Where a growing circle of business leaders comes to share, learn, and inspire organizations to put people first

Whirling Chief


Simon Marshall

"I am an optimist that sees possibility everywhere: I believe that every person is capable of leading meaningful, fulfilling and extraordinary lives. When we tap into this huge potential in people, magic happens. And when we extend this across organisations, we can create healthy, resilient cultures and unprecedented performance – and by connecting everyone together on this journey we can change the world of work."

Over the past 25 years, and across 35 countries on five continents, Simon Marshall has been dedicated to working with leaders who are committed to create the extraordinary, by unleashing the full potential of their people. He has designed and led over 50 world scale programs that have shifted the context and performance of major companies in many industries.

Simon is the author of Why-Based Organizational Development and WhyNot’s Leadership Curriculum, and has extensive experience in leadership development, cultural and organizational change, and executive coaching. His passion is most expressed by working closely with teams to design and create exciting futures for their organizations.

Leadership & Team Development

Nº 135

There are Only Two Things in this World…

Let’s make things really simple. Run with me on this one – there are only two things in this world, Context and Content.

Content, the stuff we do, the work we take on, how we do it, all the conversations we have, the things in our lives…

Context, the meaning we make of all of the above.

Quite often organisations, departments, colleagues or employees, indeed customers or the community – however we chose to describe them –  well actually they’re all just people, get drawn to focus on the Content – we get busy doing more stuff, after all it’s so tangible, (even addictive?) and it’s easy to measure…

…and we start to lose connection with the Context.

As we lose connection to the Context we start to lose connection to the meaning, the Why we do what we do on a daily basis.

And this gives us great access/opportunity. Quite often large shifts in groups of people in organisations can be achieved less by looking at the Content, (although that may be necessary) but more by redefining and reinvigorating the Context, the frame of reference within which people go about their work.

When people have more meaning for what it is they do each day, (and this connects with their personal values and beliefs) they can then choose themselves to do what is the right thing because they are connected to the bigger picture.

Then this leads us to the distinction we use about leadership and management. Management is about handling complexity, and there is a hell of a lot of complexity (content) that needs to be managed each day and that is the role of management, a hugely vital role. Leadership is about creating simplicity…

And that simplicity starts with a Why, because when people are very clear on the Why, the context or the bigger picture, they are better able to work out what is needed and how best to achieve it. And this is particularly important in Safety or any organisations where there is remote working or a distributed population – people who are working autonomously and may not be closely supervised. It is extremely important under these conditions that people have the simplicity of leadership – great clarity on the context, the Why, because they don’t always have someone to confer with (to remind them of the Why).  They have to make decisions themselves to do the right thing on the spot (in isolation).

And so quite often for any organisation, the great opportunity is to create that simplicity through great leadership – it is an opportunity to release the next level of performance. We have a choice as to where to intervene next, do we turn up the volume on the management side, i.e. more tools, systems, processes etc. or do we turn it up on the leadership side?  But here’s the important point – the more we lead, the greater the clarity of our cause, our belief, our higher purpose, our Why, the less we have to manage.

When we create the clarity of the Why we create a space into which people can step, and step up, which means that they can chose to relate differently to the content, what they do and who they do it for and relate to these things as ways to enable more of the Why.

So, this is where WhyNot tends to focus to release extraordinary potential/performance through people in organisations. Because most organisations that have been around a bit have got management cracked – if they didn’t have this sorted the organisation simply wouldn’t exist anymore.  So, the biggest potential we see is in the leadership/context space, getting reconnected at a very human level to why you do what it is you do and supporting/enabling people to see what it is they do as a full expression of that.

Magic happens when Content turns into Context

Let me illustrate this by an example. We were asked to ‘train’ one Police Service’s 600 Supervisors and Sergeants in the Police Code of Ethics. This was a nationally defined program and all well thought through and valuable content, but of course existed for people initially as just more stuff to do. With our client, we took a different approach to simply training this group of people, we discovered and formulated the Service’s Why, by engaging all of the population in the process, led by the senior team and then introduced Ethics as a choice everyone could make to better fulfil on their Why. This group of people took on owning the Ethics as the Context from which they would do their work, rather than something they had to do.  They then set up structures to discuss and learn what this meant for each individual and a sustainable and self-regulating process was established – ‘Police Ethics’ for people simple became who they are, and one way (a critical How) that enabled everyone to fulfil on their Why.  In this way, for this group of people, Content had become Context.



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  • 9 October 2017
Whirling Chief

Organizational Development

Nº 117

The Problem with Change…


There seems to be so much being published about ‘change’ in all management and leadership journals at the moment. Indeed, if you Google ‘change,’ you get 3.7m hits to study. And, as you look round the world (particularly in the world of politics), we seem to be voting for change. That is of course by definition, not what we currently have – even though we don’t know what it might bring or where it might lead us!

So let’s get back to a few fundamentals, and some very human principles.

