Shadowing: Your Surprise Secret Weapon for Leadership Success

 17th October 2017 by gihan

Help your team members step up by letting them “shadow” you in your job. This shows them how you spend your day, what you do, how you do it, what problems you face, and how you manage difficult situations. It also gives them the chance to ask relevant questions, which helps you understand and assess their current knowledge.

One of the biggest benefits of shadowing is that the learning is highly relevant. Your team member learns from real situations, they learn directly from you, they are exposed to complex situations in a safe way, and they only ask questions to fill a knowledge gap.

However, if you’re not careful, it’s easy for this learning environment to be too informal, where you both just go through the motions without any real learning. This usually doesn’t happen intentionally; it’s just the natural consequence of a busy working life.

To prevent this problem, add some structure to the shadowing process, to hold you both accountable to the learning process. One of the easiest and most effective tools for this is debriefing.

A debrief is simply a structured review of an event. Debriefing is common in some industries – for example, an airline flight crew debriefing after a flight or a hospital operating theatre team debriefing after a complex operation. Even if you’re not flying a commercial aircraft or conducting open heart surgery, you can still get the benefits of debriefing, which has been shown to improve both individual and team performance .

For example, if you take your team member to a management meeting, you debrief them afterwards by discussing the content (what was discussed at the meeting) and the process (how the meeting was run).

Debriefing a team member shadowing you can be even more effective than a team debrief, because it’s a positive and open discussion (without the potential to be negative or critical, as can sometimes happen with team debriefing).

In his book Work Rules!, Google’s Senior Vice President of People Operations, Laszlo Bock, describes how a former manager used exactly this process to accelerate Bock’s experience. He and his manager, Frank Wagner, drove out to client meetings together and Wagner debriefed the meeting immediately afterwards on the drive back to the office. The debriefing was simply asking Bock questions like “What did you learn?” and “What do you want to try differently next time?”

Let’s look at the debriefing process using a specific example of you inviting a team member to accompany you to a management meeting.


Although we focus on the debrief, which is about what happens after the meeting, you can also brief your team member beforehand. This isn’t essential, but it can help in certain situations – for example, to explain the dynamics of a group, to suggest they observe something particularly carefully, or to alert them that you’re planning to call on them during the meeting.

Make it efficient

Ask them to take notes about what they observe and any questions they would like to ask you later. Resist the temptation to ask them to take your notes for you, because this is for their benefit, not for them to act as your personal assistant.

When the meeting is complete, make time for debriefing – and do it as soon as possible, while it’s fresh in your minds. If you leave it too long, you will only remember the most prominent things, and might forget something subtle but equally important.

Debrief process and content

Most discussion after a meeting tends to focus on the content (what was discussed). When debriefing, also make time to discuss the process (how the meeting was conducted). Your team member will learn from both, but will probably learn more from the process.

For example, in a management meeting about recruiting a new staff member:

  • The content might include the role requirements, salary, and headcount restrictions.
  • The process might include unspoken assumptions, hidden agendas, the chairperson’s role in managing the discussion, and the way people stated their opinions.

Discussing the content helps them understand that particular issue; discussing the process gives them a broader perspective about meeting dynamics, office politics, decision making, long-term strategy, budgets, and more.

Ask first

It’s tempting to treat debriefing as an opportunity for you to “share your greater wisdom” with your team member. However, you will gain more by asking first for their input and taking the time to listen. This encourages them to be assertive, allows them to express their ideas, lets you choose which issues to address, and helps you understand their level of understanding.

If you’re doing this for the first time with a team member, they might find it difficult to share their ideas. In that case, prompt them to share by asking questions. For example, you could use the What / So what / Now what structure, which goes like this:

  • What? What did they notice (for example, “Jamie looked nervous talking about the new person’s salary”)?
  • So what? Why do they think that happened (“Maybe her project is going to have a budget blow-out”)?
  • Now what? What could happen next, or what do they suggest as possible next steps (“Perhaps we should have a private conversation with her, because that could affect our budget as well”)?

Share your expertise

Your team member won’t always identify everything important, so it’s your responsibility to identify other things worth discussing. You can use the same What / So what / Now what structure to frame your thoughts.

Be prepared to justify what you say – and in fact, encourage your team member to ask “Why?” frequently. At first, this might sound like a small child repeatedly crying “But why?” However, it can be very useful for both of you (as long as you don’t end up saying “Because I said so – that’s why!”).

For example, if it was you who suggested the private conversation with Jamie, your team member could ask “Why?” to understand:


You: “Because it’s better to know about her problem now than wait for next month’s meeting – which might be too late.”


You: “Because the next three weeks are critical for us, and we can’t afford any delays.”


You: “Because we need to send Paul the widget design by the 15th, and if that’s delayed, everything down the track is delayed, all the way up to the launch in November.”

By digging deeper using “Why” questions, the team member understands the real reasons behind your thinking.

Look forward

Another benefit of digging deeper with “Why” questions is that sometimes your team member suggests options you hadn’t considered. In fact, a very valuable feature of debriefing is that you get to “bounce your ideas” off somebody else, and the fact that it’s somebody less experienced doesn’t make the process any less valuable.

As your team members become more familiar with the process, you can – and should – ask for their advice as well. They will often contribute valuable ideas, opinions and perspectives.

Debrief the debrief

There is no ideal way to conduct a debrief, and different people will do it differently. For example, one team member might be happy to do it immediately after a meeting, while somebody else might prefer to reflect for an hour.

Start with whatever seems best for you, and later (when they become more familiar with the process) ask them for suggestions to improve the process.

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Is YOUR Business Safe from Disruption?

 12th October 2017 by gihan

Did you see the recent report from Seek and the NAB about which industries are growing the fastest in Australia? According to the report, four industries are leading the pack when it comes to increased employment and higher salaries:

  • Building and construction
  • Healthcare and social assistance
  • Education and training
  • Accommodation and food services

According to Tapas Strickland, senior economist at the NAB:

“Over the past year, these industries combined have been responsible for 91% of Australia’s employment growth despite only comprising 38% of total employment in the economy.”

But are those really a safe long-term bet?

If you’re working in these industries, you might feel reassured that they are growing and creating more opportunities. But don’t be complacent! Even in these fastest-growing industries, technology and automation are eroding the way work gets done.

Here are four examples – one from each of these industries …

1. Building and construction – a one-armed robot bricklayer

Did you think you should be a brickie, because we’ll always need houses, so you’ll never be out of a job? Think again.

It’s not even news anymore that 3D printers can “print” a house in hours. And now, Perth-based company Fastbrick Robotics is working on a robot bricklayer that can build a house in a day. The robot can lay 1,000 bricks an hour – five times as much as a good brickie on a good day.

2. Healthcare – AliveCor

If you have a heart condition, you used to need to go to a cardiologist or experienced GP for regular ECGs.

But now, there’s an app for that. AliveCor provides a small device you attach to your smartphone, and you can do an ECG yourself … instantly … and the results are sent wirelessly to a remote monitoring centre.

What’s more, it’s free, because the company knows the data they gather are more valuable than the money they could charge patients. In fact, they predict that in 10 years’ time, they will have enough data to be able to predict heart attacks and strokes before they occur.

3. Education and training – MOOCs

The traditional way of doing training is to get everybody to “down tools” and gather in a training room to attend a course.

But now online training is replacing much of the traditional training course – and it can do it better, faster, and in a more customised way. Large organisations like Accenture, Deloitte, Target and Ticketmaster have extensive in-house online training programs. But even if you don’t have their resources and budget, you can get access to high-quality online courses – free or for a small fee – through the hundreds of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).

4. Accommodation and food services

When we have robots doing all the work, we’ll have more leisure time, right? At least, that’s one theory, and one reason why leisure industries like accommodation and food might be seen as future-proof jobs and careers.

But not so fast! A company in Japan has already launched two hotels that are completely staffed by robots. The owners want to create “the most efficient hotel in the world”, and although it’s still not perfect, it’s a strong indication of a future trend.

So what does this all mean for YOU?

You might think of these examples as just small players in an industry, and you would be right. But disruption doesn’t happen overnight – it usually does start with small players. And if even the four fastest-growing industries in Australia are facing competition from these disruptive forces, what could this mean for your business?

The message is clear: Innovate! Don’t think disruption can’t happen to you, and don’t wait until somebody else shakes you up.

Stay Ahead of the Game

If you're a business leader or business owner who wants to stay ahead of the game and ensure growth and longevity for your business, join our Business Accelerators program. This program is designed to give you the fast track to innovation and change. Our goal is to help you accelerate your personal and business success through a proactive approach to disruption, innovation and strategic change.

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How to Lead From Anywhere

 10th October 2017 by gihan

The traditional workplace – an office with everybody working the same hours, at the same time, in the same place, and focussed on the same goals – is changing fast, but many leaders don’t know how to apply their leadership skills to these new environments. Leaders who understand the needs of their distributed teams members will increase productivity, retain the best talent, and achieve their personal and professional goals.

Listen To the Episode

The Fit for the Future Podcast brings you regular ideas, interviews and insights about how you, your teams and your organisation can become fit for the future.

More ways to engage with me:

Accelerate Your Business

 5th October 2017 by gihan

Many businesses slow down because they stop being nimble, agile and flexible. By leveraging the three pillars of innovative growth, you can accelerate your business growth to stay ahead of the game.

You can watch the recording here:

After the webinar, I asked participants “What was the most useful thing you learned today?” Here are some of their answers:

“start before you are ready”

“Jugaad innovation”

“Suppose I had LESS resources. Would I make a different, better decision?’ I will be thinking of you.”

“A new approach to thinking about this”

The Future Proof Webinar Series

The Future Proof webinar series will keep you in touch with our future - what's ahead, what it means for us, and how to stay ahead of the game.

In each webinar, I'll cover an important topic about the future - for example, the shift of power to Asia, the changing workplace, healthcare technology, the shift to customer-centric business, big data, and more. This is not just theory; I'll also give you practical examples and ideas for you to future-proof your organisation, teams, and career.

Register here

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Google Has Diluted the Value of Your Expertise

 2nd October 2017 by gihan

What would happen if your specialised expertise and knowledge – that clients and customers value highly – was available to everybody instantly and at a fraction of the cost? That disruption is happening right now, across a range of industries.

Involve Your Customers and Clients In Your Marketing

 27th September 2017 by gihan

How well do you involve your clients and customers in your business processes? In a social, mobile, and global world, they have more power than ever to boost your business. Here’s one way to involve them in your marketing, so you get more customers – and a higher quality of customer.

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The Busy Leader’s Guide to Building Skills Fast: Break Down the Walls

 19th September 2017 by gihan

In a research study reported in the Harvard Business Review, chefs in a restaurant made tastier food when they could see their customers. This wasn’t because the chefs felt like they were being watched (because the same result occurred when the customers couldn’t see the chefs), but because they could see how their product would be used. Just seeing their customers gave them a more personal connection and a more meaningful role, and that translated into a better product.

Can you do the same with the people in your team? It’s not very inspiring if they beaver away in isolation, day after day, and never see the way the customers use what they produce. Look for ways to let them step outside their own little work bubble and see what’s going on around them.

Here are some ways to show them what’s happening elsewhere in the organisation and also what’s happening outside it.

Step into a co-worker’s shoes

As a leader, you can see how each person’s work fits into the overall project, but it’s not so easy for the people doing the work itself. Give them the chance to understand what other people in the organisation do, especially those directly connected to them. You can do this through informal job-swapping, letting them shadow somebody else for a day, or inviting co-workers to give a short presentation about their job.

For example, if you lead a sales team and rely on leads from the marketing team, invite a marketing person to make a short presentation to your team. Similarly, if you’re the marketing manager, send your people on sales calls with the salespeople who receive your leads. This process not only brings the two teams closely together, it also means they might identify ways to improve the process.

Show them some real customers

Bring your team members closer to customers, even just to observe them. According to one study from Harvard, chefs make tastier food when they can see their customers. This is not because the chefs feel like they are being watched (the same result occurred when the customers couldn’t see the chefs), but because they could see how their product would be used.

This is valuable even for people in a support role – such as finance, administration or human resources – so they can see how their work contributes to the value your organisation offers.

This helps people understand how their work is meaningful and lets smart people suggest improvements.

Show them how their work has meaning

If you can’t expose them to real customers, find other ways to demonstrate that their work has meaning, either to others in the organisation or to external stakeholders. People are motivated by knowing how their work plays a role in delivering an important service or creating a valuable product.

Highlight something to be proud of

If meaning is about their internal motivation to do a good job, pride is about something your organisation does that they can boast about to others.

Your organisation might be the biggest, smallest, oldest, youngest, fastest, brightest, or better in some other way. It might pride itself on its remuneration, working conditions, management structure, social conscience, mentoring programs, paid parental leave, or something similar.

Even if your team members aren’t working in areas directly related to these features, they can still take pride in being part of an organisation that supports them.

Take away resources

Sometimes the best way to encourage cooperation is to remove resources rather than adding them. For example, a lunch room that’s shared with other teams might spark more interesting conversations than a private lunch room for your team.

However, be careful of the unintended consequences of your actions. Removing the lunch room might encourage people to eat lunch at their desk instead – and that defeats the purpose (as well as reducing productivity).

People also tend to resent losing resources. Rather than actually taking resources away, you might apply this principle by simply not adding new resources.

Use the hierarchy

An important part of your role as a leader is to bypass the hierarchy in order to get things done, but the organisational hierarchy can be useful if you use it to your advantage. Avoid the hierarchy if it causes friction (that’s called bureaucracy), but use it if it facilitates your goals.

For example, if the CEO has publicly stated her commitment to collaboration, you can quote her when asking your peers about job swapping, creating a mastermind group, or any other initiative you want to implement.

What are YOU doing to break down the walls for your team?

Don’t wait until “we’re not so busy” to put these ideas into action. There will never be a perfect time, so make time for these ideas in your regular work days. Most of them don’t take much extra effort, but they can make a big difference to your team’s motivation and engagement.

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How to Lead From Everywhere – Free Webinar Next Week

 14th September 2017 by gihan

The workplace – and what employees want from it – has changed over the years. The standard workplace of the past was an office with everybody working the same hours, at the same time, in the same place, focussed on the same goals. Modern workplaces are different, with distributed teams working from different places, in different time zones, and with different motivation. Leaders who understand the needs of their distributed teams members will increase productivity, retain the best talent, and achieve their personal and professional goals.

Join Gihan Perera, futurist and author of “The Future of Leadership”, as he shares the key principles for nurturing talent in a distributed team.

In this live, interactive webinar, you will learn how to:

  • Build a team culture, even when team members don’t work in the same office
  • Increase productivity and collaboration in your distributed team
  • Align everybody’s personal and professional goals
  • Involve remote team members fully in day-to-day operations

When: Tuesday 19th September 2017, 11am BST (U.K.), 6pm Perth, 8pm Sydney/Melbourne

Register Now

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