“Time is shortening, but every day that I challenge this cancer and survive is a victory for me.”
Three time academy-award winning Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982)

I am coming up to the 25th year anniversary of my initial diagnosis with colon cancer, and my entering of the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney for a Hemicolectomy, which involved the surgical removal of the tumour and the surrounding parts of my descending colon. Since then, I have been through regular colonoscopies, and have often had more bits cut out, but I am still here, and intend to be so for a long time to come.

Author: Nephron (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Nephron (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

I believe that I have learned much about life in my nearly 70 years on this planet, and also that I still have much to learn, but this anniversary, and the fact that I am also trying to help two friends who are now embarking on this same journey, has had me thinking about what I had learned specifically as a result of my brush with cancer.

Here are 10 of my lessons learned while going through the medical procedures and treatment:

- Medicine is not an exact science, as I was originally given a 50/50 chance of living just one year. Doctors are well trained professionals but have much the same error rates as the rest of the population.

By TomTheHand; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikiemdia Commons

By TomTheHand; CC BY-SA 3.0 license

- Be prepared to ask your specialist what he would do in your situation, but only after establishing a relationship as equals rather than having just a doctor to patient discussion. I stopped chemotherapy after my serious one-on-one session with my surgeon.

- Fighting a life threatening disease is not a part time job. You must give it all your focus. If that means including some non-traditional help such as meditation, tai-chi and forward visualisation, embrace it. I did all three and more.

- People who keep telling you to “stay positive” are not morons; they just don’t know what else to say. Most people who have faced cancer tend to agree that this is one of the silliest things that anyone could have said to them. Even “be strong” makes more sense.

- People who treat you normally when you are sick are a greater comfort than those whose voices drop 25 decibels and 2 octaves, and who thus address you as a sick person. I used to hear people in the corridor chat normally with my wife, and then enter my hospital room and address me in a hushed sombre whisper. I have never understood why they thought that this would help.

- There is significant advantage in looking for the humour in situations when you feel that you are facing death, such as a friend who gave me the latest Wilbur Smith book at the time called “A Time to Die”. My wife and I giggled to tears.

Author: jimincairns; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Wilbur Smith; Author: jimincairns; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

- The medical system can only handle the high volume of disease through standard process management. Your responsibility is to ensure that the treadmill you are placed on makes sense for you, or else, if it is an option, you need to get off and manage it more personally.

- Laughter is a more powerful medicine that any drug. I had a wonderful nurse who, early on the day after my operation, forced me to get out of bed and start walking by threatening to take off down the corridor carrying the catheter bags that were attached to some sensitive parts of my anatomy.

- Not everything that happens is an omen. I kept waking up at 4.44 every morning in the hospital, and it bothered me until my wife reminded me that I wasn’t Chinese, so Asian numerology was really meaningless for me.

Here are another 10 key lessons about life in general that I learned as a result of my illness:

- You can’t bottle things up … unless you are a wine maker. Many people now understand that “lifestyle” can be a major contributor to illness. My diagnosis suggested that my having been a heavy smoker may have been an issue (this link to colon cancer has now been established), but at the time all I could say was that I never did the drawback on my cigarettes so strongly that it could have gotten down to the affected area.

Author: Dick Rochester; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Dick Rochester; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

- Stress relief is an important part of robust health. For me this involves having dogs. It is hard to stay stressed when you have a wagging tail in front of you, or a wet nose pressed up against your hand, just asking for a head, back or tummy to be stroked. Whatever works for you is worthwhile and is needed.

Author: Bev Sykes; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Bev Sykes; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

- Great friends (as compared to friends on Facebook) are a real comfort, but not all friendships last forever, and knowing when to move on is important. I had friends who couldn’t cope with my illness and therefore kept away, and some who kept me and my wife sane while I fought my way through it all. Remember that cancer not only affects you, but also affects all around you.

- The best reason for staying alive as long as you can is because there are people that you love too much to easily leave behind. This may not be enough reason to overcome a serious illness, but it is the best one that I can think of.

