Army AARYou may have read in the past that I spent about 6 weeks on exercise in Canada with my Regiment (described in my blog: “I Learned about leading from: that Rock Star”).  There is a very structured approach to the timetabling on such an exercise: the participants complete large live firing exercises and then undertake several mission sets during the TESEX (giant LaserQuest).  Each segment concludes with an After Action Review (AAR) during which they seek to learn lessons and then apply them during the next mission. It is a pressurised environment as at the end of the cycle, each Regiment receives a statement of technical competence and of their readiness to move onto mission specific training.  Who wants to be found wanting then?

We had completed the first mission and AAR cycle and at 0600hrs we moved out to begin our second mission set.  The first mission had been pretty good, plenty to learn but we were making appropriate progress.  Some 8 hours after the mission began, we were stuck, our combat power was dwindling fast and we ended up attacking an empty space.  This small pocket of “enemy” activity was meant to have been a sideshow, something that we would sweep aside by 0900hrs after which we would press on to the take main objective at last light and then defeat a counter attack the next morning.  It just wasn’t happening!  I asked my Second in Command to take over and then called my Commander and the Head of the Training Establishment and asked them to suspend training and conduct an AAR.  This was certainly unusual and given where we were in the training cycle and its proximity to earning our statement of competence, drawing attention to our failure might have been considered a high risk move. But for me, that was what AAR was all about:  we clearly had something to learn and 20 hours later would be too late.  They facilitated the AAR for us and I remember standing in front of my team before it started, telling them that I had called it and that I was hurting and confused because I didn’t understand why, in spite of our best efforts, we had had such a bad day: was it my plan, was it my decisions or direction during the “battle”, was it a lack of clarity or poor execution by the individual crews?  I wasn’t out to apportion blame, I was out to understand.

Did it pay off?  Well, we were much better over the next few days, received our statement of competence, deployed and had a successful operational tour and nobody sacked me!

In The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, Dan Coyle says:

“…being vulnerable together is the only way a team can become invulnerable.”

meeting circle 3AAR facilitates that invulnerability but sometimes you have to be courageous enough to call one and then be willing to be vulnerable when you have.  In my experience, it’s always worth it and its never as bad as it seems!  That AAR taught me much but most of all, how important it is that the leaders believe in it and act upon it.  Improving your team isn’t someone else’s responsibility, it is yours and AAR is a fantastic way to do it and by having somebody else to lead the AAR, you as the leader can continue to set the tone that encourages vulnerability, openness and honest engagement and also truly immerse yourself in the learning process.

If you want to know more about AAR, please contact one of the team at iTS-Leadership.

~Author: Tim Sandiford

iTS AAR: The Journey

AAR - The JourneyI was so pleased to hear that BD were Highly Commended at the PF awards for the way in which they have both embraced and embedded After Action Review (AAR) into their organisational learning and continuous improvement culture.

One of the reasons that I was so pleased was that the words After Action Review got me introduced to Antony and the team at iTS-Leadership and so the next chapter in my life journey began.

I love AAR.  I know its power and the energy that it generates and of course I am grateful for what it has done for me (now), in the past and for those that I have worked with.  It has saved lives on operations, made us more effective, protected us against complacency, allowed to respond to rapidly changing environments and so on.  In short, it has made us better.

I was a relatively junior officer when the AAR was introduced into the Army and for many years found myself in roles and appointments where I was charged with championing and embedding the concept and facilitating AARs.  When it was first introduced, AAR was regarded with uncertainty and suspicion based on a range of fears and insecurities.  Those fears revolved around concerns that those being subject to an AAR would be judged, would be subject to criticism and that leaders would be shown to be ineffective in front of their teams, that people would look bad and would be publicly criticised.  There was also a touch of arrogance in there based on a belief that we did not need a process to help us to learn lessons, we were all intelligent enough to identify them for ourselves!

AAR is not about blame or competence, it is about learning and becoming better

Army AARSuch fears and concerns are natural particularly when the concept of AAR seems to be linked with events that have gone wrong.  It has been both fascinating to watch and be part of the journey that has seen the Army collectively come to understand that those fears were unfounded, AAR is not about blame or competence, it is about learning and becoming better:  who doesn’t want a boss who has the humility and courage to learn with the team?  Over time, it has become truly embedded in the Army’s culture and to very great effect and now rather than trying to persuade people of the value of AAR, the challenge is facilitating AARs for all of the teams who want them during training events.  In his most recent book, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, Dan Coyle highlights how AAR allows US Special Forces SEAL Teams to work at the intensity and level that they do.

