MEN AND WOMEN ARE NEITHER FROM MARS NOR FROM VENUS

In early 1993 I read the book called “Men are from Mars Women are from Venus” written by John Gray, American author and relationship counsellor. The book sat on the American best seller list for 121 weeks and reportedly over the last 20 years has sold over 50 million copies.

For that rare group who have not read the actual book, Gray asserts that men and women are so different, particularly in the way that they view the “mechanics” of relationships, that they are effectively from planets very distant from each other, men being from the planet Mars and women from Venus. As a result they are each very comfortable with their own society and customs, but not with each other’s.

Author: RRZEicons; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: RRZEicons; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons


The choice of planets is obvious but important as Mars is represented by the male sex symbol and iron, and the planet Venus by the female sex symbol and copper. In Roman mythology the God Mars was the God of war and Venus the Goddess of love, beauty, sex and fertility. Also fairly obvious, but central to the book’s premises, for example, that men are “problem solvers” whereas women are driven by their emotions and are “problem discussers”. According to Gray this creates problems when a man offers solutions to a woman’s problems rather than just listening to her and offering sympathy.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons


I came across my old copy recently and decided that it was worth revisiting, and having just finished rereading it I would like to say “John, whilst some of what you write makes sense, when it comes to reality today, I think that you are talking out of Uranus !”

The problem I have with the book is that it just reinforces the stereotypes that men are strong, capable and the natural hunters while women are soft, emotional and are here to beautify the planet for men and to bear their children.

I came across a recent example of this reinforcement of the stereotypes, which whilst very funny, is very close to reality, when a friend sent me these “Rules for Women and Men”.

Some of those rules for women that relate specifically to Gray’s book are:
– Crying is blackmail
– Ask for what you want. Let us be clear on this one: Subtle hints do not work! Strong hints do not work! Obvious hints do not work! Just say it!
– Yes and No are perfectly acceptable answers to almost every question.
– Come to us with a problem only if you want help solving it. That is what we do. Look to your girlfriends for a sympathetic ear.
– If something we said can be interpreted two ways, and one of the ways makes you sad or angry, we meant the other one.
– If we ask what is wrong and you say “nothing,” we will act like nothing is wrong. We know you are lying, but it is just not worth the hassle.

The same spirit exists in the rules for men:
– The female has the right to be angry or upset for any reason, real or imagined, at any time and under any circumstance which in her sole judgement she deems appropriate. The male is not to be given any sign of the root cause of the female’s being angry or upset. The female may, however, give false or misleading reasons to see if the male is paying attention
– The male is expected to read the mind of the female at all times. Failure to do so will result in punishments and penalties imposed at the sole discretion of the female

I do agree that this is very funny in a “Blokey” way, but the problem that I have with it is that, like Gray’s book, it reinforces all the attitudes that help to strengthen the barriers that men erect to keep women out of senior management roles and out of the board rooms. Whilst I am not an advocate of externally imposed quota systems for women in senior roles (see “Stupid work fads” posted September 5, 2011), I do believe in the need to create a level playing field for all. For example, I find it unfortunate that of the 5 boards on which I now serve, only two have a woman board member. In the first she is the CFO (increasingly a role becoming more acceptable for a women to fill along with HR), and in the second she is one of the two founders of the company so there is no choice). In the Top 300 European companies women still make up only about 12% of board members (up from 10% in 2008), although Norway at 38% does skew the results somewhat. The latest Catalyst figures show that women only make up 11% of Fortune 1000 company board members, and that 25% of the Fortune 1000 still have no female board members at all.

Male dominated business environments use anecdotes, humour and publications, such as Gray’s book, to perpetuate the whole myth of “how can you entrust business seniority to women who are generally too sensitive, too needy, not problem solvers and who are not self-sufficient but are always in need of a sympathetic ear?”.

This description has not been my personal experience with women in senior management roles (see “Do women make better managers” posted November 22, 2010), yet I have to admit that I was personally guilty of perpetuating the “maleness” of the business environment when I recently worked with one management team on defining the direction of a competitive strategy as needing to be either “Kill the dragon” or “Rescue the Princess”, both tending towards the myth of man being the brave hunter or the rescuer of a female in distress. Obviously my conditioning has been as strong as the next man’s.

Even Poet laureate Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) was guilty when he wrote in his poem the Princess

“Man is the hunter; woman is his game: The sleek and shining creatures of the chase, We hunt them for the beauty of their skins; They love us for it, and we ride them down.”

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons


NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF PASSION

Nietzsche (or Madam de Stael or someone called Angela Monet) said “Those who dance are always considered crazy by those who can’t hear the music”.

