How exceptional leaders help grow their people

against the stream - opposite concept - leader goldfishHow do exceptional leaders grow their people?

I read an article the other day that has stuck with me. It’s from a book by Gervase Bush titled “Clear Leadership: How outstanding leaders make themselves understood, cut through the mush and help everyone get real at work” and it is all about inspiring the best in people.

The author makes the point that exceptional leaders focus on what is working and what they want more of and less on the problems and what they want less of (the appreciative enquiry approach to leadership); rather than the traditional manager who looks at problem solving and correcting behaviour.

Clear leaders do a lot less problem-solving than traditional leaders. They rely on the people doing the work to solve problems. Instead of focusing on problems, they focus on solutions. They are continually looking for instances where things are going right: where quality is increasing, where customers are being satisfied, where internal processes are being managed seamlessly and where wealth is being created. They get clear about where things are working well, and they work to amplify it.

What are the skills necessary for the exceptional leader to grow their people?

The author makes the point that clear leadership takes an appreciative mindset (that is looking for the positive rather than the problems); and that there are two skills that are necessary: tracking and fanning.


Once you have found what you want more of, then you start “tracking it”.

The image here is of a hunter tracking game in the jungle. It takes constant attention, a light step and seeing clues hidden in the surrounding foliage.

The author makes the point that this starts somewhat counter intuitively with the leader rather than the person that they are tracking. The leader needs to be able develop their ability to see what they want more of as already there in the people and systems that they work in. And that sometimes this takes a leap of faith.

The appreciative self begins with the assumption that whatever we want more of already exists, if only in tiny qualities.  We have to get over the belief that our experience is “the truth” and assume we can have a different experience by changing OUR map.  

Another way to look at this is to see how children react when we focus on their negative behaviour. In the absence of an appreciative mindset, we are as likely to see an increase in that negative behaviour because it is attention (even if it is the wrong “sort” of attention).


Having tracked what you want more of, then you fan it.

Fanning means to metaphorically blow air on a small fire to turn it into a roaring blaze.

Fanning occurs through:

  • Simply paying attention
  • Praise (about past behaviours or actions) – which must come from someone who is seen by the recipient as having good authority.
  • Blessing (giving someone a license to continue that behaviour into the future).  This is amplified when wrapped in tangible benefits such as money or resources to increase the behaviour.

Bush makes the point that the appreciative mindset is hard to achieve as we are hardwired as human beings to look for the negatives and the problems.  But that truly extraordinary things can occur if we change our mindset and our approach.

Is there someone that you could change your “internal map” of and start tracking and fanning? Give this a go and let me know what happens.

Until next time, happy leading.




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