Introduction – No Cape Required


Our strength is in a system, not heroes. A heroic, high-minded system.

—Eric Garland

There’s a book on leadership written every 6 minutes, so they say. And you can see why. Everyone’s got an opinion on the subject—those who lead, as well as those who are led. Because we’ve all got bosses; we’ve all experienced the highs and lows. Yet few of us have experienced good leadership. This book is about developing better leadership. It’s about redefining the very term leadership. And it’s about drawing upon, and growing, everyone’s abundant leadership capabilities.

In the 25 years we’ve been supporting leaders to grow, develop, and deliver, we’ve seen all the fads:

  • It’s all about traits—“leaders are born.”
  • It’s all about character—“leaders are made.”
  • It’s hero leadership.
  • It’s servant leadership.
  • It’s these leadership styles. No—it’s these …

With a few noble exceptions, the hero leader model perpetuates its “solo male and stale leader” stereotype—complete with cape. These people are bosses, not necessarily leaders. Yes, these people have status, hovering at the top of their organizations. But the price they pay is isolation and loneliness, and, knowingly or otherwise, they suppress the value locked up in their organizations. They’re trapped by their own status. And it creates an artificially narrow barrier to entry for others. It’s a monoculture; where diversity, strengths, and contribution are undervalued in favor of adherence to an outdated norm. And no, the authors of this book are not antimen, or ageist. It’s just that there’s such a wealth of experience that people could unlock and release to the benefit of themselves and others.

By presenting a monoculture, organizations are held back from tapping into the unappreciated talents and dormant skills. It’s time to break the stereotype, and leave the hero leader where he belongs, on our TV and cinema screens. We’re now entering a new era of leadership, where diverse and inclusive leadership brings individual and organizational benefits.

It’s Time for the Era of Abundant Leadership

Let’s be clear; this is not news. It’s just that abundant leadership and better leadership behaviors are urgently needed in this “VUCA World” of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

Back in 1989, Professor Harold Schroder1 told us that the hero leader myth had been debunked. Earlier researchers had already shown that “heroic leadership will decrease effectiveness of organisations.”2 Yet the myths persist. And behaviors need to change. The authors covered some of the arguments for change in our contribution to the book Breaking the Zero-Sum Game,3 listing the very real performance and financial benefits to organizations of more inclusive and diverse leadership. The time is long overdue for transformation—away from solitary hero leaders to a more abundant, inclusive world of leadership. But this new world of leadership needs support and encouragement. It’s time for those responsible for their own, and others’, leadership development to empower abundant leadership. It’s time to celebrate the emergence of abundant leadership.

Abundant leadership is where men and women, young and old, of every culture, step into leadership roles (not positions) regardless of their status, power, or society’s expectations. The gender-linked benefits for the United Kingdom4 alone are estimated at £14 billion, which doesn’t include the benefits of culturally diverse or age-diverse leadership.

We want to support the emergence of abundant leadership, and our approach comes from asking two fundamental questions:

Q. What’s needed and what works?

A. Transformational Leadership Works

You don’t need the latest fad—the flavor of the month. What’s needed is an intelligent, systems-wide application of consistent, high-performance, emotionally intelligent behaviors that flex to the context and changing situations faced by managers daily. And, to quote a 2012 study5 “transformational leadership is most strongly associated with the implementation of diversity practices.”

There are visible, measurable behaviors: leadership styles that really inspire and motivate people, underpinned by the less visible everyday conversations managers have and their invisible attitudes and values. This combination makes a positive difference to team members and a positive contribution to organization success.

Today’s leadership development programs seem to focus on delivering today’s tactical solutions. That’s fine, as far as it goes. You need leadership that’s going to take your organization from where you are today to where you need to be tomorrow—and the day after—because the world is changing rapidly and the solution is transformation.

Q. How do you achieve transformational leadership?

A. Include people focused methods that result in transformational outcomes

Organizations say they need transformation; yet employ transactional techniques. Because when they see what’s involved, they back off.

