Category: Leadership Development


Succession: For serious people you need serious planning 

When news broke of Rupert Murdoch’s decision to step down as chairman of both News Corp and Fox Corp, naming his eldest son Lachlan as successor, comparisons were inevitably drawn with fictional media mogul Logan Roy in the HBO drama Succession.

Brian Cox, the actor who brought Logan Roy to life in the series has since joked that Rupert Murdoch’s own succession plan had been inspired by watching too much of the TV drama. History doesn’t record, however, if Murdoch, like Logan Roy, despaired of his offspring’s leadership potential because they’re “not serious people”.

In real life, succession plans for senior executives should be a much more straightforward matter, but it is surprising how many companies are very poor at planning for a change of leadership.

The average business leader is also unlikely to be in their role for life. According to research from consultancy firm Korn Ferry, the average tenure of a CEO is only three to five years – and about 11% of newly appointed CEOs stay in the role for a year or less.

Succession planning

Clearly, succession planning is not something that can be put off, and plans need to be regularly updated to keep pace with a highly fluid labour market and an ongoing war for top talent.

Rather than a highly-charged power play, succession planning should be a continuous, transparent process – and not focused on just the top spot.

A pipeline of suitable internal candidates needs to be assessed and prepared to step into C-suite and C-minus-1 (or ‘V-suite’) roles, so that the entire management structure can be reset in the event of senior departures.

As executive search and advisory firm Russell Reynolds Associates notes, organisations are nearly twice as likely to have “an informal, reactionary approach to succession planning than a formal, proactive one”. 

The company suggests starting with the following key focus areas for CEO succession:

  • Define what you need in a CEO
  • Assess the potential of internal candidates
  • Assess the readiness of your potential CEOs
  • Make CEO succession planning a constant for boards

But good leaders are made, not born, so potential candidates for top jobs also need to ready themselves for joining the C-suite.

Key to this is recognising that leadership is about people and, by implication, about communication. Good leaders need to have a black belt in communication – from one-to-one chats with colleagues, to board presentations, to that big conference speech.

An effective succession plan should also take into account that we are all individuals. The process of developing leadership potential shouldn’t be a conveyor belt of identikit candidates, it has to constantly evolve, to keep pace with the changing social, educational and career backgrounds of each cohort of candidates.

CEO Succession Planning

One skill that will never got out of fashion is the ability to communicate well – to listen closely when others are talking, to show you care about what they’re saying, and to share your vision, goals and strategy in a compelling way.

And in an ever-more complex and fragmented business world, today’s leaders also need the ability to think on their feet – to have some improvisational skills.

Leadership candidates therefore need to develop their communication skills, in order to clearly articulate their personal vision of leadership. That takes effort, but the best leaders are able to make it look easy because they’ve put already the effort in. 

To paraphrase Logan Roy: “You make your own reality. And once you’ve done it, everyone’s of the opinion it was all so obvious.”

To find out more about how to develop your own or your employees’ leadership potential and communication skills, look into an Executive Coaching course with Dynamic Presenting.


Stage Fright: taking the bull by the horns (rather than the tiger by the tail) 

Picture the scenario. You’ve got a big speech to make. Or maybe you’re delivering a presentation to a group of colleagues. Either way, you want to make a good impression. 

But you’re worried that you’re going to screw up. You might fluff your lines, or get the tone wrong and come across like Alan Partridge. Or, perhaps worst of all, you open your mouth and nothing comes out. 

Stage fright is a universal problem. Everyone from political leaders to rock stars, to Oscar-winning actors suffer from it – and company CEOs are no different.

At its heart, stage fright is about the fear of failure. The fear of not being able to deliver on a promise, and thus being judged harshly by your audience. This is what happens in a key scene from the movie 8 Mile, when the character played by rapper Eminem, Jimmy ‘B-Rabbit’ Smith, ‘chokes’ during a rap battle.

Eminem gets stage fright

Eminem chokes on stage

It may also be riven by imposter syndrome – the feeling that you’ve been ‘getting away with it’ for too long, and that this could be the moment when the veil is lifted and you are exposed in front of an audience.

get used to stage fright

Get used to stage fright

The key to overcoming stage fright is preparation, and while there is a wealth of advice online and in print about how to reduce the effects of stage fright – from the psychology profession, from the acting world, from business, and even neuroscience – a few simple guidelines could help transform your approach to public speaking. 

You could take a lead from another of Steve Coogan’s creations – obnoxious sales rep Gareth Cheeseman – and give yourself a pep talk in the mirror. But is yelling ‘You’re a tiger – RRAAAWWR!’ really going to damp down that sense of rising panic?

Fight or flight

What all techniques for addressing stage fright have in common is that they seek to control the ‘fight or flight’ response that often accompanies scary or stressful scenarios.

