Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

Bill Wyman – a great leader

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Last night I was lucky enough to be watching Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings play for perhaps the fourth or fifth time.  I sat in an audience of fifty somethings, wondering what all these old farts were doing watching one the World’s great rock icons, and what they would have looked like back in the day. 

The thing about the Rhythm Kings is that they are largely made up of musicians who have had significant careers (such as Georgie Fame, Gary Brooker, Albert Lee etc) mixed with less well known but hugely talented others.  There seems to be one philosophy to the band, to have fun on stage whilst playing the music they love, usually older, less well known songs from many different genres such as jazz, rock and roll, rock, soul, Cajun.

The thing that interested me is that Bill, of course, stands largely in the background, saying little, just his thumb moving and yet is the unquestioned leader of this band.  What is he doing that makes him a leader?  What form does his leadership take?  He seems very happy to let others shine and take the lime-light.  I wonder if business would be a better place is there were more leaders like Bill…

What do you think?

You do not lead by hitting people over the head – that’s assault, not leadership.”  Dwight Eisenhower

“I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times.”   Everett Dirksen


When you are up to your ar$e in alligators…

Friday, May 8th, 2009

… it is hard to remember that your plan was to drain the swamp!  I spent this afternoon on a mission to rehome some fish including a large koi.  I arrived to discover about a thousand litres of green sludge, the colour of pea soup but somewhat less fragrant!  There was no way to see the fish let alone catch them, so we had to ‘drain the swamp’.  Bucket-by-bucket, I bailed out this pond till we could rescue the fish. 

Sometimes one just has to drain the swamp even when one is up to one’s backside in gators!  It is hard to step back; it is hard to remember ones strategic focus but one of the jobs of a real leader is to help people maintain their strategic focus.  If it is you that is in the swamp, then it is doubly important.

 “Our thoughts create our reality — where we put our focus is the direction we tend to go.”   Peter McWilliams

“Focus on your potential instead of your limitations”  Alan Loy McGinnis

Leadership: Succession Challenges

Friday, May 8th, 2009

For months now, the press has been full of the struggle the Labour Party is having dealing with the succession of Tony Blair. Whatever we think of him personally, and whether we like the way he has lead or not, he has been one of the most significant Labour politicians ever. Furthermore a number of his decisions, such as supporting the invasion of Iraq, will have a long lasting impact on the history of the country and possibly even the world.

All leaders who cast long shadows have a proportionally big challenge in handling their succession. History will also judge how well Blair has handled this issue. However, at this stage, he appears to be getting it wrong. One of the key jobs of a good leader is to create in the organisation the capability to make him (or her) self redundant.

Leadership consists of two main roles, setting direction for tomorrow and safe guarding the assets of today. However, the ability to understand the trends and interpret what they mean for tomorrow is something that normally has a limited time span. Usually a new mind finds new patterns and significances.

“I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” Ralph Nader

Understanding who has the potential to take the business to the next level is a key job for a good leader. Grooming that person and giving them the experiences required to develop their potential is part of that job.

However, identifying a person who has ‘the right stuff’ is only part of the equation. They also have to be accepted as the right person to lead by their current peers and the relevant stakeholders. Building this support is part of the current leaders job too. Furthermore, this need to develop and nurture leadership is required throughout the organisation, not just for the ‘top slot’.

Pacing this development is obviously a challenge, as if you get it wrong and the person is ready before there is a suitable vacancy, you will either have to suffer the discomfiture of being constantly challenged by them or you may lose them to another organisation that can meet their needs / ambitions now. If you find yourself ‘fending off’ your successor this is a sign that, at the very least, you have got the timing of the succession wrong. If you start undermining your successor is another sign!

