X-Factors, leaders & being high-potential

While listening to the radio in the car this morning , I heard that The X-Factor would be returning to our screens this weekend, marking the start of autumnal TV. I haven’t watched it since it first started, so most memories I associate with the series are fragmented, including Simon Cowell rolling his eyes frequently and performers such as Darius (or was he on Pop Idol?) crooning into the microphone, remember him?

 The reason I it stuck in my mind today is that I went to an event last week entitled “Have you got the Leadership X-Factor?” The event was presented by Gail Logan of Kore Transformation and organised by Sharon Moore MBE through the BCS Women Scotland and RBS Women networks and it was held at RBS Gogarburn just outside Edinburgh. The audience included women from large organisations such as universities, the NHS and banks, coders, team leaders and entrepreneurs.

The title was inspired by a book called The High Potential’s Advantage  by Jay A. Conger and Allan H. Church that focusses on how to be seen as a high potential leader in your organisation. As Gail highlighted during the session, most large companies have a talent list comprised of promising individuals that the company aims to develop and promote within their ranks. The list, and how to get your name on it, is usually a well kept secret: what are the criteria they are looking for in a future leader? What do they expect from people on the list already? This is where the X-factors come in.

Initial discussion in the room about the elements of inspiring leadership centered around authenticity, being visible and having a positive impact on those people around you. The session expanded to describe the five X-factors that differentiate those who make it on to the talent list:

  1. Situation sensing
  • You figure out what your boss needs from you and deliver it;
  • You understand how your boss operates so that you can be complementary and easy to manage;
  • You seek new opportunities and problems to solve, even if they are outwith the scope of your role.
  1. Talent accelerating
  • You motivate the people that work with you and manage them well, optimising your team’s performance;
  • You spot talented people and help them to develop, giving them relevant opportunities.
  1. Career piloting
  • You accept tasks that stretch you, give you broader experience and expand your skillset;
  • You are comfortable with ambiguity and ask for help to perform;
  • In pressured situations, you remain calm and help others to focus.
  1. Complexity translating
  • You are aware of how to communicate with everyone effectively at all levels of the organisation and others engage with you, no matter how complex or technical the subject matter.
  1. Catalytic learning (underpins 1 – 4)
  •  You regularly reflect on your career and how you can improve and develop.
  • You look to the future, are a lifelong learner and have a personal action plan based on your past experience.


Though these will not all necessarily apply to academic roles or entrepreneurs (who might be the creators of their own talent lists) as the book targets a more corporate setting, I found them interesting to reflect on and discuss with the other participants. In particular, complexity translating: entrepreneurs are frequently asked to communicate with customers or pitch to investors and this often requires putting together a more succinct, clear and easily understandable message; academics regularly do the same, explaining their research to a variety of audiences including undergraduates, policymakers, the public and interdisciplinary colleagues with the aim of educating, inspiring and collaborating.

With regard to X-factor 5, lifelong learning and personal action planning, this is something I’ve been thinking about more this year. Being self-employed, I find that I need to take more time to plan my own learning and development, as opportunities to do so are not necessarily as accessible as they were before. Attending events such as this is always helpful and makes me realise I should be doing this more regularly, not just for the subject but also because of the people you meet and the insightful discussions you have there.

Hopefully this short post has encouraged to think about your own X-factors. Alternatively, if it’s Darius that has stuck in your mind as you were reading, I believe you can find him performing in musicals these days…

Motivation and restoring that KAPOW! feeling

Are you feeling motivated?

This question, inspired by conversations about the Motivation Knickers, resonated amongst the Ingenious Women cohort. Where can we find motivation, and what can be done if you’re missing some of that kapow! feeling?


motivation 3

Firstly, as the group addressing how the Motivation Knickers could help their wearer surmised, it’s important to establish what might cause a drop in motivation. They created a flowchart, highlighting that the first way to regain some momentum is through establishing and acknowledging what we hope to achieve. Sometimes, reassessing the situation can add some much-needed perspective.

But perhaps something else is preventing us from finding our drive ? Factors such as tiredness, apathy, or feelings of low confidence and a fear of failure can have an impact on motivation. Again, acknowledging how we feel is key, and will then enable us to find a solution to our missing motivation. Maybe being selective about opportunities and saying “no” more is required, or we can start to challenging feelings low self-confidence by recognising our past achievements? Honesty is the best policy here, and can help to clear the fog.

What about more immediate motivation? How can we create some daily bam! moments?

Motivation 2.png
Adding small, daily “wins” into our routines can be a good place to start, and create a long-term kapow! Completing a small task- such as making the bed in the morning- can have a positive impact later in the day. Equally, trying to set reasonable daily goals that can be ticked off can increase that sense of triumph, whilst also enabling us to better prioritise, or even change our approach to specific tasks. Although to do lists can help here, it’s worth noting that there are a multitude of useful apps and technology which can be used to this end. Celebrating those achievements-however small- are equally important- Ingenious Women are successful. Another factor the cohort appreciated was the concept of planning rewards into our schedules, providing both a motivational “carrot”, as well as a means of celebrating accomplishing our goals.

Another idea discussed throughout the weekend- and that factored into some of the other pairs of Knickers introduced during the course- was that of Ingenious Women acting as, and surrounding themselves with, positive support networks . Having figures with whom we can share ideas and our expertise with, or act as cheerleaders can also provide much-needed re-invigoration. This could be through daily huddles, or electronically through Slack and other similar apps.

Finding motivation for larger goals is also possible using these smaller, daily techniques. Having a conveniently-placed reminder such as a picture or quote which can be seen every day can also increase long-term levels of motivation.

Ultimately, by being honest, assessing the situation, and being prepared to make changes, it’s possible for Ingenious Women to maintain motivation.

So- are you feeling motivated?
What can you do to improve your daily and long-term bam! and kapow! ?



Motivation Flowchart graphic – Michelle Snowball (@MysterySnowball)
Images- Cia Jackson & Jo Young

Ingenious Knickers

Forget putting on your thinking caps. Ingenious Women don’t need hats to tackle problems- we have knickers.


The Flexible Knickers

We all have a flexible pair of knickers which come in handy and can be used for different purposes (bikini pants? Shorts? Hot pants? These knickers can become these things!) The Flexible Knickers are exactly as they sound. We may not always be able to change a situation, but we can adapt to it, and this is where we need to put on our Flexible Knickers.

The Team Knickers

These knickers are worn when we need to assemble or work as part of a team. It’s important to accept that sometimes, we can’t always do everything alone, and collaboration is necessary.

The Organiser Knickers

organiser 1.png

The bee print on the Organiser Knickers represents the qualities we often associate with bees; organisation, structure, and defined roles. These knickers are put on when we need more focus and to put plans into place, whether it’s through establishing a routine and regular meetings, or using to do lists and spreadsheets.

The Motivation Knickers

motivated 1.png

These knickers are full of energy, and can be put on when you need a reminder of your goals and the drive to complete them. The Motivation Knickers can encourage new habits, such as starting the day on a “win” by accomplishing smaller tasks such as making the bed in the morning, or planning rewards when other tasks are completed. The Motivation Knickers can also be used to establish where and why we might be lacking motivation, and help us to get back on track with achieving your goals.

The Resilience Knickers

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Sometimes, we need a reminder that we can do this, and that’s when we should pull on our Resilience Knickers. These knickers can be worn to help maintain a positive outlook when we need to negotiate potentially difficult situations such as receiving rejection or criticism, or when facing more dominant personalities.
As the mantra created by one of the groups this weekend reads, these knickers will grant the wearer “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.

The Tech Knickers

This shiny, silver pair of Knickers represents times when we need to manage technology. As many Ingenious Women can attest, technology can be both the solution to, and root of the problems we face. The Tech Knickers, therefore, can be worn to wrangle technology into submission, or when in need of some technological assistance.

The Sensible Knickers

sensible 1.png

Also known as the reliable pants, or “pants for life”, the Sensible Knickers are often pulled on when taking on a leadership role and responsibility is required. They are suited for considering risks or finding ways to negotiate problems, however, should be warn with caution. As one group noted, “these knickers can take a lot of hits!” and wearers should not be afraid to occasionally go “off-road” with their ideas. With these knickers, anything can be achievable.

The Selling Knickers


This fancy pair of knickers are for the situations where persuasive skills are required; they are less about the wearer, and more about considering the perspective of the wearer’s audience. The Selling Knickers encourage adapting to feedback, building confidence, and evaluating, as well as honing presentation skills.

The Superman Knickers


As the name of these knickers suggests, the Superman Knickers can imbue the qualities of Clark Kent’s alter-ego in their wearers; confidence, assertiveness, and authority. They can be pulled on in situations where empowerment is required. Whilst these knickers can be worn by Ingenious Women, they can be worn by others in the wild too. This is something worth remembering when facing more dominant or impressive personalities; these figures simply pulled on their Superman Knickers today. It’s also worth noting that even Superman can feel nervous- and this is okay! These knickers remind us that we should recognise our achievements, surround ourselves with a positive support network, and stand our ground- we deserve to be here.


These knickers can be worn at any point by Ingenious Women- sometimes we may even combine pairs according to the many different roles we occupy!
Imagine if the knickers described above were magic. What difference could they make for you? What actions would you take?

Images ~ Cia Jackson and Jo Young

Negotiation – Can Do!


Awarding winning art by Sara (or a passing 5 year old)

Ingenious and Enterprising Women Scotland is funding through the Can Do Scotland programme which is supporting a huge range of projects and initiatives. Tackling inequality lies at the heart of the Can Do approach, as does supporting strategic partnerships, so I today find myself speaking at the Converge Challenge “Enterprise for Women in Academia” event. My theme is negotiation and this post will summarise the key points as well as some observations about the event.

One thing I should have negotiated was not to agree to speak after an expert on public speaking! Mel Sherwood shared five top tips on presentations. Mel shares a lot of her advice through her blog and website, but in summary

  • know your audience and the message they need to hear
  • believe in your ability to present
  • target your content to deliver your message
  • deliver the message in an engaging way
  • understand your environment and be familiar with it

I’ve included these because they proved a remarkable fit with my own ideas about negotiation.

My slides:

Negotiating Skills for Entrepreneurial Women for web

The key messages from the presentation.

  • Redefine negotiation in your head so it is less about winners and losers, more about collaborative problem solving
  • Understand why the negotiation might fail and address this in your preparation
  • Be comfortable articulating what you want, but ask critical friends to help you present it more effectively
  • Understand the perspectives of the people you are negotiating with and find the shared goal you can work together on achieving
  • Understand what “presses your buttons” in a negotiation scenario – I got this phrase from the fantastic guide to difficult conversations written by Judy Ringer.
  • Bring the unspoken issues up to the surface. Be aware of what’s not being said and make people comfortable so they will talk about what’s really going on.
  • Use the negotiation model on yourself – how will you balance your ideals with pragmatism so you can have an impact in your organisation’s culture.
  • Use your voice! Contribute to consultations, join committees, get people talking about what you want to change.

(written by Sara Shinton)

Thinking Outside the Triangle and the Creativity Cycle

Creativity isn’t magic, it’s habits.

Day two began with an introduction to the Creativity Cycle and adopting new habits. As researchers, we’re often taught to filter information out, and so the first step in the Creativity Cycle is to give ourselves permission to be curious; to start noticing things.

The second step is then to capture those things we notice. In this instance, in rather fetching notebooks which encourage thinking “outside the triangle”. Not everything captured will be immediately useful, but the act of writing things down can help to spark ideas later.

Notebook open to quote

As homework, participants were asked to begin looking at the world around them and capturing what they saw to encourage these habits, leading to the creation of our Creativity Wall.

Creativity wall- wall showing post-its and images of things participants notice

Capturing brand names and logos, news articles, and images from video calls to friends and family, participants created an inspiring wall reflecting their experiences and surroundings.

The next step in the Creativity Cycle are to be organised; to assess the contents of our new notebooks, looking for trends and creating structures. Considering areas where we struggle can help honing our focus.

Next, be collaborative and start combining the ideas and snippets we’ve captured and begun to organise. Adding them to our problems and ideas, or even collaborating with others.

Partipants adding information to creativity wall

Being weird can have a transformative effect for creativity, and so the next step is to try changing things up. Do things differently, whether it’s going to a new location or talking to new people.

Partipants' notebooks on table

Relaxing and taking the time to think about other things is an important final step. The act of going for a walk, knitting a scarf, or meeting friends can help to find balance, as well as trigger creativity and new ideas.

Time to start thinking outside the triangle. Kickstart the Creativity Cycle. Engage your curiosity and start capturing the world around you. What do you notice?