On a purely physical level, as you step out in front of an audience, your body is likely to be producing the hormone adrenaline as part of that fight or flight response. Adrenaline will make your heart beat faster, may cause your palms to become sweaty, and could also make you feel light-headed or dizzy.

As the publication Psychology Today notes, this form of social anxiety affects about 1 in 4 of people who are contemplating public speaking. It can cause additional symptoms ranging from a dry mouth, to feelings of nausea, breathlessness, changes of vision, stuttering, and even facial tics or shaking limbs. When talking, your voice might also rise in pitch and you may end up talking too quickly.

It’s not uncommon for sufferers to end up racing for the bathroom ahead of a performance. And in addition to the physical manifestations of stage fright that can afflict you during your delivery, there are psychological challenges: time becomes elastic, where a few seconds can feel like hours; your mind goes blank, you can’t remember what you wanted to say; some people even feel like they’re having an out-of-body experience.

Get used to Public Speaking

Get used to public speaking

As neuroscientist Anwesha Banerjee argued in her TED Talk from 2019, one way to effectively manage stage fright is to get into the habit of confronting it. 

By continually focusing on our fear of public speaking we are engaging in ‘negative reinforcement’, she says. The only way to halt this process, and dial down the fear, is to confront rather than avoid this stimulus. Instead of trying to avoid stage fright altogether, get more accustomed to it. Overcoming that negative reinforcement is not about ‘getting over’ stage fright or expecting to banish it, says Banerjee, but is instead about getting used to it.

‘Playing Scared: A History and Memoir of Stage Fright’

In an extract from her 2015 book ‘Playing Scared: A History and Memoir of Stage Fright’, published in Prospect magazine, journalist Sara Solovitch details her attempts to overturn a lifelong fear of performing (in her case, on the piano) in front of an audience, while exploring the origins of stage fright.

The anatomy of stage fright

The anatomy of stage fright

Solovitch quotes another neuroscientist, UCLA professor Michael Fanselow, who also advocates “exposure therapy” in order to “get into this positive feedback loop”.

Having given herself a year to explore various therapies to help her beat stage fright, Solovitch gives a piano recital. When she finally overcomes her reservations to listen to the recording of the concert she says: “I was surprised. I heard some lapses, yes. But I also heard expressiveness. I heard assertiveness. I heard a voice. What I heard was me. I was not a professional, and I was hardly perfect. But I was striving for excellence, and sometimes I attained it.”

This is a perfect example of what overcoming stage fright is about. It’s not about becoming a world-beating orator. It’s not about delivering a perfect performance. It’s about being able to express yourself in your own voice, share your knowledge and experience, and get more comfortable with yourself as a speaker.

Overcoming Stage Fright

Overcoming Stage Fright

As this article from entertainment trade magazine Back Stage notes – the great majority of performers on stage and screen have experienced this fear, and many live with stage fright their entire careers, but have found ways to cope with it. Equally regular public speakers such as company CEOs can find strategies to manage their fear and keep overcoming it.

At Dynamic Presenting, we believe some of the lessons taken from the world of professional acting and performing can be some of the most effective in tackling stage fright. Here are some the key methods for dealing with stage fright.


All of the guides to public speaking and overcoming stage fright you see will emphasise the importance of preparation and practice. Actors rehearse, rehearse, rehearse what they are going to say and do onstage or onscreen for weeks before a performance. Make sure you are well prepared and know your material thoroughly. You don’t need to learn your presentation word for word, you just need to know the salient points and the order in which you want to deliver them. That will give you a structure for you to then talk naturally around those key points.


Focusing on your material not only reiterates confidence in your knowledge and abilities, it takes the focus away from the abstraction of an audience to the specifics of what you want to say. If you are thinking about what you want to share with your audience, you are less likely to fixate on what they think of you and your delivery. If you have rehearsed your delivery of it, you’ll be less likely to stumble over difficult passages or to rush your delivery.

Don’t kid yourself you can wing it. Some people are able to extemporise at will on any given topic – they’re typically in the minority. The more you ground yourself in substance of your presentation, the less likely you are to be lost for words or afraid of how you might be received, 

Some commentators also stress the value of getting to know the space and even the audience before you deliver an address. Certainly, being in a familiar environment can help with nerves, and as former UK Prime Minister Liz Truss demonstrated, knowing how to get out of room as well as getting into it can be very useful. And knowing that you have friends and allies in the audience can give you courage. But focusing on your material and rehearsing your delivery of it are paramount.