I was recently contacted by an ex colleague who wanted to know if I still had the notes of a speech that I had made some 10 years ago during my time at SAP, when I had stated that SAP stood for “Strength Action Passion”. I had always preferred this particular interpretation (or Software and People) during my time there, rather than the actual German “Systeme, Anwendungen und Produkte in der Datenverarbeitung” (Systems Applications and Products in Data Processing), as despite this accurate acronym being possibly quite catchy in German, it was hard to use it as the core of a stirring speech to staff.

Author: amadeusm; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: amadeusm; via Wikimedia Commons


I didn’t have the notes requested, but it did enable us to have an electronic conversation about the importance of passionate employees in delivering business success.

I had always tended to agree with French writer and philosopher Denis Diderot (1713-1784) who said “Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things”, so was somewhat surprised to hear that there are many managers who believe that passionate employees are more of a pain than a pleasure, and that they would prefer to have employees who just want to come to work and do a good job.

As I have often said (somewhat tongue in cheek) that the test of a good manager is whether his people will get up on a Monday morning at 6.00am on a cold, wet winter day and say “thank goodness the weekend is now over and I can get back to work”, I have long been an advocate of the importance of creating passionate employees, rather than just expecting people to do their job well.

But now I was starting to wonder whether I had been over-romanticising the whole idea of passionate employees. Could a manager actually cope with a team of 10 or 20 people who were all wildly passionate about what they were doing ? How much passion did people need to be successful ?

Living in the Bordeaux region, I have many friends who are winemakers. Some are wildly passionate about wine and talk about nothing else, and others are clever business people who see the whole wine industry as a way of making a good living and supporting an interesting and rewarding lifestyle, these “producteurs” being enthusiastic rather than passionate. In most cases (pun intended) the “wine passionatas” are generally less successful than the “business enthusiasts”. Those driven by passion can spend an inordinate amount of time trying to achieve miniscule improvements in their wines, often well beyond the tasting skills of their consumer market, whereas the business people make great and saleable wine, and then focus their time on trying to build their penetration and sales in their markets, in what is an increasingly competitive business environment.

Author: Benjamin Zingg; CC BY-SA 2.5 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Benjamin Zingg; CC BY-SA 2.5 license; via Wikimedia Commons


In the wine industry, one needs to be enthusiastic about wine, but in the end it will be those who understand that to survive and prosper, as in all other industries, any business success is much more multifaceted than just a love and a passion for the product.

The dictionary defines passion as “A strong and extravagant enthusiasm, fondness, love or desire for something”.

I have no issue with the definition, but I am a bit bothered by the use of the word “extravagant”.

Some of the most annoying people I have known, and worked with, had an “extravagant enthusiasm” for what they were doing, whenever and however they were doing it. One I have never forgotten was at that time my west coast State manager who would often call me with his latest and greatest idea, late at night his time, with no regard for the fact that I was 3 hours ahead of him on the east coast. No matter how many times I told him not to call me after 11.00pm east coast time, he continued to call whenever his passion for his own brilliance overpowered his understanding of time or tolerance. He exhibited this same level of passion in everything that he did.

He was a highly successful manager, and I did not want to dampen his enthusiasm, but there is no way that I could have been successful, nor could I have stayed sane and survived, had my entire team of about 15 direct reports possessed this same level of passion. I was more than content to mainly have a hard working, and enthusiastic team who did what was needed and a bit more.

The question is “at what point does passion morph into fanaticism and obsession, and how much can any manager or organisation handle successfully ?”

For companies to be successful, I believe that they do need some passionate employees, as passionate people tend to be unreasonable and it is unreasonable people who drive change.

However, organisations also need people who are just seriously committed to doing a great job and are enthusiastic about what they do, even if they hate getting up at 6.00am on a wet Monday morning to start the work week, and take the time to understand the world’s different time zones.

I have come to the conclusion that it is exciting to have some passionate people in our lives, and that we should all at least be enthusiastic about many things, whether it is work, sport, hobbies or our families, but that being surrounded by only seriously passionate people would be more than most of us could bear.

On this subject, I do like the words of a founding father of the USA, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins”.

Author: Joseph Siffred Duplessis; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Joseph Siffred Duplessis; via Wikimedia Commons


TENTH RULE OF MANAGEMENT

The first rule of management is that successful management is actually more about how you manage yourself rather than being about how you manage others (see “First rule of management” posted June 25, 2012).

The second rule of management is that the key to your own success is totally dependent on the success of your people (see “Second rule of management” posted September 24, 2012).