‘If you want one year of prosperity,
grow grain,
If you want ten years of prosperity,
grow trees,
If you want one hundred years of prosperity,
grow people.’ Chinese proverb

There is so much attention paid to the ‘super-hero’ leaders, who attract all sorts of personal publicity, that it is hard to remember sometimes that there are other models of leadership. The trouble with ‘super-hero’ leadership is that it tends to feed the ego, and that makes it hard to do anything that diverts attention and potential glory to others. The leaders-in-waiting can feel more like challengers and rivals rather than protégées to be nurtured.

Leaders in the making need not only to be mentored and developed but given the chance to develop their own styles, and follow their own visions and insights. It is a challenge to manage the conflicting need to achieve short term goals (on which reputations are built) and taking risks and learning from mistakes (which build character and experience). After all, if you aren’t making any mistakes, you are playing it too safe.

Leading change is one of the key jobs of a leader, so it follows that giving young bucks a chance to champion change is both good for them and good for the organisation. However, it goes without saying that some of the things they are changing and challenging maybe ones you have set up!

So one of the tasks for you to have on your agenda for today, is who should be worrying about these issues tomorrow.

“The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born — that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” Warren G Bennis

No Pain, No Gain

Friday, May 8th, 2009

It is a truism to say that we live in a changing world, but it is necessary to understand this to recognise that Change is unavoidable. If you aren’t leading it and making it happen, then someone else is ‘doing it to you’!

Systems and businesses are just like people; they grow older and begin to work less well. In the same way you have to invest in keeping your body fit by spending time exercising, you have to invest time and effort in keeping your business fit.

It is like exercise in another way, it is painful, takes up time you would sooner invest elsewhere and generally we would avoid it if we could. However, we also recognise that there are two sorts of pain, the one that we choose as a step to make things better and that we which comes form things breaking down and decaying.

Another thought, no one likes the guy who makes them get up early from a comfy bed and work-out. They tend to turn on them and attack them as the apparent cause of their discomfort. Leading Change is no way to win a popularity contest…

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future” John F. Kennedy

Change is painful. It takes up time, effort and money. It is also unavoidable. As a leader it is your job to decide where to invest time and effort; what to maintain and what to develop. It is also human nature to avoid pain and move towards pleasure. However, as mature humans we can choose to accept less gratification now, in the belief that we will have more tomorrow. Children don’t understand this, and want all their treats NOW! As a leader you have to explain to your staff why they have to invest today (by being less comfortable) in order to benefit tomorrow.

People need to understand ‘What Is in it For Them’, before they are prepared to move towards this risky future. No matter how senior, everyone needs to know why they are being asked to change and how it will benefit them.

The job of a Leader in Change is:-

1. Identify what needs changing

2. Articulate the benefits of the Change (the diminution of threats, the increase of rewards)

3. Allocate appropriate resources

4. Maintain focus, momentum and support

5. Reward success

A true leader is always going to be making some people uncomfortable some of the time, as he/she encourages people to move from their comfort zones. This is how we grow as human
beings; this is how we grow our businesses.

We all want people to like us, but sometimes, as a leader, you have to settle for their respect, because the job of a leader is “to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted”.

If you are sure that you have properly identified what needs doing, you must move ahead and allocate enough resources to make the change. Then you have to keep articulating your vision and reasons, and if people don’t get it (or forget it,) keep telling them. Find new ways to tell them so they really ‘get it’. Your job is to make sure that you are not only harvesting today, but planting for tomorrow. Most people think no further ahead than the next meal.

“The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.” Charles F.Kettering

The Other Credit Crunch

Friday, May 8th, 2009

We have been hearing all sorts of gloom and doom from the press about the fall-out in the banking sector and consequences of (according to Wikipedia) a “sustained period of careless and inappropriate lending.” However there is another sort of credit we don’t talk enough about or give enough of, the credit for doing something right. One of the most powerful ways to alter behaviour is to give positive, timely and appropriate feedback. When did you last praise one of your team (or anyone else for that matter) for getting it right?

Deep down, as Desmond Morris observed, we are in many ways simple anmals who respond to praise. Animal trainers have known the power of positive reinforcement for years, why do managers of humans forget it so easily?