- You should work as hard as it feels right for you, rather than what feels right to someone else. Killing yourself for another’s glory or riches makes no sense, and being the richest person in the cemetery is not a meaningful objective.

- Mental and physical fitness is a key to survival, if for no other reason than it makes your recovery so much easier. You don’t have to be the world’s greatest triathlete, but being fit enough to live life fully is critical.

- 25 Calendar years are equivalent to just one year in real life … which is how fast it goes. My last 25 years have been incredibly full of change, wonder and excitement and we have packed a lot into that time, but looking back it feels like days have passed rather than years.

- The world has more than enough arseholes … there is no need to swell their ranks. Being tough when it is needed is acceptable behaviour, but forgetting that all people deserve your respect is unforgiveable.

- If you seriously dislike whatever you are doing in life, you must stop doing it immediately. (This doesn’t apply to such things as doing necessary household chores or paying taxes).

- You need to live every day as though it was your last … one day you will be right.

I always try to remember what was said by American actor Michael Landon (1936-1991) “I’m going to beat this cancer or die trying”.

Taking a Break

I am taking a one week break in Mallorca with great friends, so for a few days I am focussing more on fun and friendships rather than on work, my blog and social networks. I will be back on the air next week. I wish my northern hemisphere readers a great summer break.



“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
American spiritual teacher, author and lecturer Marianne Williamson

I have long had a fascination with the Greek Gods and particularly in the way that they were so good at allocating responsibilities across their team members, ensuring that every element of mankind’s needs was well covered.

I have also recently been swamped on Facebook with seductive questionnaires that have established for me that, amongst other things, I would have been a tailor in medieval times, that my animal is a wolf, that my bird is an eagle, that my city is Paris, that my colour is purple and that my true psychological age is 32.

It made me wonder, along similar hypothetical lines, about where the Greek gods could have slotted, had they come down to earth, and rather than coupling with some hapless humans to create demi-gods as they normally did when visiting, they had instead spent their time more wisely and completed some personal management development, such as an MBA, and then entered the business world.

Would their individual skills, together with their newly found business knowledge have equipped them well for a corporate career in management ?

Here are 10 of my favourite Greek gods, and my recommendations for their business career options:

- Aphrodite … Goddess of Love, Beauty, Desire and Pleasure would have definitely been ready-made for a role in Marketing, whose practitioners generally see themselves as being creators of beauty and pleasure in everything that comes out of their creative temple, whether it is TV advertising, sales literature, web-site design or T-shirts, coffee mugs and sweat band giveaways.

By Lepota; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By Lepota; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

- Apollo … God of Music, Arts, Knowledge, Healing, Plague and Poetry would have been perfect for a role in Human Resources as no other part of any organisation would see poetry or healing as being part of the job description. I have also many times heard managers from different parts of the organisation make statements such as “a plague on the house of HR for saddling me with yet another employee satisfaction survey.”

By Saw1998; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By Saw1998; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

- Ares … God of War, Bloodshed, and Violence would have been ready for a career as a VP of Sales, as many sales organisations (at least according to the customers) are known for leaving a trail of destruction behind them, and most sales managers tend to see Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” as their bible for human interaction, (see “Sun Tzu would go broke today” posted October 3, 2011).

By Phe; via Wikimedia Commons

By Phe; via Wikimedia Commons

- Artemis … Goddess of Hunt, Wilderness and Animals seems destined to be the Head of Corporate Overlay in a matrix organisation, as these acolytes seem to spend most of their time hunting for time-killing reports and activities to foist on those parts of the organisation that actually do something to benefit the business, just to justify their own existence and to save being banished to the wilderness of oblivion, where they truly belong (see “Stupid management ideas” posted August 29, 2011).

- Athena … Goddess of Intelligence, Skill, Battle Strategy and Wisdom would seem most suited to a career in one of the large Consulting Organisations such as McKinsey or Accenture, who tend to be peopled with highly intelligent, skilled people who can sell the same strategy document multiple times to large numbers of different organisations in diverse industries, and have the wisdom to do this in a way that enables them to deliver this service at massively inflated costs by convincing clients of the uniqueness of their battle formation.

