The Try – with poetry by Cliff Morgan

“This is great stuff”
The ball tumbles on the grass
“Phil Bennett covering”
The fragile figure pulls it to his chest
“Chased by Alastair Scown”
The dancer vanishes from the giant’s grasp
“Brilliant…………..oh that’s brilliant”
Not once but twice
“John Williams…………Bryan Williams”
Another heartbeat missed
The ball slides from hand to hand
“John Dawes”
There’s no way through
“Great dummy”
Hairs bristle on the neck
“David……………Tom David”
His headlong rush defies all laws of nature
“The half-way line”
An arm extends around a black back
“Brilliant by Quinnell”
Who lifts it from his toes and stumbles
“This is Gareth Edwards!”
He steals it from the air
“A dramatic start!”
Head thrown back in godlike flight
“What a score!”
A dive forever in slow motion
“Oh that fellow Edwards”
Mortality held at arms length
“If the greatest writer of the written word
had written that then no-one would have believed him.”



with acknowledgements to Cliff Morgan
(Excerpts from Cliff Morgan’s commentary of the 1973 Barbarians versus The All Blacks by kind permission of the BBC.)


The Ceannas Index

The Ceannas Index – ceannas being the ancient Gaelic word for leadership – is a leadership diagnostic and planning tool.

The Ceannas Index is grounded in twenty years of leadership research and senior leadership experience. The Index uses a series of carefully constructed lenses on leadership that apply the power of metaphor to capture very complex concepts in a manner that is jargon free and immediately understandable.

The metaphors which cover the entire range of leadership characteristics are: the sculptor; the scientist; the builder, the gardener; the parent, the conductor; and, the villager.  Each of us will have elements of all of the above in our day-to-day behaviour and we will feel more comfortable in some of these modes than in others.  The metaphors that have been selected reflect a particular view of leadership, and one, which is focused upon enabling and supporting innovation and improvement.

The Index embraces an optimistic and appreciative view of people, as opposed to a deficit view that focuses on people’s weaknesses and deficiencies. It recognises that we are all different and that we bring our own strengths to any given situation that can complement the strengths of others.

The Ceannas Index is not to be confused with personality or psychometric tests. Instead, the Index is founded upon a belief that our leadership decision-making behaviour is less to do with our personality, and more to do with the default positions that we have unconsciously and automatically learned to adopt when faced with challenges.

By allowing the leader to consciously view such challenges from different perspectives, it frees them from their intuitive and automatic response to a situation. Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Laureate in economics, described this as the difference between thinking “fast” and “slow”, where “slow” thinking is conscious, rational and rule-based. By applying a “leadership decision framework”, the leader can begin to develop a more rational approach to leadership problems, while providing them with the building blocks with which to identify and implement powerful solutions.

The Index has two interconnected applications. The first application is as a leadership diagnostic questionnaire for individuals, teams and organisations. The questionnaire enables identification of the default leadership positions and provides a very detailed summary that has been found to be of real benefit to leaders and teams that work under pressure. Another difference between the Index and personality tests is that participants can repeat the questionnaire a number of times over months or years to discover if they have been able to consciously shift some of their own leadership behaviours.

The second application for the index is as a decision-making and planning tool.  All too often we set about tackling a problem in the same way that we have tackled similar problems in the past. The difficulty with such a approach is that our strategy is usually focused upon the creation and delivery of a ‘plan’ which has not taken account of our leadership behaviours.  By stopping and considering the problem through the lenses of the Ceannas Index we can begin to create strategies which are truly innovative and which are much more likely to succeed and generate economic, public or social value.

As part of on-going research and development 50 free leadership diagnostic licences are available for personal use – contact me at if you would like to take part.

Curiosity – do you use data; or does data use you?

Perhaps Rudyard Kipling summed up the notion of curiosity most succinctly when he wrote:

“I had six honest serving men. They taught me all I knew. Their names were: Where, What, When, Why, How and Who.”

Human beings have a drive – there’s some debate as to whether it’s an emotion or an  instinct, so I’ll stick with drive – to be ‘curious’ about our world; to wonder what it’s all about; to have a thirst for knowledge and understanding which goes beyond what we need to survive today, but is undoubtedly required to enable us to survive tomorrow.