My biggest learning since joining iTS-Leadership has been to see how effective the approach is when applied to business teams.  The intent is the same but the delivery is different, borne of and reflecting the different cultures and the relative infancy of the concept with those teams but what is constant is the incredible shifts that it can bring. You would struggle to find an article or TED talk that doesn’t highlight that the most effective teams have continuous learning and improvement at their heart.  Traditional process-based learning committees, top down reviews and the like do not always deliver on that count because they often allow us to remain in our silo, hear what we want to hear, are based on hierarchy and do not challenge us appropriately. AAR does not fall foul of those traits and it truly enables some great learning at all levels as a result.

If you want to know more, please contact one of the team at iTS-Leadership.

~Author: Tim Sandiford

I learned about leading from: that walk!

On a recent trip to far away lands, I found myself with some daylight time to kill.  So without too much thought I took myself off in a car to a (reasonably) local tourist spot; the top of a very large hill named “Mount Erie”.  The top of this mount promised 360-degree views of the vicinity and I could drive almost to the top.  It sounded ideal.

Sadly, when I arrived, I was presented with two large signs in quick succession; the first said that the road “was not maintained for winter conditions” and the second that “the road is closed”.  Anyhow, being more than a tad stubborn, and having my mind set on seeing this great view, I parked my car and proceeded on foot……only to realise, soon enough, that my (office shoe) footwear was entirely inappropriate!!  Yes I could have not gone, yes I could have stuck purely to the (long and windy…) road….  But I love a bit of adventure so up the rustic paths I went.

views and shoesThe views at the top were simply breath-taking and well worth the journey.  The sun was in full bloom and soon to set and created the most amazing colours in all the nature around me.  Wonderful.  But then the journey back down as dusk set in was more than a tad precarious!!

All this got me reflecting on our leadership!!

  • How often do we carry through with a plan simply because our heart is set on it, rather than review all options first?
  • How often do we proceed with plans before we have checked that we (and our teams) are properly equipped, not just for now (boots would have been good!) but also for the understood future (a torch or headlamp would have been useful as the sun came down!)??
  • When do we ever get really clear on the personal and team benefits (WIIFM?) of success and articulate these to all (including ourselves)

Yes, the results can be amazing and exhilarating and extremely gratifying, but sometimes they can turn out disastrous and even destructive.

I did realise that in my leadership career I have followed similar “unplanned paths” several times before, and whilst they can generate some extra-ordinary results, they more often than not generate simply more of the same and/or mediocrity.  As leaders, our job is to guide people to the “above mediocre” place and watch them thrive and excel as individuals and as a cohesive team.

So, my challenge today is…

  • Which goal(s) are you unhealthily connected too?
  • Have you considered in which ways this may NOT happen, and what you will be doing about it?
  • Have you got your team to compile the necessary “equipment” for the task at hand and ensured they have each item to hand?

Looking back, I can see that several times I would have created a much more successful team result, simply by asking myself these simple questions and acting accordingly.  I can only urge you to try these things, play and learn!

After all, iTS Leadership!

~Author: Antony Tinker

I learned about leading from: That Head

salutingQuite early on in my career, I discovered that our Commanding Officer was known as “The Head”.  I thought that this nickname might reflect the authority of his position at the top of our organisation – the Headmaster or the Head Honcho, if you like – but over the next few months, the full nickname was revealed.  He was in fact known as “The Head in the Car”.  Each morning, he would walk from his front door, get into his official car, be driven to the front of the office building and he would go inside and disappear into his office until the end of the day, when the journey would be repeated in reverse.  On both journeys, his car would pass through the security barriers where the duty personnel would open the gate, salute and close it behind him.  All they ever saw was “the Head in the car”.  They even began to speculate that what they were seeing was actually a robotic head on a stick that was there to spoof us, and that we were in fact being controlled by some form of artificial intelligence network (this was the time of the first Terminator film).