The third rule of management is that no man is an island, and you need to build a network in all directions (see “Third rule of management” posted October 1, 2012).

The fourth rule of management is that you do not manage people, but you manage their behaviour (see “Fourth rule of management” posted October 15, 2012).

The fifth rule of management is that if you are serious about moving up, you need to first move sideways (see “Fifth rule of management” posted November 5, 2012).

The sixth rule of management is that you should not over-manage your people (see “Sixth rule of management” posted November 19, 2012).

The seventh rule of management is that if you don’t manage the financials they will manage you (see “Seventh rule of management” posted Nov 26th, 2012).

The eighth rule of management is to keep it simple (see “Eighth Rule of management” posted January 21, 2012).

The ninth rule of management is that it’s meant to be fun for all those involved around you (see “Ninth rule of management” posted February 4th, 2013).

The tenth rule of management is that it’s important that you know when to hand over the reins and move on.

Author: Emiel Ketelaar, FrozenImage; GFDL & CC-BY-SA license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Emiel Ketelaar, FrozenImage; GFDL & CC-BY-SA license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: srslyguys; CC BY 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: srslyguys; CC BY 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have long believed that a manager should not be allowed to sit in the same role for more than about 5-6 years (see “How do you know when you should step aside” posted April 12th, 2012), this limit to a term of office becoming even more critical the higher up the ladder one climbs.

I see that after about 5-6 years most managers are starting to feel too comfortable in their current role and tend to prefer protecting their own implementations, rather than to drive the innovation and changes that are needed for continued success in an ever-changing business environment, particularly if those implementations have served one well. This behaviour is unfortunately re-enforced by the fact that managers tend to be rewarded more for protecting the corporate status quo than for driving dramatic creativity and change, for other than product innovation.

In the same way that most people are loath to throw out a pair of well worn, well fitting, comfortable shoes, most managers are loath to throw out the strategies that have brought them success in the past.

Author: Medjaï; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Medjaï; via Wikimedia Commons


I have realised over the last 45 years of working in the IT industry,that as soon as it all starts to make sense to me, someone goes and changes it all, and that this is happening with increasing rapidity.

In this, I have absolutely no doubt that I am not alone, but I am regularly surprised that I continue to come across senior business people who believe that what they did yesterday to be successful will continue to succeed today and into the future.

When it all starts to feel really comfortable, and you believe that you have all the answers, it is definitely time to move on and let someone else take over, as it really needs someone who will still be somewhat uncomfortable in the role.

Another real sign that your time in the current role is up, is when you start to get a sense that you are seeing the same issues and their solutions keep re-surfacing. I have recently heard a number of “old hands” in the IT industry state that this whole move to “on demand” computing (SaaS) is just another version, and is just a re-jig, of the bureau movement that exploded in the 1970s through availability of interactive computing from companies like DEC. Yes, it probably is, but it will require new strategies if it is to deliver real benefit to businesses, and the “here we go again” attitude is just another sign that fresh approaches, and different people, will be needed to make it all successful.

I spoke to one senior executive who told me that he had realised it was time to pass on the baton when he ran out of space in his office for his collection of memorabilia, and at the same time realised that he would need to have the carpet replaced under his desk because of the ruts from his chair’s wheels. Another told me that his realisation came when he realised that he was prefacing many of his statements with “stop me if you’ve heard this before” and “I may have already told you this but … “.

There are many signs … it is just critical that you recognise them.

A great manager will always have spent some considerable time and effort building at least one capable successor, and to withhold the opportunity for leadership from that person in the long term will not only risk their frustration, but will also risk their departure, locking you even more rigidly into the current role. In the same way that you need to develop your direct reports, you should have also spent time developing yourself along the way (with your boss’s help and support) in readiness for you to move on to the next challenge when the time is right.

There is little question that your successor will consider themselves to be ready to step up before you do (didn’t we all), but it is your responsibility to ensure that when they can, with some real chance of success, they should be given the opportunity to do so.

Your successor should be given the chance to build his own directions and make his own mistakes, rather than to have to go on living with yours forever.

As said by Donald Rumsfeld, American politician and businessman

“Have a deputy and develop a successor. Don’t be consumed by the job or you’ll risk losing your balance. Keep your mooring lines to the outside world.”

DoD photo by R. D. Ward; via Wikimedia Commons

DoD photo by R. D. Ward; via Wikimedia Commons


NINTH RULE OF MANAGEMENT

The first rule of management is that successful management is actually more about how you manage yourself rather than being about how you manage others (see “First rule of management” posted June 25, 2012).

The second rule of management is that the key to your own success is totally dependent on the success of your people (see “Second rule of management” posted September 24, 2012).

The third rule of management is that no man is an island, and you need to build a network in all directions (see “Third rule of management” posted October 1, 2012).

The fourth rule of management is that you do not manage people, but you manage their behaviour (see “Fourth rule of management” posted October 15, 2012).

The fifth rule of management is that if you are serious about moving up, you need to first move sideways (see “Fifth rule of management” posted November 5, 2012).

The sixth rule of management is that you should not over-manage your people (see “Sixth rule of management” posted November 19, 2012).

The seventh rule of management is that if you don’t manage the financials they will manage you (see “Seventh rule of management” posted Nov 26th, 2012).

The eighth rule of management is to keep it simple (see “Eighth Rule of management” posted January 21, 2012).

The ninth rule of management is that it’s meant to be fun for all those involved around you.

Dale Carnegie, author and personal development guru (1888-1955) had it right when he said “People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.”

Signature of Dale Carnegie; via Wkimedia Commons

Signature of Dale Carnegie; via Wkimedia Commons


It is important to note that the emphasis is on “fun”, rather than on” funny”. I have had bosses who believed that they had a wonderful sense of humour, but who actually did little to make it fun to work for them. I have always believed that it is important that we take the job that we do seriously, but that we do not necessarily take ourselves too seriously.

It is critical that a manager creates an environment where not only are they excited about coming to work, but so are their people and those around them. People will define “fun” in different ways, but there are some key elements that tend to help in making the workplace a welcoming environment while rightly maintaining the challenges and behaviours needed for success.

Some focus areas:

Celebrate often. Not all the time, so as to not trivialise the successes, but often enough so people can enjoy and share in them. These do not have to be elaborate affairs … ring a bell for a new order, hand out a Rolls Royce hubcap for outstanding performance (see “Being serious is overrated” posted November 18, 2011), hand write a personal letter of thanks … whatever suits your style as a manager and the culture of your team.

Painting The Writing Master by Thomas Eakins; via Wikimedia Commons

Painting The Writing Master by Thomas Eakins; via Wikimedia Commons


Create a level playing field for everyone in terms of opportunities. For example, I am not a great advocate of imposed diversity quotas for any minority groups in business (including women), as I believe that these can be failure traps, but I am a great believer that we should make it totally possible for people to have a chance to succeed, such as creating and/or supporting child care facilities for your own team members who are parents of young children.(see “Stupid work fads” posted September 5, 2011).

Whenever possible, include family members, particularly when celebrating success, as often they have as much to do with the success of an employee as does the individual being honoured. Success recognition when family members are present adds significantly to the value of the achievement.

Author: Carfax2; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Carfax2; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Help the stragglers. Even the best people will have times when things are not going as planned. It is the responsibility of the manager to ensure that people understand that you are there to help them get through these times with the support that is needed. (See “Move them up or move them out” posted August 23, 2010}.

Use open plan as a way to build teamwork rather than just as a way of saving money on office fit-out. Replacing boxes of offices with boxes of cubicles misses an opportunity to create a dynamic and vibrant environment where teams can come together, disband and reform as needed. If used properly a flexible, mobile, open plan design can be colourful and exciting, and can foster a climate that enables people to collaborate effectively.

Let people know that they are allowed to make honest mistakes, as long as they don’t try to cover them up, and on the condition that they learn from them so that they are not repeated. A blame and punishment culture will limit creativity and innovation as people become nervous about trying anything new because of a fear of failure.

Challenge people so that they have an opportunity to learn and grow, and ensure that they have available the things that are needed to give them a strong chance to succeed. Goals should be achievable, but with some effort and stretch, otherwise their achievement has only minimal and fleeting pleasure.

Develop people so that they can grow the skills and knowledge not only to do their current job, but also to be able to compete for future opportunities that may arise throughout the entire organisation, as skilled and valued managers are creators of talent for their whole company, not just for themselves.

Laugh often as the business world and the individuals involved in it are a wonderful source of merriment and humour, particularly in my own industry of IT. Laughing at others is easy to do, but it takes real skill and gives greater return on effort to learn to laugh at ourselves. If unsure how to go about doing this, see “Dilbert” regularly.

Author: GNOME icon artists; GNU General Public License; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: GNOME icon artists; GNU General Public License; via Wikimedia Commons


Let them go when their time is over with thanks for what they have contributed whilst in your team. You cannot hang on to good people forever, and when they are ready to move on, even when their choice is not pleasing such as moving to a competitor, you should do so with grace and gratitude. It makes good sense to keep the relationship alive after they move on.

As Bob Basso, American trainer and author, says “If it’s not fun, you’re not doing it right.”