There are two reasons why this happens:

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

African Proverb

If your job is in the “change” or “transformation” department, you’ll appreciate this rationale quickly. You’ll also likely have the tools to understand and implement change. Organizations want to see change happen quickly. And the bigger challenge is to bring people along in that transformation: to go far and go together. What this means, in practice, is the Change team working closely with the HR and Learning and Development (L&D) teams, creating an environment where abundant leadership is valued, and where individuals can develop new skills and feel safe to apply them back in the workplace.

Another quote:

If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you. If you really make them think, they’ll hate you.

Don Marquis

There’s a real need to overcome the resistance to change and to help people feel safe to address the challenges of transformation. We use the word safe because that’s what people tell us they need—a safe space to address challenges, to try out new ways of working, and to embed better management and leadership practices.

We see our purpose in writing this book as aligning the individual need to develop leadership skills, with the organizational need to provide the means to develop, and the environmental need for a culture in which that development can succeed. It’s not one thing or another; it’s all these elements. Then, people can be fulfilled and organizations can be more successful.

We don’t see our job in writing this book as taking you through a step-by-step checklist of things to do. Rather it’s a book to get you thinking, hopefully talking, and ultimately getting into action around individual and organizational leadership development needs. According to the United Kingdom’s Chartered Management Institute, only one in five managers have a recognized management qualification.6 And developing an abundance of leadership is at the heart of transformation. Clearly, if we’re going to upskill leaders and managers, we all need to know what works. And knowing what works creates an abundance of leadership and a reduced reliance on individual hero figures.

We need the courage to transform: transform our own leadership, support, and empower others. We need the determination to enable a higher performing leadership culture in our organizations. Courage is usually seen as the epitome of the hero leader. But we’re asking you not to be a lone hero. We’re asking you to find allies so that you make change, and move forward, together. So here’s the deal-breaker question: Are you ready for the leadership gamechanger? This isn’t just about you as an individual leader; it’s also about organizational culture having the collective courage to achieve transformational leadership. So often managers leave leadership training courses nurtured with lofty ideals and leadership aspirations, only to return to a nest of vipers.

One of our students told us this story:

I used to help my Dad clean out the fish tank. He’d carefully take out each of his precious fish collection, quickly dipping them in a small clear water tank. With my help, he’d rigorously clean out the display tank and gently return the fish. We’d literally see them in a new light: the iridescent colors of the little neon fish were my favorites.

Why would you invest in training up leaders only to return them to the dirty water? Especially when what you thought was a fish tank turns out to be a shark tank. What’s needed is a whole-system approach to better leadership, and this book helps you consider the whole “heroic system,” rather than focusing solely on individuals, such that when we’ve invested time, effort, and money in their development, the environment they return to is ready for them too.

Forton Leadership and Coaching: Our Story

After 25 years in corporate life as leaders ourselves and fifteen years developing others, we paused to take stock of what worked. What do we notice about the most successful leaders? What lessons have we learned? What did we learn from our own students? And indeed, from our own failures! Some factors are irrelevant. Leadership can emerge anywhere—wherever someone is ready, willing, and able to step up and take responsibility.

We see our role in leadership development as drawing the route map to better leadership—setting out the skills, behaviors, and character traits that support more successful leadership. We’ve taken that experience and distilled it into our leadership model. We’ve taken it into our coaching business too.

Bob Hughes created the Professional Leadership Coach Training Programme, the first of its kind to be accredited by the International Coach Federation back in 2002, and it was Helen who managed that process. Then we acquired the My360plus leadership psychometric based on the Schroder high-performance behaviors model so that we can support people, step by step, to appreciate their strengths, neutralize their weaknesses, and value the contribution of others in the abundant leadership mix. Today, we work with leaders and managers around the world. We feel proud to work across culture, age, and gender. We see our role as encouraging people to bring out the best in themselves and others, not to impose a single method or approach on people.

