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improving the breed

For some years now the concept of continuous improvement has been embedded into management culture. We have had all the Japanese influences, lean manufacturing (and then lean everything else, except, perhaps, in management speak where fat is good it would seem), and so there is a general willingness to work towards improving product and process. Some of this is disguised in the throwaway culture we have with cars, white goods and technology where as soon as you have bought the latest the next generation is announced, but there is one area where improving the breed seems to be not just overlooked, but is sometimes supressed.

In my younger days I was lucky enough to have in most of my bosses, their peers and their own boss people who recognised some potential in me and pushed me hard to realise it. At the time I didn’t see it and too often resented their efforts, but as I made my own way into the management ranks I saw what they had been trying to do and, too late to thank them in person, I did become grateful for what they had done. This was long enough ago for such things to be just accepted as part of what you did; there was not the formal development process that we have today, but the point was that they were trying to make me better than I was.

As this realisation began to dawn on me I could see around me that within my peer group there were two sorts of people. Both saw knowledge as power, but one sought to withhold that knowledge so that they had power over their teams whereas the other group saw it as something to share. I was in the latter group and, for me, there was a clear advantage in shared power because I got better results and better results reflected well on me.

It did not bother me that some of my team might actually be better at things than I was. If they were ready and able to take my job then that was great because it opened up opportunities for me to move onwards and upwards. If it meant that my people left to get better jobs then that was great too because it would bring in new people to develop and if my team was seen as somewhere that people could do well and progress then bright young things would be clamouring to join me.

As I moved on in my career one of my key aims was to try and get as many of the people who worked for me to a point where they were better than me at what they did. Not everyone would make it and many didn’t want to, but those who did got the opportunity. Improving the breed should always start with the people; if you can make each generation better than the last then we give them the best opportunity.

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