Liz Truss gets lost leaving the room

Liz Truss gets lost leaving the room


Another universal theme in tackling stage fright is visualisation. Preparing for the worst, while aiming for the best will improve both your confidence and resilience. Visualise yourself giving a hugely successful performance. See yourself relaxed and smiling before you take the stage, then confidently walking to the microphone, and calmly delivering your address as the audience listens intently to your message. It may sound hokey, but practicing that visualisation can help to instil the sub-conscious belief that the outcome is going to be overwhelmingly positive.

Equally, expecting the worst can be a powerful psychological aid to overcoming fear. You will probably make mistakes. But what’s the worst that could happen? You fluff a line or mispronounce a word and maybe somebody in the audience laughs. You can acknowledge the error, even make a joke of it, or just correct yourself and move on. If you can see yourself in advance, bouncing back from your mistakes, they will seem less momentous in the live performance.


Actors and singers always undertake breathing exercises before rehearsals and before performances.

When we are feeling stressed or nervous we tend to breathe more shallowly, breathing in sharply and then not breathing out properly. This can result in you feeling lightheaded due to a lack of oxygen. Equally, when we are panicked we can end up hyperventilating – breathing too quickly and too deeply, so that you end up exhaling more carbon dioxide than usual, which can also produce lightheadedness or a feeling of shortness of breath.

It sounds overly simplistic, but training yourself to breathe slowly and deeply, using your diaphragm, will help with both physical and mental relaxation. 

Before any situation where you are potentially feeling anxious or apprehensive take 15 minutes to sit somewhere quiet and do some deep breathing to calm your nerves.

Equally, taking a few deep breaths before you step up to make your speech can make your feel calmer and more relaxed, and if you find yourself getting anxious during your presentation, or you find your mouth is running away with you and you’re gabbling rather speaking, taking a moment to draw a slow, deep breathe, can anchor you and give you the space to recover your poise and begin again.   


If you’ve done all of the above and you are still wracked with nerves ahead of a performance, trying changing your state. Doing some physical exercise – star jumps, yoga moves, walking or jogging along a corridor – will get you breathing more deeply and may get the adrenaline flowing. This can reduce the chances of feeling breathless or experiencing an adrenaline spike at the moment where you are getting ready to perform. 

Making an adaptation to your current state can help you focus, snap you out of any feelings of fear or helplessness, help regulate your breathing, and calm any physical tremors.

If you’ve prepared well, your material should be at your fingertips, and your notes will help structure your delivery. Rather than sitting there thinking about whether you can remember it all, talk to someone on the phone about something completely different, chat to someone in the room, remind yourself that you are already an effective communicator and that you know how to connect with an audience.

As the quote that is often, but perhaps spuriously, attributed to Mark Twain goes: “There are two types of speakers: those who are nervous and those who are liars.”

So rest assured that whenever you speak in public, there are many before (including some of your audience perhaps) who have felt the same way. 

If you practice the four techniques above you will feel less fearful and much more relaxed and confident. You might never completely lose the sensation of stage fright, but the more often you confront that fear, the more you experience the satisfaction of having successfully engaged with an audience, the less anxiety you feel and the more relaxed you will become about speaking in public.


Culture of hierarchy in India

It pays to be aware of hierarchy in India

Posted on 8th December 2017 in Communication Skills Training, Leadership Development

India is a particularly interesting place as it has such a vast populous encompassing many different languages, religions, cultures and identities. There are many India’s within India! This makes it very hard to make a generalisation about a culture of this diversity.

What is noticeably different across Indian and East Asian culture is the importance of hierarchy. Indian businesses have a very hierarchical structure and everyone looks up to the person at the next level to make a decision. To the West this is a pretty old fashioned concept. We live in a business world where the CEO, leaders and managers alike need to influence their teams and do their best to work alongside them. As managers in England we are taught to coach our teams, ask open questions and include everyone’s ideas and opinions. Younger generations expect respect from their managers and most certainly wouldn’t respond well to being directly TOLD what to do.

In the West a person of a younger age could get hired for one of the most senior positions in a company based on his / her knowledge and experience and people in senior positions won’t show their superiority. This would never happen in India, unless at a very progressive international company. In India people expect senior people to be the older more experienced in years and they expect to be told what to do by their managers. If you tried to coach an answer out of them you wouldn’t get anywhere and you certainly wouldn’t get much done. It is a culture of working where the boss always knows better and the higher you are in an organisation the more you count. This respect of seniority stems from the family system in India where the elders are the most revered and respected.

What can be done to help build relationships when working in India?

  • Follow the saying ‘When in Rome do what the romans do’ so in this case when in India do what the Indians do
  • Be aware of the cultural diversity, be cautious about generalisations and take the time to develop relationships.
  • Pecking order matters – always address the more important / more senior members first.
  • Address older people with Sir or Ma’am Mr or Mrs.
  • Don’t hug or touch women in the workplace as this MIGHT make them feel uncomfortable.
  • Be prepared to follow the rules of the bureaucracy. Fill everything out correctly, Indian’s follow policy.
  • Small talk is big and take the time to be social with refreshments throughout meetings.
  • Don’t be offended when there are no explicit please or thank you’s, Indian’s will nod their head or smile to say thank you.
  • Create relationships. Meeting and phone calls are of more value than emails.