Change has been a constant in our human experience, and how we’ve handled this is one of the main reasons why humans are the most successful species on this planet. (This point might, admittedly, be the subject of further discussion.)

Charles Darwin famously made this observation in the ‘Origin of the Species’ in 1809:

“It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

“Responsive to change.” That’s interesting. Darwin didn’t, for example, say the “best at it” or the “best to be able to predict it,” or even “the best equipped.” He was quite specific: “The most responsive to it.”

People often talk about how we as humans ‘resist change,’ so how does this fit with being most responsive to it? Especially when it’s so central to our evolution?

Well, we in WhyNot don’t actually believe that people resist change. We believe that people resist being changed…

“We don’t resist change, we resist being changed.”

If we feel like we have the freedom to choose, to be the authors of our own destiny (i.e., be responsive to the change, rather than have it forced upon us), we form a different relationship to it. In this way, we believe that the power of choice is such an important and underutilised human attribute in business today.

So, given this belief, how does it help us to think about positioning change inside our organisations?

Rather than trying to change people (as in the cartoon above), maybe our role as leaders is to create the vision, environment, and circumstances for people so that they then choose to change, and then provide the guidance and tools that are useful to enable them to best fulfill on that vision.

Often our clients are struggling with how to make change sustainable – long after the initiative, programme, or consultants have gone. And we answer by quoting Erick Fromm.[1]

“Ultimately, all sustainable change must come from within.

For change to be sustainable and, indeed, evolve further over time, it must ultimately come from within – within every single person inside the organisation. This is why, upfront, it is essential to spend some time engaging people in ‘Discovering their Why’ and contributing to the organisation’s Why Discovery,[2] and enabling them from that place to create a vivid picture of what they are all working towards. When we do this, everyone is acting as a change agent, working towards a future that they want to create because it matters to them.

Evoking leadership in this way in everyone, leadership to be part of something bigger than themselves, something that really matters to them is the kernel of sustainable change. When people start from this powerful place, change takes on a new meaning, and feels natural. We find that people are willing to take on new ways of working, step up and choose to follow procedures, choose to speak up, choose to intervene for themselves, and not because anyone else is trying to get them to do this. When this happens, people are a huge source of power, and they have infinite capability to change and take on new ways of working.

One client recently described this as ‘creating a wave of change.’ After discovering their Why and focusing this energy on their most pressing needs, new ideas and innovations emerged, teams were formed and, indeed, after due consideration, many of the current ways of working were challenged and changed.

For us, leadership is about simplicity, whereas management is about handling complexity. Leadership begins with understanding your Why and then taking a stand for something, based on Why – then it is about enrolling others to help bring that commitment into reality. It is also equally important to recognise that being a leader is a personal choice that anyone can make. Leadership is not a title role or position, but a burning desire to create a world that we are all proud to be part of. Leadership exists in everyone. Successful change starts with evoking leadership from a Why, from purpose, cause, or belief, and then letting motivation and inspiration arise naturally from this. Then, and only then, can this energy be channeled, by providing the methodology, tools, and development to allow breakthroughs to occur.

In this way, we hope that we can all become more responsive to change…

[1] Erik Fromm, social psychologist, psychoanalyst and humanistic philosopher

[2] A process by which the purpose, cause or belief is discovered and put into words and stories

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  • 29 May 2017
Whirling Chief

HR Management

Nº 98

Safety as an Enabler of Performance


The above photo is the iconic shot of 11 steel workers as they take a break, perched on what was to become the 69th floor of Rockefeller Center in 1932. This building’s construction, along with many other New York buildings, unfortunately claimed many peoples’ lives. This was the height of the Great Depression and most people were just grateful to have a job, albeit a dangerous one. “The pay was good. The thing was, you had to be willing to die,” said John Rasenberger, author of High Steel: The Daring Men Who Built the World’s Greatest Skyline.

This photo, as well as documenting this seminal building’s construction, is often used as a way for us to reflect on how attitudes towards safety have changed. These workers were hundreds of feet above the ground, not tied on, and with little consideration for their safety. The photo gives us some insight into what was considered ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’ at the time.

There is no doubt that our relationship to the safety of people at work has changed significantly since the 1930s. The way we build these type of buildings now is much safer, with the expectation that no one dies or even gets injured during their construction. Indeed, our relationship to, and definition of, safety at work has shifted in many other significant ways.

We have moved beyond safety being simply the absence of harm done to people. Today, we consider that Safety is one of humankind’s most fundamental concerns. In everything we undertake, we all hope to emerge on the other side intact and free from harm – and having learned something from the experience we can take into the next endeavour.

But physical safety is only one aspect of what we now understand by the phrase ‘Safety at Work,’ which now includes mental and emotional health, often described as Psychological Safety: We not only seek to do no harm to people who work with us, but we aim to send them home having developed in all aspects of their lives. Thus, through their experience of work, they are happier and as a result have better lives.

When we create such ‘safe places of work’ – safe in the broadest sense – it is not only good for the people who work for those organisations, but it is good for the organisation. Let me explain.

