EVERY COMPANY NEEDS PEOPLE WHO CAN REGULARLY FAIL

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying. I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time

Author: Steve Lipofsky Basketballphoto.com; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Steve Lipofsky Basketballphoto.com; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I have long believed that people who do not make mistakes are people who are not trying hard enough, and are people who are unlikely to succeed in their endeavours.

I have never admired Steve Jobs for his leadership, as he was a despotic egomaniac , but I certainly have admired him for the fact that he was a brilliantly unreasonable agent for change. Before returning to Apple from the wilderness in 1996, and flooding the world with iPods, iPhones and iPads, he made lots of mistakes along the way including bringing Apple to its knees in 1985, when he was unceremoniously ousted by the board.

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/blake4tx/352328190/; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/blake4tx/352328190/; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I have always told my people that they would not get fired for making honest mistakes, as long as they learned from it so as to not have repetitions, as I have long believed that if we could try 10 different things and six or seven of them worked, we would be well ahead. The reality being that we would not have achieved the six or seven successes if we had not tried the ten. The problem is that many people are too scared to try anything new because of a fear of the repercussions for failure.

The truth is that we tend to learn more from our mistakes than we learn from our successes, as success can sometimes even blind us to the fact that it may have been more a result of circumstance and timing rather than personal skill.

I have a good friend who made an embarrassing amount of money in the Sydney property market in the late 1970s, as did most other people at the time, as Sydney went through a massive property boom. Sadly this success taught him little, as rather than accepting that “all boats rise in a high tide”, he started to believe that his success had to be due to his personal brilliance, so he then proceeded to lose everything that he had made in the previous decade, by playing the futures and currency markets for just one year. This failure was a better learning exercise, and he has now managed to rebuild his personal wealth, with a better understanding of his own limitations as well as his skills.

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

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


The problem starts with most educational systems that tend to encourage conformity much more than creativity, as very few schools and few teachers find it easy to handle students who are different. As a result, children who do not fit into the “normal mould” are generally not accepted, and tend to be pushed to the side, while the focus stays on the herd. The emphasis is much more on learning to be right rather than learning to be creative or innovative, and if they then move into the business world, they tend to hit these same attitudes.

There was a wonderful example of this in Australia in the 1970s, which was so good that I have long wondered whether it was just an urban myth. A question in an Australian history exam said simply “Take any year and discuss sheep and sheep distribution in Australia”. One student, as his answer, wrote “100 BC, no sheep”. He didn’t give an answer that was acceptable to the guardians of educational rightness at the time, however he was totally accurate in his analysis, as sheep didn’t arrive in Australia till 1788 with the first fleet. I am sure that his creativity was not rewarded then, and I have no doubt that neither would it be rewarded today.

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

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


I find that most companies also tend to reward those who protect the status quo rather than those who want to experiment with change, thereby creating a culture where any failure is a serious career limiter. This will then ensure that people become strongly risk averse and will then only do what has been done before (see “If you always do what you have always done” posted April 29, 2013). Building a culture that is risk averse means that managers will tend to recruit and/or promote only those people that fit the existing mould and who will be unlikely to test the existing boundaries. This protection of “the way we do things around here” will start on day one with the induction of new employees, to put into them the fear of being or thinking differently.

At our induction programmes in Asia Pacific in the 1990s, when we were growing by 60+% annually, I would personally start every induction programme. I would tell the intake to take out one of their new SAP business cards, to cross out their official title, and replace it with “agent for change”, as what we did yesterday to be successful would not work today, and what we did today would not work tomorrow. I would also encourage them to be not scared to make mistakes, as the management believed that people who did not make any mistakes at all, were less valuable to us in the long run than those who were not scared to experiment. We did everything that we could do to try to help them remove the fear of making mistakes, as we needed them to be prepared to question what we did if they felt there could be a better way. Our expression was that “sacred cows made great hamburgers” (with apologies to our Hindu employees).

Every company needs people who are courageous enough to try new things, are not scared to question and challenge the status quo, who are unreasonable enough to drive change and who therefore are likely to regularly fail, safe in the belief that they are doing what is needed.

Someone wise once said “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather that something is more important than fear”.

CAN WOMEN LEAP HIGHER UP THE MANAGEMENT LADDER

“For real change, we need feminine energy in the management of the world. We need a critical number of women in positions of power, and we need to nurture the feminine energy in men.” Written by Isabelle Allende, world famed Chilean author.