It may sound paradoxical to talk about making transformational change “step by step,” starting from where you are. We’re more used to the heroic figure making sweeping gestures and pointing toward the glorious future. Yes, we strongly believe in having a clear vision, and we also know that real change making relies on systematically and consistently putting one foot in front of another. We value the day in, day out, spadework as being as much value as the inspirational oratory, complete with stirring music and mood lighting. Maybe that’s why we’ve been described as having the best leadership and coaching model out there. But don’t take our word for it; jump over to our website and find out for yourself. (

Coaching: The Game Changer in Transformational Leadership

Leadership coaching goes to the heart of how every leader and manager deals with his or her people and delivers for the organization.

Leadership coaching:

  • Delivers meaningful ROI
  • Personalizes and embeds learning
  • Addressed any topic
  • Catalyzes good ideas into reality and performance
  • Deals with the complexity of organizational dynamics and culture
  • Touches the heart of peoples’ values and motivation

Now, let’s be clear. When we say “leadership coaching,” we mean support from coaches properly trained, accredited, and experienced in the skills of leadership and development. International qualifications matter to us. Our methods show equivalence of qualifications across educational boundaries and barriers under two banners, namely, the International Coach Federation (ICF) and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), a UK-based standards body issuing professional qualification programs, so that, despite differing national frameworks, a leadership qualification in one country is just as relevant to leaders in another. We also support the development of leaders’ and managers’ own coaching skills so that supportive performance and motivational conversations become routinely and easily used. We call this “everyday feedback,” where reviewing what works is a developmental routine between peers, not a remedial dressing down from the boss.

Transformational Leadership: A Defined Skillset

Leadership and management is vital to organizational success. And it’s a skillset; yet despite the global market in MBAs, the topic of “leadership” itself, and the skills that support better leadership, are not embedded in MBA curricula. Some might argue that it doesn’t need to be limited solely to business management—that it’s a core skill set for all organizations, at all levels.

The Chartered Management Institute,7 in its February 2018 report, gave its number one recommendation for “Developing 21st-Century Leaders” as “Give all learners management and leadership skills to improve employability. Opportunities to develop management, enterprise and leadership skills should be made accessible to students in any discipline, as well as those on business and management courses.”

Using the Forton leadership model, professionals responsible for developing and coaching leaders have a simple, yet transformational, way to support leadership success in any part of the organization. And leaders and managers can invest their time and effort in working toward meaningful qualifications that cross organizational and cultural boundaries. It means a focus on what works in leadership development, based on managers’ and leaders’ real-world experience, as well as peer-reviewed academic research. This means that, from the first 360 exploration of leaders’ behaviors, through to one-to-one coaching and peer action learning, employers can be confident that a qualified manager has the knowledge and skills to be a successful leader for that most precious of resources—their people.

Thanks to word of mouth through our clients, we reach across the world through our partners and through a network of experienced trainers, consultants, and coaches. The old barriers to better leadership need no longer exist, thanks to today’s cutting-edge technology. Everyone can benefit through e-learning, online live learning, coaching by VOIP, or in-person development. This means we can reach leaders on every continent, wherever they are, without imposing our culture on others. And we can touch their lives and the lives of people who work with them. Most importantly, it means we can drop the many myths of leadership and distinguish between leadership fact and fairy story. So that’s enough about us. What about you?

Your Story: Why Read This Book

This is a book for taking leadership development into your own hands and for influencing the organization around you to be better prepared for the abundant leadership revolution. This book is for you if you need to develop your own leadership skills to:

  • Be a better, more confident leader
  • Be a more engaging, coach-like leader
  • Define the kind of leadership your team needs
  • Identify the skills core to your success

And it’s for you if you’re responsible for developing leadership capabilities in your organization to:

  • Uncover the untapped talent in your organization and give people the best chance of success
  • Explore whether to develop from within or bring talented people in from outside
  • Be careful about costs and invest in people development

It’s for you if you want to transform this know-how into sustained and successful delivery back in the workplace. And if you’re not asking any of those questions, maybe you’re just interested in how best to grow leadership as a theoretical exercise and want to hear about our approach. This book is for people serious about growing themselves, their team, and their organization, committed to delivering real change and transformation, and making a real difference to their own lives and the communities around them.

Why Challenge the Hero Myth?