In this article I want to try to understand what we mean by curiosity; explore the elements of curiosity; and finally attempt to understand the role of ‘intelligent leadership’ in supporting and enabling a ‘data-curious’ organisation.

Going back to medieval times curious people were regarded with great suspicion. Augustine, the early medieval theologian and philosopher, viewed curiosity as “vain inquisitiveness, dignified by the title that knowledge is science” and suggested that curious people “crave spectacle and a desire to be seen”.  People were supposed to know their place before god, and show humility rather than commit “the sin of pride that seeks to know things that are best left unknown”.

It’s a sad indictment on some schools that there seems exists a similar suspicion about those who show any curiosity or desire to better understand their world. Not as a consequence of any religious conviction but a suspicion that there must be some ulterior motive at work for anyone to seek to do anymore than is required to get the job done.

Yet curiosity has been the main impetus behind scientific discovery for centuries and millennia. A fact recognised by no less a person than Albert Einstein, who avowed, “Curiosity is more important than knowledge”.  Certainly the academic literature in this area would appear to confirm that there is a fundamental connection between curiosity, knowledge and discovery. With Lowenstein suggesting that, “Knowledge appears to prime the pump of curiosity”.

It is this fascinating connection between knowledge and curiosity that is at the heart of human development where – the more we know, the more we realise what we don’t know.

So how does curiosity manifest itself in modern organisations?

Does the phrase “data driven” mean anything to you? It’s this notion that an organisation must take account of the data when making decisions – particularly about the performance of the organisation or individuals.  However, the very phrase ‘data-driven’ gives the allusion of data being in the ‘driving seat’, where there exists a metrics powered approach to decision making, with the human element removed.

There is a real danger that a blind commitment to becoming  ‘data-led’ organisations leads us to make decisions that lack any reference to values, ethics, or reference to our acquired experience – or what we might better call human wisdom.

In this regard, there are two striking questions posed by T.S.Elliot, in his play The Rock, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? Unknown to Elliot he presaged the identification of what is alternatively known as the ‘wisdom hierarchy’ or ‘knowledge pyramid’. This purports to represent the relationship between Data (raw facts) at the bottom of the pyramid; to Information (meaningful data); to Knowledge (understanding of information); to Wisdom (judgement using reference to values and experience) at the top of the pyramid.

Rather than seeing organisations as being ‘data-driven’ we should, then, instead, see them as being “values driven’ where we ‘use data’, as opposed to ‘data using us’.

Yet at the other end of the spectrum there are those who have neither the inclination to look at data – nor the curiosity to better understand their practice or the world around them.

As ever, there is a balance to be struck, but the key ingredient in making an organisation effective lies with the behaviour of the leaders.

For it is the role of leaders to model ‘curiosity’ and to ‘carry’ the value system against which data is generated, interpreted and understood.

Perhaps Charles Handy captured this most eloquently when he identified curiosity as being one of the key ingredients of ‘intelligent leadership’.

For ‘intelligent leadership’ appears to be a key element in successful organisations, where the leader promotes and exemplifies a ‘curiosity-driven’ culture, whereby the seeking of answers is part of a longer term process of generating knowledge to become a school  that is continually learning, adapting and improving.

Accordingly, regardless of the amount of ‘data’ generated, the masses of ‘information’ accumulated, and the associated ‘knowledge’ that is gained – it is the application of wisdom that will differentiate between the long-term success and failure of ‘curiosity-driven’ schools.

‘Seven Sides’ to ‘The Ceannas Index’ – a journey

Twenty years ago I was doing some research into school leadership and asked a teacher to describe her school in a single metaphor. She did so as follows:

“This school is a woman lying in bed with a blanket that isn’t quite big enough to cover her. Every time she turns over a different part of her body sticks out from under the blanket.”

What was remarkable was that everyone else in the room immediately nodded their heads in agreement, for this was a school that no matter how it tried it always managed to leave some part of the school excluded or ignored.

It was from that moment that I became convinced of the power of metaphor to capture very complex concepts in a manner that is jargon free and immediately understandable.