Author: paal / Paal Leveraas; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: paal / Paal Leveraas; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I was recently invited to do a presentation to a group of women managers involved in a Leadership Acceleration Programme (LEAP) that had been built to help create a workplace environment that would enable them to compete more effectively for increasingly more senior management roles, in their large global company.

The issue they were trying to address was mainly based on the fact that whilst they did already have women in about 30% of their management population, the majority of these were in first level management roles, and the percentages diminished rapidly the further up the ladder one travelled.

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

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


I have generally been against mandated gender equality programmes and particularly against externally enforced quota systems(see “Stupid work fads” posted 5 September, 2011), but as this programme was more focussed on working towards trying to level the playing field, I agreed to participate.

In my presentation on “How to manage your career” as well as my generic “3 golden rules” of career management that I always stress of “don’t do a job you hate, don’t work for a boss you can’t respect, and don’t work for a company you can’t be proud of”, (see “People join companies but leave managers” posted April 8, 2013), I also covered some areas that I felt would be specific to their situation, and those that I feel that men on a management ladder tend to do better than the women with whom they compete.

Two critical ones were:

1. Find a champion

I have generally found that successful male executives have had a champion during critical times in their career. I believe that having a mentor is important, but even more advantageous is having a champion in a very senior role in the company. Someone who can, and who will, help to accelerate a career is a serious asset. From my own experience, I have seen a fairly competent, but not necessarily world shattering, manager move in just a decade through the ranks of country manager to regional President to company CEO. This was because of the then current CEO championing his every move into his own successor role, forgiving his transgressions and failures along the way, because of the champion’s unfailing belief in his own succession plan. In my own early career, I have had a boss who stepped aside so I could climb past him because he believed I would make a better CIO than would he, thus launching my management career. Later on, I was fortunate to have a President of a global company who believed that I could be more than a small country CEO, and started to build my broader experience with some critical and highly visible global projects.

Author: François Fénelon (1651-1715); via Wikimedia Commons

Author: François Fénelon (1651-1715); via Wikimedia Commons


2. Build a brand

Men have long understood that it is important to build their brand and reputation, in much the same way that successful companies do for their products. This means that it is not enough to be a successful manager, it is also important to be seen to be a successful manager. This cannot be achieved if you are seen as just “blowing your own trumpet”, but building one’s reputation is a critical part of career progression, and you can rarely do it just through self-promotion. You achieve it by doing your job well and then by doing more than the current role demands. You can help build your brand, for example, by becoming a net contributor of talent for your whole organisation, rather than trying to hold on to your best people to fuel your own immediate success. The more people from within your own organisation that can move on to senior roles in your company will help to build your reputation as a skilled and capable people developer and manager, as well as spreading your own “acolytes” through the organisation. You can also help to build your brand by becoming a spokesperson for your company in areas that will give you not only visibility, but that will also establish you as someone who can represent your company well to the outside world. As most people, including senior executives, fear public speaking more than death, it is usually not hard to step into a role such as this (see “How to give a great speech” posted 21 March, 2011 and “How to really give a great speech” posted March 24, 2011).

I believe that the business world cannot continue to protect the upper echelons of management as a predominantly male bastion.

When it comes to education, in the UK, 45% of eligible women will attend university versus 40% of eligible men, women now make up over 55% of university attendees and outnumber men in most courses including law and medicine, as well as outnumbering men in the number of graduates that achieve upper honours degrees by 64% to 60%.

In the US, whilst 46% of eligible women will go on to college, only 36% of men will do so. Based on current attendees, by 2015 women will represent over 60% of Bachelor’s and Master’s degree graduates and 58% of PhD’s.

The reality is that we all need to face up to the fact that women in the business world are here to stay and that the companies who are quick to take advantage of this simple fact and the advantages that women can bring to management roles, will be the ones who benefit the most quickly.

Author: Asa Mathat / Fortune Live Media; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Asa Mathat / Fortune Live Media; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


TO FIND TRUE LEADERSHIP LOOK BEYOND PRESIDENTS AND CEOS

Most people when considering the subject of leadership tend to look to the examples of some CEOs such as Steve Jobs of Apple or Jack Welch of GE, or great national leaders such as Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore, who built one of the wealthiest nations in the world on a small rock just south of the Malaysian mainland, or Winston Churchill who lead Britain during the Second World War.

