POLITICIANS ARE THE LAST PEOPLE WE SHOULD ALLOW TO RUN A COUNTRY

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character then give him power”.
The 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865).

Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/; via Wikimedia Commons

Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/; via Wikimedia Commons


I have long bemoaned the low quality of leadership that we have to tolerate with our politicians (see “We get the leaders we deserve” posted February 2, 2011), and in the 2 years since I wrote this piece, it has hardly improved.

In France, Francois Hollande replaced Nicolas Sarkozy as President of the Republic in May 2012, becoming only the second ever Socialist President. As the first one was Francois Mitterand who served 1981-1995, it begs the question as to whether the selection process used for leadership of the French Socialist Party is as much based on the “prenom” as it is on actual leadership capabilities. This is somewhat supported by the fact that President Hollande has managed to barely stumble along in his term thus far, attracting the worst approval ratings of any French President in recorded history. This currently stands at 22%, but it is interesting to note that it hovered around 20% for a long time, rising 2% when the French Press recently announced that he may have actually been having an affair with an attractive French actress. For someone with the nickname of “Monsieur Flanby” (Mister Pudding), he does definitely manage to involve himself with attractive women in affairs of state.

As I have only ever considered Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore (and Nelson Mandela of South Africa) as having exhibited true leadership qualities (rather than just political power), I have spent some time thinking about why these are so rare in our politicians.

Source: P051912PS-1096, the White House; via Wikimedia Commons

Source: P051912PS-1096, the White House; via Wikimedia Commons


In doing so, I have now come to the conclusion that “leadership”, as we think of it say in a business or military context, is actually beyond the reach of politicians, and that I have probably been wrong in believing that we can expect true leadership from any of them.

Even the generally accepted definitions are different.

Leadership is defined as “… a process of influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task …”.

Political Leadership is defined as “… responsibility for the public administration, civil aspects and policy making for a body politic (country, state, local body), as distinguished from the law or the military.

I believe that the biggest difference that exists is the ability to define and control the environment that they have to work within.

A leader has a vision of what can be achieved and then creates the environment needed to do so. This can be as mighty as wanting to conquer the known world as evinced by Alexander the Great, who by the age of 30 had created one of the greatest empires of the ancient world stretching from the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas. No-one of his ilk followed in his footsteps, as after his death a series of civil wars tore his empire apart. The true leader has the ability and charisma to inspire others that are needed for success to buy-in to the vision, and to be part of its execution. There is no question that a leader has to also work with the stakeholders that can affect his ability to lead. A CEO needs to convince his board, his shareholders and his ecosystem of his vision for the future and the benefits that will accrue to all involved, but once s/he has garnered their support has the ability to forge ahead, with review but little interruption. However, a leader can also exist at a much more micro level such as someone stepping in to solve a problem in a business process, or a senior teacher taking upon themselves the driving of new curricula. However, even this level of leadership still needs to exhibit the same leadership characteristics that are needed in the larger leadership roles.

Source: http://galleryhistoricalfigures.com/; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Source: http://galleryhistoricalfigures.com/; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


On the other hand, political leaders are basically legislators and policy makers who have to work within established areas, and whose main objectives are around their ability to make small tweaks to the status quo that are acceptable to their supporters, and that are not too antagonistic to their opponents, thereby hoping that they can stay in their position of elected power. They may have a vision for the future, being whatever ideology or –ism that they subscribe to, but have little ability to achieve it fully under modern political environments. Mohamed Morsi, the fifth President of Egypt, found this out recently when he tried to drive Egypt towards the doctrines of the Muslim Brotherhood, and was subsequently removed by the military after mass protests.

I have realised that it is possible for a leader to be a politician and conversely a politician can also be a leader, but that this combination of both done well in the same person is very rare, as their basic mind-sets, driving forces and core characteristics are totally different.

I have therefore decided to stop looking for leadership from our politicians. I have accepted that politicians can make adjustments to the conditions that exist, and that in doing so they can deeply impact where I choose to live and how I am able to live there, but that I will be unlikely to have the privilege of living under a political regime that will inspire me to want to follow them.

As said by French General and President General Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) “Politics is too serious a matter to be left to politicians”.

General Charles De Gaulle; via Wikimedia Commons

General Charles De Gaulle; via Wikimedia Commons


MORE LESSONS LEARNED IN 2013

“If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way”.
American humourist and writer Mark Twain (1835-1910).