And remember that Indians are absolute masters of negotiation so do some prep work if going in to negotiate a price and terms.

There is an Indian Adage ‘It takes two hands to generate applause.’ This is especially true when we are talking about two cultures meeting. Both parties need to make adjustments to fit in and understand the other in order to create a truly successful business relationship

The importance of mentors and key influencers

The importance of mentors and influencers

Don’t take longer than the next man to get where you want to get to!

Everybody should have a mentor, someone who offers experience, wisdom, guidance, and encouragement, and demonstrates superior leadership. Why struggle to work everything out for yourself? Why learn from your own mistakes when you can learn from somebody else’s? Why take ages doing everything the long way round when you can skip a lot of mistakes by listening to somebody who has already made them?

A survey of Fortune 500 CEO’s found that 75% cited mentoring as one of the top three key factors in their career.

‘Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.’ by John Crosby.


First of all find the right fit for you. Think about where you are in life and where you want to go. What do you want to learn? Determine the what characteristics / personality traits will inspire you? Choose somebody who is at least 10 times more successful in your field than you are.

Pay for the mentor if you have to. Most likely you will be able to find a mentor who will help you for free. Maybe you could swap / trade professional services with them and help each other.

Be willing to commit for the long term. The longer a mentoring relationship lasts the more successful it will be. There’s not a lot you can learn from 3 or 6 months of seeing someone once a month. The true value comes in long relationships where you really get to know one another and become true supports and most likely long term friends.

Great mentors can be found in all kinds of places and most likely outside of your current workplace. Looks at business associations in your area, non-profit organisations, your college or university within your family, family friends and your personal network. Remember the concept of 7 Degrees of Separation. All living things and everything else in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other. A chain of ‘a friend of a friend’ statements can be made to connect to anyone else in just six steps. Look to your personal network, talk to people and see where it takes you. You could easily find that in no time you are connected to somebody extremely successful in your field who could help you enormously.

The importance of mentors and key influencers


As well as finding one or perhaps two or three mentors each with different skills and experience there are what are now known as key influencers to learn from. These people are at the very top of their field, the créme de la créme and are writing and sharing their thoughts and ideas around all kinds of topics writing articles on linkedin pulse. Articles about family, business, politics, social, workplace, leadership, personal development. Here you can follow the likes of Bill Gates, Angela Ahrendts, Liz Ryan and Mohamed El-Erian.

Linkedin – linkedin isn’t just a place to share your cv and connect with people you’ve worked with or want to work with. Check out Linkedin Pulse where influential thought leaders share their thoughts and ideas on various topics.

10 Thought Leaders You Need to Follow Now

Here is a beginners guide to learning to be a publisher yourself on linkedin

‘I seem to arrive more firmly at the conclusion that my own life struggle has had meaning only because, dimly and perhaps incoherently, it has sought to achieve the supreme objective of ensuring that each of us, without regard to race, colour, gender or social status, could have the possibility ‘To Reach For The Sky’ ‘

Nelson Mandela

Actors inspiring business leaders

Actors inspiring business leaders

Posted on 14th August 2017 in Leadership Development, Theatre & Drama

Actors are hustlers and communicators. They have the perfect skills to help leaders develop their businesses and to inspire and engage teams of people and audiences.

Actors have got to sell themselves, perform, look the part and communicate at their peak 100% of the time. They can’t get away without being brilliant communicators and they’ve go to keep the audience’s attention 100% of the time.

Acting is more than pretending to be somebody else. The key skill of an actor is being able to play different characters. In order to do this they have to study and understand human behaviour. They understand the nuances of people’s behaviour, can decipher their needs, wants and desires. These are skills which are essential for managers and leaders in the business world who are working with teams of people.

The key skills every actor should have which relate to the working world:

1. Listening Skills

Listening is surprisingly one of the most important skills that an actor can have. Not only do they need to be able to absorb exactly what has been said and done, they need to be affected by what has been said and understand that there is meaning behind those words which is not always immediately clear. Actors who are brilliant listeners are always present and open, soaking up everything that is being said to them. In order to be a successful leader you’ve got to be a great listener. The best leaders are proactive, strategic and intuitive listeners who understand that you can learn and grow much more by listening to others than by talking to them. Talk less. Listen more.