The hero is the defining myth of leadership development: the need for a “hero” and how that person looks and behaves. The hero myth underpins current approaches to leadership. Multimillion budgets are committed to keeping it going. It’s currently the dominant leadership development paradigm.

In this book, we explore, question, and challenge these hero notions. For example, the myths that:

  • Organizations need a hierarchy with a hero at the top
  • Any one person has all the answers
  • Gender, culture, or the color of someone’s skill makes a difference to his or her leadership potential

We’re not antihero—far from it. We’re delighted that there are more and more diverse role models for leadership. But we take time to be clear about what a real “hero” is—separating the fantasy from the facts.

How This Book Is Structured

We’ve divided the book into four key sections, based on the FortonD4 leadership development model, created by the Forton Group. And we’ve provided a separate stimulus questions for you at the end of each chapter. So that you can reflect on, and deliver, the kind of leadership you need.

The FortonD4 Leadership Development Model

  • Define your leadership needs
  • Discover and retain the talent(s) you already have
  • Develop people and create a learning environment
  • Deploy: support leaders to apply their skills

The beauty of the D4 method (Figure 1) is that it’s a systematic approach to thinking through this process, for optimum success. It works both at the individual and at the organizational levels. It works for people developing others and for those developing themselves.

Figure1 The FortonD4 leadership development model

Source: © The Forton Group Ltd., 2018.

D1: DEFINE. Tailor Leadership to Your Needs

At a client meeting, we asked what success would look like. What was important about developing the leadership capabilities of the organization? This stopped our client in his tracks, because it hadn’t been defined. And yet the organization was willing to invest significantly in its leadership development program.

Your organization, department, or team is unique. Identifying the right leadership mix is vital to success. Part 1 looks at the issues you may want to consider.

Leadership Development: A Solution Looking for a Problem?

In Chapter 1, we look at the solo leader hero myth and the need for more balanced, more inclusive, leadership. We explore barriers to developing a high-performing leadership culture. In this zone of discovery, we encourage questions about what kind of leadership the organization needs to be successful and where to start—because that may not be leadership development. Better teamwork or improved employee engagement may be higher priorities.

Leadership: Problems or Puzzles?

In Chapter 2, we explore different ways of defining the leadership development challenge: as a puzzle or a problem. We focus on the new paradigm of leadership development to meet the challenges of “VUCA World.” VUCA World is the place created by the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity faced by leaders, which requires a different approach to dealing with the situations they face and a new approach to leader development.

No Cape Required

We all know it’s a myth that one, cape-clad hero can save the day. But we still cling to it. It’s time to throw off the cape, and the underpinning beliefs, assumptions, and unconscious bias tucked under it. Chapter 3 explores these dominant paradigms and the benefits, for organizations, teams, and individuals, of making change.


The discovery phase offers new ways of looking at talent selection and contests the practice of recruiting for cultural “fit” when that may not be what’s needed.

Brokering Peace in the War for Talent

In Chapter 4, we challenge the “war for talent” metaphor and argue instead for a more collaborative approach to recruitment and retention. We look at the benefits of in-house talent nurturing versus the costs (in time, not just in money) of hiring from outside.

Mining for Gold

“What’s the definition of an expert? Someone from a different country.” (Anonymous)

In Chapter 5, we address the myth of shiny suited outsider, or the knight in shining armor, and invite you to dig a little deeper into your talent pool. It’s easy enough to see why people fall for these myths; they’re enticing and seem to solve our problems in a moment. We explore the allure of the hero myth, and the risks.

Filling the Vase

In Chapter 6, we explore approaches that value every member of the team for his or her diverse contributions, rather than the “zero-sum game” of winners and losers. We need to bring reward systems closer to real contribution, as these get “gamed” by people looking to beat the system.


For development activities to be worth their investment, they need to be skills based, change behaviors, and be genuinely useful in the work place. In this section, we explore some of the shifts in thinking about leadership development for leaders to succeed in VUCA World.