- Dionysus … God of Wine, Parties, Madness, Chaos, Drunkenness and Drugs and was obviously built for a career in Partnerships and Alliances, who generally seem to believe that the way to build long term business relationships and loyalty is based on providing large amounts of alcohol, entrance to corporate boxes at sporting events, mid-week golf tournaments and the possession of photographs of executives in the partner organisations in compromising situations.

By © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5

By © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5

- Hades … God of the Underworld and The Dead would be perfectly placed for a career in any Public Sector Tax Authority, who seem to have an uncanny ability to regularly bring down new near-death forms of taxation thus ensuring that as few people as possible have any chance of financial longevity. Unlike taxation authorities, other blood-sucking leeches will actually drop off when there is no more blood left in their victims.

Author: Prevezamuseum; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Prevezamuseum; via Wikimedia Commons

- Hermes … God of Boundaries, Travel, Communications, Language and Writing would have been perfect for a management role in Corporate Communications, particularly with having some increasingly rare skills in the use of language both written and oral, which are two areas under considerable threat with our love of abbreviations, texting, twitter boundaries, and blogging brevity (see “Abbreviation is gr8tly changing our world” posted April 16, 2012).

- Poseidon … God of Seas, Rivers, Floods and Droughts seems to have all the characteristics needed for a senior role in Corporate Finance, who are generally in charge of controlling the “feast or famine” approach to budgeting. They also have an ability to generate a sea of indecipherable data, flood management with queries about their travel and entertainment expenses and dry up any joy in a room simply by entering.

By Arman musikyan (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By Arman musikyan (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

- Zeus … King of the Gods, Sky, Weather, Thunder, Lightning, Law, Order and Justice is definitely in line for the role of a Global CEO, although a very autocratic one, as he was known to eat his children, or at the least banish them from Olympus when they displeased him or when they didn’t do what he asked or expected of them.

In the words of French philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778) “If there were no God, it would have been necessary to invent him.”


I was recently asked by an exciting and highly successful young salesman, who had just been promoted to his first management role, to give him some “fatherly” advice on what I felt he should focus on to get started with his team. I would have preferred to have at least a year to prepare him for the management role, but we had only one hour together to chat about this vast topic, so it made me not only need to think about being concise, but also made me think about needing to drill down to the key elements of management that would really matter to a “newbie” and that, in his first 100 days as a manager, would define him to his people as their leader rather than as a peer.

Author: Tomwsulcer; CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Tomwsulcer; CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Here were the 10 key points that I discussed with him… 4 for him to pass on directly to his sales and support team, and 6 priority areas for him to focus on from the first day.

The 4 messages to his team were:

- Tell them who you are and in what you believe … That honesty (no lying, cheating or thieving) and integrity (what you believe is what you say is what you do) is at the heart of who you are and that this is what you expect from all of them. That nothing happens in the world until someone sells something, that this makes Sales the noblest profession in the world and that you will always be proud to be a salesman. That your role as their manager is to help all of them to be successful, and that you are available to them in whatever way that they need.

- Give them a dream … Set them a challenge to be the best (most successful, most professional, highest customer satisfaction) sales team in the company. That you expect the team to be a breeding ground for future leaders in the company and that you will work with all of them on their development for an opportunity to qualify. That you expect them to be the best that they can be at whatever they do. That you want other teams in the company to look at them as the standard to reach.

Source: Familiengrab_des_Otto_Schurig_-_Mutter_Erde_fec.jpg; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Source: Familiengrab_des_Otto_Schurig_-_Mutter_Erde_fec.jpg; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

- Tell them what you expect from them … That you are proud and excited to be given the opportunity to lead this team. That you intend to challenge them to “do more, jump higher, run faster” and to be more successful than any of the other sales teams in the company. That you expect them to always learn and grow so that things become easier as they become more skilled and capable. That you also expect to have a lot of fun along the way.

