Archive for December, 2015

The power of the outsider

Monday, December 21st, 2015

I have been working recently with a colleague who is a non-exec on a couple of companies that I work with, both companies have faced problems and it has been interesting observing his input and contribution.  As someone who is always an outsider, I normally don’t get to see this perspective.  In the first company, which he had asked from my help with, he has been there a while and was concerned that they were in a hole and still digging.  I have worked for the second company for over 12 years, so I know them well and he recently joined that board. 

I ran a big meeting in the first company, and he and another non-exec were invited to provide external perspective and gravitas.  They are both successful business people and were listened to as such.  They were able to ask questions and pass observations which were seen as much more neutral than if an insider had asked the same thing.  Also they had much less of a stake in the business so they could walk away from it without being burnt, whereas for all the other participants this was life or death.  The power of this neutrality is significant, and I have long observed that it is not only invaluable, but often essential in order to get change to happen.

In the second company, he drilled down in to their figures in a way that no one else round the table was capable of, and he had not only the knowledge but the standing to do so.  Both companies are better off for these contributions.

I’m sure your company is filled with bright, knowledgeable people, but a leavening of external wisdom and expertise can hugely increase their potential.

Rugby World Cup lessons on leadership

Monday, December 14th, 2015

I have written a lot about leaders recently, and in these rather ego driven times, it is trendy to link success, or should I say results, with the leader.  If you remember England’s rather inglorious exit from the Rugby World Cup, the papers decided to barbeque Chris Robshaw, as if he were solely responsible for their results.  As a keen rugby fan & Englishman, of course I was disappointed by what happened.  However, if I step back, and put on a more objective hat, then I always knew that New Zealand were the best team in the world, I strongly suspected that Australia would contest the final too.  Most people who knew anything about the sport would have said that South Africa would be a safe bet for the quarter finals, leaving every other team contesting that fourth slot.  So realistically, England, Wales, France and Ireland were all battling it out for a single place, and we have yet to win the 6 Nations recently, so it has to be said it was reasonably predictable that this result was on the cards.  So why was it one man’s fault? 

The answer of course must be that it was not.  You can certainly question whether the critical penalty call in the match against Wales when Robshaw chose to go for a line out and glory rather than going for a more conservative, safe choice of kicking for 3 points.  Both courses of action had a chance of failure, kickers and throwers both miss.  He consulted some of his senior players and they agreed, go for glory.  He is a man who always gives his all, and no one was more upset with the final outcome than Chris. 

My main point is, regardless of the rugby, this result was the consequence of how the collective performed, not simply the choices of one man.  Rugby, like businesses is dependent of key people stepping up and leading in their specialist areas.  A business requires everyone to do their best, to focus on the plan and deliver their bit of it.  Most leaders, like everyone else, have areas of their job they are good at, that they enjoy, and others which they tend to neglect or do worse at.  To some extent, they are then dependent on their team to compensate in these areas to ensure that they are properly covered.  A good numbers person, needs a people person at their elbow, and so on.  You may or may not like your leader, but you need to play your part in the team if you want to be part of a win.

The danger of knowing what is best…

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

A company I know has a leader who has a vision of where they need to go to survive the threats that the economy and competition pose.  I am quite prepared to accept his analysis;  I believe most of his team are too.  So what could possibly go wrong and why is he facing difficulties in getting them to do what is required?

As usual with change, it all starts with communication.  The things they are not telling him, the things that he isn’t hearing and those they can’t discuss.  If you feel that a person doesn’t want to hear what you have to say or feel, then you subconsciously find another way to get the message over.  It maybe by withdrawing intimacy, by withdrawing co-operation or by pursuing your own version of what is right. 

When there are a number of people who feel similarly ‘not heard’ then factions develop and problems arise.  In effect, they take their toys and go home; the team is no longer and you just have a group of bodies inhabiting the same space. 

The only way out is to get the communication flowing again, you have to over-emphasize what you are doing to ensure that they know you have ‘got it’.  You have to act on whatever you have agreed or promised to rebuild trust.  Stephen Covey wrote about the idea of the Emotional Bank account, which I like.  The idea is that the good things you do make deposits in your account of goodwill, and the negative (or more accurately their view of what is negative) actions make withdrawals.  This being Life, the rules are not fair, and you can work for ages to build a small amount of trust and one ‘bad’ action can wipe out the entire balance with the statement “Here (s)he goes again!”  It is tough, it is frustrating but it is the only way.

Good luck…

Leadership and Followership.

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

A client was having problems and the leader was finding it difficult if not impossible to get things done.  He had a relatively clear agenda and one that should make the business more profitable.  However, the very people who stood to benefit from this were somehow just not committing to it.  Why you might ask?  It turns out that not only was there a lack of effective leadership, but there was no culture of followership.  This meant that in effect there was no emotional contract to support him.  It is one thing having a label on your door, but if you want clever people to pay any attention you have to win them over, if you don’t have the muscle to force them.  This requires a number of personal skills such as building rapport, listening and communicating in the way that the listener requires in order to ‘get’ what you are trying to sell.  You need to make a case for Change, which means taking the time to explain (not just tell) them how they too will benefit from the process. 

You don’t necessarily have to do this with everyone, but you certainly have to with those you deem to be the key players, and you need to win over enough to create the momentum to get started.