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons


A few people have pointed out to me that my learnings in 2013 were a fairly meagre list at just five lessons (see “My main personal lessons learned in 2013” posted December 16, 2013), so for those of you who are keen on volume or who are metric-centric, here are five more.

1. Doing something new that excites you can add 10 years to your lifespan … As we get older the tendency is to start to set tight boundaries on our lives. Older people tend to downsize to smaller cars and smaller homes, limit their friends, limit their outings and set shorter horizons. I have no doubt that this is exactly the reverse of what one should do. I have over the last few months started working with a young start-up that is stretching my knowledge, my experience and my timetables, and it is one of the most interesting and exciting assignments that I could have accepted as a late sexagenarian. I am having so much fun, and doing so many new things that I have now decided that I will live to 96, rather than 86 as I had originally planned.

2. DNA can be scary … growing up with older brothers and sisters can be a mixed bag. While an older brother will work hard to maintain his position of superiority over you at all times, often painfully physically and emotionally for the younger sibling, an older sister can be a wonderful source of caring and comfort. My older brother (12 years ahead) and sister (10 years ahead) have always treated me as their “little brother”, despite my advancing years. This has been a great source of amusement to my own children and to any friends and colleagues who have met them. I had an opportunity to visit them recently in Australia and the problem for me is that, looking at my brother at 80 gave me an opportunity to see how I might look, think and act in 10 years. I hope like hell that in this case nurture is stronger than nature.

Author: Yikrazuul; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Yikrazuul; via Wikimedia Commons


3. Ageing is only external … I have to admit that I cannot in any way think of myself as being on the way to turning 70 next year, despite the issues with my joints, back and thinning hair. I have realised that you only really age in other people’s eyes rather than through your own, as I know many people in their 30s and 40s who also have issues with joints, backs and hair challenges, so these cannot be true indications. When I had my bout with cancer 25 years ago, a psychologist that I worked with had me establish both my ideal age, which was 36, and the age of my death which I set at 86. I set my demise to happen during a trekking trip in the Himalayas when a mountain ledge gives way underfoot. My wife has decided that either she tries to grab me and follows me over the edge, or she is actually the one who pushes me over, depending on her mood at any given time. I have already revised the latter age as it doesn’t seem so far away anymore, and anyway it just means my keeping away from Tibet in 2033, but I stick firmly to my internal age of 36 despite what the mirror shows me.

4. Money may not buy happiness, but it does buy choices … I have long said that just having an objective to make money is the wrong way to live one’s life, as I have always believed that having enough money to do what one wants to do should be a by-product of hard work at something that you are passionate about. I have been very fortunate in my life that I have been able to work in an industry that always excited me and for companies that gave me the opportunities to work in roles that were interesting and rewarding, both emotionally and financially. I have realised that you don’t need a lot of money, but that life is definitely a lot easier if you have enough to be able to make choices about elements of life that are most important to you. It enables you to decide who you should work for, where you should live and how to spend your time.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons


5. Know when to move on … In business, no matter how much fun you are having nor how much value you feel you are adding, there comes a time when you need to move on to make way for new blood with new ideas and new perspectives. I have long believed that it is wrong to stay in the same senior role for more than about 5-6 years whether this is an operational role such as a CEO, or an advisory role as a board member. I have seen executives who have hung in there for longer periods who, after about 5 years, tend to start recycling their strategies. Good managers build their successors and move on to do other things that will revitalise their energy and initiatives. After 6 years I recently stepped off the board of a company that I have seen grow from a tiny struggling start-up to a successful player in its space, and which has now sold itself to a larger company. The timing was perfect for me as I felt that it was the right time for a change for both of us. I will now take up a role as an executive coach to their senior executives and external advisor to the board.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons


“Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can – there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did.”
American Opera conductor Sarah Caldwell (1924-2006).

LEADERS LEAVE LEGACIES

“The only thing you take with you when you are gone is what you leave behind.”
John Allston (1666-1719).

I find that one of the things that you think about as you get older is whether you will leave anything worthwhile behind after you are gone, particularly when it comes to elements of one’s life (other than children and grandchildren) such as whether after 40+ years of working you have left some sort of legacy in the businesses for which you worked. I accept that it is a bit arrogant to hope that you were able to make a significant enough contribution to have made a real difference to other people’s work lives. I also accept that I am no Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, to pick on two obvious examples, but there is a part of me that would like to feel that I had made a difference to at least some small extent.