When we create ‘safe environments,’ environments that are free from fear, where people are able to bring their full selves to work, we see that trust and collaboration emerge. We know that where there is fear, for example, fear of losing one’s job, fear of the organisational hierarchy, fear of not being good enough, it is almost impossible for us to be creative or innovative as we are always holding something back. Physiologically, our bodies unconsciously shut down these ‘non-essential’ things and focus all of our energies on dealing with the threat, whether this is imagined or real. Conversely, if there is no fear and we feel supported, cared for, and loved, trust emerges, along with collaboration and a host of other positive things. When we bring our full selves to the work we do, we’re more engaged and connected with the work we’re doing and the environment we’re working in – and hence we’re safer.

I had the privilege at the end of last year to be shown around Google’s headquarters in Zurich. Google is one of the most innovative of companies and knows that they must create a ‘safe environment’ for their people – not just to attract and retain the best talent, but to enable them to do their best work. As you walk around, you are struck by the openness of the offices (yet people are working intimately in small teams), the flexible working hours, and the fun that they build into the work environment that simply results in people loving being ‘at work’.

These are all the physical parts of the office they provide. However, you are conscious of the care they show every member of their team, the fact that innovation is both encouraged, and indeed expected, even embedded in their culture. They use seed funding to promote and accelerate great new ideas, then rapidly create teams around these ideas. People are encouraged to work on whatever inspires them, and have fun doing it.

These are some of the ways that Google creates a safe environment for its people and, hence, encourages innovation and creativity. This is an example of how safety, in its broadest sense, has become an enabler of organisational performance.

When people feel safe, they bring their full genuine selves to work and thrive, and when they thrive, their organisation thrives. We call organisations that thrive Why-Based Organisations, and these organisations have four key attributes, over and above normal organisations.

To continue the conversation of how to start to create these type of organisations, we have produced a short three-part video series on steps to becoming a thriving organisation and would love for you to contribute to the conversation.

What is a Thriving Organisation?

How to Create a Thriving Organisation

Leading Thriving Organisations

As a final thought, when we consider our current relationship to safety in 2017, what will people in the future look back on and think? ‘Wow, I can’t believe they did that!’ or ‘I can’t believe their employees put up with that!’

And that leads me to one final question, that as a safety coach I constantly reflect on and struggle with:

What is it that we currently accept about ‘safety at work’ that we know deep in our hearts is really unacceptable?

WhyNot transform the nature of work? I’d love your thoughts.

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  • 27 March 2017
Whirling Chief

Organizational Development

Nº 87

What Does a Thriving Organisation Look Like?


We call organisations where people thrive Why-Based Organisations because, in order to do so, they have to be working on things that really matter to them. This is work that is connected to their Why – their ‘cause, purpose, or belief’ – as defined by Simon Sinek.



© Simon Sinek Inc

As a recap on the critical four attributes that Why-Based Organisations have over ‘normal’ organisations, please watch our recently posted video.

What a Why-Based Organisation looks and feels like

The below diagram explains how a Why-Based Organisation stands out over an ordinary organisation. The way to unleash performance in a Why-Based Organisation is by connecting everyone passionately, viscerally, and emotionally to the Why, and leading from that place. This will require leaders at all levels of the organisation to take on new ways of leading – themselves and others – and developing and practicing the necessary new skills. It will also necessitate the review and change of key processes, as well as ways of working (the critical ‘Hows’).


There are four foundational pillars of a Why-Based Organisation:

  1. Start With Why

Why-Based Organisations are clear and grounded in Purpose (Why), and this is a source of inspiration for clients, employees, and all stakeholders. All the greatest organisations and companies that endure over the long-term have a Why that goes beyond short-term production or economic goals.

  1. Engage Everyone

High engagement companies are more productive, profitable, safe; and they are the best places to work. Rather than relying on coercion to gain control over people, Why-Based Organisations create a healthy “family-like” environment where trust, integrity, and empowerment are both preached and practiced.

  1. Lead from the Heart

The one thing that makes a leader is having a follower. Followers admire leaders who care for them, not only as employees, but as people. As Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, says in his recent book, “Everybody Matters,” ‘Business can change the world if it takes responsibility for the lives entrusted to it.’

  1. Constantly Develop the Organisation

With purpose as a North Star, Why-Based Organisations constantly grow, develop, shift, and adapt to changing conditions in the marketplace. By focusing on people as the solution, the best companies unleash strengths and thus are able to overcome the most challenging circumstances.

Now if our aim is to create such an organisation, what are the implications on how we organise ourselves? An even better question is how do we determine what needs to change?

