· 2 min read · Features

Leadersmithing: A craft approach to leadership, part 3


Leadersmithing rediscovers the craft of leading and sets out how leaders can hone their key skills

It identifies the muscle memory you need to lead, then offers a programme of 52 exercises to take you there, organised into four suits like a pack of cards. In this piece Eve Poole takes one of her four suits for leaders and offers some tips on mastery.


My Spades are all about practicalities – the tools and techniques for getting things done through others. Some of them are about investing in your future potential through the likes of networking, some of them are about freeing yourself up to lead through the likes of delegating, and some of them are about how to get the best out of those around you, both in terms of problem-solving and performance.

One of the biggest problems facing leaders is a diary that is wall-to-wall with meetings. There seems to be no time to be strategic or proactive, and most leaders say the majority of meetings they attend are a waste of time. You can do quite a lot about this through excellent delegation and empowerment, but there will still be quite a few meetings you can’t avoid. So my Six of Spades is about meetings:

Next time you dread a meeting, reframe and rejoice: it’s free training! Meetings are your opportunity to try things. You could practise your listening skills, or excellent questions. You could practise summarising, or rationing your contributions, or eliciting the thoughts of the quieter contributors. You could improve your personal impact by planning your appearance, contributions and style beforehand. You could also practise your presentation skills, or apply some creativity or problem-solving tools. The meeting could also generate data for you to use to exchange feedback with colleagues afterwards.

Great, so all your meetings are now a joy! Now let’s talk about edge. HR is often seen as being a ‘soft touch’ function. This is unfair, but suggests there is scope for more assertion in the culture. So my Ace of Spades is about difficult conversations. It gives you two scripts for the most common types, as recommended by personal impact expert Sarah Cartwright:

Saying no:

• Say the person’s name – Jo,

• Acknowledge their request – You want me to stay late to finish this report.

• 'I'm going to say no' – I’m going to say no,

• Give only one reason – Because I have a dinner appointment.

• Offer an alternative if possible – Instead I’ll brief Sam, and check it first thing.

The big ask:

• Say the person’s name – Sam,

• Acknowledge this is a difficult request – I’m going to ask you an enormous favour.

• ‘I want to ask you…’ – I want to ask you if you’ll stay late tonight:

• Give only one reason – This report is due, and I can’t.

• Offer something in it for them – I’ll check it first thing, and I’ll owe you one.

Like all routines, it’s clunky until it becomes a habit, so start practising now. Of all the skills for leaders this is arguably the most important. Almost every leadership challenge you face boils down to your ability to have the right conversation with the right person at the right time.

This article is the third in a four-part series based on the book Leadersmithing by Eve Poole. Poole is a leadership speaker, teacher and consultant

Leadersmithing, part one – Diamonds

Leadersmithing, part two – Clubs