Author: World Economic Forum; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: World Economic Forum; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


About 10 years ago, while visiting New York on vacation and after I had recently taken up the role of Global Head of HR at SAP, I was asked whether I would be prepared to do a press interview about my new role. It seemed that my having moved from the post of a Regional CEO at SAP to an HR role was considered to be so unusual as to be mildly newsworthy.

Patrick Kiger, the journalist who interviewed me, was charming and very relaxed and we chatted about topics as diverse as what I believed about HR, the role that I felt I needed to play, my priorities, my background and a 100 other different subjects like the meaning of life, and even the accidental creation by the KGB of an anti-hangover pill.

Author: Paul McIlroy; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Paul McIlroy; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


The interview subsequently appeared in Workforce on July 30, 2004 and despite a few small typos (such as my finding 100 rather than 1000 different HR programmes underway which we cut to 30, rather than to 300 as was stated in the article) it was fairly accurate.

Just a few days ago, I had a close friend send me the article after she had accidently stumbled upon it whilst trying to find something that I had written in one of my blog posts. I had completely forgotten about this particular interview so it was interesting to reread it, to revisit my thoughts of a decade ago, and to consider whether I had actually managed to achieve the things that I had discussed in the interview. It turned out to be a bit embarrassing to do so.

I have long believed that one of the key measures of successful leadership is whether there is a sustainable legacy left in place after departure. I have met many managers who appeared to be good at holding things together, and who were capable of running a successful operation as long as they were in place, but who left very few long term sustainable initiatives behind them. I consider that there are important measures for true business leadership success beyond just financial health, such as did they build talent for the organisation, did they grow future leaders, did they build a culture based on strong values that could live on after they were gone and did they leave customers and partners who were loyal.

In my own assessment, I felt that I had mostly achieved this in both my roles as Regional CEO for SAP Asia Pacific and later for SAP EMEA, but having revisited this interview, I now wonder whether I had actually managed to do so, in my final full time role before retirement, as SAP Global Head of HR.

In my business management roles, I had always felt that I had left behind a strong management team and that my chosen successor had been ready, and champing at the bit, to take over from me. I had felt that the culture that had been created during my stewardship was one that enabled people to thrive and grow, that engendered passion and commitment from my people, and was one that encouraged calculated experimentation and risk-taking without fear of failure.

Now when I look at that interview in 2004 and at the goals that I had set for myself and for the HR organisation those 10 years ago, unfortunately I cannot say the same things.

When I was asked to step out of business management into the HR role, I was initially very hesitant to do so, but eventually acquiesced because I seriously and honestly believed that I could make a measurable difference.

As an existing board member, I believed that I would be able to position HR into a more strategic role and that we could ensure that people, as well as technology, would be at the forefront of business strategy. I believed that I could build an HR management team that would be seen as adding value to the business and that would be seen as being a “player” in helping to build business success (see “HR … Polite to Police to Partner to Player” posted August 26, 2010).

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

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


Former American football head coach Bill Parcells set the challenge into words when he said “When asked what I want my legacy to be, I am content at this point to say that it is those who will follow me”.

The reality is that since my retirement from SAP in 2006 no subsequent head of HR has lasted more than 12 months, the role of global HR Head has been vacant for longer than it has been filled, the status of HR has remained one of low strategic value, and HR is still not perceived as being of significant value-add to the business. My planned successor whom I worked with during my 3 year tenure and who, I still believe today, was one of the few true HR professionals capable of doing this job at SAP, was never given the role and subsequently left the company.

If the measurement is as defined by American entrepreneur and author Jim Rohn (1930-2009) when he said “All good men and women must take responsibility to create legacies that will take those that follow to a level we could only imagine”, then I can only conclude that during my tenure as a global head of HR I did not really achieve a great deal (see “HR … Why is no-one listening” posted July 30, 2012).

Author: Ramine5677 (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Ramine5677 (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Interesting development … A week after I actually wrote this piece for posting on January 13th, SAP announced on January 9th that my original planned successor, after a 3 year absence, would re-join the company as Global Head of HR (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/stefan-ries-joins-sap-global-120000529.html) … strange synchronicity !!

BUILD RITUALS RATHER THAN SET PERSONAL GOALS

“May all your troubles last as long as your New Year resolutions”.
American comedian Joey Adams (1911-1999).