However, the world of leadership theory fulfils neither of those two latter characteristics – for it is jargon laden and is often anything but understandable. And so it was that I set out on what has been a remarkably long and fascinating journey to research, test and develop a model of leadership based upon a series of inter-related metaphors, which would enable people to better understand their own leadership behaviour, the leadership behaviour of others, and the culture of their organisations.

The metaphors which have evolved over these years that cover the entire range of leadership characteristics are: the sculptor; the scientist; the builder, the gardener; the parent, the conductor; and, the villager.  Each of us will have elements of all of the above in our day-to-day behaviour and certainly we will feel more comfortable in some of these modes than in others.  The metaphors that have been selected reflect a particular view of leadership, and one, which is focused upon enabling and supporting innovation and improvement.

Emerging from the fields of behavioural finance, systems thinking and personal leadership experience, the model provides the leader with a ‘decision making framework’ with a variety of integrated perspectives – and in so doing reflects more accurately the practice of exceptional leaders.

The model adopts an optimistic and appreciative view of people, as opposed to a deficit view that focuses on people’s weaknesses and deficiencies. It recognises that we are all different and that we bring our own strengths to any given situation that can complement the strengths of others. 

By allowing the leader to consciously view such challenges from different perspectives, it frees them from their default position, which is often an intuitive and automatic response to a situation. Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Laureate in economics, described this as the difference between thinking “fast” and “slow”, where “slow” thinking is conscious, rational and rule-based. By applying a “leadership decision framework”, the leader can begin to develop a slower and more rational approach to leadership problems, while providing them with the building blocks with which to identify and implement powerful solutions.

The initial working title for the model was “The Seven Sides of Educational Leadership”.  However, my eldest son told me, as sons tend to do, that the title was ‘rubbish’; and so the term “The Ceannas Index” was born – ‘ceannas’ being the ancient Gaelic word for leadership.

An eye for an eye – isn’t the best way to lead

I used to work with a headteacher who constantly bemoaned the fact that their teachers “Wouldn’t know what innovation was if they bumped into it in the street”. The ironic thing about this was that this was someone who would harangue any individual who made the slightest mistake.  Was it any wonder that people learned to keep their heads down and stayed within their ‘comfort zone’? I genuinely felt sorry for the people who worked in that school.

Yet leaders are under immense pressure these days to deliver improved outcomes with fewer and fewer resources. The only solution to this challenge is to find innovative ways of working. For innovation to take place people need to operate within a culture where they have the confidence and necessary ‘space’ to take risks. This ‘space for innovation’ requires leaders to establish a culture of forgiveness. In the course of this essay I intend to define forgiveness; explore why leaders find it difficult to forgive; explain why and how forgiveness can enhance an organisation; and, finally conclude by arguing that forgiveness is a fundamental leadership virtue, which can have a dramatic impact upon the well-being of the leaders and staff, and, in so doing, the effectiveness of the entire organisation.

The dictionary definition of forgiveness is “To grant free pardon and to give up all claim on account of an offense or debt”. Forgiveness further relates to renunciation or cessation of resentment, indignation or anger due to a perceived offense, disagreement or mistake.

It is this latter cause, the notion of forgiving a mistake, which carries with it the most challenging element for modern leaders who are committed to creating a ‘mistake free’, ‘results driven’, ‘outcome focused’, ‘high performing’ environment.

Yet when leaders establish boundaries where employees know that they will not be forgiven if they make a mistake, then the outcome is quite the opposite from what is intended. For what is apparent from current research is that if people feel that they will not be forgiven for making mistakes, they will tend to operate well within those boundaries – even if the leader only implies these boundaries.

In the modern workplace, with ever-reducing budgets, greater organisational scrutiny, public accountability, and plummeting numbers of people to do ever-increasing amounts of work, the pressure to closely manage the performance of employees has never been greater.

This leads many managers towards a form of behaviour that actually has a ‘diminishing’ impact upon their employees, but also upon themselves, and organisational effectiveness. The leadership behaviour I am referring to is one that is intolerant of mistakes, and characterised by punishment and retribution.

Traditional justice has often been based upon the law of retribution, i.e. and eye for an eye. Mahatama Ghandi’s response to this notion of equivalency was to observe that “An eye – for an eye – for an eye…..ends in making everybody blind”.

Employees who are forgiven for mistakes, and who work in a forgiving culture are much more likely to be creative, take appropriate risks, and learn and grow their own leadership capabilities. For forgiveness helps people to have a more positive outlook on the future and much less likely to hide mistakes or transgressions.

An organisation that promotes forgiveness will be engaged in positive and constructive behaviour, which eventually increases the effectiveness of the organisation. Yet a culture of forgiveness should not be taken to mean a ‘free for all’, ‘do as you feel’ approach to work, nor does it imply that everything can be forgiven, e.g. sexual harassment.

Modern organisations are complex places with inter-relationships and team-based working creating a combustible environment for conflict and dispute, especially when fuelled by the budgetary challenges facing organisations. Where a leader cannot forgive and pardon a transgression, then the conflict is left unresolved and creates a drag on the organisation. In turn, this revenge behaviour from the leader sucks the confidence and vibrancy out of any organisation.

At a time when many organisations are attempting to reduce the levels of stress, a simple step might be to set about creating a culture of forgiveness where it becomes possible to use mistakes, faults, and breakdowns as useful learning opportunities for all involved. Leaders have the power to profoundly influence this culture within an organisation through the promotion of a forgiving culture – perhaps more so than any other feature of their leadership behaviour. Where this culture of restitution exists in place of one of revenge it can overcome any feelings of bitterness and hate, the fertile conditions for stress, and enable people to make an extra effort – with all the positive consequences that this can have upon the bottom-line. Such a culture enables authentic, courageous and open conversations – where both the leader and the employee understand that forgiveness can be a two-way process.

It’s this final element that is of great significance in the current stress-inducing environment, i.e. the welfare of the leaders themselves. Once again we find through research that the very act of forgiveness has a positive effect upon the well being of the leader. Instead of nursing grievances and grudges they can move on and focus upon facilitating excellence and improvement – the job that they are paid to do.

Far from ‘forgiveness’ being a sign of leadership weakness or timidity then, it is, in actual fact, a virtue and a real indication of fortitude and self-confidence. Never has it been more important for leaders to demonstrate forgiveness and create the necessary ‘space for innovation’ for the kind of fundamental changes that are necessary to successfully address our current challenges.

I’ll leave the last words with Nelson Mandela, perhaps the greatest exponent of forgiveness in modern times:

“Forgiveness liberates the soul; it removes fear, that’s why it’s such a powerful weapon.”

We don’t need no education

Thirty-three years ago I volunteered to undertake my final student teaching placement in the Secure Wing of a children’s residential home.  One of my abiding memories from that experience was waiting to go into a classroom when ten boys started to sing – in what we would now call a ‘flash mob’ – the haunting track from Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall’:

We don’t need no education
We dont need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.

It was the intensity of the first line that remains with me to this day “We don’t need no education”, and which came to mind again when reading the results from the Sutton Trust which drew the correlation between poverty and poor reading skills – especially for boys.

During my experience at the Secure Wing, which housed boys under the age of 16 who were ‘locked up’ for committing serious offences, I had the privilege of being able to accompany ‘John’ on a rare home visit.  John was a boy who had real ‘potential’ – he was lively, curious, articulate and a natural leader, but who had been failed by the system and by education in particular.

These were all boys who were passionately antagonistic to education.  They didn’t see any point or benefit to be had from education and felt isolated from the purpose of schooling from the very outset.  Most were able to describe their common journey through primary and secondary schools that involved their humiliation, regular exclusions and sense of isolation, which they only overcame through associating with others who had suffered from similar experiences and backgrounds.

So why is it – 33 years later – that schools still do so badly in making a positive impact upon such children?  How come – in this day and age –there are so many boys who leave primary school with negligible reading skills which prevent them from accessing the secondary school curriculum and leads to their inevitable isolation, probable exclusions and negative destinations?

Research tells us that interventions in children’s early years make a real difference, but that if they are not maintained that their benefit rapidly decays.  We know that interventions focused upon helping parents to be actively involved in their children’s learning can make a real difference in attainment. However, we also know that if parents and young people believe that they can have a positive influence upon the future through their own efforts and actions – then young people will do well at school.

It’s this last factor that proves to be such a challenge to schools and others who can put a variety of well-intentioned interventions in place to support parents and young people but which inevitably focuses upon the symptoms – rather than the root causes of poor attainment. It’s this notion of self-efficacy – or belief in oneself to succeed – that is a major determinant in academic success.  If a child comes from a family where the overwhelming belief is that the future is dependent upon others and that their own efforts will have a minimal effect, then what possible incentive could there be to apply yourself to study or to work.

Set against this self–determining (or should that read self- defeating) element are the expectations of others in the system and the impact they have on those who do not share their same sense of self-belief. Consider the child who starts primary school and whose clothes smell dirty from the outset and whose mother can’t engage in conversation with other mothers at the school gates.   How long will it be before other children recognise these differences and start to call them names?  How long will it be before they are placed in the ‘triangles’ group for every learning activity? How long before their mother is called into school to discuss their child’s inability to concentrate, or their regular outbursts against their classmates or teacher who was merely asking them to complete a simple task?

And so it goes on. “Perhaps it might be best for John to stay at home in the afternoons until he has settled down”. “We’ll try to get an auxiliary to sit with him during class time but we don’t have one in the class all of the time”. “I’m left with no alternative but to exclude John for a week and ask that you bring him back to school on Monday morning at 9.30am for a meeting where we will set out our conditions for readmission”. “I’m afraid we can’t let John go on the school trip as he is a risk to himself and others”.

Yet before this all starts to sound like a diatribe against schools – consider the position of teachers and head teachers who have to satisfy the quite reasonable expectations of other parents; parents who hear on a daily basis what ‘John’ has been up to today; parents who find out how the learning experience of their child was disrupted yet again because the headteacher had to be called. I’ve been at the sharp end of these concerns as a teacher, as a headteacher and as a Director of Education – and there are no simple remedies.

Yet I’ve also seen teachers and head teachers who come from a different starting point; teachers who establish unambiguous and challenging expectations for ALL children regardless of background; and headteachers who are NOT prepared to give up on children – regardless of their behaviour.

Schools that claim their children and their families as their own are the schools that transform the lives of the young people and their parents respectively, and are the schools who challenge the self-fulfilling expectation that poverty leads to poor attainment.

On the edge of being uncomfortably precise

On the edge of being uncomfortably precise

Edges, serif and sans serif

The small flourishes that emanate

From the tails of letters

Betray his love of detail

Working the stone

Working his memory

A word is not a word

It is a lifetime

An expression of the person

The careful spacing

The precise formality

Does it spill into his life

Or vice versa?



He lies,

On the edge

Of being uncomfortably




                                      Dedicated to Alan Forrest – letter carver

A Marching Band, Walking

A Marching Band, Walking

I saw a Marching band, walking

Walking across St Andrew’s Square

Heads bowed into the North Sea wind

Instruments sheathed and protected

Drums dragged behind on reluctant wheels,

Save for the Sousaphone,

Which wrapped its vibrant coils around

A fat man with no hiding place.

Up front the conductor led the way

His umbrella holding a high note

The bedraggled ensemble stumbling into step

Following his direction – if not his enthusiasm.

Yet strip off the dull jackets

Release the brass and drums

Let them join in lines of hope

Break out the uniforms

Keep time,

Share their music

Let the trumpets call

But meantime,

Just let them safely cross the road

Without losing the fat man

And his Sousaphone.

Beech Walk

Beech Walk

Tread softly on summers past
Where glorious days return to earth
To lay their pile carpet for our dreams
That twist and turn
Between the sleeping giants
Of our mind.
The snow-shackled spring
Suppressed and frustrated
By winter’s stubborn grip
Gathers up its life force
Squeezing through the stranglehold
Seeping from every open pore.
The black beech, dark and wet
Flex and break their chains
Connected by the green fuse
They ignite in unison
Their neon translucence
Fired by a shafting morning sun.
Freshening the eye
Lightening the heart
Opening the mind for times to come
Until, they too
Must find their place
Earth to earth.
Amongst the mouldering corpses
Of summers’ brethren
That cushion
The tread,
Of our own
Beech Walk.