Author: Jimmy Harris; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Jimmy Harris; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

- Tell them that a team that works together is always more successful … That while we live in a highly competitive environment, the more that we can all work together and support each other the more we will all achieve. That great teamwork will always deliver more than the sum of its parts. That in the best sales teams, every member of the team succeeds not just a few. That you expect them to support each other so that every team member has a chance for success.

The 6 key areas on which I felt he should focus were:

- Ensure they all understand and accept their goals … It is important that people have a clear understanding of what is expected of them, and where/how they fit in to the dream that has been painted by their leader, over and above their financial goals. Most sales managers focus all of the goal-setting on the numbers to achieve, and the monetary rewards that come with achieving them, but this is not enough to build a high performing and professional sales organisation. It is also important to be able to answer the “Why are we here and why it’s important”, as well as the “Here’s what we need you to do”.

- Set the standards and know you will be watched … Many new managers believe that “if they say it so shall it be”, but the reality is more like “if they do it so shall it be”. No matter what a manager says, his people will watch his behaviour and will emulate this rather than follow the spoken words. I once had a manager who talked about working hard all the time, but regularly took long lunches and weekly golf breaks, both activities soon becoming a standard in the team.

- Remove the barriers … Find out what is getting in the way of your people being able to do the job well and make it your responsibility to remove the barriers to their success. Protect them from all sides from things that are time-stealers but that deliver little benefit to the company. This can be particularly true in matrix organisations where some people will “make work” to justify their existence.

Author: Kenneth Allen; Source: geograph.org.uk; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Kenneth Allen; Source: geograph.org.uk; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

- Build the team … Build pride in the team and the privilege of being a member, overcoming the Groucho Marx comment of “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.” Set high standards of membership and ensure that people are held responsible and accountable for their actions. The team will either ascend or descend to whatever level of standards you tolerate as being acceptable.

Author: U.S. Federal government; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: U.S. Federal government; via Wikimedia Commons

- Recognise and re-enforce excellence … Recognise and celebrate success and high performance often. It only takes a bit of imagination, rather than huge expense, to be able to recognise individual and team “highs”. I know of one large team that has a wide mix of nationalities working out of the one London office, and every time a team member achieves something worthwhile, the whole team stands and tries to sing their specific national anthem … maybe a bit corny to some, but it shows respect, is a lot of fun and it fits well into the diversity of the team culture.

- Don’t over-manage … Give people the freedom to make mistakes, and give the team the right to self-manage as much as possible. People who are scared to make mistakes are too scared to step out of traditional boundaries, and as such will do what has been done before, rather than what needs to be done today in an ever changing world. New managers tend to focus too much on control, rather than to focus on re-enforcing the needed behaviours.

It is also important to remember the words of American Industrialist John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) who said “Good management consists in showing average people how to do the work of superior people.”


“It is the men behind who make the man ahead.”
American editor and author, Merle Crowell (1906-1959)

I have recently been invited to give the opening keynote at the 2014 HRM Expo in Cologne, Germany this coming October, my given topic being “Are we ready for workplace democracy ?” The fact that I wrote a blog piece on this topic last March (see “Are we ready for workplace democracy ?” posted March 17, 2014) may actually be the main reason that I received this invitation.

By Fallschirmjäger; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Cologne at dusk; by Fallschirmjäger; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

In this post, I reasoned that notwithstanding the changing face of management towards greater freedoms in the workplace, people still needed some direction and structure in their work lives, whilst accepting that this is significantly less than what was needed in my, and previous, generations. I also cited my reasons for rejecting the idea that business leaders should be democratically elected by their staff, as I had seen in one case, as being a leap too far. I felt that I would still rather have them appointed by the board and senior management.

I still believe this, but I do have some serious concerns about the way we generally seem to select, develop and promote our business leaders, as despite the changes we are seeing in our new mobile, connected world, these practices seem to have changed little over the last 50 years, including some Business Schools where the business case studies used can be significantly older than the students (see “Business leadership isn’t changing quickly enough” posted October 10, 2011). I have also been critical of the fact that senior management in larger companies tends to be suspicious and wary of promoting creative, imaginative people who are prepared to take some calculated risks and drive needed changes in an ever-changing world, in favour of promotion of those who are more inclined to protect the status quo. Senior executives do love to promote in their own image.