A few months later, we were called to the parade ground to wait for an announcement from the Commanding Officer.  We formed a hollow square and The Head appeared from the office block to explain to us that we would soon be hosting a VVIP visit and as a result our planned summer leave might well be disrupted.  As he finished speaking, a voice was heard to say in a loud stage whisper “I know who the VVIP is but who the hell is that?”.  How we laughed, particularly as the miscreant was marched off to the Regimental Sergeant Major’s office to have a one-way conversation about talking on parade!

Although recalling that moment still makes me smile, another does not.  Several months later after a long exercise overseas, The Head did not take the gilt-edged opportunity that had been presented to him to say “Well done” to those who had just been away from home and working exceptionally hard for over a month solid.  He just told us over the radio net to “go back to your business”.  This time there was no stage whisper but rather an angry and frankly insubordinate response which attracted laughter and applause.  The equivalent of an angry media post receiving several hundred likes.  As a team, we were now only working to satisfy our individual motivations and pride, we were not in a place where we would have willingly gone the extra mile.

Man giving lecture in computer classThe Head taught me a valuable lesson and one that I tried to apply from that point on in my career.  Be visible and more than that, be connected.  I have always tried to incorporate “wandering about” into my leadership style.  Wandering about is not programmed visits to sites and offices where your team will have prepared presentations for you and be ready to pass their messages, report against KPI’s, etc; it is just wandering about, talking about football, weather, weekend plans, anything that is authentically engaging and it is there that you will really be able to gauge the health of your organisation.  You will hear alternative points of view, you will hear opinion that has not been shaped (intentionally or unintentionally) by your most recent comment, you will discover whether or not your intent and master message has really been heard, you will discover the fears and concerns that do not routinely get to your office and most of all you will enjoy some human interaction and almost certainly have a right laugh.  You will return to your office with a smile on your face and feeling more grounded.

I believe that this connection is becoming even more important as our diaries get filled with more and more process, more and more remote working and seemingly less time. Even though I tried hard to be a good wanderer, I still wish that I had wandered about more because every time that I did, it paid me back in spades.

So this week, I dare you to get up and go walkabout with no agenda in mind and see what you learn.  If small talk doesn’t come naturally to you, just say “Good morning, how’s it all going?” and then sit down, smile and listen and see where it takes you.

After all, iTS Leadership!

Author: Tim Sandiford

I learned about leading from: That Train Journey!

train driver 2Something happened to me last week that, to my recollection, has never happened in my life before!  I was on an early morning train in to London and we were on the last couple miles of the journey, when the train came to a halt away from any station and the driver made the following announcement: “excuse me ladies and gentlemen, it appears we have been directed the wrong way and have been heading up the wrong track!  I am going to have to come through the train and get to the other end so that I can drive it back a couple of junctions and then head back on the right track.  Sorry for any inconvenience.”

The reaction in the train was very varied and quite fascinating to watch.  Some smiled and happily got on listening to their music, reading their paper or book, or watching their downloads on various sizes of digital screens.  Others sighed and tutted, looked at their watches several times, moaned to their mates and strangers, got redder in the face and clearly started stressing about something which was totally out of their control.

The next thing that happened was the drivers’ journey from one end of the train to the other.  Not usually a difficult path to tread, but this morning the usual 12 carriage train had been reduced to just 4 carriages.  As such, the train was packed.  Everywhere.  There really wasn’t a pathway to walk through, so everyone had to squeeze and jostle and cuddle up to strangers to allow the driver to get to the other end.  Of course, once he had driven the train backwards a couple of junctions, he then had to retrace his steps through the crowds, and although the mistake was not his fault, this did feel somewhat of a very public humiliation!

wrong wayAnyway, all this got me thinking…..how often, as leaders, does this happen to us?  I don’t know of one plan that has gone exactly the way it was written or intended, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan!  How often have we “been directed down the wrong track”?  …and when that happens, how quickly have we “stopped the train”, “announced the mistake” to others on our journey, and then walked through the team to explain what has happened and then “go back a few junctions” and start again?  As a leader I’m not too sure that I have always taken this course of action to be honest.  I have been more likely to try to save face and find the reason why the “track” I was now on was the right one and then tried to make that work.  Looking back, I can see that the better, perhaps more personally challenging option, may have been to retrace steps and “start again”.  I can see today, with hindsight, that such authenticity and humility could actually have been a strength and more likely to gel the team together.  Mistakes happen, they are often our best form of learning, but we have to be honest with the current situation and open to discuss and extract the learning, free from blame and recrimination.