Soft Skills Are Tougher Than They Look

In Chapter 7, we challenge the labelling of empathy, compassion, and collaborative skills as “soft.” In today’s world of work, relationships and communications between people are vital. Developing these skills is at the heart of succeeding in VUCA World.

Leadership by Lion Taming

Part of the challenge of the hero myth is that leadership development programs support that myth; it’s a symbiotic relationship that exists only to support the development of heroic leaders. Chapter 8 goes more deeply into the specifics of leadership behaviors and their adaptability.

Nobody’s Perfect

Having talked about virtue though, it’s time, in Chapter 9, to look at the shadow side. Leadership is a daily practice—a journey, not a destination. That means we practice, and sometimes fail, to be a good leader. Nobody’s perfect, yet hero figures are expected to succeed, or risk being seen as “failures.” It’s vital that we address attitudes toward failure and the fear of failure.


It’s not enough to invest in peoples’ development then throw them, unsupported, back into an unchanged work environment afterwards. New skills and behaviors need time to bed in. We argue for deployment support programs, including one-to-one and group coaching, mentoring, and PALS (facilitated Peer Action Learning Sets) that support and actively encourage people to deploy their new skills. Optimum deployment is also about the wider environment and introducing new ways to develop more abundant leadership.

Leaders: A Higher Life Form?

In Chapter 10, we support the view that the leadership skillset needs to be introduced and developed in people as early in their career as possible. We explore the notion of leaders as “better than,” in some indefinable way, than managers or team members, when what we need in today’s world of work are resourceful enablers who motivate and inspire each other, and—working together—get the job done.

Are Interviews Just Rose-Tinted Views?

In Chapter 11, we question whether interviews are just an expensive method for looking at people through rose-tinted spectacles. It’s time to acknowledge how we’re seduced by beauty parades and get past our unconscious biases, so that we truly get the best people for the role.

Wanted: Sharp People and Well-Rounded Teams

Chapter 12 explores the notion of “well-rounded people” and the desire to iron out their wrinkles, rather than accept sharp—and even flawed—individuals who, working together, are willing to make up a well-rounded team.

What This Book Doesn’t Cover

  • Performance-Related Pay
  • The gender–pay gap
  • Whether leaders are born or made

These myths have been extensively addressed elsewhere.

The “No Cape Required” Worksheets

This book comes with stimulus questions at the end of each chapter to get you started. They are deliberately incomplete—your challenge is to discover the questions you should be asking about leadership in your organization, and in your own life.

We’ve been deliberately provocative and deliberately vague. No two organizations are alike, however much we may compare ourselves to others. So, as well as personalizing your own learning and development, we encourage you to personalize the process that gets you to the best possible L&D for your organization.

These starter questions are there to stimulate your thoughts and discussions.

Now you’ve got the overall picture, let’s drop those capes and dive in …


1.H.M. Schroder. 1989. Managerial Competence (Iowa, IL: Kendall Hunt).

2.D.L. Bradford and A.R. Cohen. 1984. Managing for Excellence: The Guide to Developing High Performance in Contemporary Organizations (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley), quoted p.32, Managerial Competence, (ibid).

3.R.N. Hughes, and H.R. Caton-Hughes. 2017. Ch.14 “The Inclusive Leader at the Centre of an Interconnected World.” In Breaking the Zero-Sum Game: Transforming Societies through Inclusive Leadership, ed. A. Boitano, R. Lagomarsino, and H.E. Schockman. Bingley, UK: Emerald Publishing.

4.F. Lagerberg. 2015. “The Value of Diversity (Report),” Grant Thornton,$655bn, (accessed May 2, 2016).

5.E.S. Ng and G.J. Sears. June 2012. “CEO Leadership Styles and the Implementation of Organizational Diversity Practices: Moderating Effects of Social Values and Age.” Journal of Business Ethics 105, no. 1, pp. 41–52.

6.Chartered Management Institute. June 2017. Leadership for Change: CMI’s Management Manifesto (London, UK: Chartered Management Institute), p. 6.

7.Chartered Management Institute. February 2018. 21st Century Leaders: Building Employability through Higher Education (London, UK: Chartered Management Institute).