Well, this is interesting. Once we have our Why, and this is communicated clearly and effectively so that everyone has connected with it in a powerful and personal way, then it acts as a North Star for everything that occurs in and around that business. It provides a guide for decision making, as well as what policies and procedures should be in place. It is easy to look at all the organisation’s ‘Hows’ (e.g. strategy, values, plans, intellectual property, ways of working etc.) and ‘What’ it does (i.e. the products and services it offers to the outside world) and ask a couple of very profound questions:

  • ‘Do they all support us to fulfill on our Why?’
  • But even more challenging – ‘Do they all not just support us, but are they the best ways to fulfill on our Why?’
  • And the killer question – ‘Well if not, why are we doing them?’

We call this type of enquiry a Why Integrity Audit, to check that everything that is being done inside the organisation is in integrity with the purpose, cause, or belief of the organisation. From our experience, we find that some things need to be stopped, others reshaped, some accelerated, and some new things started – and with the guidance from the Why, these decisions become blatantly clear..

Take a moment to watch The Goosebumps Test

But here’s the real win when you do this for your team, department, or organisation: You get to manage less and lead more. So it’s more fun! You don’t need to check up on people so much, as they are more clear about what’s really important and in which direction we’re heading. What’s more, we find that decision making can be passed lower in the organisation – lower and closer to the action.

When we look at how we employ people at the moment, there is a lot of management and a lot of rules and policies. These do not seem to be sourced from enabling people to be the best they can be (i.e. leading them), but to ensure we all comply and follow rules (i.e. to manage us). Imagine what it would be like if we all knew the cause we were working towards; if we only invited people to join us who believed what we do and we designed our rules and policies to unleash them to do their lives’ work. What would that make possible?

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  • 13 February 2017
Whirling Chief

Leadership & Team Development

Nº 69

Leadership Starts with Knowing (and Loving) Yourself


Over my career I’ve met some brilliant leaders, some holding huge positions of authority inside big organisations and many who do not. However, they all have one thing in common: They really know themselves.

In our lives we all want to make the biggest difference we can – to leave a legacy, in an area that matters for us and makes a difference to other people. And therefore it would naturally seem that the place to start would be ‘out there,’ maybe learning how to ‘influence others.’ Well, from my experience this is not the place where great leaders start or indeed draw their energy from.

But firstly let me explain what I mean by leadership, and what I believe about leadership, because this word means many things to many people.


  • It’s not a title, role, or level – Some of the best leaders I have known have had little hierarchical status inside their organisation, but nonetheless have made a huge difference to the lives of others.
  • It’s about vision – Leaders create compelling visions of the future, describing what it could look like in the new world they see. Leaders communicate this vision in simple ways that enrol others – it touches, moves, and inspires people to join with them to bring this into reality.
  • It’s a choice – Leadership is available to everyone. It’s a choice to stand for what you believe in and to take action based on that. It often starts with that ‘nagging feeling’ inside you when things just don’t ‘feel right,’ that impels you to say or do something, when everyone around you is following the same, often well-trodden path. And it can often start with seemingly small things; however, often it is the small things that make a big difference.
  • To lead others, first you must learn to lead yourself – Leadership comes from your authentic self, from what matters most to you, which is your Why¹. This is the source of all leadership, and knowing this and being able to articulate it is the starting point for being a leader.

And finally and most importantly for me,

  • Leadership is about serving others – Leadership is never self-serving. Yes, it comes from your own Why, however it’s purpose is to provide something to improve the lives of others.

So given these 5 beliefs about leadership, and our experience of working with some great teams and individuals in business, we have developed the WhyNot Leadership Curriculum. Of course, this is just a high level framework to draw from and needs to be tailored to the specific challenges a team or individual is facing.


This framework provides a journey of self-discovery and learning, a journey to get to know oneself better and to develop new insights, thinking, and skills that enable us all to be a better representation of ourselves, for others.

The best way to start to read this is from the right to the left. To Lead Change, firstly you must be really proficient in Leading Others. To Lead Others, you must be really proficient in Leading Yourself.

And of course, leading yourself starts with understanding your Why – this is a hugely powerful source to draw from, and as the quote from my colleague Peter Docker reminds us, you are only really being yourself and hence being powerful when you are living a life in service of your Why.

The modules in the yellow boxes are simply ways to best engage in this journey.

Over the coming months Whirling Chief and WhyNot will be recording a series of videos on these modules. We will explore how anyone can engage with these topics and learn to lead breakthroughs in both the understanding of and application of leadership. Keep tuned, this is going to be fun!

Now if this was a bit too heavy, maybe you could be in need of a fun way to look at leadership – a way that illustrates most of the points in this article. This video might do the job… please though bear in mind that, I am sure, alcohol was involved in its production!
Dancing Guy

Watch for related videos from Whirling Chief/WhyNot in 2017!

1 Why – your cause, higher purpose or belief – as defined by Simon Sinek in one of the most watched TED talks ‘How Great Leaders Inspire Action’

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  • 23 November 2016
Whirling Chief

Leadership & Team Development

Nº 61

I wish I was Dory!


You see, Dory, one of the main characters in both Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, suffers from memory loss. She can’t even remember what she has just done. Whilst this is a seemingly big disadvantage, it has one huge advantage.

