ANOTHER YEAR JUST FLASHED PAST MY EYES

I accept that each passing year seems to go by faster than the one before … I blame global warming and the global financial crisis. I would normally also include French President Francois Hollande and his Socialist Government in any negative list, but they are already so hated by all the French people that it doesn’t seem to result in the same heights of satisfaction for me to abuse them that it once did.

I intend to spend the last days of 2013 with family and good friends eating and drinking more than I should, and adding numerous new laugh lines to a face that I already find hard to recognise anymore.

To my family and friends, my colleagues in the exciting young companies I work with and who tolerate my interference and story-telling, the polite people who sit through my speeches, my Facebook friends, my mentees, my Linkedin connections, my fellow twitterites, my blog subscribers, my blog accidental drop-ins and even those bankers and government officials who email me because they have found a serious money opportunity from a namesake of mine who died intestate, I wish you all a wonderful end to 2013.

Xmas 2013

May the coming year fill your life with wonder, and may the fates fulfil even your wildest dreams.

In the words of Australian cartoonist, poet and cultural commentator Michael Leunig “If you see anything mysterious or unusual, just enjoy it while you can”.

I will be back on air on January 6th, 2014.

MY MAIN PERSONAL LESSONS LEARNED IN 2013

Whenever I am given an opportunity to talk to a group of young people about managing their career, I always tell them that it is important to be able to update their CV annually with what they can do now that they couldn’t do 12 months ago, or what they know now that they didn’t know a year ago.

I see no reason why this advice about continuous learning should be limited just to the young, so here are 5 key things that I learned in 2013.

1. You are never too old to unlearn and relearn … In my first job as a salesman in 1977 at DEC, I sold PDP11/70 minicomputers to accounting companies to set up on-line data processing bureaux for their clients. When all the hype started about “the cloud” my first reaction was “same old same old”, and that it was just another recycling of bureaux services under an updated sexier name. Yes and no. The fact is that it is a small “yes” and a large “no”, and as the companies I am involved with tend to be cloud based businesses, I had to forget my past experiences and relearn all about on-demand, subscription based services in this new world. It has been a rewarding experience.

Author: 百楽兎; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: 百楽兎; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


2. The time it takes to go from expert to dinosaur is rapidly diminishing … It took me about 30 years in IT before I realised that to stay totally current with technology trends would take more time than I had available to me while also trying to run a business. Today the valuable useable period for a software engineer is estimated to be about 10 years and rapidly dropping (see “Moving at the speed of shelf life” posted April 15, 2013). People are becoming more technology savvy as time passes, but we are also changing technology at a pace that makes it harder for people to keep up, no matter what is their age. At a time that we are telling people that they will need to work well into their seventies, we are simultaneously rapidy shortening their shelf life.

Author: Redvodka (own work); CC BY 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Redvodka (own work); CC BY 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


3. Not all close friendships are forever … Some friends become an integral part of your life and will be so forever, no matter how much time elapses between seeing each other. Some other friendships, even if extremely close at the time, just run their course and eventually you drift apart completely. I have realised that quirks and eccentricities that can be attractive, charming and endearing in friends when young, can become so pronounced as they age that they become intolerable. One close friend of 30 years would keep a running commentary going about the shortcomings of every other driver on the road. A bit annoying at times, but mostly quite amusing. In his late 60s this has now morphed into the most uncontrollable and violent road rage, that had him chasing another car, which had unknowingly pulled in front of him, at high speed through a busy city, just so he could pull alongside and scream abuse and profanities at the hapless driver. Unfortunately I was in the car with him at the time. I told him that he really needed to get some serious help, and haven’t heard from him since.

Author: John; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: John; via Wikimedia Commons


4. When it comes to health there is no one size fits all … I have friends who are forever telling me about the latest Peruvian mountain grass powder that can slow down the ageing process, and that it must work because it actually makes you gag when drinking, particularly as you have to mix it with virgin yak urine to augment its efficacy. Others extol the virtues of this year’s hottest fitness guru who has designed an exercise regime that means you only have to exercise for 30 seconds a day, as long as that time is spent running up a sand dune, holding your breath with a heavy weight tied to your testicles. The reality is that you just have to determine what works for you and make it a part of your normal activities, and just disregard all the “gurus-du-jour”. What works is everything in moderation except for vegetables, friends and laughter and the need to get up off your butt every day to do something that is fun to do and that gets your heart and lungs working. My walking around the paddocks for 45 minutes every day, with a shovel and wheelbarrow, picking up horse poo, seems to work well for me.

Health

5. You become a composite of the people you mix with … I am amazed at how quickly we become like the people around us. I have even found that having lived in France for about 10 years I have become more of a pessimist, talk about lessons one can learn from history and that I am even considering the possible benefits of the 35 hour week ( … not quite). But the reality is that if you spend time with negative people you will become just like them in a short time, so you should keep away from them. I don’t mean that you should spend all your time with Americans, who are the most optimistic people in the world and who can wax lyrical even about a death in the family, but it does change your sense of the joys of life if you mix with people who are full of love, life, humour and fun.