“I viewed my fellow man not as a fallen angel, but as a risen ape” Desmond Morris

Probably the single most important job of a manager is to get his team performing, and the most powerful tool for doing this (and possibly the cheapest too) is positive reinforcement or giving credit where it is due and clear helpful, coaching-style feedback where performance needs improving. Giving public credit to one of your team for a good idea or result is hugely motivating. In fact, if you give away the credit and keep the blame when things go wrong you will have team that is incredibly loyal to you.

You need to encourage innovation and this involves taking calculated risks, especially now, those who bring in fresh thinking are going to be big winners. In turbulent times, it is much easier to steal a march on the competition. Companies like 3M allowed their engineers to invest 15% of their time pursuing personal projects, Goggle give their employees a day a week, and this, in return, gave them Gmail and Google maps. If you aren’t getting it wrong some of the time you aren’t pushing the envelope hard enough. So you need to distinguish between mistakes that come from lack of diligence or skill and those that come from trying something new.

Not only should you have a budget for innovation, but also appropriate measures so you can track if and where you are succeeding and learn from it. New products, process improvements or tools need to be shared once they are seen to work. If they don’t, then the learnings should be shared so that they can be built on and you don’t have to keep repeating the same mistake.

We have all sat on the end of a phone to mobile phone company pressing menu options in the vain hope of finding the one person who can help us, and if we are lucky enough to find them, and we don’t resolve it completely then and there, God helps us if we ever have to try to find them again… how frustrating is that?! However, we think nothing of putting ourselves and even our customers through just such silliness, because we don’t learn from our mistakes.

At the root of the Credit Crunch were people placing too much value in the wrong things. Your people are your greatest assets, your customers could be beating a path to your door and sending all their friends to you if you get it right. We all love being looked after and being made to feel special. So today, in the midst of this credit crunch make a point of giving a little credit!

“Giving credit where credit is due is a very rewarding habit to form. Its rewards are inestimable.” Loretta Young

Managing a Smaller Business

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Perverse as it may sound this is a big challenge! There is most of the complexity of a big business and less heads and hands to cope with it. This means that the leaders in a smaller business need to grasp a number of disciplines and ideas that would have specialists in a larger one.

The key to success is focusing on the right things. This means, in terms of your own personal time, focusing on the things that make a real difference, focusing on the things only you can do. Time is a key resource for every business but none more so that the smaller business. There are never enough hours in the day and if you keep burning the midnight oil you just get tired and lose your spark and your focus too. You have to spend your time wisely. Don’t do things that others can do; it doesn’t matter if you do it better, they need to learn. If they can’t, get someone who can! Do the things that only you can do. Ensure that you have time to think, to develop new ideas and new relationships. If you aren’t leading the business then chances are, no one is!

Delegation has all sorts of challenges for all parties involved, but it is a key to growth. If everything has to go through you then you will become the rate-limiter to growth. Delegation builds trust, relationships and confidence if it is done right. Sure they will make some mistakes. Your challenge is to make sure they are ‘safe’ ones.

“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” George S. Patton

All businesses are either leaders or followers. If you are not setting the pace, then you have to find some other competitive advantage such as price or convenience. You need to decide what your competitive advantage is. Are you the slickest operator, which allows you to make more profit from the same price or undercut others? Do you have a better product or service, in which case you can perhaps premium price. Or do you just have very good relationships with either key customers and / or suppliers? Knowing this will help you determine your USP (your Unique Selling Proposition). This in turn will impact on how you promote yourself, the type and location of your premises etc.

Money both in terms of overall funds and cash flow is usually a constraint too. Make sure that you use yours wisely. Invest in systems and tools that will save you time or improve quality or margins. Invest in good people and tools. The best way not to lose money through bad debts is to do a great job and then ensure you get paid promptly. In my experience, both as a supplier and a customer, I am always happy to pay on time for good work and a keen price. I tell my customers my expectations about payment before we start so that we can smooth out the bumps before we hit them! Another great tip (as an accountant in a previous life): the best time to chase for money is before it is due; why wait till you have a problem?