2. Strong non-verbal communication

Non verbal communication is extremely important to understand as a method of communication. Body language, physical gestures, facial expressions, micro-expressions on our faces, eye contact and posture all immediately convey who you are in that moment. Think about how you feel when somebody gives you a weak handshake or a hand shake which is too strong or too fast…! We make instant judgements based on non-verbal communication. It’s often said that the bulk of communication is non verbal. How you sit, how you smile, how you actively listen, communicates a myriad of things.

3. Practicing Relaxation

Actors have to learn how to deal with nerves but that doesn’t mean they aren’t actually feeling nervous. Dame Judy Dench famously said that she always gets nervous before a performance.  “Lots and lots of things scare me; but you just get on with it. Fright can transform into petrol. I get stage fright all the time; the more I act, the more I feel it. But you just have to use it to your advantage.

Actors learn to deal with their nerves and understand the importance of relaxation which they practice. They limber up before performances both physically, vocally and mentally. Stretching, breathing exercises, mediation for 30 minutes or so. This could have benefits for people in business. If you are going to perform a speech you need to take the time to be calm and relax before going in before your audience. Arriving frantically late, stressed from traffic is the worst way to begin a presentation.

4. Story-Telling

Actors are brilliant at telling stories. Whether it’s at a family gathering, down the pub or on stage they are most often excellent at keeping us entertained. They paint images as they describe an event. They take on characters and impersonate the people they are talking about to depict characters. Many lessons abut story-telling can be learnt from actors. When telling a story in a business environment you’ve got to entertain your audience. Nobody wants to read slides from powerpoint, they want to hear you talk about something and if you can make them laugh a couple of times even better.

Actors are being used more and more for business training needs as they possess unrivalled communication abilities and understanding of human behaviour. This is why we take inspiration from actors and work with them for all of our client training. Meet the team:


Sartaj Garewal is the founder of Dynamic Presenting – a creative, leadership development consultancy, adapting theatre training to create leadership programs for business.

Dynamic Presenting – Enabling Powerful Communication

Leadership in an ever-changing world

How to be an inspirational leader in an ever-changing world

Posted on 3rd August 2017 in Leadership Development

Leadership has never been easy and it is not a trait that we are automatically born with. You have to learn those all important leadership skills which are particularly important when working with the diverse, melting pot of people in business today.

The world is moving faster than ever and multiple generations are working together in the workplace – Generation X, Y and Z all with differing outlooks and experiences of life. This combination of generations in an office can prove difficult for people in management and leadership positions. How can a young Gen Z leader who is ‘always on’ successfully work with an older Gen X team member who values work life balance?

It is very much up to the individual to develop his personal leadership style. Whether you are working in 2017 or 2030 the same rules will apply. You are a successful leader if people are ‘following you’ and it’s up to you to test the best way to approach leading a particular team. Herminia Ibarra reframed the core leadership concept of authenticity, showing that the most effective leaders scan the environment for clues on how to act and “fake it”, chameleon-style, until they find a style that works for them.

What if my style of leadership isn’t right or doesn’t work? 

Once you’ve decided your approach you’ve got to be strong and consistent so that people (your followers) can buy into this vision and spread the word within the business. The number 1 goal is to get the best out of people and your organisation. There’s a simple format that you can use to structure your approach to leadership whoever and whatever you are leading.

Decide and communicate what your bigger purpose is.

Setting your plan for your leadership position is like setting a plan for anything and it can’t be done quickly. It takes time and thought and an understanding of the culture and drivers of the people in the business.

Successful leadership vision

This is your chance to share your dream. Your vision needs to be clearly articulated at every possible occasion. You’ve got to focus on whats most important, know what you are doing and why you’re doing it. A useful vision would describe the impact you are having now and the legacy you’re creating 10-15 years from now.

Your mission

This is your written organisational statement of where you want to go and why. State what you want to achieve using a day to day leadership practice framework of meaning and values. This mission statement can be an evolving document which other individuals can contribute to. Its a guiding principle of values and standards and can bring together a ‘community of leaders’ all following the same leadership vision.

Successful strategies

This is how to achieve your leadership vision and mission. Plan it out in detail like a business plan. The strategies should encourage others to see how their contribution can make a difference and help others see a sense of purpose in their work.

Here are some examples from Strategy Business:

1. Distribute responsibly
2. Be honest and open about information
3. Create multiple paths for raising and testing ideas
4. Make it safe to fail
5. Provide access to other strategists
6. Develop opportunities for experience based learning
7. Hire for transformation
8. Bring your whole self to work
9. Find time to reflect
10. Recognize leadership development as an on-going practice
Leadership is not easy. Whatever your personal leadership style your job is to lead from the front. Work on your personal strength of character and always be authentic and stick with your personal principles as people are following you, you’ve got to be yourself, that’s the easiest bit.


Sartaj Garewal is the founder of Dynamic Presenting – a creative, leadership development consultancy, adapting theatre training to create leadership programs for business.