6. Great customer service is rare and awe-inspiring when you get it … I am not a great fan of Apple or Steve Jobs (see “Are fools or fanatics the problem” posted April 23, 2012), still carrying a Blackberry and using a Windows based laptop. I do however have an ipad, which my wife gave me as a Xmas present some years ago. Based on how slow is our internet connection in the small village in the French countryside where we live, I have never been able to upgrade the OS. I eventually decided that I needed to do something about this and that the best way to do this would be to go and camp in the Apple store and use their in-store wifi. From the minute that I walked into the store in Bordeaux city I was embraced in a cocoon of expertise, support and assistance that I have possibly never experienced before in my life. Rather than just letting me camp in a corner and do my own thing, a young Apple person insisted on helping me through it all eventually spending an hour helping me through the entire process, for no charge and no reward other than the fact that she was there to help. I may have to rethink my view of Apple, though not necessarily of its founder.

I have long found that the things that are the most important in life are the things that you learn after you think you already know it all.

IS SOCIAL MEDIA ROBBING THE WORLD OF GREAT LEADERSHIP ?

I have become increasingly more of the opinion that social media, aided with a less forgiving press, is robbing us of better political leadership.

Up until the 1960s, the western press tended to believe that the private lives of public figures were off limits for them to report on, and hence many of the leaders at the time did not have their peculiarities and peccadilloes exposed to public scrutiny until after their deaths.

The most famous example is of course American President John F. Kennedy whose life, 50 years later, is still described by many in Camelot mythology terms. The reality now coming to light is of a man whose sexual appetites knew no boundaries, and who disregarded any and all restrictions of security or proprietary in satisfying them, having had relationships with Danish journalist Inge Arvad (suspected of Nazi connections), Judith Exner Campbell (an intimate of Mafia bosses) and Mariella Novotny (who was involved in the Profumo affair in Britain and was also intimate with the Soviet Naval attaché at the time). Despite repeated warnings from the FBI and the American security services, JFK persisted and continued to be reckless in his personal life. He was well protected, as when the press threatened to publish his links to the Profumo affair, suggesting that he too was involved in the vice scandal, his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, intervened to stop the newspapers from publishing any details.

Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration; via Wikimedia Commons

Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration; via Wikimedia Commons


Compare this situation with the rather childish, though weird and immature, transgression of Anthony Weiner, the former member of the United States House of Representatives from New York City, whose hobby appears to be the sending of photos of himself in a state of arousal to young women. In 2011, he was caught out sending a link of a sexually explicit photo of himself, over Twitter, to a young woman in Seattle, ultimately resulting in his resignation. He tried to resurrect his political career in 2013, running for Mayor of New York, when more pictures and “sexting” came to light released by the website “The Dirty”. He refused to retire from the race, but gained less than 5% of the vote, despite his photographic skills.

Author: Thomas Good / NLN; GFD license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Thomas Good / NLN; GFD license; via Wikimedia Commons


The point is that it took only a few weeks from the announcement of his intention to run in the New York Mayoral race to this latest set of “selfies” going viral across the internet via twitter, Facebook and the Blogosphere.

Today, our lives, private and public are so open to scrutiny that I wonder why anyone in their right mind would consider running for public office, with the understanding that not only will all their skeletons come out of the closet into bright sunshine, but that social media today has the ability to ensure that these skeletons can get widespread global airing in times measured in milliseconds.

Author: ZyMOS-Bot; CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: ZyMOS-Bot; CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I believe that there are probably some potentially great people out there who could make a significant contribution to the betterment of their city, their country, the world and mankind, who are just not prepared to step into an arena of public scrutiny that will ensure that they are stripped bare of all cover. I don’t blame them as I am sure that very few of us have nothing, or even very little, to hide ?

This may help to explain why we seem to have such a lame and lacklustre bunch of politicians running the place today.

Francois Hollande, current President of France is a really good example of this current state. He has long had the nickname of “Monsieur Flanby” after a pudding in France which is soft both on the inside and outside, and in his first year of office has shown that he can live up to his nickname by flip-flopping on many issues from immigration to taxes.

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

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


Sadly it is not much different in the UK and Germany being the other major European powers. No one could accuse David Cameron or Angela Merkel of being exciting or of being game changers. The nicest thing we can say about them is that they have never done anything significantly wrong, and that sadly they also haven’t done anything very right, very different or very exciting.

What these three current country leader examples have in common is that they are bland, and have very little in their pasts that would make interesting reading in any form of media, the most exciting viral post about Angela Merkel having been a series of photographs showing her wearing exactly the same business-style suit in about 40 slightly differing colours. Be still my heart !

