Welcome to our March business briefing.

It takes 6 minutes to read. We hope you enjoy it.

Learning from Leonardo: lessons for working lives

If you only ever read one book about art, it should be The Story of Art by Ernst Gombrich. It’s a beautifully constructed journey from the earliest cave paintings through all the significant developments in painting and architecture to the modern day. All illustrated with marvellous reproductions of the art itself.

At over 600 pages, it’s a sizeable book. If you’re like me, you probably have more books on the go than you can really read at one time. So for this giant, I took to leaving it open on my desk next to the keyboard and then aimed to read 2 pages a day.

Anyway, other than encouraging you to get hold of a copy (I first borrowed it repeatedly from the library for six months before my wife bought me a copy for my birthday), one of the things that strikes you is the impact that the work of Leonardo Da Vinci made, not only in art and science (anatomy, botany, geology and physics) but also warfare and philosophical reflection.

One of the traits that really differentiated Leonardo from those around him and those who had come before, was his capacity to observe: to examine things closely and for a long time; to look to see how things are and how they work; to listen and to feel in order to gain understanding. The same trait could be found in his younger contemporary Michelangelo. This was critical to their work. Developing this capacity for me is summed up in the expression “sharpening the senses” – being able to tune in with all your faculties in order to really comprehend and appreciate something.

There’s a lesson there for us in our working lives. How much time do we give to looking closely at what is going on before we take a decision or act to make a change?

If you run a team, it pays to pause and look closely at how things are and how it works the way it does. Only then is it possible to understand why things might be that way – and hence what might be done differently.

Here is a 5-day programme to think a bit like Leonardo in your work setting:

  1. Day 1 – try to talk and do less and instead spend your time observing and listening
  2. Day 2 – what can you see? What is happening through the day? What have you noticed a bit before but not thought about closely? What patterns and habits can you spot? What would you spot if you were coming to the team with fresh eyes?
  3. Day 3 – what do you hear being said? What is curious about the conversations that happen? What would you notice if you were coming to the team with fresh ears? What hadn’t you noticed before?
  4. Day 4 – how does it feel to be part of the team? What emotions have you been feeling this week? What do you think others are experiencing being part of the team? What would your reaction be if you were coming to the team with no preconceptions?
  5. Day 5 – what have you learned? What do you appreciate more now than at the beginning of the week? What ideas come into your mind about what you could do next?

We recommend you make notes as you try this. Note-taking was one of Leonardo’s great skills – he mastered the art of thinking on paper. (see here for the 5 ways that taking great notes can help you have more impact).

And for more on Leonardo (and some potentially life changing ideas), read How to Think like Leonardo Da Vinci by Michael Gelb.

Four practical steps to get onto the front foot

Our ideas on the Front Foot Organisation have proved extremely popular in recent months. Here is a series of 4 recent blogs on some practical steps you can take to get - and keep - your team on the front foot.

In working with leadership teams in our ‘classic’ workshop format, we bring the framework to life at four stages. At the start, we ask people to describe the future state they will be achieving in one or two years.

This ‘fast forward’ is about being clear on Direction. It builds a shared understanding of what is being aimed for and raises the expectation and hope for the next stage.

We then ask teams to consider how they can create Momentum around what they are trying to achieve, we find the ABC method works well:

A is for accelerate – what can be sped up?
B is for brake – what needs to be stopped?
C is for create – what should be started?

This is a simple but very powerful technique – we have a poster template you can use for this.

Co-ordination of everyone’s efforts is the third part of the Front Foot framework. Here we find that action planning for 5, 30 and 90 days clarifies the what, when and who. Spell out the critical actions for the next week, month and quarter. It’s a sure-fire way to build on the momentum that is emerging.

Striking the right Balance is the fourth thing to work on - the balance between:

  • time working and time not working (no-one can stay on the front foot with an unrealistic workload)
  • reviewing and thinking as well as planning and doing (it’s critical to break out of ‘firefighting’ mode).

The After Action Review process asks four useful questions for assessing progress against your 5-30-90 day plans:

  • what was supposed to happen?
  • what has actually happened?
  • why was it different?
  • what can we learn from this?

From this you can also think through what else it will take to keep on the front foot in getting your ideas into action.

So, there you go – four simple methods to bring our Front Foot framework to life.

[For more ideas from the idenk blog subscribe here]

The front foot family

One of us recently led a session for a group of fathers and sons at a leading school in Sydney. At this, we explored how the ‘front foot’ principles could be applied to family life by asking parents and children the following questions:


  • What subjects do you enjoy?
  • What do you want to excel at?
  • What are the important issues to get right in the family (time together, shared pleasures, common goals, etc)?
  • Who shapes what you do, what you think is important –parents, siblings, media, yourself, etc?
  • How often do you talk about where the family as a whole is heading?
  • How are decisions made –collective, top down, bottom up?


  • Think about what you’re good at? How can you use this more?
  • Is there more focus on what isn’t achieved than what is?
  • How can you encourage others? Say thank you, say well done
  • Celebrate – the mundane as well as the spectacular
  • Live in the moment – make the best of the opportunity you have in front of you
  • How much time do you spend being disappointed (in people or events)?
  • How do you deal with fears and anxieties? Say what you’re frightened of, talk through the worst case


  • How does what I do have an effect on others?
  • What should I tell parents, siblings, children that would help them understand me?
  • Eat together, play together, chill out together?
  • How often do you speak – about the trivial, the deep?
  • How often laugh together?


  • Pressure v relaxed interactions
  • Do you try new things – importance of the fresh? Don’t take things for granted
  • How much is it up to you? Responsible autonomy, play hard-work hard
  • Don’t just talk – hug, kiss, wrestle, play, watch their programmes even though it is beneath you/bores you.

Tailored in-house courses

You might be interested to know that over the last couple of years we have been extending the range of courses which can be tailored to run in-house:

Getting your team onto the front foot
Move from ‘manager’ to ‘leader’| Coach, influence and inspire | Get the best from your team

Running great Meetings
Master the 7Ps of great meetings | Manage group dynamics | Navigate meeting nightmares

Selling services made easy
Relate to the customer | Listen for needs |Make the offer easy to buy | Get to ‘yes’

Building personal and team resilience
Learn the characteristics of resilience | Develop robust plans | Manage motivation

Thinking on your feet
Take ‘power notes’ | Ask great questions | Synthesise and conclude |Speak for impact

Master your personal productivity
Set successful goals |Use your strengths | Manage time | Develop productive habits

Commercial skills for health organisations
Analyse the market | Map the competition | Develop a viable offer |Prepare a business case

Put together a winning team
Profile the team | Build on strengths | Optimise the incentives| Make the right hiring choices

Email leadershiptraining@idenk.com for more details.

Best wishes

Phil and Ross
March 2011

idenk updates

Sign up for updates on our latest thinking via the Business Briefing