Dynamic Presenting – Enabling Powerful Communication

defensive behaviour

Defensive Behaviour – Understanding Defensiveness…

Defensive behaviour in the workplace is tricky to manage, where a siege mentality becomes the operating system for some people. Defensiveness may at times be the most effective behaviour to exhibit and equally when it is our habitual, subconscious and reflexive way of dealing with challenges and surprises, it can lead to difficulties – we don’t take on other perspectives and ideas, we insist that we are being hard done by, we prevent ourselves from actively seeking out challenges, opportunities and ultimately it is our own growth that becomes stunted.

Common Defensive Behaviours

Masking – often displayed as sarcasm, where true thoughts/feelings are only shared piecemeal

Avoiding – avoiding dialogue about the pertinent issue(s)

Withdrawing – ejecting out of the conversation and perhaps physically leaving the space


To some extent we are hard wired for self protection and defensive behaviour is a natural consequence. And as assertiveness – viewed as the mid point between fight and flight – is a learnt position, we often revert towards either passive or aggressive tendencies when the pressure is on. It is a uniquely human phenomenon. Animals don’t do assertiveness..!

Resolving Conflict

Holding on to a defensive attitude is an exhausting task. And in not dealing with things directly can lead to behaviours that in turn affect the working relationship somewhat more indirectly and make things worse. So it becomes much harder to untangle various legacy issues and resolve the key underlying dispute. Everything becomes confused by this historical baggage. All mediation processes seek to untangle this

Addressing points of conflict with a constructive mindset leads to resolution and often to stronger relationships as trust is forged

Situational Perspectives

People who are more prone to defensive behaviour may perceive an attack in certain situations in which people with resilient and calm temperaments would perceive none. This brings in to play the notion of true empathy. Really being able to visualise the other person’s perspective… of course this is what actors do all day long in creating truthful characters from words on scripts. Understanding situational perspectives in other words.

How we innately or automatically recieve feedback or criticism plays a big part too – this is often embedded since our formative years in our dealings with parents, teachers and anyone who had a position of authority over us. We tend to make active choices to like, dislike, forgive etc. In so doing we adopt positions about other people and workplace issues.

“Resentment, like blame and regret is looking backwards”

Being closed-minded when challenged or given critical feedback detracts from learning and leadership. It is vital to consciously make space to improve self awareness, accept feedback from others, working through points of conflict with open, honest dialogue… This is how we learn, change our defensive behaviour and ultimately, grow.

Fear underpins it all. the first step away from fear is to register our automatic reactions and then mindfully make adjustments. It doesn’t take a lot of time to notice our typical responses but it takes a lot of time, conscious practice and nurturing to enable new fledgling habits to grow and supercede the old defensive ways.

Sartaj Garewal is the founder of Dynamic Presenting – a creative, leadership development consultancy, adapting theatre training to create leadership programs for business.

Dynamic Presenting – Enabling Powerful Communication

role play effectively

Role Play – Learn How to Role Play Effectively

Role play exercises are commonly used as part of recruitment processes, assessment centres and leadership development programs, usually centering around a relevant yet fictional case study. The aim of using role play is generally to see how you manage people, behaviours and how effectively you communicate and engage with somebody else – be they a line manager, peer, direct report, potential customer…

Often as a candidate, you are told the character you will be role playing opposite, say the CEO of a prospective client firm, is actually a professional actor. In the case of development and leadership training programs, the actor may also facilitate the session and offer time outs where needed and provide feedback after the session. But more usually you will find that there are other observers, managers and facilitators in the room whose job is to observe and record everything that goes on in the role play meeting. This is especially the case where recruitment and assessment are concerned.

Having been the role player over 1000 times and also assessor, facilitator, program designer on countless occasions, I thought I would share some tips on how to role play effectively.

1. Effective Introduction

Do relax, smile, shake hands etc. or whatever you would do in a normal meeting. Do listen from the outset to the character you are meeting. How is their energy today? What kind of mood are they in? What is it that they need? Adopt an open, inquisitive perspective from the outset.

2. Rapport & Relationship

Building strong relationships is often cited as one of the most fundamental aspects of business. The first meeting with a prospective client or even regular catch up with a team member are all opportunities to strengthen that bond. So don’t focus solely on “the issue”, whatever that may be. Take an interest in the person sat opposite you – even if you think you know them well, who are they today, right at this moment? This is just as relevant if having a difficult conversation.

Many people in role play exercises simply offer a cursory greeting, pay no attention and then jump into what they think the case study wants them to achieve. That frankly is the difference between a leader and manager. The skill we look for in role play exercises is building rapport throughout the conversation, whilst staying on point re: whatever needs to be discussed. Too many people try “How was your flight?” then move straight into whatever they want.

3. Shared Agenda

If you have called the meeting, you will obviously have points to address and/or a message to deliver. That’s great. But do not forget to ask for the other person’s input. And crucially this should be done at the beginning of the meeting. Scribble down the salient points that you both want to cover. Too many times, I have seen people in situations where they fail to do this and launch into their own agenda, ignoring and alienating the needs of the other. It’s not rocket science so remember to take a moment to invite their perspective.

4. Listen & Pause

Listening effectively is really easy as you simply place all your focus on to the other person. Simple right? Why then do the majority of people in role play exercises fail to listen adequately? And I’m talking about senior partners in law firms and professional services as well as C-level directors..! It seems therefore that listening is a skill we can consciously develop. As actors we are screwed if we stop genuinely listening on stage. The trick is to park our inner monologue and focus on not only what is being said, but how it is being said.

Similarly don’t be afraid of pauses in the role play. A lengthy pause is often the moment the other person is really thinking hard about what you just said so allow them the space to think. Chances are that pause is where a change of thinking will actually occur so the last thing you want to do is break it.

5. Energy Matching

We do this unconsciously all the time. We see a friend who we had, until seeing them slumped at the bar, figured would be in their usual jocular mood. We instantly make an adjustment and decide to not go for the hi-five (or whatever). The trick is to do this consciously. So, you’re meeting a new client for the first time and have no idea what they are like. If you find they are chatty and personable, then mirror that relaxed energy. Conversely if they are brash and impatient, then cut to the quick. The point is to be able to flex your own style in the moment and to be aware of this – improvisation in other words.

6. Questioning

Learn the difference between open, closed, multiple and leading questions. So many people ask a series of closed and lengthy, ineffective multiple questions in trying to get to dialogue in role play. It’s really much easier than that. Ask a short, pithy open question when you need to unearth information or fully understand the other person’s perspective. Closed questions work for clarifying – “Was it red or black..?” And leading questions – “Well I really don’t think that they offer anything of value, wouldn’t you say?”

7. Agree Next Steps

When all perspectives have been shared and discussed, perhaps you’ve been able to negotiate where possible and reach agreed next steps. Do ensure that next steps have actually been mutually agreed upon by checking in with the other person. A common role play mistake is to assume buy-in and launch into “Well that’s all settled then…” mindset when actually things have not been agreed… because you didn’t listen…. because there was no trust or rapport…!!

What works well here is being crystal clear about ownership and who is tasked to do what, next. Lead by example and take ownership of relevant points that you need to in the role play.

8. Summarise & Close

Offering a summary of what has been discussed, any changes made and next steps agreed on allows everyone to take stock and helps to articulate what progress has been made over the last 30 minutes or whatever.

Role play can be strange and seem artificial with observers in the room, watching your every move. It can also illuminate habits, typical behaviour and communication approach. Invariably a role play with an experienced actor/trainer will result in very useful and relevant feedback which is priceless.

Sartaj Garewal is the founder of Dynamic Presenting – a creative, leadership development consultancy, adapting theatre training to create leadership programs for business.

Dynamic Presenting – Enabling Powerful Communication

choosing habits success

Habits – Choosing Successful Habits for Self Development…

 “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit” Aristotle

Habits are certain embedded patterns of thought or action. Something we replay over and again automatically. They can be conscious or unconscious actions. Procrastination is a particular habit of mine. It took me ages to get my act together to write this blog post today..! 

The advertising industry has long understood how to introduce consumption of products to us via Inculcation – repeated messaging until our subconscious demands we buy anything and everything with Peppa Pig splattered on it – seriously, watch the trance kids go into anytime the famous pig is on TV and the consequent “must buy impulse” triggered when they see related merchandise. For my own part I have managed to make cycling, herbal tea and yoga regular habits. But I’ve also started cracking my knuckles and still get the odd chocolate bar in. Maybe every time we succeed in introducing a positive change we also get a corresponding negative habit to balance things out..?

Established Patterns

“Bad habits are like a comfortable bed, easy to get into but hard to get out of” Anon

Changing or breaking any habit needs to begin with awareness and identifying these repeated patterns or routines that exist. This can be trickier than it sounds as our ego does its utmost to reject that smoking twenty cigarettes per day is actually an entrenched pattern resulting in self deluded commentary such as “Oh smoking? No that’s not a serious habit for me. Honestly I could give that up easily. No, I need to focus on my habit of never calling people back, it’s terrible.” These are deeply entrenched and defensive positions – it’s taken potentially hundreds, thousands of repetitions to establish the current habit – where we fear being exposed, losing our not so secret crutch and dread our world changing forever. Change however, is the only constant.

