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Posts Tagged ‘leadershipchat’

on personal motivation


Last week I was musing on teams, but the question of what motivates the leader is always worth considering, especially when the leader is you. Just like everyone else leaders have bad days, even bad weeks, but have to hide that from the troops as best as they can because the rot will spread. Whatever is going on inside the world needs to see a positive attitude.

One of the hardest things that a leader has to face up to and find a way to conquer is fear. There is no getting away from it; everyone will be afraid at some point and failure is probably the biggest cause of fear. It is important here to look at failure from two perspectives; failures through a mistake, making the wrong call or whatever, is something that you should embrace because you can learn from these things. There may be bad consequences, but you still can look at why you made the wrong decision and do better next time.

The other form of failure comes from where you fail to act, to not do something that you knew needed doing, but just let it slide. The fear then move to the consequences and, let’s be honest, if you pull this one then you deserve what you get. You ought to learn from this too though, the lesson being that, as the leader, you have to face whatever the job throws at you. The old adage of if you can’t stand the heat then stay out of the kitchen was never more apt.

Motivation for a leader may come from material things; car, money, fringe benefits, power and the like. At the core should always be a desire to do the best that you can though and to improve all the while. Managing fear will come though all of that and one driver will be your ambition.

Looking back I don’t know where my ambition came from and it certainly rarely ever seemed to have any focus. As a small boy I wanted to be a coach driver; it seemed wonderful to me to be able to take people on trips that gave such pleasure whilst also getting to drive what I thought were the most wonderful vehicles. That faded to be replaced by becoming a pilot and that looked, briefly, as though there might have been a chance, but it didn’t work out. By then I had begun to experience the careers advice offered at school and had decided that I wanted to be a manager. I had no idea as to what they did, but going to work in a suit, having a nice car, an office and a secretary all seemed attractive.

Others had the same idea about me as I later came to understand and worked hard on developing me in that direction. I was an organiser in my teens and was given responsibility at school that I did not understand the significance of for many years. It was only when I was into the development of others that I started to understand some of the opportunities that I had wasted, or at least not fully grasped, in my younger days.

Eventually I made it, going all the way from the shop floor to the boardroom. The two things that seemed to drive me, and that I thrived on, was having responsibility and influence. They were my motivators even if it did take me time to recognise their influence. But I think that underpinning all motivating factors is that you need to be hungry for success and to do what you need to to earn it.

I did, at times specialise at work. I have four professional qualifications in IT, Purchasing Facilities Management and Logistics each of which was acquired when I was specialising in those areas, but the common thread was that I was a decent organiser, or manager, and got things done. I established a reputation through project delivery, but was equally successful at routine operations and still regard myself as a generalist rather than a specialist.

For me I was fortunate in that I had a lot of training along the way. The opportunities to learn were always grasped with both hands right from my first school days and I still, aged 68, will grab any opportunity to try something new that comes my way. How you motivate yourself is something that you must find. Don’t sweat it too much, but do try and see if you can understand what makes you tick and channel it to you advantage.

on teams


So much of team building chatter is based on the premise that we are all capable of being excellent, that same mentality of the Blair years that we can all have anything that we want, that there are no losers and similar excuses that blights genuine progress. The reality is that there are always losers because there are so few genuine winners and, in any case, true excellence is something that comes at the expense of much else. If you want that you can forget most of the work:life balance claptrap that is bandied around.

For anyone leading a team the issue is how to get the best balance from what you have and you will rarely have any choice in picking your team, at least at first, so you will be doing what you can with the hand that you are dealt. There is every chance that you will have a star or rough diamond in the mix and a number of people who are very competent as well as what will seem to be a dud or two.

The first step is to get to know them and try to understand what makes them tick. Weaknesses are important, but put them at the back of the queue for now and concentrate of strengths. You may want to work on people’s weak areas in time, but for now use the team to cover each other’s weak area. If someone is not good on the ‘phone don’t let them answer it. It is important to the team to feel that you believe in them so if you get them doing the things that they are best at they will be happier and start to trust you. As that trust builds they will be more receptive to your efforts to develop them and these should always be around polishing their skills before working on their weaker areas.

If you can get that right you will find that at least some of your team will start to ask about working on their weaknesses. This only comes when people begin to feel confident and you will not get that by harping on about their weaknesses; you need to be subtle and building the confidence that they, and you, need. It is about building an atmosphere of mutual trust.

Another benefit from this approach is that when things go wrong people will be more open about what they did which helps to understand what you need to do to prevent recurrence. Eliminating errors becomes a lot easier when your team truly believe that they are working in a no-blame culture so always look for what went wrong rather than who did it.

