go back to my old job – I was broken. Tail very much between my legs and with my confidence in tatters, I went back to my old role.

Getting my mojo back…

Over the course of the next 12 months I found again found my feet and my confidence grew. I got my mojo back and transformed the role I took over, finding a real love and enjoyment in developing my colleagues and making a difference to customers, recognising a natural ability to lead, develop and motivate my colleagues.

Towards the end of the 12 months I was recommended for a business development role, which I successfully applied for, finishing 2nd nationally in my first year for the volumes of business I’d achieved by influencing, developing and supporting over 18 retail outlets and over 300 managers and their teams to strive for and acquire business. I had proved to myself that I could do it, I could lead, develop and coach people; and generate an environment for growth – both human and business. It was this realisation, which led to me being recruited and developed as an internal Executive Performance Coach and in turn the successes I’ve already outlined above and to the opportunities through a variety of roles to develop people on a daily basis, be it through coaching, training or mentoring.

It was from the very moment that I put my hand up and said “I can’t do this”, that I found my purpose and decided that I would develop myself to help leaders, teams and individuals to be confident, skilled and knowledgeable in what they do. I would help them to support their colleagues and teams and I would help them to actually do their jobs and not just share with them text book answers that would leave them still lost in how to do what they needed to do. It was from that very moment, that I realised that I never wanted to let anyone feel the way I had felt in my first management role or indeed anyone feel unsure of how to lead, manage, sell, train or coach others when they are asked to. It’s why I still get up each day with passion enthusiasm and non judgement for helping others, and to generate an environment for growth, be it organisational change, leadership effectiveness, work life balance or helping leaders and their teams address confidence issues. No matter the challenge  faced, You’re your leadership counsel and I am here to help…

Since that moment…

Since that moment, I have been developing leaders and their teams to achieve the success I know they can through coaching, observation, feedback and training. And it’s since that moment; I’ve been focused on making a difference.

When I tell people why I do what I do, they often look at me in awe or shock, telling me that they are inspired by my story and that I seem to love every minute of what I do and that I really do care – and I do. Sometimes it’s hard, and no matter how good I can be at what I do and no matter how much of a difference I can make, sometimes what I do can be challenging. After all, you can lead a horse to water but even I can’t always make them drink. But, when things get tough and I am even tempted to think to myself – here we go again. I ask myself, why do you do what you do? And I remember it’s because I care deeply, for once I was in that position too and I know that it sometimes only takes small changes in the environment being provided by leaders that creates the change we wish to see. It’s that purpose and understanding, which keeps me focused and thinking ‘can do’ and which enables me to help others to overcome come the barriers they face to their success.

How does purpose drive you to achieve?

I’d love to hear from you, why you do what you do and how you use that sense of purpose and passion to help you achieve for yourself and others.

If you don’t feel that level of passion and commitment to what you do, leading organisations, your people or your business, I’d love to hear from you too. In fact I’d love to help you. Get in touch, you never know, why I do what I do, could help you to find and realise what it is you want to do and why or indeed help you to do what you do more effectively and with greater confidence.

Thanks for reading; I look forward to hearing from you


Director – Your Leadership Counsel (Trading as Pinion Performance Ltd)

Generating an environment for growth…

Let me know what you think by dropping a comment below, or by sending me an email at stefan@yourleadershipcounsel.co.uk

Twitter: @stefanpowell

Example Testimonial

Below is just one example of the results you can achieve when you ensure that you hold onto why you do what you do.

“Stefan is a very skilled and talented coach who is able to use a broad range of techniques to get to the heart of any issue. He has a very reassuring, confident and diplomatic manner that instantly builds trust and respect whilst remaining impartial. Having worked with him recently, I felt fully engaged and energised throughout, and he helped me to rationalise some complex business issues using multiple perspectives. A powerful and inspirational motivator – don’t hesitate to work with him!” Rav Bagri – National Commercial Sales Manager – Nationwide Building Society