Going to the gym regularly, meditating for 15 minutes in the morning…. are all habits too. It’s just that they result in positive and societally approved change. Which is why we desire them but they take commitment and hard work so just one more pint and fag and I’ll catch you up on that hill run..promise..!

Charles Duhigg’s illuminating book How Habits Work cites the trigger, routine, reward loop which goes a bit like this:

1. Trigger that kicks things off

2. Routine ie. the habit/behaviour itself

3. Benefit received from the action/behaviour

Changing Behaviours

As this is the way in which habits bcome cemented within us, it is also the way to establish new behaviours. So if the sight of a Crunchie wrapper near a waste bin in the street means we have to get that sugar hit NOW as an immediate Pavlovian response is activated, then similarly we need to consciously introduce different visual triggers into our world – a bowl of cashews next to the fridge, satsumas next to the pc, gym kit ready and waiting next to the door etc. if we are to ever change our ways.

As is well documented sheer willpower alone doesn’t work for most of us. We are magnetically pulled back into our well practiced old behaviours unless we go out of our way to create systems that actively promote the new way of doing things. A self created advertising campaign aimed at just ourselves.

Coaching as a Solution

“All bad habits start slowly and gradually and before you know you have the habit, the habit has you” – Zig Zaglar

Working with a trusted coach can help to identify existing habits, clarify new goals, work out the road map to achieving those goals and crucially provide ongoing support and guidance. Is it any surprise then, that most successful people and many of those in positions of leadership use executive coaches to help them in reaching their goals? Not really.


Sartaj Garewal is the founder of Dynamic Presenting – a creative, leadership development consultancy, adapting theatre training to create leadership programs for business.

Dynamic Presenting – Enabling Powerful Communication


Resilience for leadership development

Resilience – How to Develop it for Great Leadership…

Resilience is an indispensable leadership quality – but just how do we go about developing it?

Just how does Novak Djokovic go two sets down against Roger Federer at Wimbledon and against all odds still come back to win 3-2..? Is this resilience stuff rare then? Only for elite athletes? I often think that actors could teach most business leaders a thing or two about the nature of resilience – given the staggering amount of rejection that actors have to cope with means they toughen up quick or change profession.

Is resilience something we can improve? If so, how then do we go about developing it?

“That which does not kill us, makes us stronger” – Friedrich Nietzsche

The opposite  is to be sunk and diminished by new and ever changing events, often leading to anxiety and depression. A tired slump where we are unable to deal with change and anxiously defend old ways of doing things. Surely such anxiety is born of fear? And we know that fear is associated with ego or to put it another way our inability to let go lightly of whatever we are holding on to.


When the fuel of adaptability runs out, we are no longer able to bounce back. Resilience is movement, fluid, flowing, motion, energy. It is the opposite of ego, repetition, being stuck, holding on.


A 2011 HBR report found that optimism is absolutely crucial in terms of fostering resilience.

By the way actors are probably the most optimistic folk you’ll ever meet. We are forever, secretly hoping and partly believing that the next agent phone call will be the lead role in that mega budget Spielberg epic, opposite Jennifer Lawrence, filming in dozens of beautiful international locations, a multi million dollar contract which is SO overdue now etc etc. When the agent call actually relates to an audition first thing tomorrow morning for a health & safety training film the actor’s enthusiasm is blunted and a good deal of optimism is extinguished. But within no time that actor has to appraise the situation in as positive a way as possible and understand that the Spielberg epic is just a couple of calls away. And put on a brave face for the training film audition.

Reframing & Mindfulness…

The actor unwittingly uses the experienced mediator’s trick of reframing the situation which helps to take regain a calm perspective. This is a skill that can be learnt and practised where “What..!!! I can’t believe it wasn’t the Spielberg film, what the hell is wrong with everyone, what more do I have to do to get that role…!” transforms into “OK, it’s not the dream job but hey I’ve got an opportunity to get a paid job, if I’m honest I kinda need the camera practice and if I keep working regardless who knows what could happen.”

We can also actively and very consciously develop and practice mindfulness. Focusing on ourselves through meditating, breathing and raising our self awareness promotes growth of resilience too.

Fail, Learn, Fail Again…

Resilience is a natural attribute. If not, we’d have stopped trying to walk, stand, even crawl as babies. It must be that we are born with it – it’s there, hard wired into our DNA and our will to survive.

We need to take the nuggets of learning from events and move on. And guess what, when we move on we’ll experience new obstacles unlike the ones before so we’ll learn afresh… again and again… Knowing this could and should be utterly freeing and liberating depending on our state of mind. Want to be a great leader? Develop your resilience and learn to bend with the breeze.

Sartaj Garewal is the founder of Dynamic Presenting – a creative, leadership development consultancy, adapting theatre training to create leadership programs for business.

Dynamic Presenting – Enabling Powerful Communication