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Peter F. Drucker

Choosing the right people is probably the most important thing you can do, and I am not just talking about your staff. I recently had dealings with a very successful smaller business that uses a lot of third party sub-contractors. This was neat because it meant less admin and less overheads. However, the smartest element was the people she chose. They were all professional and pleasant, just the sort of people who you would want representing you to your clients. If you aren’t that impressed by someone, chances are your customers and suppliers feel the same way. View everyone who works with you as an ambassador for your firm and you won’t go far wrong.

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Dwight Eisenhower

Of course another key thing is setting the right example for your team. You can’t afford to say one thing and do another because people will always tend to do as you do rather than following what you say. Don’t tell them that “Customers are key” and then slag them off behind their backs. Don’t say “We always do a first rate job” and then skimp on quality. Treat all your staff in just the same way as you would wish them to treat your customers and you won’t go far wrong.

When hiring people, recruit people who are different from you. A lot of people make the mistake of hiring clones and then wonder why no one in their team can do certain things. You need to make sure that within your team you have people who are good at dealing with people, people who can think ‘process’, ones who are good with the technology, ones who react well under pressure and ones who plod along and get the work done. You need a mix and the art is ensuring you have the right mix.

The final message is ensure that your communications are first class; both within your team and between your team and your customers and suppliers. Clear, consistent messages align everyone and ensure mistakes don’t occur. If you are not sure if someone has understood what you want, take the time to question them, rather than just saying “Got it?” as you leave the building. Make the time to listen. It can save you a huge amount of time further down the line.

Running a business is all about balance. Get that right and you are laughing. Lose it and you are probably in the smelly stuff… Good luck!

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving” Albert Einstein

The Value of a Sounding Board

Friday, May 8th, 2009

I suspect that many of today’s leaders, like me, were brought up watching westerns on TV, listening to John Wayne mouthing phrases like “A man’s got to do, what a man’s go to do..” and watching him ride off into the sunset. This, in a way, typified a generation’s thinking of what strength and leadership was all about. Whilst many recognise this is an outmoded idea in the 21st century, it is sometimes hard to shake off some of the legacies of this thinking.

In times of Change, people feel much more secure with strong clear leadership, but they need considered action and decisions from their leaders. The trouble is, with the pace of business today; the pressure has never been higher, and thus there is always a temptation to act just for the sake of moving things off the pending pile and appearing decisive. This kind of ‘shoot from the hip’ style tends to makes us feel strong and that we are getting somewhere.

However, leaders are usually dealing with complex, multi-faceted problems which require more consideration. Another issue that busy leaders often are battling with are over-stuffed diaries and this means that they have little quality time to reflect and consider.

This is where I often find leaders gain huge value from working with an external ‘sounding board’. They may call this person a coach, a mentor, or even a friend or colleague, but the role is clear. It is someone they respect, who they can confide in and who can challenge their thinking process. Booking time with someone you can talk to about your agenda, in complete confidence, has a number of benefits:-

  • It makes space for you to think things through
  • The very act of explaining your ideas & issues to someone clarifies your own thinking
  • Having your thinking challenged in a safe environment gives you the chance to develop your ideas further, and if necessary, change direction completely with no loss of face, and with no adverse consequences
  • An outsider can ask those apparently daft, but highly challenging questions such as “Why would you want to do that?” “What would happen if you didn’t do that?” etc.
  • They should sit outside the organisation’s politics and therefore not need to play power games
  • They are able to bring in new ideas from outside the organisation
  • They can also see when the leader is part of the problem and highlight when (s)he needs to consider their own contribution to the situation.