It’s that time of year again when many people are thinking through, and even committing to paper, their resolutions for driving change in their lives by setting their personal goals for 2014.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons


I believe that for most people this is an absolute waste of time.

(See “I resolve to stop making New Year’s resolutions” posted January 9, 2012).

If making New Year resolutions actually did work, then very few of us would have personal goals such as “Lose the same 10 kgs that I had on the list last year … and the year before that …”.

A 2007 study at the University of Bristol involving 3000 people showed that almost 90% of those who set New Year resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of the study’s participants were seriously confident of success at the beginning of the study.

But many of us keep going through this same process every year, making the same sort of commitments to ourselves that we have made in the past, in the mistaken belief that this year things will be different.

They won’t !

According to the BBC, the top-10 resolutions for 2014 are:

1. Lose weight
2. Get organised
3. Spend less money, save more
4. Enjoy life to the fullest
5. Stay fit and healthy
6. Learn something new
7. Quit smoking
8. Help others
9. Fall in love
10. Spend more family time

Not surprisingly, the top-10 in 2013 were:

1. Lose weight
2. Drink less
3. Learn something new
4. Quit smoking
5. Better work/life balance
6. Volunteer to help others
7. Save money
8. Get organised
9. Read more
10. Finish personal “to-do” lists

There is really not a lot of point in looking at prior years as there is, not surprisingly, little change.

The first problem with setting personal goals like “lose weight” is that they are judgemental. It is a way of saying that we are not happy with ourselves and will not be so until we lose those 10 kgs, and I believe that this is the wrong way to start any change process. To have any chance of success in driving change, it is a far better starting point if we feel good about ourselves and therefore can feel confident of being able to make change happen.

Author: Frank C. Müller; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Frank C. Müller; via Wikimedia Commons


The second problem is that setting personal goals is actually at odds with long term success. We all know many people who successfully worked at losing those 10kgs, only to put them back on again afterwards. This is because the focus is totally on achieving the goal, and once the goal is reached we can feel good about having done so, pat ourselves on the back and just go back to all our old habits.

A better way is to build rituals and to focus on those rather than on the ultimate goal.

I have long been of the belief that if you can get a dog, early on, to do something 10 times in a row without deviation, the dog will be well on the way to building this into a habitual behaviour. Stopping a new puppy from jumping up on the sofa 10 times in a row, and picking it up each time it tries and putting it down on its own bean bag, will quickly ensure that the puppy gets the message, and it will then carry that behaviour on as an adult dog. However, if after just 4 or 5 times you relent just once and let them snuggle up next to you, you have broken the cycle of building the required behaviour, and will need to go back to square one.

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

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


The same is true of humans when it comes to building rituals.

For example, rather than set a goal to lose weight or get fit, it is much more effective to build a ritual such as “For at least the first month of this new year, I will do 30 minutes of treadmill/rowing-machine/walk/weights/yoga (whatever you like to do most) and I will not look at my email before I have done so”.

The same is true with weight loss. Rather than just having a goal of “Lose 10 kgs” , it is much more effective to build a ritual such as “For at least one month, on every Monday and Thursday I will have sugar, carbohydrate and alcohol free days”, or whatever else works best for you.

Committing to just one month (or even just 2 weeks) to get started, does not seem like setting oneself an overly onerous task, and does get us past the “10-times” rule, which will make it easier to keep going after the initial time period has been met.

In my own experiences, building a ritual is significantly more effective than setting a personal goal.

At the beginning of last year, if I had set a goal for myself of writing a book, I would have faced this with an incredible amount of trepidation, and would have found it very hard to get started, let alone to achieve the goal.

The reality is that an average book has about 50,000-60,000 words, and as I post my blog with about 1000 words every Monday, I have actually published my book for this last year.

Apart for a few short breaks for vacations during the year, I have created a ritual (actually built over the last 3 years) of a new blog post every Monday, and I feel quite discontented with myself on the few Mondays that I have not done this while on vacation, as it has become an integral part of my behaviour. Now after more than 200 posts, I have actually written enough for 3 books, without having ever set myself the unachievable goal of doing so.

As summarised by Charlie Brown “You know how I always dread the whole year? Well, this time I am only going to dread one day at a time.”

Author: Kevin Dooley; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Kevin Dooley; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons