Penny Ferguson, Author of The Living Leader.
Penny Ferguson, Author of The Living Leader.

Some years ago I attended a training course given by Penny Ferguson to the organisation I worked in.  Penny is a forthright presenter with very strong views about leadership. I thought it would be useful to review Penny’s book The Living Leader to gain a greater awareness and understanding of leadership in the context of coaching. Also I thought it would be apt to remind myself of what leadership in business means today and what particular skills are needed to achieve success. Penny tells the reader that she has completely changed her opinion on what leadership is actually about.  She once believed it was primarily about developing skills and acquiring more knowledge around the various theories on the subject of leadership. She believed that success was essentially about learning these skills and putting them into practice. She has changed her whole way of thinking in recent years. This change emanates from her experience of dealing with many International companies and global Chief Executives. She now believes that Leadership is not primarily about what you do, it is about who you are and who you choose to be. Or to put it in philosophical terms, leadership is more about being rather than doing.

“Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without strategy”.   
Norman Schwarzkopf

Penny’s concern is about achieving organisational success and leadership is a fundamental part of that ongoing success. Every organisation must have a clear vision to be successful. To make that vision a reality, organisations need Leaders with the right skills, attitudes and character. The key learning for me was just how important questioning was to the successful leader, something Leadership has in common with coaching. “You can tell a man is clever by his answers. You can tell a man is wise by his questions.” Naquib Mahfouz Penny states that outstanding leaders recognise that asking the right questions is critical, not least because leaders require all the pertinent information before making a decision. So, for Penny, becoming a listening leader is essential to success.

It is interesting that She focuses heavily on the skill of questioning, which of course is a fundamental requirement of the executive coach. She underpins the importance of incisive questions and urges her reader to use the ‘who, what, where, when and how’ questions to uncover the information needed to make executive decisions. The incisive question needs to become second nature to the leader. Penny’s book highlights for me the fundamental role that incisive questioning play in excellent leadership, and indeed in many aspects of life, including coaching. It reinforces for me the central role of questioning in my coaching work and the need to bring this skill to the clients awareness and encourage them to use open questioning within their business life.

The book is an articulate, informative and inspiring read and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the subject of leadership. Better still, if you ever get an opportunity to attend an event where Penny is speaking, grab it with both hands!

Maurice Whelan.

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