CharacterScope speaks at Shell’s Start-Up Connect event

CharacterScope speaks at Shell’s Start-Up Connect event

Last week, our founder and CEO, Mark Loftus, was invited to take part in a panel discussion at Shell’s inaugural Startup Connect event for entrepreneurs. Shell’s Enterprise Development program aims to support startups through their early growth, both through providing access to its expertise and networks, but also equity free funding opportunities through its LiveWIRE and Springboard programmes.

The half day event took place in Weybridge, Surrey as part of Shell’s Energy Summit, and featured a series of panel sessions and talks addressing the issues faced by early stage, knowledge intensive entrepreneurs such as capitalising on failures, winning hearts and minds with innovation and finding funding opportunities. The audience consisted of low-carbon entrepreneurs, including alumni of the Shell LiveWIRE and Shell Springboard programmes.

Our CEO, Mark was invited to take part in a panel, titled ‘Fitness for scale – Tackling new challenges as you grow’. 

The panel looked at the unique, non-financial, challenges faced by founders when scaling up a business. Whether this is developing good corporate culture, protecting your IP, building a customer base, and using successful collaborations to grow. It was a chance for many startup founders in the room to get a better understanding of what their next challenges may be as they move from start-up to scale-up. 

Mark was joined on the panel by Emma Southwell Sander, who heads up Harwell’s EnergyTec cluster, Peter Finnie, European Patent Attorney from Gill Jennings & Every, and Erik Nygard, CEO and Co-Founder of Limejump. 

Mark was there to offer his views on the importance of character and culture as a business goes from a few people to many in a short period of time. He discussed the psychology of the founder and how they can suffer when growing their businesses together with ways they can offset this. He also touched on the importance of character diversity across teams and businesses and that so often, by design or not, teams tend to mirror the exact characteristics of the founder. 

Leaders inspire leadership

Leaders inspire leadership

Let’s do a quick recap from the earlier blogposts. We’ve seen that there is no definitive list of ‘leader traits’: leaders are as diverse as humanity. We’ve also seen that there is no neat list of leader behaviours or skills. Instead, we’ve seen that a focus on why we have leaders gets us real traction:

  1. Leaders create meaning and purpose
  2. Leaders inspire leadership in others.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

In this blogpost, we’re going to focus on leadership and make it personal: to pick up the ‘how’ questions. How do leaders lead? How do people showing leadership do it?

People follow people

As we have seen, the list of qualities leaders apparently need to show quickly becomes overwhelming and self-contradictory. Depending on who you read, leaders are visionary, entrepreneurial, practical, have integrity, make people feel special, and so on into a long list. But we can simplify all of this with the observation that people follow people. That leadership is at its root about one person choosing to follow another person.

3. Leadership is personal: people follow people.

Which leads immediately to the question ‘why would someone choose to follow you?’

Leaders inspire leadership

Leaders inspire leadership from others. This means inspiring people to be prepared to put their heads above the parapet, to take a stand, to call out what isn’t working and what can be improved. Leadership is not the same as the exercise of power. For sure, when someone has power it can make it easier for people to follow if that person’s role gives them the authority to direct. But if we think it through, what is being followed is the authority invested in the role rather than the person.

When a police officer directs us to do something, we are following the authority we as a society have invested in the police as an institution, enacted in the role of the police officer. We are interested in something different here. It is when people feel they have the option not to follow that leadership becomes particularly interesting, because people are choosing to follow. Leadership and followership are two sides of the same coin.

At the heart, leadership involves you and your colleagues actively shaping the environment within which you are working and living – the network of relationships, the physical environment, the psychological environment, the culture of the team – taking active personal ownership, rather than seeing it as someone else’s responsibility. Yet as we explored in the last blogpost, doing this isn’t without risks: what if others don’t follow your lead?

Make it personal: your character

If leadership is a personal act – people follow people – it is helpful if we can give other people good reason to want to follow, and this takes us into an exploration of why it is that one human being might choose to follow another. What are the qualities that make it more likely for followership to happen and which qualities are less relevant?

There are indeed many ways of leading, but that there are certain qualities of a person that make it easier for one person to follow another. These are your distinctive, personal pattern of strengths of character and intelligence. People will follow your lead because of your own, authentic, distinctive character.

For some, this will be their charismatic ability to energise people and give them a sense of optimism. For others, it will be because of their seriousness, responsibility and determination to deliver on their commitments. For other again, it will be because of their ability to find fresh angles, see into the future and their willingness to try, to experiment.

