Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

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.

Leadership & different points of view

Friday, October 9th, 2015

I was watching Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year, and once more was entranced by the talent of view and the sheer diversity of talent and techniques used.  We saw about ten different artists all with the same brief come up with ten entirely different paintings.  It maybe this doesn’t (and shouldn’t) surprise you.  However, I’m currently confronted with a business that has a group of bright people who will all benefit from its success coming up with very different versions of the way forward. 

The thing is that in business we tend to feel that there is one right way forward and it is the job of the strong leader to identify it and drive the others towards it.  What if it was more similar to the artistic challenge and there were a number of viable, equally valid paths to success and it was the job of the leader to find the way through the maze that elicited the greatest commitment and support?

Culture – the reality versus the myth

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

You may have read about the sad death of Moritz Erhardt, the young intern at Merrill Lynch, who seems to have met his death as a direct result of the pressure cooker environment created by the bank he hoped to join.  They take on about 30 of the brightest and hungriest gradates each year as interns and let them ‘duke it out’ throughout the seven week period in Battle Royale style to see who can survive the process. Polly Courtney, author of ‘Golden Handcuffs’, who also went through this process wrote in the Independent today, wrote:-

“The firm ticked all the boxes on the HR front. We were assigned “buddies”: full-time bankers to whom we could go with any questions or concerns. (Nobody I knew ever approached their “buddy”; bankers didn’t have time for questions.) We attended lectures and talks on the values of the firm (Client Focus, Respect for the Individual, Teamwork, Responsible Citizenship and Integrity) and we were taught the procedure for surfacing concerns. (We found these laughable at the time; with hindsight, they were ludicrous.) The reality was that we had all signed away our right to the statutory working week; for one summer, we were the property of the firm.”

I first came across the concept of company culture in the 90’s when my company was part of the biggest corporate merger ever.  I was astonished at how different the cultures of the two companies were and impressed by their willingness to create a brand new and better one.  That was the start of my personal journey into this work.  Back then we were all taught the importance of values to underpin this culture and how they were meant to guide our decision making.  However, since then, as the vogue as spread, every big company can spout out this kind a stuff but most, like in the above example are nothing more than meaningless platitudes.  If your values don’t guide your behaviour, then they are worse than useless.

They can be hugely powerful tools to build your team and guide your decision making but if you don’t lead by example, if you are seen to not let them guide your actions then forget about them because everyone else will…. and worse, they will be used in evidence against you.

The Power of Leaders telling the Truth

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

As previously admitted, I’m a Quins fan and I spent a miserable afternoon this Sunday shivering on a touchline in freezing temperatures to watch my team play a dreadful game against their most dangerous rivals.  Saracens had just nudged us off top place in the league and we needed to to beat them in order to reclaim the slot we have held for the best part of two seasons.  This was our first game in their brand new stadium and it was clear from the start they were really up for it.  They seemed sharper, faster, and more dangerous.  Even though at at halftime we were still in the game in wasn’t long before we gave away a try and you knew that the game was as good as over.  In a single game we went from being shoe-ins for a top two place and a home semi-final to wondering whether we’d make the play-offs!

So why is any of this relevant to a non-rugby fan?  I was fascinated to hear what their coach had to say after the game.  We are so used to people putting a brave face of failure or trying to somehow mitigate its impact by talking about the things that went well, or perhaps explaining why someone/something else was really at fault.  In this video, he simply and powerfully tells the truth.  His comments are balanced, neutral and honest.  He doesn’t seek to reduce the consequences of failure or slump into doom and gloom.  He just says that we let ourselves down and now have a much harder task getting where we want to get to.  I’ll be fascinated to see how the team respond in their must win fixture against Gloucester on Friday.  I’ll also be interested to see who he picks, the ‘junior’ players who in the weeks before won us the LV cup or the legends who have won so many international caps.

If more leaders told the truth to their people in simple, clear language I think we might see much better performances.  Conor’s bywords are “Stick to our processes and procedures and the results will look after themselves”.  As a club, Harlequins know what brand of rugby they want to play and you can see everyone in all the squads playing the same way.  This is where values and culture really pay-off, when they are clear, strong and shared.  Everyone there know what ‘good’ looks like.  It is a real lesson for the corporate world where so often they are just words on a poster or in a staff handbook.

“If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:”  Rudyard Kipling

A tale of two cultures…

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

I read two interesting and contrasting articles today talking about two corporate giants, Microsoft & Google.  They both have very strong cultures and it is interesting to examine the impact of them.  I’m not pretending this is an in-depth analysis, just an interesting raising of the corporate veil to give a glimpse at what lies behind.

Here is an article which talks about the leadership style of Steve Ballmer and their use of their R&D.  Former Windows sales senior VP Joachim Kempin says in an interview that Ballmer apparently sees up-and-coming talent as a threat rather than a resource, and seeks to protect his position rather than nurture the opportunity it might represent.  He also talks about how the highly innovative Microsoft R&D department fails to exploit its intellectual wares because of fear of getting it wrong.  They apparently had a working tablet years ago, but let Apple make a fortune from that market.  The more senior you are there, the more attention you have to spend on corporate politics and arse-covering.