As you come to understand your team better you will also understand what motivates them. Not everyone wants to be a star and there is no reason why they should. For many people to just do a job that fulfils them and enables them to survive in modest comfort is all they want and people like that are the bedrock of any team. They turn up, do their stuff and go home day in, day out. What will demotivate people like that quickly is a poor working environment so, as leader, you want to make sure that the physical infrastructure works well and that your team have the things that they need. It can become a huge problem when the stapler can rarely be found and, when it can, it is out of staples or the photocopier is always out of paper. These are simple things to fix, but are the grains of sand that can grind people down. Fix them and people will be happier and happier people are more motivated and productive.

A few thought to play with. As always, feel free to disagree.

on the paradox of knowledge


I vaguely recall being told when I was in my late teens that the more we know the less we know and thought then that this was ridiculous. Clearly I did not then know enough.

Over my professional career there have been many occasions when my team and I have been engaged in planning something and have gone through that stage where our researches have led us to a point where we have more questions than answers; every answer that we seek leads to more questions and it is an iterative process that all project teams go through.

At some point in one of these project team meetings someone gave that long forgotten answer again; the more we know the less we know and it struck me that, far from being nonsense, it was actually true. It is aligned to another old adage about a little knowledge being a dangerous thing and I have had moments where I have made a fool of myself trying to use a new piece of knowledge only to find that what I knew barely scratched the surface.

Everything that you learn opens the door to more learning. I know now that this is what fuels my own passion for learning and it is so easy now. As a boy I had an old atlas of the world and a dictionary of similar vintage and these were my main sources of reference. No I have a tablet beside me for much of the time and, if not that, then a mobile (cell) ‘phone. With a few clicks I can check all sorts of facts and have been known to spend an entire evening digging through having started on one topic and been led to various threads from that.

The opportunity to learn is all around us these days and there is no excuse for not using it. Ignorance may be bliss, but I am a lot happier knowing things and seeking to know more. Hopefully I will never lose that urge to learn something new every day.

on the fail fast principle


For most of us we have become used to the fail safe way of working. I am old enough to remember a time when air brakes failed off leaving you with the best way of stopping being to find something soft to drive into. We don’t allow that these days.

Failures are things to be avoided and we work hard on our processes to find ways of doing it right first time, every time. If you are failing your KPIs it is career threatening, a thing of shame. No wonder that so many people are afraid of failure.

Yet we all know that we learn more from our failures and something that I adopt is based on a way of thinking that is called fail fast. The principle is to have something monitoring the system that warns of potential failure somewhere and puts things into a safe mode. It is similar to the Limp Mode that you may have found on your car. Some engineers are using it to push for failures, to encourage them to enable their eradication and this type of thinking is used in high pressure areas like Grand Prix motor sport to find and eliminate potential weak spots in any system or component.

Forty years or so ago we were doing something like this with software testing. The classic test was to take historic data and run that through the program to check that it was doing its sums correctly, but we mixed in erroneous inputs to see what happened. We would also overload the software beyond its specified capacities again to see what it would take, or otherwise.

With more manual processes this approach can also be tried and it will tend to show where the flow starts to fail. Critical Path Analysis is a good companion tool here and using the two can show how the CP can change user different circumstances.

These things can start as desktop exercises, but there is no substitute for doing them in real time because the the working environment will often through up things that would otherwise be missed; the story of my old boss and his M1 traffic jam has been told here before, but it was a classic case of the real world making a bugger’s muddle of what looked like a great plan.

The key message here is to always look at what other people in unrelated industries are doing. It is time rarely wasted because everyone has a need to make things happen as efficiently as possible. How they do it and the way that they think about their problems can often through up an idea that you can adopt or adapt. Take time to look around; you never know what you might find.

on attitudes


People are strange. We all are to some degree or other, but there are times when one or more will just be contrary; they will not accept the common belief in something. How you overcome that as a leader is something that you will have to come to terms with.

Take the current position on wearing masks whilst shopping. It was plain from the start that it was a good idea in general. Yes there are some problems, but if you wore a mask correctly and observed the readily available advice on wearing and disposing of same then you were going to be at less risk than without and were less likely to spread the plague if you didn’t know you had it.

Now it is compulsory unless you have genuine reasons for not wearing one, but there are plenty of people taking the “I’m not wearing one” stance. They all have their own reasons, but why defy a requirement, especially one that makes sense?

The internet, social media in particular, does not help for it is hardly the place for sensible debate let alone good advice. But if someone wants to believe something they will do so and will not be easily persuaded otherwise. I recall a case where we had found funds to refurbish the restaurant at a building that served around 1300 people daily. The original layout and furnishings were around 25 years old and very much on the lines of a 1950s works canteen, so a refresh was long overdue.

