The Making of a Leadership Sculptor

On this page I just want to share with you a little of my journey, so that you can understand how I’ve come to be a Leadership Sculptor®.

It started in a shop

I’ve always been both curious and interested in making things happen. When I was eight, I imagined what it would be like to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic – and quickly realized that my impaired musicality might be a handicap. My curiosity was fuelled by meeting so many people from all over the world, when I was growing up. My parents ran an international summer school and we had staff and students from over 20 countries each Summer.

When I was 12, my father asked me to run the sweet shop at the school: my first taste of projects. The challenge was to break even – something my brother and cousins had failed to do in previous years. The first year, we made a slight profit and I learned a big lesson. About three weeks into the season, I gave him my shopping list for the wholesaler. After a quick glance, he asked me to go and have a think about how much of each type of sweets and soft drink I’d been selling and explain to him my estimates for the coming weekend. A couple of hours later, he went shopping with a much revised list. Through his gentle prodding, I learned something about cash flow, data analysis and achieved a return on cash invested of 25% in the second year.
In my final year at college, we had a visiting professor from Nigeria, Simeon Ola Fatunla. He opened my eyes to how I could use numerical mathematics to model real-world problems and help me to understand the underlying science. He was very encouraging, and when I told him about applying for a job, he exclaimed, “you have to do a Ph.D!”

Learning to Toddle

After completing my Ph.D, my professor, John Miller, asked me to stay on as his institute’s technical director. Responsible for our contribution to two European projects, I quickly found out that research usually got held back by problems in communications, conflicts and pretty jealousies, rather than by a shortage of ideas. I became curious to learn more about how to get these problems under control, so that we could reach the research goals and have a good time doing so. One habit that I acquired was to reflect each day on how that day had gone – what could I learn from my behavior and that of others. A key result from this time was to co-develop models that helped Philips to reduce the design time for its first CCD camera chip by over 50%.

This curiosity stayed with me when I moved to Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in 1990 and it turned out to be useful when I was asked to grow an existing fluid mechanics network; within 18 months we went from 50 to 600 members who shared ideas, experimental data, software and supported a research summer school.

After three years in aerodynamics modelling at ABB Power Generation in Switzerland, the head of R&D told me that, if I wanted to have a career here, I’d need to get my hands “dirty”. He threw me into the compressor design group, where I was give responsibility for designing some blade rows. On my first day, I was faced with making a decision about which I had no clue: how many blades would be in each row. Meeting challenges like this forced me to hone my question-asking. It also taught me that when I don’t know, it’s important to say I don’t know, and to reach out for help. And that sometimes goes more smoothly, when you take the trouble to learn the local language (that’s when I started to learn German seriously). – Three critical lessons for any leader to learn.

Just when I thought I’d arrived

CJ FitzsimonsBy 1997, I was a program director for one of ABB’s core technologies, responsible for the strategy and its implementation through a portfolio of projects with 50—80 staff involved. I had made the transition from leading one of the projects to running the entire program. A year later, senior management sounded me out; they were considering grooming me for senior management position. While the offer was appealing, I realized I needed to reflect more deeply, before they and I committed to this.

I went for ten days on a retreat called Nature as a Source of Power, to get the peace and quiet to reflect more deeply. A fire watch (someone volunteers to keep the fire going all night so that the group has a warm fire when it wakes up and in return gets lots of time to mull things over) gave me my first inkling that maybe senior management wasn’t my path. It was the one night in August when it rained cats and dogs – there was no time to mull, but I was able to keep the fire going. Two days later, I did a walking exercise where I got to review my life and decide what to let go of and what I wanted to carry forward. Key ingredients were: communication (esp. writing), healing, service, and time for reflection.

It slowly dawned on me that my purpose is not so much to lead as to help others express their leadership. I wasn’t sure I knew what that would look like, but decided that I needed to quit my job to find out. I call it the Viking strategy; in the old days, the first thing the captain did after landing was to burn the longboat so that everyone understood there was no easy way back – just onwards! It took a couple of months to make sure that my project teams has their 1999 budgets; as soon as the last conversation was finished, I told my boss that I was quitting. He was surprised and then supportive, when he understood my reasons.

Reality Bites

I quickly bumped up against the reality that there’s a difference between finding my own way to express leadership, and helping others to express their way. I started my ongoing training program in various methodologies (e.g. performance coaching, integrative coaching, Enneagram, psychodrama, structural constellation work, cross-cultural conflict resolution, Zurich Resources Model) that make it possible for me to help people overcome leadership obstacles and create a work environment where high performance is possible. I am still learning, my understanding of leadership and its challenges evolves each day. I am always on the lookout for ways to help me to support my clients better and invest between 15 and 20 days each year in my own further development.

Leadership Sculptor®

Based on my own experience and my work with hundreds of leaders in R&D environments, I’ve come to understand that leadership is determined by three factors: the person’s role in the organization, its culture and their personality. To quote the Italian sculptor Michelangelo,

In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.

I have designed a systematic approach (Leadership Sculptor®), the details of which are tailored to each person, to help people sculpt their own leadership, by helping them recognise the contours of their leadership profile and equipping them with the tools necessary to allow it to emerge.

If you want to explore how this could work in your situation, the next step is to contact me