So, my lessons….

  • Be clear on the path you’re meant to be on, to know quickly when you’ve been “directed down the wrong track”
  • Be calm and compassionate when telling others that a short retrace of steps is required
  • Lead from the front AND the back
  • Get back on the right track, together, as soon as you can

….after all, iTS Leadership!

~Author: Antony Tinker

What stops you from being a team? Your Smartphone habits?

I support Stoke City Football Club and I must admit it has been a challenging ride for the past 12 months.  We seemed to lose our direction, were rather shambolic on more than one occasion and appeared to lack heart and togetherness.  The run of poor results led to a change of manager and suddenly the mood has changed.  During their 2-0 win over Huddersfield last weekend, the team ran hard, tried things and seemed to be more determined.  This morning, Sky Sports ran a short piece on the Paul Lambert’s return to Premier League management and visited him at the club’s training ground.  One of the instructions he has given is that all squad members will eat together after training and that there will be no mobile phones in the dining room.  The aim is to encourage the players to use the time to reflect on the sessions that they have just had and to get to know each other.

I was delighted to hear that because in so doing, he is addressing two of the things that are, in my opinion, the biggest impediments to team development and team working that exist in this modern world and I see them at play with almost every team that we coach.  The first is making time for each other.  Almost without fail, leadership teams that we talk to complain that it is difficult to find diary space to meet and that when they do arrange to meet, it is the first thing that they cut from the diary as pressure mounts.  More of that another time.

on phoneFar more damaging is how they act when they do get together and I have seen this trait in off-sites, team meetings, meals out and around the coffee point.  Almost without fail, when somebody is speaking, there is at least one team member looking at their smartphones.  Some do so openly and others kid themselves by placing the phone on the desk and then spend the whole day glancing at it every time an alert is displayed.  I would like to think that we would all agree that this is impolite at the very least but I’m not sure that we would because that behaviour seems to be so widespread and ingrained.

So let’s think about the messages that we could be sending when we act like this.  The first thing that we are saying is “I’m not interested in what you are saying.  The other stuff going on in my world is far more interesting than you”  If we have just spoken before, and then we dive into our phone, we could be interpreted as saying  “My position is right, your opinion doesn’t matter.” If we keep glancing at our textingphone they might feel we are yelling “Hurry up, I’m pretending to be interested but my world is more important” and most of all we risk giving the message: “I’m not really a member of this team.  My inward-looking world is more important.”  Most of these behaviours, whether we mean it or not, scream – “I don’t really respect you!”  Not many of those statements, nor the associated behaviours of not listening, demonstrating self-interest over the collective purpose, and being closed to other ideas are found in the list of characteristics of high performing teams. On the other hand, real listening, being open to others, being respectful and aligning with a collective purpose are the essence of true teamwork and high performance follows.

So, my challenge to you is to


and I mean


When you are in team meetings and one-to-one discussions and, if you see the phones distracting others, call it out; tell the other person how it makes you feel.  You will get so much more from those meetings if you do.  And remember, the example which others follow is almost always set by the team leader.

After all, iTS Leadership.

~Author: Tim Sandiford

I Learned about Leading from: That Phone Call

Several years ago (longer than I care to recall!), when I was first made a director and member of the country leadership team, I was driving along the M20 one day to attend a meeting of one of the teams that now reported in to me.  The fact is, to this day (over 15 years later) I can still tell you:-

  • Exactly where I was on the motorway (just approaching J.4)
  • What the weather was (blue skies, a couple of clouds, sunshine)
  • What I was wearing (white shirt with blue stripe and purple tie)
  • What the time was (just before 0945)

The reason for such clarity of memory, I guess, is down to the significant event that unfolded right there and then.  My phone rang!

nokia“Wow!” I hear you say…  “so what?!”  Well, I was about 1 week into my new role and it felt a significant step up.  I was now reporting into the GM for UK and Ireland, an individual who was extremely highly rated within the organisation.  I guess, to be honest, I was a bit in awe of him and a bit bewildered by my recent appointment.  It was his name that came up on the display of my gold Nokia mobile phone (you remember those, right?)