We did some consultation with the users and from that the architects came up with a new style. A display of the proposals was put up in the restaurant for people to see and comment on and I went along that day to get some direct feedback. “Where are we going to eat when all this happens?” was the first comment, so I asked what they meant. Surely it was obvious that everyone would continue to eat in the refurbished restaurant, but no, there was a strong feeling that the new layout was “too posh” and only designed for the select few; the “ordinary workers” would have to eat at their desks or find somewhere else to have their lunch. There was also a firm belief that prices would go up to levels that they could not afford despite a clear assurance that they would not.

Around 200, of the 1300, were convinced that they would not be allowed to come into the new restaurant and, once it opened, about 50 declined to use it in case they were refused service. They would not believe the evidence before their very eyes and you can do nothing about that sort of bigotry.

As a leader you try to take people with you, but you cannot allow yourself to be distracted by minorities. Spend time on them by all means, but don’t forget the majority who are with you all the way. If they think that you have lost interest in them you will loose them too. Attitudes can be changed and good leaders can do it with ease, but never forget the law of diminishing returns; spend your time one the people that are worth the investment and don’t waste too mucho in those that are not.

on the SISI principle


In good teams there is a focus on individual goals; if everyone delivers their part to the best of their abilities then the team will succeed. There is nothing wrong with that. It is a very good basis for success, but in executing such a way of working it can go wrong.

Where it goes wrong is that you have a group of individuals and not a team and there will be none of the synergy that real teams enjoy. The foundation for good, and possibly great, teams is to ensure than everyone understands what the organisations goal is and focuses their attention on their part of that, but also working for each other as the day goes by.

You want people who have each other’s backs, who will think of the common good and not just of their own targets. It is about helping the team succeed and not individual glory. It isn’t about baling out lame ducks; that is your job as the leader, but it does include putting things right when there is a problem.

The SISI principle is built around the old adage; Everybody was sure that somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but although it was everybody’s job everybody thought that somebody else would do it. In the end nobody did what anybody could have and somebody should have done.

SISI stands for See It Sort It. If it needs doing then do it. If you can’t do it find someone who can, but get it sorted now, don’t leave it for someone else. If a colleague is in trouble help them. If you are struggling seek help. If you see a problem then sort it. It can be the most trivial of things; leaving the photocopier without paper, not putting a new toilet roll onto the holder or not tidying up. All of these things are the grit in the gearbox that wears people down, but if you can get them to just fix these things as they go you get that synergy.

It comes from team spirit, but it also builds team spirit. Once you get a group working as a team you will find that they can absorb pressure like a sponge. They are all confident that someone has their back and develop a belief in themselves as a team that can do anything.

SISI, it easy. It cost nothing and pays back in volumes. Why not try it?

on “I told you so”


It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, there will always be someone who thinks that they know better and you can always rely on them to say so. Said to your face is one thing, but if you are in any position of responsibility the likelihood is that they will tell everyone that they can just how badly you got it wrong.

For anyone who is leading making decisions is a problem. Whatever you decide impacts on others and their families; your own people, suppliers and customers can all suffer if you screw up and bring the business down. If you are the one in the hot seat then you try to make sure that all of your decisions are made based on the best information that you have at the time and the consequences of your decision are well thought through.

Over the years I have made hundreds of big decisions for the businesses that I have worked for or owned. The beast majority of them didn’t turn out too badly, there were a few spectacular failures and about the same number of decisions went so well that they kept me employed and well paid. I would love to claim credit, but the reality is that luck played a part part in almost all of the outcomes, good, bad and middling.

It would be easy to control the outcomes if you could control the environment that you are working in, but you can’t. The world is a dynamic place and things around you are changing all of the time. Any advice that you can get on the future is based on the past and it is not uncommon for results to work out to be the opposite of what was confidently predicted. Research is constant and can also show results that swing like a pendulum so if you catch the swing going the right way you are fine, but if you catch it at the end off a swing you look a chump. And you can safely bet there will be those who delight in pointing that out.

You learn from mistakes, but a decision that doesn’t work out as well as it ought is not a mistake and I would always accept constructive criticism from people who has also been in the hot seat. How you react to failure is important and adds to your experience as you face the next big decision and the one after that. The armchair critic and the Monday morning quarterback can, and will, have their say, but you can largely ignore them, simply because they did not have the decision to make. In any case they are working with hindsight and any fool can say a decision was wrong then.

The other thing about the “I told you so” mob is that they rarely can explain what they would have done or why that would have worked. Look at politics; the opposition will always criticise the lot who are in power, but they rarely come up with any credible solution and, should they gain power, are rarely any better with their own decision making.