“All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions.” George Bernard Shaw

I normally find that the people I work with will typically leave these sessions much more focused and clear about what they need to do; more focused on what is really important for them to do and where they can afford (or need to) delegate. They usually find that the amount of work they get through in these sessions exceeds their expectations.

Time spent in reflection and exploration with a trusted ‘sounding board’ is a good way of reducing stress both for the leader and their organisation. Decisions that have been thought through inspire more confidence, and this raises the leader’s ‘stock’ with his people and their willingness to follow his lead. In the end this saves a great deal of time both in needless discussion and rework, because (s)he is passing out clear, simple messages.

There is a natural ‘sieving & sorting’ process, not unlike doing a jigsaw puzzle, where you gather together all of bits that are similar and create a clearer, more complete picture. This process helps sequence your messages in a way that makes your overall story much more coherent and easily accepted.

As a human being, it is natural for a leader to have doubts, and it is a part of the job to explore them as honestly as possible. This is a naturally uncomfortable process and it helps to have someone support you through it to make sure it is done both with integrity and completeness. The other side of this confidence is that some people are over-confident and need to almost delegate this doubting role to a trusted third party. This was why, in days of old, kings had Fools or Jesters who had license to say exactly what they thought, as truthfulness tends to shrivel as gets closer to power.

When, in the words of Harry Truman, “The buck stops here!” it is both helpful and responsible to pause to consider whether you are planning not only to do things right, but more importantly , to do the right things! It is all too easy for leaders to get sucked into operational details and it is their job to ensure that the issues that are strategic have been properly identified and planned for. If a leader isn’t strategic in the use of their own time, then the chances are they are not being sufficiently strategic in other areas!

The chairman of a very large business I work with said to me the other day that he could only discuss a particular issue with two other people in his team, and he already knew what they would both say, and he needed a fresh perspective on this issue. This is by no means untypical, and it is a wise man who knows when it is a good idea to seek help.

Another function that can be valuably performed in this safe space is venting. Once words are spoken they can not be unspoken and in every team there are frustrations, doubts and fears. These can all get in the way of the smooth running of the business. Deciding which issues are ones you need to take up with someone directly and which ones are just the result of, perhaps, you having a bad day can make you a much better person to work with.

This process is not about someone else coming in and telling you how to run your business, something that you are uniquely qualified to do, rather, in the words of Ken Keyes, they help you to “get at the wisdom you already have.” When this is supplemented with a little outside input it becomes a very potent dish.

“To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it” Mother Teresa


  1. In 1994 British Airways appointed Paul Birch as ‘corporate jester’ and Abbey National also embraced this a variant of this concept
  2. The Role of the Fool

Leadership: Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Friday, May 8th, 2009

or Lessons Squash Strategies can teach Business Leaders.

Hashim Khan won the British Open squash championship 7 times between 1951 & 1958, and is considered one of the greatest squash players ever. He was asked the secret of his winning ways and he needed only 67 words to explain them! His English was a little basic, but the points he made can teach modern business leaders a great deal!

  1. Keep eye on ball. Concentration on the objective is an essential element in all success.
  2. Move quick to T (the position on the court from which you can dominate the play). Seek the position of greatest strength and>
  3. Stay in crouch (the position from which it is easiest to spring into action). Be ready to act at any time.
  4. Take big step. Think and act big, if that’s what you want to be.
  5. Keep ball far away from opponent. The golden rule of competition is to avoid head-on conflict wherever possible – to bypass the opposition.
  6. Have many different shots ready so opponent does not know what you do next.
  7. Do not relax because you play good shot…better you get ready for next stroke.
  8. Soon as can, find out where opponent has idea to send ball. Know your competitors, and act on your knowledge.
  9. Have reason for every stroke you make. Always think before acting.

He is talking about Focus, Agility, Readiness, Boldness, Competitive Advantage, Planning & Intelligence… almost the core curriculum of an MBA course really.