Author: Hamilton83; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Hamilton83; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I have long believed that Steve Jobs was a great gadget designer who took on mythical leadership status on his death, but who had always really been an erratic, despotic and egomaniacal CEO. (see “Are Fanatics or Fools the problem” posted April 23, 2012), and that Jack Welch had great success at GE, but gained fame more as a published celebrity than as a great leader.

Author: matt buchanan; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: matt buchanan; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Lee Kwan Yew had a dream about what Singapore could become and was able to get the people of Singapore to believe in that dream as being their own, but drove his people through edicts, and control of every element of the people’s lives, including at one point dictating the allowable length of their hair, and Winston Churchill had circumstances dictate his situation when Germany declared war in 1939.

Whilst I do admire many elements of what all these men achieved, when it comes to defining true leadership, I prefer the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, French Pilot and writer (1900-1944) who said “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood, and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea”.

That is why I believe that to find true leadership, one has to look beyond most CEOs and Presidents, to people who because of their vision, commitment and courage, even in the face of death, were able to build a following who were also prepared to risk everything to achieve the dream that their leader had presented.

Here is my nomination for the “Great Leadership Award” during my own lifetime.

Malala Yousafzai … A leader at 14 years old

At the age of 11 Malala started writing a blog for the BBC about life under the Taliban in the Swat Valley, and about her dream and vision for promoting education for all girls in Pakistan. As she rose to prominence, she began giving press and television interviews, with the NY Times filming a documentary on her life and her mission to ensure all girls had a right to be educated. In October 2012, when she was 14, Taliban gunmen tried to assassinate her while she was returning home on a school bus. She was shot in the head and neck, and after treatment locally, was airlifted to the UK for intensive surgery and rehabilitation. She has now been released from hospital and she has vowed to continue her fight despite the on-going Fatwahs being issued against her.

Author: Carlos Latuff; CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Carlos Latuff; CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


She has been nominated for the International Children’s Peace prize, the National Youth Peace prize, Game-changers 2012, Time Magazine’s person of the year and is the youngest person to be nominated for the Nobel Peace prize. Schools have been named after her. Former First Lady Laura Bush, former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and a legion of celebrities such as Madonna, Angelina Jolie and Tina Brown have launched and endorsed a campaign to raise money to provide education for all girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

On 15 October 2012, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, launched a petition to the Government of Pakistan in Malala’s name, the main demand being that there be no children left out of school by 2015.

The petition contains three demands:

-We call on Pakistan to agree to a plan to deliver education for every child.
-We call on all countries to outlaw discrimination against girls.
-We call on international organizations to ensure the world’s 61 million out-of-school children are in education by the end of 2015.

John Quincy Adams said “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

I believe that by any definition, Malala Yousafzai has exhibited all the true characteristics of leadership that we too readily attribute to people who have been elected to public office (mostly with only a small majority), or those that have fought their way to the top of a corporation, generally measuring them by financial and share price growth.

The dictionary defines Leadership as “a process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task. The leader may or may not have any formal authority, but traits include situational interaction, function, behavior, power, vision and values, charisma, courage and determination and intelligence, among others.”

I believe that a leader not only has to have a clear vision, but must be able to share that vision with others in a way that will make them willingly follow, and that a leader is someone who steps up in a time of crisis, or to right a human wrong, without any regard for personal safety or personal gain.

In this respect, I believe that Malala Yousafzai has the right to step up beside the likes of National leaders such as Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi, and definitely has as much right as those CEOs that some tend to elevate to Leadership status such as Steve Jobs and Jack Welch.

As was summed up by one of Malala’s classmates “Every girl in Swat is now Malala. We will educate ourselves. We will win. They can’t defeat us.”

For me, that’s a real sign of true leadership.

A DUMMY’S GUIDE TO OFFICE POLITICS

“The person who says “I’m not political” is in great danger, as only the fittest will survive, and the fittest will be the ones who understand their office’s politics”. Jean Hollands (US Trainer and Coach).

Politics in the workplace is a fact of life in most companies and, even if you do not want to take part, it is important for your own survival and success that you are aware that it exists, that you can recognise the players, and that you understand how to navigate around it.

William Shakespeare, in Henry the Sixth, wrote “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”. Whilst I do not advocate wholesale slaughter, I do believe that as a manager you would be well advised to be able to identify and weed out the politicians. Leave the lawyers alone as you may actually have need of them, whereas politicians are dispensable.

Author: Tohma; GFDL license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Tohma; GFDL license; via Wikimedia Commons


Here are the major types of business politicians and how to recognise them:

The Friend. This is one of the most insidious as they will befriend you and build your trust in them, but they will be trying to destroy your reputation and status behind your back at the same time as they are declaring their undying commitment to you. They will be positioning themselves to others as “I am his friend so I know his strengths and weaknesses ……”.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons


The Enemy. These are the easiest to handle as their antagonism is open and full on. Unlike the friend who is stabbing you in the back, this type will openly be trying to stab you in the front, so at least you will have no trouble to see them coming.

The Gossiper. This is the one at the water cooler or coffee corner who knows all the juicy gossip about everyone else. They know who is a secret drinker, who is having an affair, who has a gambling problem, who is having marriage problems and what is going wrong in the company. They have little care about the truth of what they are saying, as their only intent is to undermine confidence, and will cover themselves by saying things like “I am not sure if it is true, but I have heard that …..”.

Author: Rebecca Kennison; GFDL and CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Rebecca Kennison; GFDL and CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


The Yes-man. S/he will agree with everyone about anything and everything that you are saying, to try and ingratiate themselves with you, and to gain a position of being supportive and collaborative, but they will ultimately pursue their own agenda items. Be suspicious of people who never disagree with you as no-one can be right all the time.

The Shape Shifter. This person will agree with whomever they have had their last conversation, and will shift sides as needed, as the need to seem to actually have an opinion dictates. They will agree completely with you on an issue, give their commitment, and then will go away and do something completely different.

The Trouble Maker. S/he just loves to play the political game, and will go out of their way to create issues that don’t actually exist. They will turn people against each other just for the power of being in control and the sport, and for the fun of watching people get angry about things that really don’t matter.

The Hard Worker. If someone is always telling you how hard they are working, the chances are high that they are not. True hard workers just focus on getting the job done. You need to measure people on their ability to deliver results that are reasonably expected of them, and the quality of how they do so. I would rather have someone who works a normal week and gets things done, than someone who works twice as long and keeps telling me how hard they are working, but never quite delivers on time or with quality.

The Unionist. This person will stir up those around him on pretend issues like the ergonomics of the chairs, the lack of choice in the cafeteria and the degree of softness of the toilet paper. Their only objective is to try and turn people against their manager and the company.

The Altruist. This one will never have a problem themselves, but will only raise issues that they say that they are bringing to the surface because of their concern for someone else in their team who is not coping. This enables them to stick the knife into that person while positioning themselves as someone who cares about others. They don’t.

The Bad Apple. S/he may have identified a real issue, but rather than bringing it into the open, will spend time, energy and effort in infecting and poisoning others until the issue takes on an enormity that it didn’t deserve, and which could have been quickly resolved had it been raised early enough.

Author: Janine Pohl; CC BY-SA 2.5 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Janine Pohl; CC BY-SA 2.5 license; via Wikimedia Commons


As much as possible, you should try and work hard to stay out of the political games that are played by others. Total avoidance may be hard to achieve, but you should at least try to sidestep obvious political situations.

– Don’t indulge in gossip, no matter how juicy it may seem, particularly during coffee, cigarette or lunch breaks where the gossipers seek out an audience. Instead, take steps to ensure that you have the best information available about what is really happening in the company.

– Don’t take sides in office political issues. If you do have a problem, or if you see a serious issue that needs resolution, try and resolve it by talking to your boss. That is one of the tasks in their job description.

– Doing a great job speaks for itself, and ultimately will win against people whose only skill is to schmooze the boss. If you are in a company where the politicians keep winning out, you should seriously consider taking your skills elsewhere, where competency and professionalism are traits that are truly treasured.

– Think before you act. Be conscious of company culture and the way that things get handled and resolved. If someone attacks you by gossiping or spreading rumours about you, remember that revenge is like biting a dog because it bit you first. If it becomes serious, try and find out what is bothering the attacker, and if you can’t resolve it face to face, take it higher. However, if you do escalate, you must be sure that you have all the facts right before you do.

You should also remember the wise words of Larry Hardiman who said “The word ‘politics’ is derived from the word ‘poly’ meaning ‘many’, and the word ‘ticks’ meaning ‘blood sucking parasites’.”