Author: Tatu Monk; CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Tatu Monk; CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0; via Wikimedia Commons

One of the other problems that I see is that there appears to be a growing belief amongst many that leadership and management can be easily taught, and taught quickly, and to foster this belief we have seen a growing availability of short, sharp, quick-hit training courses that seem to cater to the same clientele who see books like “The one minute manager” and “Who moved my cheese” as being great tomes on business life. This “leadership development” industry has grown into a multi-billion dollar business, in the main turning out managers who believe they know all that they need to know to successfully lead a team. I have, for example, interviewed many young MBA graduates who believe that they are ready for a management role immediately upon graduation, whereas I have always seen an MBA as being equivalent to buying a fishing license, which gives you the right to sit at the river, but which still means that you have to learn how to actually catch fish.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

I have no doubt that some elements of management and leadership can be taught, but the reality is that becoming a capable leader and manager is a journey of discovery and experimentation over one’s lifetime, rather than being a destination that one reaches after reading a few “pamphlets” and some attendance on a few “quickie-how-to” courses. I recently had a newly appointed manager ask me whether I could give him an hour of my time to tell him about the key elements of management so that he could become effective quickly. Up until his sudden appointment into a management role, no-one had thought about how to prepare him properly for the move from an individual contributor to having responsibility for a team of people. I was delighted that he was keen to understand the role of a manager, but somewhat dismayed that he felt that “an hour of my time” was enough to get him started.

Another problem that we face today is that, lacking other empirical measures of management excellence, the main way that we tend to identify and recognise outstanding leadership in the business world is based almost entirely on the financial results, which often disregards at what expense these are achieved. A good example of this tendency, were the accolades heaped on the management of Enron right up until the final moments of its sudden and spectacular death. As a result of this focus on “show me the money”, the biggest fee earners and highest revenue generating sales people are the ones who most commonly get promoted, in the belief that they will somehow automatically understand how to pass these skills on to others, and the fact that they could sell product and services was an indicator of leadership qualities.

The issue is that when it comes to selecting future leaders, just looking at their potential leadership skills, based on past performance, is not enough, as it is critical that one also evaluates their “followership” skills.

The critical question is “Would anyone follow them if they didn’t have the title ?”

This situation was well brought home to me during my own career when a colleague of mine, who had been a successful regional President, was appointed to the role of Global CEO. Despite his previous successes, and despite having been able to build a small band of devoted acolytes, he was not able to build broad “followership” in the company. After only about a year in the role, there was a general uprising amongst staff that forced the board to rethink his appointment and resulted in his subsequent removal.

To me, this was at least a real example of workplace democracy at work.

By SchuminWeb; CC BY-SA 2.5 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By SchuminWeb; CC BY-SA 2.5 license; via Wikimedia Commons

This taught me not only the power of mob rule, but also the fact that a true leader cannot be defined by his own leadership persona, but is more defined by the number of, and the passion and commitment from, his followers.

As said by Harvard University Professor Barbara Kellerman “Followers are more important to leaders than leaders are to followers.”


“A manager is not a person who can do the work better than his men; he is a person who can get his men to do the work better than he can.”
Frederick W. Smith, founder, chairman and CEO of Federal Express

Most business people whom I know spend the time taken to travel from home to the office either making phone calls from their car, or checking their emails if they are not actually driving. One of my golden rules of self-management is to NOT look at emails as a first priority (see “Fifth secret of time management” posted November 11, 2010), and I have also long believed that people who feel obliged to call me from their car on their way to work are either doing it to impress me with how busy they are, or are just making a “boredom call” while stuck in heavy traffic.

Author: Sun Ladder (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Sun Ladder (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

I have long believed that the first part of the day for anyone, irrespective of their role and corporate ladder status, is to use the time to address the important things before the brain gets cluttered with the urgent things, and before any chance for some creative thinking gets buried by the daily avalanche of red-hot tactical issues that will need addressing as a standard part of most business days.

