Mike Barnato

Strategy, leadership, organisation, programmes

Governance: 6 key questions (SSHARK)

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I recently attended a Round Table on governance issues at the Institute of Governance.

Good governance has become more challenging in these Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous Times (VUCA).

Here are 6 key questions (SSHARK):

Strategy. What’s the end in mind? Why do we exist? What are the priorities?

Structure. Is it fit for purpose? Do we have the right skills and roles?

Happen. What’s happening in performance? Are measures meaningful and manageable?

Actions. Do actions and behaviours combine engagement and discipline?

Resilience. Are risks understood and actively managed?

Ki. Do we comply with the spirit, and letter of good practice, transparency and integrity?

In my experience, few organisations can answer positively to all six questions.


One person (a non executive director) felt that his organisation could answer “yes” to the 6 questions (most of the time). A corporate lawyer feels that Board remuneration should be mentioned. Twenty five likes.


Appearance: Jumping to conclusions

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Don't jump to conclusions for blog

We are obsessed by appearances. We judge a book by its cover. Women and men resort to the 3Ps – plastic (fillers), poison (botox) and photo shopping to look “better”. And use corsets and starvation diets.

“..in the evenings, it’s peopled with gentlemen of a certain age, accompanied by ladies of a surgically enhanced uncertain one.”

“Getting to the top is as much to do with how you look as what you achieve.”

When can we get back to “fit, not thin”?


Sources: Image by the Hiking Artist. Quote 1: Review of Rowley’s restaurant by Andrew Baker, Daily Telegraph, March 7 2015. Quote 2: Schumpter, The look of a leader, Economist 29092014







Written by Mike Barnato

March 23, 2016 at 6:13 pm

Taking action! Three dangers for leaders

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We live in a world that believes in action. The Nike slogan “Just Do It!” is a reminder.

Is action good? Yes!

It’s an antidote to No Action.Talk.Only. (NATO).

It’s not new. Disraeli, wrote “Action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action”.

Social media and fast communications add to the appeal of instant action.

Many successful people failed several times until they found success.

Agile project methods emphasise trial and error.

Is action ALWAYS good? No! Watch out for three dangers:

No learning. So the mistake is repeated.

Catastrophic failure. No second chance. Think hang gliding.

No thinking. Fire. Aim. Ready. Organisations. (FAROs).

So? Action and thinking should go together!

They are interdependent, are not alternatives. It is”and”, not “or”. A key for leaders(hip) is to get the balance right between them.


The Bats of Austin

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One of the most surprising features of Austin is the city’s large bat population. Actually the largest population of urban bats in the world. This population lives underneath the Congress Avenue Bridge, in downtown Austin.

This is an example of how urban development can sometimes help an animal population grow. When the bridge was reconstructed in 1980 no one had any intention of helping boost the local urban bat population. But the crevices underneath the bridge proved popular and new bats in vast numbers settled underneath the bridge.

In the summer at dusk lots of tourists will stand watching for the nightly flight of the bats as they go hunting. I have included a video that I took of this event a couple of weeks ago. You can see the bats showing up against the evening sky like a undulating swarm of wasps that goes on and on and on.

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Written by Mike Barnato

December 7, 2015 at 6:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Business Conflict & Road Rage: lessons?

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I am driving and see a car coming very fast behind me. I turn left, after indicating. The other car stops. The driver screams obscenities at me from his car. As far as I am aware I indicated correctly. But I don’t see any point in having a debate or even engaging. He may be on drugs or drunk or just looking for a fight. I doubt if I can change his behaviour.

I let him rant.“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words caver hurt me.” I don’t look at his eyes, just at his chest. Eye contact often provokes more aggression and you can lose your own energy or chi. I watch to see if he gets out of his car to attack me. I am ready.

He does’t attack but drives off. It’s a good outcome – the best fight is the one you don’t have.

What can be learnt?

I was aware of danger, accepted his rants but avoided the need for action.

Awareness, acceptance and avoidance are about personal safety, action is about self defence. If you get the former right, in many cases you don’t need the latter.

Are there any parallels in business?

Think about conflicts in your organisation – amongst project teams and boards and with partners, suppliers, stakeholders and customers.



Seven Happiness Hacks – Work and Life

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cat in sports bag

Here are my favourite seven happiness hacks. What are yours?

1. S.U.M.O. Shut Up and Move On from aggro and arguments.

2. FIND YOUR FLOW. Focus your efforts and concentrate.

3. PROGRESS. Get better and practice with purpose.

4. ENGAGE. Partner with good people in work and in life.

5. SLEEP. Lack of quality sleep is an energy killer.

6. MODERATION. In drink, drugs, smoking, coffee, sugar, protein drinks.

7. COMMUNITY. Join up – hobby, faith, sports, networks, local groups.

Image: “Timeshare”, a visiting cat (hence the name), relaxing in my sports bag, which stops me going to martial arts which is how I relax.

The paradox of practice

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We often neglect to practice things in business. Yet it is a key way to transfer skills.
It’s strange. We know that learning to drive, to ski or play a musical instrument successfully, all take practice.
But we let people chair a meeting, lead a team or make a presentation often without practice.
We know that practice makes better. BUT the paradox is that practice doesn’t make perfect.

1. The quality of practice matters. It’s not just about volume. When I hit balls quickly on the golf driving range, without feedback for myself or by a coach, it may actually make me worse.
It may just reinforce faults, as in “(bad) practice makes permanent”. So practice needs to be purposeful.

2. Progression is important. If you merely repeat practice, without progressively challenging yourself, you just get what you have got. Suppose you want to develop your press ups. You might start with a simple press up from your knees, move to your arms, progress to one hand, jump in the air and so on.

3. There are also limitations to improvement. Nurture cannot totally defeat nature. Physical build has an impact. My lack of co-ordination limits my progress in those martial arts that need complex set piece movements or katas. So I do other martial arts that rely more on speed and aggression.

4. Fear also plays a part. I am never going to be a great skier as I am frightened of heights.

So. practice doesn’t make perfect but it does make better. And we neglect practice in business at our peril.


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