She is not encumbered by the past.

Actually, there’s really no such thing as ‘our past.’ All we have is our recollection of it. This is subconsciously informed by:

  • All the feelings we had at the time
  • All the points of view we held
  • All the points of view that everyone else held
  • What was said and what was not said
  • Linkages we made to all the things that we considered to be causes and outcomes

And we interpreted all of this and made meaning of it all – and that’s it, our past made up from all the meaning we made of all the things that either happened or didn’t happen to us. So we don’t really have a past, we have a memory of our interpretation of the past.

Now most of our interpretations of the past are useful. After all, we learnt as childen such things as boiling water burns us – this is useful to remember and helps us. However, some things are less useful, like when we find ourselves in a situation that reminds us of a bad thing that happened in the past. This then triggers us to either freeze or even avoid something now, even though in reality the two situations may be completely different.

So here’s the rub…when our ‘now,’ and hence our future, is informed solely by our past – however unconsciously – all we can get in the future is a more, better, or different version of our past. It is only by seeing our past as just that, something that happened in the past that we interpreted and have a memory of, and by being grateful for it, but not constrained by it, do we get access to fresh thinking, new possibilities and breakthrough results – results that are not constrained by the past.

In Finding Dory, half the action wouldn’t have happened if Dory had been afraid of taking the next steps in her adventure, because of fear based on her memory of the past. And it certainly wouldn’t have made the movie so much fun!

As I said at the beginning, I wish I was Dory.

So I often try and notice in my day-to-day life where I am ‘pulling back’ from situations, maybe not playing a full on game, because of fear, which can be triggered by my recollection of a similar situation in the past. When I notice this, I try to thank my memory for sharing and ‘push’ myself forward, just as Dory would. It is in these moments I think about a quote I like that is located just above my workspace…

‘What would you attempt to do if you knew you couldn’t fail?’

If you want to read more about putting your past in the past and learning how to access to new thinking and breakthrough results, for you or your organisation, you might be interested in:

When Incremental Change Provides Little Comfort

Oh, and I very much recommend the movie!

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  • 28 October 2016
Whirling Chief

Leadership & Team Development

Nº 56

Being a Leader and Attracting Followers


I recently came across this quote by John Quincy Adams, the 6th President of the United States (1825-1829). It reminded me that leadership is not a title, a role or a position; it is simply who you are being for others.

When I talk about leadership I ask the audience one simple question: If there is one thing that you need to be a leader, what is it?

I get many responses: purpose, vision, values, confidence, relationship building skills, even charisma – all good answers, but the one answer often missing is ‘a follower.’

Although the role of the follower is not often discussed, being a leader means that people choose to follow, not for the leader’s sake, but for themselves. This is because the world the leader describes is attractive to them, and because the example the leader sets shows them it is possible to achieve. People choose to follow leaders that inspire them to be more and accomplish things they would not accomplish on their own.

There are 6 things that I have learned about leadership over the course of working with some of the best leaders and best companies in the world in the last 25 years:

1) To lead others, first you must learn to lead yourself – leadership comes from your authentic self, from what matters most to you, which is your Why¹. This is the source of all leadership, and knowing this and being able to articulate it is the starting point for being a leader.

2) It’s a choice – leadership is available to everyone. It’s a choice to stand for what you believe and to take action based on that. Whatever your position in an organisation, it’s available to you.

3) It’s about going first – the choice is ours to go first with something, that we see others might not. This could be something seemingly small, yet might have a huge difference on others.

4) It’s about vision – leaders create compelling visions of the future, that describe what it could look like in this new world. Leaders communicate this vision in a way that enrols people, that touches, moves, and inspires them to join with them to bring this into reality.

5) Leadership is about serving others – leadership is never self-serving. Yes, it comes from your Why, but it is focused on providing something to improve the lives of others.

6) It’s not a title, role, or level – some of the best leaders I have known have had little hierarchical status inside their organisation, but nonetheless have been able to make a huge difference.

There is much talk about leadership, but one way to learn the most about it is to really look for when it is present. A simple test to find out if it’s present is to ask: Are people choosing to follow because they believe in the same things the leader does? If the answer is yes, we know that the first stage of leadership has begun.

It is also interesting to imagine how an organisation would operate without the rules and procedures and, most significantly, without organisational hierarchy; all of these exist mainly to compel people into action, i.e. to manage and not lead people. If these were removed, would people choose to follow the senior managers? Would they continue to operate using the rules and procedures? Would people see these as enablers of the organisation’s Why, or their own individual Why? – By the way, I am not advocating abandoning all these essential management processes, I am just using this enquiry to give better access to understanding the relative balance between management (compelling people into action) and leadership (impelling people into action.)