However, beyond making sure that you actually use your time well, and that you do get to prioritise your time in such a way that it enables you to address those priorities that will define your own personal measurement and success, there is one critical area that I believe all who are in a people management role must seriously consider on a daily basis.

I found that doing it while travelling to work every day not only enabled me to build it into my schedule as a ritual, but also prepared me for the most important element of my role as a manager, as I believe that the best way to spend that first critical daily time slot is to think about the people that you have been asked to lead, and to consider your own personal role in making their chance of success easier to achieve.

Author: Christopher Michel; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cmichel67/6294620410/; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Christopher Michel; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cmichel67/6294620410/; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Here are the sort of questions that I believe every manager should ask himself every day, on the way to work.

- What is the climate in my area of responsibility ? What do I need to address/change that is hindering my people from doing well ? Are there barriers that I need to help remove ? Are we getting the support and co-operation from other departments/divisions, that we need to do our job well ? Is my business unit seen as being “business critical” ? Are we seen as being strategic, so are we viewed as being part of “change the company” more than just “run the company” ? How is conflict handled in my team ? Is my team co-operative rather than competitive ? How self-managing are they ?

- How are my people faring ? Is anyone struggling ? Am I effectively dealing with people who are not performing well ? (see “Move them up or move them out” posted August 23, 2010). Am I giving my people regular and ongoing feedback on their behaviour ? On their successes ? Are we meeting deadlines and benchmarks ? Are we seen as creators of talent for the company ? Do the people in my team support and help each other ? Do they share information well ?

- Are my people inspired to achieve our team goals ? Are they “building a brick wall or a cathedral” ? How good is morale and is it consistent across the group ? Do people readily pick up new responsibilities ? Do they buy in to the company vision ? Are they proud to work for the company ? Are they committed to the team and its mission ? Do they come in to work “with a song in their heart” ? Do they love what they do ?

- Do they all understand their roles and their responsibilities ? Do all my people understand their own personal objectives, as well as those of the team ? Does everyone understand “what is in it for them”, beyond their financial incentives ? is there enough freedom for people to influence how they do their job ? Do they respect their direct manager ? Do they respect and trust senior management ?

By VeronicaTherese (Own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By VeronicaTherese (Own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

- Have I provided all the resources and tools that they need ? Are there barriers to what they do ? What do my people lack that could make things easier ? Do they have the technology needed to do the job ? Have we supported their need for mobility ? Is the physical environment supportive ? Does the physical environment encourage team interaction ? Are there enough quiet zones ? Can people get privacy when needed ? Am I protecting the team from unnecessary interference from all sides ?

- Are they smarter, faster, more capable today than they were yesterday ? Can they update their CVs regularly with new skills and knowledge ? Am I challenging them enough for their personal growth ? Am I making new assignments available ? Am I across their training and development aspirations as well as their needs ? Am I effectively preparing them for the future ? Do I have effective mentoring and coaching programmes in place, and if so how are they doing ? Am I building future leaders ? Have I identified and prepared my potential successors ?

…. And finally and most importantly ….

- What is the single most significant thing that I can do for them today ?

In the words of Chairman and CEO of IBM, Thomas J. Watson (1874-1956) “A manager is an assistant to his men.”


“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”
Newspaper columnist and writer Harriet Van Horne (1920-1998).

I love to cook (even though I am at best an enthusiastic beginner), ever since my wife once gave me, as a Xmas present, my first ever formal cooking course of one full week in London at the “Leiths School of food and wine” (see “Cooking tips for men” posted November 25, 2010). I loved the course, my only disappointment being that there was nothing about wine on the course, despite its inclusion in their name. I have, since that time, been back to Leiths on a number of different courses and have realised that there are a lot of similarities between being a chef (even if only occasionally) and being in a management role.

By Sir James; CC BY-SA 3.0 license, GFDL; via Wikimedia Commons

By Sir James; CC BY-SA 3.0 license, GFDL; via Wikimedia Commons

Here is how I see this:

- Do it with total commitment … Cooking takes commitment and time, and trying to prepare a great meal without focussing on what needs to be done, and when to do it and with what, will generally not result in a successful set of taste sensations. Similarly, management takes real commitment, and just “dabbling” at management while you continue with your vocational activities as your main priority will not bring success, and is the equivalent of believing you are a cook because you fry an egg occasionally, while heating up pre-prepared supermarket food the rest of the time. Management is a serious art and a vocation, and must be given your full attention.

Author: David Benbennick; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: David Benbennick; via Wikimedia Commons

- Learn from those who know how … I have been cooking since I was about 16, as my father’s severe ulcer limited him to mainly bland foods, and as my mother refused to cook a separate meal for me, it was a question of start to cook or live on boiled chicken for dinner every evening. I thought that I was OK in the kitchen until I went on my first course 45 years later, and realised that there were many things that I did badly, as basic as how to chop an onion. In the same way, you can choose to grow your management skills through trial and error over a long period of time, thus having a negative impact on those who have been entrusted to your care. A far better approach is to learn from others, as you can accelerate your management skills dramatically by some formal training, and more importantly by having some role models and mentors to learn from along the road to management proficiency.

- Learn to mix complex ingredients … Not all ingredients mix well, and do not suit all tastes. Quite a few French cooks use “mixed-spice” with meat in the hope that it will give it an exotic taste, but as it is really meant to be used with baking cakes, all it does is to confuse the palate. In the same vein, it is easy to curdle eggs if you do not treat them with respect or if heat is applied too quickly. The same is true with people. Not all personalities or professions mix easily, and it takes management skill and patience to bring together disparate parts of an organisation into a well-functioning business unit. It is also easy to “curdle” people if you do not treat them with respect or “heat” them inappropriately.

Author: David Reber; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: David Reber; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

- Know your limitations … I came back from my first formal cooking course flushed with my newly acquired skills, and immediately organised a dinner party for 8 with no thought as to whether I would be capable of executing the menu I had chosen. Choux pastry filled with smoked trout mousse with a dill cream sauce as starter, racks of lamb with potato en-papillote and beans wrapped in bacon for the main course, store bought cheeses but served with home-made soda bread, and segmented oranges in a caramel sauce to finish. Not a beginner’s menu, which I didn’t realise until I actually started preparations and cooking, and which frazzled, frustrated and nearly ended my cooking career at the start, and which took me nearly 2 full days to prepare (and another 2 to recover) rather than the hours that a skilled cook would have taken. In the same way, it is important in management to “know what you don’t know”. Throwing yourself into elements of management such as recruitment, induction, goal setting and performance reviews without some reading, training and serious learning beforehand, so that you at least know what will be needed, will be unlikely to give you decent results.

Author: Two Helmets Cooking; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Two Helmets Cooking; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

- Preparation is key … You need to plan everything beforehand to have any chance of success. This includes analyses of the recipes of the dishes that you will prepare, making sure that you have the necessary kitchen equipment and all the ingredients and spices needed. A key element is planning the timing backwards, from when you plan to actually serve the food to your guests to when you will need to start the initial preparations. My first ever attempt at cooking for a dinner party was when I was just 22, and I hadn’t properly planned the cooking timing, so I wasn’t actually in a position to serve the starter (stuffed cabbage leaves in chicken broth) till about 11.00pm by which time we were all under a serious alcoholic haze. The dessert (chocolate mousse) wasn’t served till around midnight. This need for planning came home to me the next day when I was cleaning up and found the whole main course (roasted lamb and vegetables) still sitting untouched, if somewhat dry, in the oven. This need for close planning is also true for any business endeavours. You need to make sure that you have the right people, that they have all the resources that are needed to do the job, and plan back from when you will need to deliver an end result through all the stages back to the actual start time. You also must have regular checkpoints to ensure that you are tracking well, and that nothing and no-one is left behind.

Cooking, like management, is only worthwhile if you do it for the benefit of others and not just for yourself. The French use “Chef d’entreprise” to describe a senior executive … I can understand why it is an accurate term.


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