“Oh no!  What have I done?” “What does he want?”

The voice inside my head was loud and active and not too complimentary in his thoughts!  I answered anyway…

“Hey Antony!  How’s it going?”  His standard opening gambit at any time.  I answered, awkwardly, wondering what to say for the best.

“I just rang to say well done for your inputs over these last few days.  I was particularly impressed in yesterday’s LT meeting when you……….  Keep up this standard and I’d say you have a very bright future ahead.  Have a good day!”  …and with that, he simply rang off.

I was stunned.  I had never had a call like that before.  Especially from a boss!  No real questions, no requests, no “ifs” or “buts”.  Just a very powerful and timely positive acknowledgement.

I felt so amazing, so on top of the world….even the few clouds in the sky seemed to disappear!

Then my thoughts started in a different direction….”who could I have the same inspirational impact on?”  And with that I proceeded to call each one of my new direct reports and give a similar, personal and positive message.

By the end of the week, I was hearing that several of them had repeated the same with their teams!  Hey, maybe my bosses boss had called my boss earlier that day?  Who knows?

But this event taught me so much about inspirational leadership.

  • Just how motivating a personal positive message can be.
  • How simple it can be.
  • How impactful it is when you simply give it and promptly “walk away”.

I have used it many, many times since and encourage most of my mentees to do likewise.

The advice?

Be genuine.  Be positive.  Be gone!

After all, iTS Leadership!


I Learned about Leading From: That Video Conference

video conferenceI worked for an absolutely charming but rather disorganised boss for 2 years in a multinational office where I was his de facto chief of staff (although that was not in my job description or job title).  He appeared one day asking me to set up a video conference with a partner organisation which was in another country and different time zone.  He also declared that two others from our team should also be present at the VTC.  This was in the days before desktop VTC and Skype were commonplace and such a meeting involved considerable preparation and some expense.

Over the next two weeks, all three of us asked him what was the purpose of the meeting, what was the agenda and what did we need to do in preparation?  We had just asked 3 very busy people at the other end to attend but we couldn’t really articulate why we needed them to be present.  The answer that we received was “It’s about time we had one to catch up” and we could get no further direction.  We explained patiently that we were in regular contact with them, that all of our obligations in both directions were being met and that at our level, there was no need for the VTC to take place.  He persisted and it was duly arranged.

blameWhen the time came, it was a deeply unsatisfactory event.  My boss was late, I had to offer apologies on his behalf and endure the open and obvious annoyance that was being directed at us by 3 senior staff members in our partner organisation.  Once he had arrived, it was clear that there was little of substance to be discussed and we had done little more than just disrupt their already full working day for limited, if any, reward.  This realisation dawned on my boss and later that afternoon he asked me to check a letter that he had written to his opposite number on the other end of the VTC in which he attempted to identify some action points and outcomes and then apologised for the limited value and the disruption stating “that he had been rather let down by his staff who had failed to adequately prepare him or themselves for this meeting.”!  That was the day that he lost us, the same staff who regularly worked late, had their days and even weekends disrupted to cover for his poor organisational skills and who endured the annoyance of others when he was late or had the wrong presentation with him.  I still liked him because he was a nice man but I was deeply hurt by the way in which he failed to take responsibility for his own actions and blamed me and the other team members.

I learned that day that leading is about accountability and loyalty.  Don’t blame others when you fail and even if they have performed poorly, coach them, don’t blame them. Loyalty is a two-way street and you will get it back in spades if you selflessly show it to your team.

I don’t remember who he was quoting, but in “Winning”, Sir Clive Woodward declared:

“When things are going well look out of the window at those who are doing it, when things are going badly, look in the mirror.”

For me, that statement summed up a very worthwhile leadership behaviour pretty well and it is one that I have used to guide me.  Do you look in the mirror when things are going badly?  I do, after all, iT’S Leadership.

Author: Tim Sandiford


the greatest showmanThis weekend I went to the cinema to watch “The Greatest Showman” as so many had told be what an entertaining film it was.  I have to say I was quite surprised as I was not expecting the musical and dance spectacular it turned out to be!!  …and it was an entertaining viewing with many a valuable lesson in humanity.

As you probably know, I am a great fan of lyrics.  I often see them as modern-day poetry and so often with a valuable message within.  In one of the tracks in the film I was reminded of how we can all get carried away with our pursuit of “better things”.  It is all too easy for us to get caught on the treadmill of “bettering ourselves” through promotions and pay rises to attain more: get a bigger house, nicer car, better holidays etc. etc., but what happens in reality?  How often does the pursuit of these things take us further away from what actually makes us happy and what was the original inspiration for our “betterment journey”?

In the song “From Now On” in the film, the words are:

I drank champagne with kings and queens
The politicians praised my name
But those are someone else’s dreams
The pitfalls of the man I became
For years and years
I chased their cheers
The crazy speed of always needing more
But when I stop
And see you here
I remember who all this was for

In your life, who is it all for?  Do you know?  Do you ever think about it?

I have nothing against hard work nor the pursuit of better and greater things…those who know me well will acknowledge this!  But, my word of caution, to myself and to all is…never forget why you are doing this and who it is for, for once we do, we lose our soul, our authenticity and we are simply on the treadmill for the sake of being on the treadmill, like so many others.

My challenge – Take time to know yourself and your intent.  When the treadmill stops, what would you love others to be saying about you?

After all, iTS Leadership!

Author: Antony Tinker

I Learned about Leading from: That Rock Star

Patriot Warrior 2017

Tactical Engagement Simulation Exercise (TESEX)

In 2006, I was lucky enough to take a battlegroup to train in Canada.  It was a month-long field exercise and we were to spend about 12 days involved in a Tactical Engagement Simulation Exercise (or TESEX).  This is a live training event using lasers to simulate weapons effects and allows participants to play out their plans and practice their tactics, techniques and procedures in an adversarial setting.  Think of the biggest game of LaserQuest that you can imagine and you won’t be far off the mark!

Just before the exercise started, I explained to all of the team leaders what it was I wanted us to achieve, how we were to approach the exercise, and what particular characteristics and behaviours we should seek to develop in ourselves and our own teams. This was particularly important to me because we were due to deploy on operations within 4 months of this exercise ending. Amongst the things I listed were; mission focus, operating with clarity in chaotic situations, risk awareness, avoiding risk aversion, and having the determination to overcome obstacles, setbacks and challenges.  I then announced rather lightheartedly that we would declare the individual within the battlegroup who had best demonstrated the characteristics that we sought to be the “Battlegroup ‘Rock Star’”.  There was no long and involved nomination process, just a short verbal brief of who in their team deserved to recognition and why and we decided there and then.

We fought five mock battles and after each battle duly identified the member of the battlegroup who had displayed such determination, indomitable spirit, initiative and commitment.  Their name was announced to the leadership team with an instruction to inform their teams after each of the After Action Reviews and we then moved onto the next battle.  I thought nothing more of it.

Rock starOne of the recipients was a very popular and likeable soldier nicknamed Bagpuss, who had just kept on going and going in the face of all sorts of obstacles and was absolutely physically spent at the end of that particular mock battle.  Some five days later, at the end of the whole exercise, the Regimental Sergeant Major told me; “Bagpuss and his mates are absolutely over the moon that he was named as the Rock Star.”  We decided there and then to make more of the award than we had originally intended and got certificates made for each of the five, had them framed and then got the 650 men and women of the battlegroup on parade and presented the awards in front of them.

I learned again, that day, the importance of recognition, reward and rituals.  Naming a ‘Rock Star’ started out as a bit of fun but it soon became clear that it was a great vehicle through which we could celebrate and encourage the behaviours that we wanted to see. It allowed me to set the tone for the future and the parade gave me an opportunity to reinforce that message before we went on operations. It was a powerful source of motivation and a way to say thank you, and the recipients looked as if they felt 10 feet tall. It worked because their performance had truly earned it and our recognition was authentic and genuine.

In “Leading”, Sir Alex Ferguson stated that the two most powerful words in his armoury were “Well done”.  The Rock Star was exactly that, a public and genuine demonstrable “Well done”.  From then on, I always promoted people in front of their peers, ensured that all successes were celebrated and celebrated publicly and it became a ritual.

How much time do you spend identifying and then celebrating your ‘Rock Star’s’? Enough?

After all, iT’S Leadership!!

Author: Tim Sandiford