Take 10 minutes from your busy day today to ask yourself these questions and tomorrow you will probably be much more effective because it:-

  • What are you concentrating on? Is it big picture, how-to-win stuff, or the minutiae? We tend to get more of the things we focus on, so focus on something positive, relevant and worthwhile. Remember… don’t sweat the small stuff!
  • Where can you best control the ‘game’? Are you stuck in your office, or out amongst the troops, or out with your clients and / or prospects?
  • Are you ready to act? If all your resources are fully committed, you need to be able to switch them quickly or have some surplus capacity or the opportunity may disappear before you can respond. [By resources, I don’t just mean just staff, but also your own time and energy.]
  • Are you daring to act boldly? What would that look like for you in your business? Can you take direct steps, and cut out all the things that ultimately just waste time? Does each step add value?
  • Are you able to avoid conflict? Both within the business (where it is often the result of either politics or poor communication) and in the outside world. How can you take steps to seize the competitive advantage?
  • Are you a one-shot wonder? Do you and your business only have a single response (such as cutting price) or have you multiple ways of winning?
  • What is the next key thing for you to focus on? As a leader you have to be thinking ahead of what you are asking people to do today. Even before the current initiative is achieved, you have to be sowing seeds for the next one; ensuring that your messages are consistent, that people have realistic expectations. This helps the business to pace itself
  • What are your competitors planning? And not just today’s competitors, but tomorrow’s; business changes and people who weren’t in the game yesterday are winning it tomorrow. Think about the Chinese and their impact on many businesses!
  • Think before you act… do you have a clear idea of how your strategy holds together? Just as importantly, do the troops know why they are doing what they are doing, or are they just doing what they always do? If they don’t understand the linkages, then how can they really contribute?

“Losers live in the past. Winners learn from the past and enjoy working in the present toward the future.” Denis Waitley

Good Luck and remember, as Vince Lombardi, the famous American football coach, said “if winning isn’t everything, why do we keep score?

Leadership: What it takes?

Friday, May 8th, 2009

We constantly hear people talking about Leadership these days; great politicians, soldiers, explorers, sportsmen (and women), but what does it take to be a leader? Does it mean that they are the best technically at what they do? I suppose sometimes this is true. Does it mean ‘being in charge’? Well sometimes this is part of it. However I would suggest that there are a few elements of Leadership that are different from both of the above. You can be a Leader, without being the boss.

I would suggest that a leader is someone who influences (or controls) the direction in which the organisation/group he/she belongs to move in. This can be done by example, rather than just power; by ability rather than position.

The Leader in a group is the person who can best see or understand what needs to be done to meet the group’s needs. They are the person who can most clearly see the way forward, and what it means to the group.

They act, rather than just talk. They don’t just tell others what to do, they show them by example what needs to be done, and why it is important.

We hear a lot about ‘vision’ these days from big corporations, but it is seldom explained why this is important. It is meant to be an act of leadership. It should paint a vivid picture of what the future is meant to look like so that every member of that group knows what they are moving towards, and therefore their own personal contribution towards getting there.

A Leader enables, rather than just controls, and enabling is at least as important, if not more so, than the trendy ‘empowering’. The Leader brings out the best in their team. They help create an environment where each person can offer the best of themselves. Where the sum total of these individual gifts delivers just what is required, without waste.

A Leader draws out the best performance from each person (the word educate is from the Latin educare to draw or lead out).

A Leader must also be brave, not fearless, because they probably can see the dangers more clearly that the others, but brave enough to move forward despite the risks, because they can see that standing still is no option. They will do what is needed, rather than what is popular, because it has to be done.

“Good leaders comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable”

They chose where to invest time, energy and resources. They make judgements about what is likely to work, and what won’t. Sometimes these judgements come from finely honed instincts, rather than long debate, or years of experience.

A Leader is deeply in tune with his/her environment. They listen to what is going on, both internally and externally, and are the first ones to sense danger. The essence of Leadership is survival!