CharacterScope’s role in helping you develop

We see our role at CharacterScope as helping you understand and build confidence in your leadership contribution, and then to develop it. We help you to recognise, value and play to the strengths that make it easy for others to follow your lead.

We provide the tools and insight to help you understand why people will be prepared to follow your lead, and to have an idea what your ‘natural’ leadership contribution is – the one you will feel most comfortable and confident making. Yet we go beyond self-awareness and provide the content and tools to help you actively develop your character strengths, whether it’s your self-belief, resilience, optimism, your ability to think ahead, to build perspective, to develop your spark of originality.

For all of the 34 strengths in our CharacterScope framework, there’s a 25-day development plan. We don’t pretend it’s easy developing character, but we do know it’s a prize worth working for.

Why do we have leaders?

Why do we have leaders?

Rather than start this, the third blogpost in our series of articles doing a deep-dive into leaders and leadership, with an exploration of what leaders do, we’re going to start with an even more basic question: what are leaders for?

Part 1 Part 2

Here’s why this question matters.

We saw in the last blogpost that trying to pursue a definitive list of leadership attributes (‘what are leaders like?’) seems inevitably set for failure. As an alternative route, many have argued that focusing on what leaders do will bring us the insight we need. Yet at CharacterScope we think that going this route quickly leads to a blind alley.

A glance at the leadership section of an airport bookshop shows us a few textbooks on leadership next to multiple biographies and leaders describing ‘what they did’ and why you should copy them. If you read these, you’ll find that the list of what to do becomes exhausting, long and contradictory. Leaders need to show charisma, to pull people towards themselves; they need to show great self-belief and yet have humility at the same time; they need to be dispassionate yet emotionally intelligent; they need to sustain the strategic overview yet be close to the executional detail, and so on. There are loud, impassioned leaders and quiet, reflective leaders. Bold ones and cautious ones. Leaders with extraordinarily attuned emotional sensitivity, who ring with others’ emotions like a glass, and leaders who are no more able to resonate with another person’s emotions than is a lump of wet clay.

Stepping back, we can see that the leadership literature has been focused for decades on just a few questions: ‘what are leaders like?’ and ‘what do leaders do?’ These are important questions but only become worth answering after we have asked the ‘why’ questions: ‘why do we have leaders? what are leaders for? what happens when there is no leadership? why is leadership a universal of human experience?’ To answer these questions we need to look in a different direction, into ourselves and our psychology rather than into a book.

The psychology of leaderless groups

The simplest way to answer this is to reflect on your own personal experiences of being in a group that lacks a leader or where the person appointed as leader seems unable to lead.

The experience is deeply disorienting, like we are waiting for something, are being busy, trying to be productive, but with an underlying unease that what we are doing is meaningless. We know that somebody needs to take the lead and we know we need to find a shared purpose that the group can form around.

Yet the act of taking the lead on behalf of a group, particularly a group of strangers is stressful. Not least because it immediately raises the question of whether anyone will follow our lead. And what are the consequences if people do not follow? Does it mean that my membership of the group is compromised, that I have lost my voice, my influence? What will people think of me?

When somebody else takes a lead, what do I feel? Do I feel relief that I don’t have to take the lead? Relief mixed with resentment about somebody else putting themselves above me? Do I have an inner certainty that I could do better, combined with frustration with myself that I didn’t take the lead? And when in turn someone who has resisted my lead makes their bid for leadership, will I follow, or will I resist? And what if no-one is allowed by the group to lead?

This intimate connection between leadership and followers, and the emotional undercurrents that swirl around leadership and followership provide important psychological insights. We can use these insights to get to the following key ideas.


Leaders create meaning and purpose and help people connect to it.

Leadership involves creating, or discovering, meaning and purpose and then helping people connect productively to this purpose. Being a part of a group without a purpose is a sure-fire way to feel frustrated and disconnected.

Second, leaders create the conditions for others to show leadership. Or more simply:

Leaders inspire leadership from others

This second theme gives us the key insight that whilst not everyone will become a leader, leadership is for everyone, not just those who have ‘leader’ as their role. This idea, that everyone has a leadership contribution to make, goes right to the heart of the CharacterScope endeavour. We exist to help people and their organisations be more characterful, places where people work productively and flourish personally.

We’ll explore this idea further in later blogposts.

For now, take a moment to reflect on your own world. How clear are you about the purpose of the teams and groups you are a part of or lead? If everyone in the team wrote down their understanding of the team’s purpose would they write the same thing? And would it be equally meaningful and motivational for all? And how good are you and the leaders around you at inspiring leadership from your colleagues.

Why would someone be prepared to follow you?

Why would someone be prepared to follow you?

It is time to think again about leadership. In this series of blog posts, we’re going to dig a little deeper into what leadership really is, whether it matters, what leaders are like and how to develop leadership.

For all of our fascination with leadership, the TED talks, the conferences, the money spent on leadership development, there has been little gained. There are hundreds of books and tens of thousands of papers describing what leaders are like, what they do, how to assess their potential, how to develop them. Pay rates for senior leaders over recent years have shifted from a multiple of 30 times that of the lowest paid worker to 300 times: the market thinks that leaders are either far more valuable than they used to be or are a far scarcer resource. Yet in a recent definitive guide to academic research and writing about leadership, Richard Nohria and his colleague at Harvard concluded that there was little serious research and scholarship into leadership.

Meanwhile, businesses spend significantly on developing leaders, often choosing to send them to the same business schools that Nohria has pointed out don’t really believe in leadership as a proper field of study. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that leadership is seen as a money spinner rather than a serious subject. But given the expense, businesses increasingly treat leadership development as the province of the elite, an exclusive grouping, the high-potentials, those with talent.

The impact is profound. We live in a time when many institutions, from political parties to governments to banks and corporates, believe that a there is a deficit in leadership. We live in a society where many people feel let-down by their leaders, doubting whether they care about the society they are creating, a scepticism souring to cynicism. Too many senior leaders seem primarily concerned with themselves or their immediate circle rather than shaping a society and wider world of equity and meaning.

Put starkly: there are too few good leaders.

Yet the established leadership industry carries on with practices that evidently are not producing positive outcomes. How can it be that graduates from the prestigious business schools know so much about financial structuring yet remain clueless as to why someone might be prepared to follow them. How can it be that our prevailing way of talking about people, society and organisations continues to rest on market-place assumptions rather than an understanding of how people make meaning, lead fulfilling lives, create happiness? Why is it that for most people leadership development is reserved until they are at a stage in their lives when they feel fully formed and their hunger for learning is dimmed? How is it that leadership is often one of the last things that people learn in the world of work?

It does not have to be this way. Our aim at CharacterScope is to encourage everyone to think about themselves as a leader, to find and value that part of their identity that does leadership. For some this may feel an alien notion, for others a familiar one. But we believe the world will be a better place if everyone takes the time to understand and develop their leadership.

In the next blog post we’ll go a little deeper into what leadership is really about, and how established ways of approaching this important topic all too often fail, leaving people thinking that leadership is something for other people, not for them.

? Go to Part 2

But let us leave you with some things to think about between now and the next post: why would someone be prepared to follow you? And why are you prepared to follow others? And finally: what would happen if we didn’t have leadership?

CharacterScope speaks at Shell’s Start-Up Connect event

CharacterScope joins the Mayor’s International Business Programme

CharacterScope has been chosen to be part of the thirteenth cohort launch for the Mayor’s International Business Programme.

The programme includes 63 of London’s up-and-coming entrepreneurs with a range of scale-up companies included; smart batteries creators Addionics, retail research company Hoxton Analytics, health technologists Infinity Health and interior design company Lumsden Design. 

Leadership and organisational culture were common themes amongst the business leaders that attended the launch event at The Hilton London Tower Bridge, as they look to scale and expand overseas.

“We’re excited to be part of the programme and are looking forward to growing CharacterScope overseas and working alongside our fellow cohorts on their own scale-up journeys”

Paul Lancaster, Head of Business Development at CharacterScope

CharacterScope speaks at Shell’s Start-Up Connect event

Investors talk about the entrepreneur as the lynch-pin. Are they right?

Will the real entrepreneur please stand up.
Mark Loftus for Startups Magazine.

“It may be a stereotype, but CharacterScope data has found that entrepreneurs tend to be low on perseverance and grit than most other leader types. They typically have a butterfly mindset, constantly flitting from one opportunity to the next.”

Common sense suggests that an entrepreneur is the lynch-pin of a startup. Investors often talk about the entrepreneur as being synonymous with startup and scale-up; the person they look to invest in. But are they right? 

To read the piece in full on the Startups Magazine website click here.