Leadership is thus about creating a future – a future that wouldn’t happen except for people saying it will and acting consistently with it in every moment. Leadership is about disrupting the norms, bringing into existence something that would not otherwise exist. Leadership is concerned not with what currently exists, but what’s possible for everyone and, as John Quincy Adams says, evoking leadership in others. Thus leadership is quite simple: it is about creating a clarity of Why, a vision of the future sourced from Why, and enrolling people in the journey. We call this ‘Moving Forward from the Future.’

And remember: you don’t get to decide if you’re a leader. Others do, and they choose for themselves to follow what you already believe.



¹ Why, your cause, purpose or belief, as first described by Simon Sinek in one of the most watched TED Talks.

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  • 17 October 2016
Whirling Chief

Leadership & Team Development

Nº 42

The No. 1 Differentiator of Thriving Organisations


By Simon Marshall

Editor’s Note: This post is the last of a four-part series describing the four foundational pillars of a Why-Based Organisations. In previous posts we discussed the following:

Start with Why, – if we Start with Why, people join us who believe what we believe.
Lead from the Heart – when we treat people like family, magic happens, and
How to Create a Wave of Change – by actively engaging everyone in service of our Why, we can release a wave of human potential.

Organisations that practice these four foundational pillars stand out over other organisations. Why-Based Organisations are special places, where trust, loyalty, collaboration, and integrity are the norm – and high performance is the outcome.

Why is Constantly Developing (the fourth pillar) so important?

In this world of increasing change, it is essential that organisations are able to meet the challenges of changing markets, economic environments, and customer needs and expectations. Businesses that can do this are much more sustainable over the long term and, as a result, are able to plan and execute their investments over a longer time period, creating greater certainty and structure for their people.

To be able to do this, they have honed their ability to learn from everything they do, be adaptable in their thinking and approach, and therefore become resilient. All of these attributes have been greatly discussed and there are many good books on each. However, it basically all boils down to this: thriving organisations have the ability to adapt to changing situations.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change”

Charles Darwin, 1809

When these attributes are not in place, there is great danger, as businesses become fixated on ‘what’ they do. When the world inevitably changes, so do their fortunes.

Take for example the story of the Swiss watch industry, an industry that had dominated quality timepieces. These timepieces had the reputation of being the most accurate in the world; if you wanted a quality watch, you bought a mechanical Swiss movement. There was nothing that kept time better.

Better, that is, until quartz technology was made available for wristwatches in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. To cut a long story short, because the Swiss watch industry seemed to be fixated by What they did (making mechanical timepieces), it largely ignored this new technology, even when directly offered it.

The Japanese and Americans took up this new technology and, between 1970 and 1988, Swiss watch employment fell from 90,000 to 28,000. It took over a decade of pain before this now significantly smaller Swiss watch industry started to embrace the new technology (in the shape of Swatch) and started to build back its world leading reputation.

Arguably, had the Swiss watch industry been sourced from their Why (to be at the leading edge of timekeeping and to constantly develop time keeping accuracy), rather than sourced from What they did (make exceptional mechanical timepieces), there might have been a different outcome with much less pain.

So what do you need to have in place to be able to Develop Constantly and not be fixated on What it is you do?

Well, in addition to many of the staples that ordinary organisations have in place, such as a clear strategy, a sound business model, great people, and efficient processes, we have noticed thriving organisations have five other attributes that enable them to Develop Constantly.

  1. A North Star in service of their Why They have a powerful connection to a vision of the future, which acts as the North Star for all decision making. This vision acts as a daily visceral connection to the future everyone is bringing into existence, and it is so powerful that everyone can ‘see’ their contribution inside of it. When the vision is so clear, so clearly articulated, and communicated, we say the organisation is ‘moving forward from the future.’
  2. Looking outside as well as inside – Organisations that are constantly developing are always looking outside for new ideas, trends, and what they can learn from others. It is only when they have done this can they look internally at how they are currently organised. The question they then ask themselves is: ‘Are we organised in the best way to deliver our Vision and fulfil on our Why?’ If there are areas where this is not the case, then action is taken. Note: this is completely different from simply looking internally and improving your internal process – no doubt that however efficient Swiss watchmakers in the 1980s were, it would have made little difference to their fortunes.
  3. Operating with no fear It is well known that humans cannot be creative or innovative, or indeed productive, if we are in a state of fear. Biologically and mentally, when fear kicks in, our bodies shut down non-essential functions and focus on survival – when in a work environment, we simply ‘keep our heads down.’ Organisations that Develop Constantly know this and create a safe environment where people feel secure, valued, and cared for, resulting in people being willing to admit when they don’t know something, try new things, and take risks. Failure is both encouraged and accepted, and is used as a precious source of learning.
  4. Embracing the Power of Relationships – Organisations that Develop Constantly understand the power of relationships. They understand the power of building trust, of relating to people for their full contribution, and building the sort of relationships that you would experience in a family – one of caring for and looking after every person in the team. As Bob Chapman says in Everybody Matters, “The more we combine work and caring, the more fulfilled we will be and the further we will collectively advance.” Inside Why-Based Organisations, honest feedback and coaching is sought and given, inside the mutual desire for everyone to improve.
  5. The Balance of Challenge and Support – These organisations have a healthy balance of challenge and support. Performance is expected and sought, and people take on challenging goals knowing they have a supportive environment and working in this way is going to be exciting, stretching, and fun!

Viktor E Frankl said, “Fear brings about that which one is afraid of.” Leaders of Why-Based Organisations know how to create safe environments for their people, releasing their full potential and enabling them to do their life’s work. When we all feel safe and connected to what’s important to us, we thrive. When we all thrive, our organisations thrive, being both high performing and adaptable.

WhyNot Partnering (www.whynotpartnering.com), is an organisation dedicated to transforming the nature of work, by creating Why-Based Organisations, where trust, loyalty, collaboration, and integrity are the norm – and high performance the outcome. To stay connected with us and to hear more about our work, follow us on LinkedIn.

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  • 14 September 2016
Whirling Chief

Leadership & Team Development

Nº 36

The Goosebumps1 Test


By Simon Marshall

(This post is part 1 of a four-part series which describe the foundational pillars of Why-Based Organisations)

You know those organisations that just seem to be on a special mission? The people there seem to exude possibility and commitment for what they’re doing. They are companies that inspire trust – among their employees, customers, and spectators alike. In my experience, these organisations are like that because they know their Why2.

In Simon Sinek’s 2009 TED Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” (one of the most watched TED Talks of all time), he explains the people and organisations that inspire action in others – and evoke trust, loyalty, and followership – think, act, and communicate in exactly the same way. And it’s the exact opposite of everyone else.  They think, act, and communicate starting with why.

We recently ran a Why Discovery Workshop for a mid-size retail bank that provides banking and credit facilities primarily for people who have not had credit before, or have lost it due to difficulties they have encountered in their lives. We worked with a group of their senior team, and a few carefully chosen other passionate people across the organisation, to help them discover those things that make them most proud, most fulfilled in the work they do. Then, we asked them how doing those things makes a difference to the lives of their customers. After staying with the dialogue for a while, their experience of and connection to a Why started to emerge.

They began to experience a sense of shared purpose.

Julie stood up and told a story about John, whom she had helped to prepare his application for a bank account and credit card. He had very recently gotten a job, but was still living in a rough part of town and had no permanent home.

To get regular accommodation, he needed a bank account and also a financial reference. But to get a bank account, he needed an address – a vicious cycle with no way out. Through some committed action from Julie, however, John got an account, and then a flat. She explained how she supported him to better manage his finances in a sustainable way as he began thriving in his new life.

She had tears in her eyes when she told this very touching story, which resonated with many people in the room. Then someone said, “You believed in John, and never gave up on him!” As people in the room listened to the story, many felt inspired, and some reported having goosebumps.

Suddenly things became very clear to this group.

The sense of purpose they shared was about believing in people, people who had been abandoned by others, and then helping them get access to the world of banking, credit, and finance, opportunities that most other people enjoy and take for granted.

We quickly paraphrased this into;

“We believe in people to enable them to have more choices in life.”

One of the group members stood up and said, “We need to change our website!”  She described the current online credit scoring part of the website where, after answering some basic questions, people could find out if they qualify for a credit card. If they did not, the software simple said, “Sorry, we are not able to offer you a credit card.”

She continued, “But if we believe in people, like Julie did, we should never say no to them.” This made so much sense, the group decided to change the website so that if someone did not meet the scoring criteria, the message simply said, “Sorry, not now,” and offered easy steps to take to improve the score, inviting them to apply again. Then, consistent with the new approach, the prompt added, “Then we’ll be delighted to give you a credit card.”

Someone else said, “Our advertising needs to change.” He went on to explain that currently this was all about features and benefits of their credit card’s terms and conditions over and above other providers – instantly a campaign was created with the working title, “We’re in your corner.”

Over the coming months, many things in this organisation were tested against their Why, and after some dialogue, ideas were accelerated if they fitted, reshaped if they were a bit off, or stopped if they did not fulfill the bank’s Why. Whenever I see the new adverts on TV I smile, remember the workshop and the profound relationship that this group of people generated to the very thing that bound them together, that had so effectively remained hidden and undiscovered in the day-to-day rush of “normal business activity.” I also know the work went much deeper than merely changing a slogan or a poster, but began a process that reworked the bank’s operations from top to bottom.

Like this bank, organisations that Start with Why are grounded in and are able to articulate their purpose, their Why, the very reason they exist, and the difference that they make to others. When purpose is deeply felt, at a personal and visceral level, it serves as a north star, and helps true up decisions, communications and, of course, branding and advertising. We believe that the best organisations of the future Start with Why, a higher purpose that goes beyond short-term profit or growth.

I learnt in that workshop one simple thing: You know you’re on the right track in discovering your Why when talking about it gives you goosebumps.

WhyNot Partnering (www.whynotpartnering.com), an organisation dedicated to transforming the nature of work, by creating Why-Based Organisations3., where trust, loyalty, collaboration, and integrity are the norm – and high performance the outcome. To stay connected with us and to hear more about our work, follow us on LinkedIn.


1small raised areas that appear on the skin because of cold, fear or EXCITEMENT
2Why – your purpose cause of belief, the very reason you exist and why anyone should care – (As defined by Simon Sinek in one of the most watched TED talks of all time) Watch TED talk link
3For further information on Why-Based Organisations, visit whynotpartnering.com

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  • 31 August 2016
Whirling Chief

Organizational Development

Nº 5

Leading from the Heart


By Simon Marshall

(Leading from the Heart is one of four foundational pillars of Why-Based Organizations. Look for future posts here at Whirling Chief, where I discuss the other three pillars.)

I’ve had the privilege to work with and to coach people who really do ‘Lead from the Heart.’ You know when you meet these people – they connect with you on a different and deeper level, and they are more interested in you as a person than anything you could do for them. In fact, they are often more interested in what they can do for you!

In my experience, these leaders come from all backgrounds, all sectors, and all levels in organisations. I can think of people who made me feel this way: The CEO of an oil company, a middle manager in banking/insurance, a nurse working in the NHS (National Health Service in England), and a police officer working our city streets. So what is it that binds them all together, that enables them to have a profound connection with everyone they meet, and seemingly inspire all those around them?

There are two fundamental aspects I have noticed:

Being your Why
Well, the first thing I’ve learned is that they Lead from the Heart of what matters. They are clear on their higher purpose – their Why1 – and think act and communicate starting from this place. It is this clarity of purpose that permeates through everything they say and do. In fact, the ‘saying’ and ‘doing’ is just confirmation of what they believe. This is contagious, inspiring and creates trust, loyalty, and followership, all aspects that form the bedrock of leadership.

Being authentic
Being authentic to who they are as a human being, and also as a person, is essential. To Lead from your Heart requires openness and vulnerability, acknowledging your shortcomings, and being comfortable in your own skin. People who lead from the heart have the courage to be this way, to acknowledge what it is to be human and to lead from this place. The courage to admit when they don’t know the answer, to ask others for help, and most importantly, to openly share with people how they are feeling.

To do this, these leaders have developed a strong relationship to:

Knowing themselves
The first part of being a leader is to be the leader of your own life. To lead yourself you need to know yourself, and this starts with knowing your Why. When you know your Why and are serving this, you are the leader of your life. This creates the foundation for being authentic in how you communicate and act.

Understanding being human
Being authentic requires us to acknowledge what it is to be human. Acknowledging the dance of love and fear that we all experience – that our mind is a survival mechanism and that we all want to make meaning of everything – is a start. But the real work is to acknowledge that we are all social animals that want to serve others and be loved and feel a sense of belonging.

Leading with your Heart often means going with your gut, what feels right – this isn’t your gut making decisions, but it is your limbic brain talking. And learning to listen to this very centre of our humanness is the start of understanding what it is to be human.

Relationship is the foundation
In business, the most enduringly successful organisations are led by those who actively focus time and effort on building relationship within their team, to their Why and to everyone’s true commitment to what they are at work on.

Importantly, relationship is as much about just being with people as it is about doing things. This may seem obvious, yet how often do we perceive that our senior managers feel remote?

Relationship is built at the water-cooler or over coffee as much as it is while engaged in day-to-day activity.

If your heart allows you to feel and discern the needs of others, then you can best communicate with them on their level, and in ways that they understand and can relate to.

One of the most generative things a leader can do is to constantly reinforce everyone’s connection to the Why by talking about it – it can set the environment for extraordinary things to occur. Consider Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela or Malala Yousafzai.

Spending time building relationship is never wasted. It’s the foundation for everything else.

The conclusions I have come to from knowing these inspiring people is this: They know their Why, they can articulate it well, and their lives are dedicated to bringing this into existence. Equally as important, though, is their love for people, their care for each and every person they meet. The more we can build caring into the work we do, the more we will all be able to progress. Caring is about understanding the profound affect our words and actions have on the lives of others and is a cornerstone of our humanness. Creating work that matters, engaging everyone in this process, and caring for those around you as family is key to Leading from your Heart.

Viktor Frankl wrote of the sources from which true happiness ensues: Doing work that matters, loving without condition, and growing from adversity. We must end the artificial separation between these essential aspects of our being and show up as a whole person in all that we do – leaders who Lead from the Heart know this.


Simon Marshall is co-founder of WhyNot Partnering (www.whynotpartnering.com), an organisation dedicated to transforming the nature of work, by creating Why-Based Organizations2, where trust loyalty, collaboration and integrity are the norm – and high performance the outcome.

1Why – your purpose cause of belief, the very reason you exist and why anyone should care – (As defined by Simon Sinek in one of the most watched TED talks of all time) Watch TED talk
2For further information on Why-Based Organisations, visit whynotpartnering.com

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  • 24 June 2016