I was astonished when some years ago I discovered that relatively junior people in a larger global corporation not only felt that they could exercise Leadership, but actually did so by virtue of their vision and energy. It was the first time I understood that the boss and the leader didn’t have to be the same person. Think of some families you know, who has the most influence over what happens?

So if you can see that things not only could, but should be different, rather than complaining, maybe you should be a Leader and make the difference that is required. Don’t wait to be asked, don’t wait till it is your job… Just do it and see what happens!

“I am personally convinced that one person can be a change catalyst, a “transformer” in any situation, any organization. Such an individual is yeast that can leaven an entire loaf. It requires vision, initiative, patience, respect, persistence, courage, and faith to be a transforming leader.” Stephen R. Covey

Motivational Leadership

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Knowing where you want (or need) to lead your business is vital, but it is only half of the story. Knowing how to get people to support your plan and follow you is also crucial. It is no use being the most visionary leader in the world if no one pays any attention

It tends to be accepted wisdom these days that a business (or a team) need a vision, but all too often it doesn’t deliver. Why? Because having a vision is only half of the solution, it has to be a compelling vision. That means compelling to those you are asking to adopt and embrace it.

In order to achieve this, we have to step back and consider what takes to make something compelling. As humans, we are programmed to automatically seek out the answer to WIFM? (What Is in it For Me?) To be an effective leader you must also consider What Is in it for Them. After all why should they do it?

The dictionary defines motivation thus:


  • Giving of a reason to act: the act of giving somebody a reason or incentive to do something
  • Enthusiasm: a feeling of interest or enthusiasm that makes somebody want to do something, or something that causes such a feeling
  • Reason: a reason for doing something or behaving in some way
  • Psychology forces determining behaviour: the biological, emotional, cognitive, or social forces that activate and direct behaviour

A effective leader tends to know, almost instinctively, what will motivate the ‘troops’. However, this is a complex area, and worth considering in a little more detail.

For example did you know that it is possible to divide your team into two groups; those who move towards something, and those who move away from something. This means that only some of your team will respond to a rosy vision of some improved tomorrow. Think about it, do you move away from trouble (“I don’t want to fail”) or towards success (“I want to be a winner!”)? Both are fine but this kind of programming tends to be a deep component of our natures and whilst we instinctively understand our own programme, we need to recognise others’ are almost certainly are different.

Money may be a motivation for some of your workforce, but others may well crawl over a bed of hot coals for some heartfelt recognition. This can take the form of simple feedback, awards, new opportunities or promotion. For someone with a relatively low threshold for the ‘humdrum’ a new project would be an exciting reward. For someone who finds change challenging this would be just another problem!

“If people are coming to work excited . . . if they’re making mistakes freely and fearlessly . . . if they’re having fun . . . if they’re concentrating doing things, rather than preparing reports and going to meetings – then somewhere you have leaders.” Robert Townsend

Furthermore, we all have our preferred ways of receiving communication. Some people need to see it, other like to hear it, and yet others to get a sense of it all. Some need to understand the ‘Big Picture’, and not be bogged down by details (after all, ‘if I don’t agree with where you are going why should I care about how we are going to get there?’) On the other hand, others need to know the details (‘If don’t know that it is practical, the goal is irrelevant’).

There are, of course, many other different elements that make up this complex subject, but it is useful to think about what it takes to get people to ‘get-onboard’. Also remember, you are unlikely to convince everyone, but the good news is, that you don’t have to! You just need to get enough people onboard to create momentum in the right direction. Others will enrol once they begin to get it.

So once you have taken the time to establish where you are heading, the next step is enrolling key supporters. Don’t spoil the ship for a ‘ha’p’orth of tar’, take the time to plan and execute this step carefully. Understand what is truly important to them, and communicate with them in a way that really means something, and you are much more likely to be successful.

“Leadership can be thought of as a capacity to define oneself to others in a way that clarifies and expands a vision of the future.” H Friedman