Just when we need some serious leadership, we seem to be getting the “white bread choices” because the “onion and cheese poppy seed roll” politicians that are needed are keeping away from the social spotlights that can bring out all imperfections in their glow. We are therefore being presented with second and third rate candidates to choose from, and are thus just ending up with national leaders that are merely the best of what is on offer … or so we hope. (see “We get the Leaders we deserve” posted February 2nd, 2011).

Or the world gets the fools like Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, who has recently admitted to smoking crack cocaine, but excused his drug taking as he was always in a drunken stupor whenever he did, so he cannot be held accountable for his actions.

With the death of Nelson Mandela this last week we may have seen the last of the great leaders who went ahead and did what was needed to fight for his beliefs, without fear or hesitation of the polls or of how the media might interpret his actions either public or private. He was no saint, but he dramatically changed the part of the world he lived in, and in doing so changed all of us in different ways.

In Mandela’s own words “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living”.

Author: South Africa The Good News/www.sagoodnews.co.za; CC BY 2.0 license

Author: South Africa The Good News/www.sagoodnews.co.za; CC BY 2.0 license


I would rather have some passionate world leaders with imperfections, than have a world run by the bland “flanbys” with none.

LEADERS BUILD LEADERS

I have long believed that one of the key measures for any senior manager should be whether s/he is a net creator of talent for their organisation. It is also critical that this focus is not only to build the skills of people in their own area of responsibility, but to also help to build leadership talent that can be deployed across the divisional boundaries.

I believe that it is not enough for companies to just have a formalised succession planning process, as there also needs to be a culture in the company of building leaders, as I believe that great leaders will understand and have a focus on ensuring that “leadership” is more than just a topic for an intellectual discussion, and will make it a priority to build leadership at all levels.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons


While I do believe in formalised succession planning in all companies and at all levels, unfortunately I have most often found that these tend to be a “tick in the box” exercise rather than a serious attempt to recognise and develop real talent. In my own experience I have found that the majority of promotions tend to have little to do with what has been documented, reviewed and accepted as being the planned succession strategies. For example, one company where I worked, despite having a widely implemented and much trumpeted succession planning process which went all the way to the executive board, would still fill almost 70% of vacant management roles from external candidates. Not only does this disillusion and disengage existing staff about the possibilities for their own promotion opportunities, it also disrupts any real attempts to build long term, sustainable leadership capabilities.

The Hays Group’s 8th “Best Companies for Leadership” (BCL) survey of 18,000 individuals from 2200 companies world-wide found that “… we have learned from studying the BCL over the past eight years that success is a long-term game based on three core leadership habits: investing in identifying and growing leaders at all levels, focusing and rewarding organisational efficiency and, at the same time, building business agility to respond to new markets and environments” and “The world’s best companies for leadership (BCL) are purposeful and strategic in developing, enabling and motivating leaders throughout the organisation.”

I feel that the critical element needed is that building leaders needs to be company-wide, as Leadership is not reserved just for senior executives, but needs to be cultivated in all areas of the organisation and at all levels. It is important for long-term sustainable success that companies are able to define the roles that are critical to their future, and then systematically identify the individuals that can develop the required leadership skills to fill them. Most companies talk about this, but I have seen few that really make it part of their core priorities. Companies that do understand this work hard to empower their employees to take leadership roles in every area of the business, and particularly in regards to innovation and customer relationships, whether they are in management roles or not.

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

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


It means that there has to be serious investment of time, energy and continuous focus placed on developing current and future leaders in the business, and that this has to be driven from the top down through the entire organisation, and not just relegated to being an HR initiative, as it appears to be implemented in most companies. It also means that succession planning needs to be real rather than just a “put the names in the boxes” exercise. This will not only enable the recognition of those with potential and those for development, but will also point out the gaps that exist in the people, and the missing skills that need to be developed because they are needed to build sustainable business success.

The issue is that building a leadership culture needs more than the traditional management training, assignments and mentoring, that one would normally associate with executive development. It needs the creation of a “leadership mindset” that allows people the freedom and support to work without fear of failure, and the ability for people to take leadership roles as subject-matter experts rather than just staying within structured organisational management reporting lines. It really needs a belief in the fact that if you give people the opportunity to do great things, then they will strive to do great things.

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”, which doesn’t limit it to executives, but must by definition also include thought leaders and key individual contributors to whom people look to in the organisation for influence and direction. The skills that were once seen as being required mainly for senior leadership, such as emotional intelligence and finely honed analytical thinking, are now critical at every level and in most roles in an organisation.

As so ably put by American political activist Ralph Nader “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders not more followers”.

Author: Don LaVange (http://www.flickr.com/photos/wickenden/); CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Don LaVange (http://www.flickr.com/photos/wickenden/); CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons