This is a quote attributed to John Z De Lorean, automotive legend if not for all of the reasons he might have aspired to. As a fervent deregulator I do appreciate the need for some rules, but the question of how many we have to have is always a hard one to answer. Read more…
Customer service has been prominent in my thoughts this week, especially as I have experienced some really good service, together with someone trying to put right something that had gone wrong.
Many years ago I came up with something that I called the Ghent Agenda, named in honour of some really good service I had experienced from hotel people first in Brussels and then in Ghent. It was a blueprint for our facilities management team to raise our game, and it did make a difference, but it is how you make these things happen that intrigues me.
It is the leader that sets the tone for the way their team will work, and various old and new adages describe this; setting the tone, leading by example, walking the talk and so on, and these are, like all such sayings, very true. More so than many realise, because the way a leader acts and behaves will have a huge influence on their team (very much in the way that children are influenced by their parents).
It is all very well to try and influence your team towards providing a high level of service, but how do you yourself behave? Is the example that you set one that you would like your team to follow as they deal with your customers? For example, how do you treat people? You may be good with your team, but how about others?
My premise here is that leading by example, or whatever we want to call it, comes from setting a personal standard first. If you truly want to be a role model then you have to become that model and apply the standard. There is a wonderful quote attributed to Sir Laurence Olivier during the making of the 1976 film Marathon Man. Dustin Hoffman’s character had to portray levels of exhaustion commensurate with having being awake for 24 hours or so, and kept himself up to experience the effects. When Olivier asked him what he was doing Hoffman explained his need for accuracy in portrayal, only for the former to suggest “Why not try acting, dear boy, it’s much easier”.
And that is the issue, acting is much easier, but leadership is not acting. If all you are portraying to your team is an act then you will be found out at some point, so you do need to live the role.
If your team here you tell them about the importance of giving good customer service, of treating people with respect, but then see you behave poorly towards others then how can they truly believe in the message when the person delivering it lets them down? And if you do not strive to apply the standards to yourself in everything that you do, are you not applying double standards?
We can’t be perfect. We are, after all, only human, but if we are going to try to achieve the highest standards then we have to raise our game. A record of continuous success does not come without constantly pushing yourself and your team, and that is what the better leaders do, and they push themselves hardest.
If you want to be that great role model for your people then try to apply the highest levels of behaviour in everything that you do; be polite and show respect to others, regardless of who they are. If you treat the ticket collector on the train or the barista in the coffee shop the way you want your people to treat your customers then you are setting the right tone for them. Lead from the front.
It’s a quote I found in a book entitled Last Bus to Albequerque and it struck a chord with me when I first read it back in 1994. I used the first half of it as one of my over the desk mottos; the whole thing was too long and, in any case, if anyone thought that I was a con artist I didn’t want anything over my desk that appeared to confirm that view!
But the sentiment is a strong one, and it took a while for me to realise that I had fallen into the trap of taking myself very seriously indeed; the blinding flash that showed me what a complete idiot I was making of myself was an unpleasant realisation. As I write these words now I am transported back to about 1984 when I had that moment on the road to Damascus so to speak.
Having been able to see the problem and deal with it made a big difference to me in many ways, both professional and personal. I began to enjoy myself and I got even better at what I did as a result. When I adopted the strapline of “25 years of having fun whilst making things happen” last year, that is exactly what I meant.
Getting a laugh out of every day isn’t always easy, and there have been times when black humour has won through. I won’t repeat some of the jokes here because I recognise that they were offensive to some, but in the context of our team and the moment they were just what we needed to lift the mood. The best ones were, of course, the ones that punctured my dignity and I’ll share a couple here.
My team and I managed a diverse property estate and most of the team would have to travel to get to a common location, so hotels provided a neutral venue, but at the previous couple of meetings I had felt it necessary to mention standards of dress; we were on show and the welcome board in reception told everyone which company we represented. After the second warning one of the team challenged me quietly and suggested that suits and ties were maybe too formal, so could we not have a smart casual regime, maybe golf clubhouse standards? I took the point and smart casual was the order of the day for the next meeting. I turned up in golf shirt and chinos to find the rest all in their best business suits – game set and match to the team.
Another time I had been banging the environmental drum and we had begun to have our site vehicles and equipment painted green in an effort to raise awareness amongst our tenants and generally push the Green boat out. Then came a meeting to discuss the issue of the latest set of site manuals for our tenants. “I suppose you want green binders?” I was asked, and the answer was, of course, “Yes”. On leaving that meeting I was reminded that I should wear overalls when on that site as it was both protocol and would be part of the new Health & Safety plan in respect of wearing personal protective equipment (lead from the front John). I mentioned, sheepishly, that my girth had outgrown my overalls and that a new set were needed. No problem, they’d be waiting for me on my next visit. And they were, in lurid green! Team 10, Bowen 0.
You can’t take yourself too seriously.you do, no-one else is going to take your side.
Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved.
This is often bandied around as a motivational quote, but like many such quotes, it has its detractors. I don’t pretend to know what William Jennings Bryan had on his mind when he said this, but I have my own thoughts.
On the one hand I often argue here that the choices we make influence what we end up as, and that I’m unlikely to change my mind on. My own experience, both of what has happened to me and what I’ve seen happen to others, is that your choices have a big impact. Of course there are circumstances not of your making that will affect how your life turns out. I wrote last week about the fickle finger of fate and how none of us know how long we have here.
So no, we don’t choose everything that comes our way. The trick for me is in how we react to the slings and arrows through our lives. As with the quotation that started this off, there are loads of old adages, all of which have a modicum of truth in them. One that suits my line of thought here is “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. You can roll over and moan when things go wrong, or you can try to turn something positive from the experience.
On that basis I have no time for the arguments of those who would reject the premise as not being a law of life. Of course we have no choice in many aspects of our existence; we don’t chose to be brought into life and many choices are made for us by others during our formative years, but we do have the choice of whether or not we learn at school for example, and we have choices about how we approach whatever job we manage to find ourselves.
Not everyone is going to make big sums of money, but that isn’t the only measure of success in life. You can either sit around and wait for something to happen or you can make an effort. You won’t win them all, but you have to be in it to win it, so if you don’t try you don’t have a chance. Even a lottery winner made the effort to pick some numbers and buy a ticket.
Having dreams is fine, but they need a little work to make them come true. It’s fine to look up in wonder at the heights and want to be there looking down, but those who go for a ladder have the right idea.
It doesn’t matter how hard things look there is always an opportunity to try something. One of my schoolboy heroes in the late 50s and early 60s was the great Swedish rally driver Eric Carlson. A bear of a man he could make those little 2 stroke Saabs dance over the ice and through the forests, and at a time when such cars were just modified production vehicles with little of the safety aids of today. There was also no route reconnaissance or pace notes, but when he was asked about what went through his mind heading over a blind crest at night in the forest at 100 mph, he shrugged and said, “Well, the road must go somewhere”.
For all of us we have these blind crests on the road of life; destiny may not always be in our hands, and whatever WJB had in mind when he uttered his words I don’t know, but for me they do make a connection. I’d rather go down trying than crying.
Somewhere amongst all my various scribbling is a line about my successes having shaped me, but it being my failures that have made me. It is a play on the Einstein quote along the lines people who haven’t made a mistake haven’t tried anything, but I do believe that it is the things that I’ve done wrong, or not well enough, that I’ve truly learned from.
Of course you do also learn from success, but it is sometimes easier to just party and enjoy your moment of triumph. Another of my little mottos back in the days when I had a team was that the team succeeds, but failures are mine. That one was largely about me taking it on the chin when things went wrong, but it was also about letting the team celebrate the wins whilst I got to think about why we had won.
You can’t win them all. That’s not being defeatist, it’s being realistic. If you’re good enough, whether as an individual or as a team, then you can enjoy long runs of success. You can win more that you lose, but sooner or later there will be someone who will beat you. That is healthy, and one of the other lessons that I have learned along the way is that you don’t take defeats personally. Business is business; allowing emotions to get in the way is a waste of energy that you could put to better use on positive things.
Of course I’m still competitive and I don’t like to lose, but I’ve come to accept that there are times when what I have isn’t what is needed on the day to pull off the win. And I don’t take too much notice of luck either. Gary Player once said that the more he practised the luckier he got. You make your own luck most of the time.
Another factor is in being willing to compete. Would you rather be played 3 won 3, or played 30 won 27? Even if you’re played 30 won 3 at least you are trying, and I’ll always applaud a trier over someone who is afraid to go into the arena. You can always develop someone who is willing to try, and they are often more likely to be consistent winners than someone with talent who won’t risk themselves. Just look at the talent that the England football team squandered at the last World Cup where a fear of losing appeared to be greater than the desire to win.
Sport and business are not the same, but there are the parallels; a well motivated and led team will do well in either. And those who are prepared to push themselves hard will do well in either; and what is the point if you’re not going to keep on challenging yourself? I’ll offer another sporting quotation; “To do something well is so worthwhile that to die trying to do it better cannot be foolhardy. It would be a waste of one’s life to do nothing with one’s ability, for I feel that life is measured in achievement not in years alone.” That was written nearly 50 years ago by Bruce McLaren following the death of his team mate Timmy Mayer.
Most of us don’t have the risk of death implicit in our business life, although some do, but, as I wrote last week we don’t know how long we have on this planet. We might as well do something worthwhile with the time that we have, and if that means a few mistakes then so what; live and learn.