By contrast I read about Google, who are constantly trying new things, many of which they pull the plug on, but some are game changing such as their Android mobile system.  They didn’t seek to control this and keep it close; they made it open source and threw it to the four winds.  It is arguably the most important mobile platform today and has huge support in the influential and growing Far East markets. 

They are a data-crunching business and apparently they monitor their internal data with equal interest.  Their HR department, known as People Operations, noticed that they were losing more female staff than male ones and set out to find out why.  It was to do with their maternity leave policies.  They changed them, on-the-fly, and allowed new mothers five months leave with full pay to be used as required.  This stopped the leaking of female talent from the business. 

I’m sure there is much more that can be written about both cultures but the attitudes and fears for the those at the top has a huge impact on the rest of the business.  If the boss does it, then you can bet your bippy that others will do so too.  People talk a lot about leadership and it is usually talked about as a positive thing, it also casts a long shadow and can distort behaviour in very costly ways.  Be sure you look behind you to see what is growing in your shadow

How important is how important you are?

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

I was listening to Professor Michael Marmot talk today.  He is an epidemiologist and studies what makes us ill / adversely affects our well-being, and to his surprise, discovered that they are one and the same thing. In seeking to find out what caused stress etc in the civil service, he discovered, against all his presumptions, that far from it being tough at the top and the stress of high powered jobs making more senior civil servants more ill, that the lower down the greasy pole you worked the more likely you were to suffer from ill health.  In other words, your well being was in direct proportion to your ability to control your destiny.

In a workplace that is growing increasingly more competitive due to the economic downturn, it means that more and more people are forced to take jobs on terms that they would otherwise not accept and this will in turn adversely affect their health.  For the individual the consequences are obvious, however, for the company, it means lots of hidden costs in terms of disruption and efficiency when they force people into doing things that they are not really best suited for or not interested in.  

So whether you are a boss or a minion, it is directly in your interest to ensure that you work in an environment that enables you to have some control over what you do.  Think about it, companies like Google encourage its employees to spend a day a week working on projects of their own choice, as a mean of encouraging original thinking and innovation.  The fact that it also boosts morale and well-being is just another plus.

From Yes Minister:-

Humphrey: Minister, a Minister can do what he likes.
Hacker: It’s the people’s will. I am their leader. I must follow them!

Communication and Leadership Style

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

I was interviewed yesterday on this topic, with the basic thrust being “What are the different strategies & techniques that help you communicate with Leaders with different management styles?”  It was an interesting conversation, though I have to admit it runs slightly contrary to the way I view these things.  I said that if pushed to categorise leaders into different types, I felt there were broadly two different types, those who lead from the front and those who were more consensus orientated and needed to take people with them; the difference between “Follow me chaps!”  & “Let’s go gentlemen..” 

I suggested that one always needed to consider one’s audience in any communication, starting with where they were, what they needed and what you wished them to do.  You have to put yourself in their position and tailor your message to those things.  In other words, minimise the resistance between them & your message.  If you are dealing with someone with a strong ego, don’t use the word “I” a lot in your communication.  If you are dealing with someone who is very interested in consensus you might say something like “This might help us..”

The fact is that people are people regardless of their position and everyone has filters that can prevent your words being heard and the more you craft your message to avoid these filters the more likely you are to be heard.  You may like to consider that this applies equally to husbands, wives and recalcitrant children!

8 Reasons why Organisational Change Programmes fail

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

There are all sorts of reasons why Change programmes fail, but here are 8 of the main ones:-

  • Fear:  it is quite natural to be change adverse and if nothing is done to make it safe, then don’t be surprised if people find any number of reasons to avoid it
  • Lack of knowledge:  if people don’t understand what you want them to do, and I mean specifically what you expect of them rather than generalities, then they will stay still
  • Lack of skill:   if your programme requires people to use new technologies or new methods, or even new ways of behaving / thinking then again, they will not be able to make any progress
  • Lack of resources:  if they don’t have the time, technology or budget then they can’t proceed
  • Lack of support:  people need supporting through a change programme, and the longer and more radical it is, the more help they require; this also includes political support from within the organisation
  • The unexpected happens:  even if you have the perfect plan and all the preceding elements have been properly planned and resourced, still things can happen both within and outside your business that than can blow you off track.  They can even render your plan irrelevant.  Think about the impact of the banking crisis on perfectly well-formed plans…
  • Lack of communication:  this blows more programmes off track than almost all the others!  It is essential to ensure that not only are people kept informed of what is expected of them, but also what they can expect.  It is also crucial to make sure that you actively listen to them; they will tell you what is wrong, why things are stuck and what they don’t like.
  • Lack of Leadership:  it is a leaders job not only to correctly identify where the business needs to be headed to be successful, but also to lead the charge, and be an example to everyone else

I’d be interested to hear any more that you feel should be on this list.  However, if you have all these bases covered chances are you are well on track for success.

Good Luck!