As a leader you will find the world a lonely place, but that is how it should be. You take on the responsibility and you do your best. If you are good enough you will make decisions that work out well most of the time. Let your team take the credit for delivering those because it is them who will be doing the work. Take the failures on the chin yourself regardless of why the idea failed, and let you critics take a running jump.

on good and bad


I am an avid reader. I have been since I learned to read and have always got a book on the go. At the moment I have three; one a technical tome that I read on the dining table, and e-book biography that I read on my ‘phone over breakfast and breaks at work and a paperback biography for bedtime reading. From two of this trio comes some thought on good and bad in people.

There was a man who was prominent in a field that I know a lot about. He was, in many ways, a pompous ass and was not quite as good at what he did as he thought he was. I would have loathed having to work with him in that respect, but on the other hand he did a lot of good things. Overall I have always though of him as a decent enough bloke, but one of the books that I am currently reading alleges that he was far from good.

It is a common enough theme; Rolf Harris gave a lot of pleasure as an entertainer before certain facts became known and he went to prison for his actions. Jimmy Savile did a lot of good for various charities, but was also found to be a bad lot after he had died and no doubt you can think of your own examples.

Over the years I have worked with people who have been lovely as individuals, but a nightmare to work alongside. There have been others who have been a delight to work with yet were not people that I would have wanted to know outside of the office. My view is that I have a job to do and it will get done regardless of how I feel about the people around me and I am sure that there are people who have known me who did not like me at work or would not have wanted to socialise with me. It matters not to me.

There seems to be a view these days that people should be perfect, but we aren’t. There is always the possibility that there will be something about us that would offend others. For most of my life that didn’t matter; I have always had friends who had different political views to me, supported sports stars or teams that I can’t abide, were deeply religious (I am an atheist) or whatever. Our differences often cemented the friendship as we argued our respective points of view.

My friendships have also survived where the other party has done something that they should not have done. I am not going to abandon a pal lightly; if you are my friend and you are in trouble you know that I will be there for you. This is not something that I was directly brought up to, more that it is how my attitudes have evolved.

I do not expect perfection from anyone, let alone politicians and business leaders. Yes I would like them to behave to a standard that I would find acceptable, but why should my standards prevail? There is good and bad in us all and I can live with that.

on decisions


A perennial topic this one, but the current criticism of the government here in the UK prompted my thoughts because one of the most usual causes of decision paralysis is getting it wrong; if you don’t make a decision you can’t make the wrong one.

I am talking here about critical decisions because there are unimportant things where doing nothing is often the best corse of action, but when there is something important to be done you should do something so not doing it is most certainly wrong.

A favourite quote of mine is from Yogi Berra the American baseball star; “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”. Decision making in business or government is more complex than the 50:50 chance of getting it right or wrong, but you are working with three parameters; time, knowledge and resource. Of those you cannot control time and you may not be able to control resource or knowledge before time runs out.

You have to go with the best that you have and accept that you might not get it right. Be decisive and, once it is over and you can see what happened, look at whether or not you could do it better next time. An investigation is essential, but it should never be about blame, always about learning and improving.

Every decision you make will have consequences, but doing something is both an opportunity to learn and it puts experience into the pot for when you have to make the next decision. Fear of failure is an instinctive response, but one that you need to push past if you are to grow. The more you do the more experience you have and experience helps you respond to the consequences of your actions.

Another sporting hero provides an appropriate response here. Eric Carlson was one one the finest rally drivers of the late 1950s and early 1960s, a time when rally cars were simply tuned up versions of road cars and safety equipment minimal. He was asked what went through his mind when he approached a blind brow in the forest at night whilst driving at over 100mph. He thought for a moment and said; “Well, the road must go somewhere”. That is experience talking. It gives the confidence to be able to deal with whatever comes. Like Yogi’s advice to take the fork, whatever choice you make your experience will help you deal with whatever comes your way.

There will always be someone who will tell you that you have got it wrong and these people will almost always be those who did not have to make the decision. Pay them little heed for these are the Monday morning quarterbacks who have the benefit of hindsight and had no skin in the game. They might be right, they might be wrong, but as long as you made the call as best as you could with the time, knowledge and resource that you had then at least you did something. Learn and move on.

on other ways of making things happen


I mentioned recently the EFQM model, another tool that, when used well, can serve a useful purpose. For me the great benefit that I got from it was understanding the linkages between ideas and results, the enablers. I have been reading a succession of political biographies and commentaries of late and there are many instances where promises made at the hustings have not been delivered. There are many reasons for this and, in general, it is not because the politician is telling lies. Certainly sometimes they do relying on the fact that we are too gullible to see the truth, but there are three other key barriers.

Read more…