HUMILITY IS THE HALLMARK OF GREAT LEADERSHIP

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”
Irish writer C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

It is very rare for a great leader to be arrogant. This is usually the style of the weak and insecure rather than those who have a real understanding of who they are and what they want to achieve and how they plan on doing so.

I met a very interesting “old world” style gentleman recently at a dinner party in the house of mutual friends in Bordeaux. He and his wife were visiting the Bordeaux region for 2 weeks of their summer vacation, and seating arrangements at the table (we had a few more men than women that evening) meant that he and I were placed beside each other. We chatted through the evening about Scottish independence, the Pistorius trial, the perilous state of the euro, the Islamic State and a myriad of other topics.

Author: Erik van Leeuwen (bron: Wikipedia); GNU FDL; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Erik van Leeuwen (bron: Wikipedia); GNU FDL; via Wikimedia Commons


They were staying with other mutual friends of ours and we saw them a few more times while they were here. Each time I met him I found out just a little more about the man … he was always interesting to talk to, always well dressed, well spoken, knowledgeable about many topics, political, cultural, current affairs and business. Getting to know him was like peeling away the layers of an onion, my finding out more personal and intimate elements of him, his beliefs, his character, his background and personality, just one layer at a time as we got to know each other.

When I had asked him what field he was in, he had just said that he had an engineering background, but that he had moved into management early in his career. It was only after he had left France to return home that his Bordeaux hosts told me that he was the CEO of one of the UK’s largest companies, that he sat on a number of hi-powered boards and that he was an advisor to the UK government on business and international issues.

His humility bore the hallmark of a great leader. He obviously had a strong understanding of who he was and where he wanted to go and how he was going to get there, and he therefore did not have the need of projecting an image of self-importance. He was a great listener, didn’t pontificate, despite having strong beliefs and values, and spent time telling me stories and interesting anecdotes about some of the wonderful people he had had the privilege to work with during his career.

By Phillip Medhurst  (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By Phillip Medhurst (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Contrast this with a colleague of mine who after attending a senior executive development programme a few years ago now prefaces every second sentence with “When I was at INSEAD …”. He also, within the first five minutes of meeting someone new, will start listing his achievements, including but not limited to the size and splendour of his multiple homes, his collection of luxury cars, the exalted leadership position he now holds, and how the economic survival of Europe rests totally on his shoulders, like Atlas supporting the entire world. There is no subject in the world on which this man does not believe that he is a foremost expert, and he will always have a better understanding of any issue than any other person on this planet. I believe that this attitude of his own self-importance diminishes his position as a leader, and I know that his people also find it hard to cope with his arrogance.

When a person in a leadership position focusses mostly on himself, he has very little left in which he is able to focus on his people. A true leader when discussing successes will spend most of the time telling you about what has been achieved by his people, both individually and collectively, rather than about what he personally has achieved.

I have had several conversations with this person about his personal style, and it seems impossible for me to disabuse him of his belief that he is just exuding confidence (not arrogance), and that this is important to, in his own words, “inspire people to greatness by showing them what he has achieved, and therefore what they can also achieve”. Sadly I believe that this is a situation where one has to seriously ask the question of “Would anyone want to follow him if he didn’t have the title?”

Humility is the sign of great strength rather than of weakness, and is inherently attractive, and all true leaders understand that to be a successful leader they need to be able to attract really great followers.

Great leaders understand that success is driven by passionate people who come together to share a common dream and to achieve common goals and objectives, and will therefore ensure that people are made to feel important, and empowered, and therefore have ownership of what needs to be done. This means letting your people own the successes and outcomes, as well as the responsibilities, for achieving these. The less importance you place on yourself, the more importance you can place on your people.

Author: R. D. Ward; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: R. D. Ward; via Wikimedia Commons


There is no question in my mind that leaders need to exude an air of confidence and need to be able to inspire people about their vision for their team, but confidence has nothing to do with arrogance and self-importance.

True leadership involves convincing people that they have it in themselves to achieve greatness because of who they are and what they can do personally and as a team, and is never about how great is the leader and what s/he can achieve. If you are truly a great leader people will recognise that in you by themselves, by your actions, and when they do so, they will willingly follow you.

The 33rd President of the USA, Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) wisely said “You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit.”

Uploaded by Scewing; via Wikimedia Commons

Uploaded by Scewing; via Wikimedia Commons


100 BITS OF RANDOM ADVICE FOR MANAGERS

A Facebook friend recently posted 50 pieces of advice on life from an 80 year old. I liked it so much that I decided to follow suit, so here are my 100 pieces of random advice to managers, from a 70 year old.

– Don’t beat around the bush … be specific … vagueness is confusing.

By P tasso (own work); CC-BY-SA-3.0,2.5,2.0,1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By P tasso (own work); CC-BY-SA-3.0,2.5,2.0,1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– Sarcasm is for losers … say what you have to say without rancour.
– Never stop learning … it’s a journey not a destination … you will never be a perfect manager.
– Be humble … greatness doesn’t need to be advertised.
– Be prepared to take the blame for failures, but always give the credit for success to your people.
– Be yourself at all times … don’t play different characters … schizophrenics are hard to follow.
– Never lie but don’t always feel the need to blurt out the truth.
– Tell people how they make you feel … both good and bad.
– Never get angry … the minute that you do, you lose.

By Эдуард Тимченков (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By Эдуард Тимченков (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– Be tough when needed … but always fair, well prepared and controlled.
– Don’t compromise … neither side wins which means neither side is fully committed.
– Give people freedom to make mistakes, and make sure that they experiment enough to do so.
– Make recruitment a major key competence.
– Share and celebrate successes … don’t overdo it as will diminish importance.
– Work is meant to be fun … this doesn’t mean funny.
– Never forget that great people have choices of where they will work.
– If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

PD USDA; via Wikimedia Commons

PD USDA; via Wikimedia Commons


– Tell people you know when they have gone that extra mile.
– Protect your people from interference from all directions.
– Grow and develop your people … this makes each year easier than the one before.
– If you hire someone for their strengths, don’t discard them just for their weaknesses.
– Do everything you can to help under performers until you are sure nothing else is going to work.
– Build talent for the whole organisation and let people fly away when they are ready.
– Build visible successors … promotion comes easier to those who have a ready replacement.
– Hire people who are smarter than you … if you can’t find them you are deluded.
– Work hard on building a culture of self-managing teams.
– Instill an understanding that competitiveness is external, collaboration is internal.
– When you are in a 1 on 1 you must have 100% focus on that person.
– Talk less, listen more.
– A 70% idea that someone is committed to is better than a 90% idea imposed.
– Learn and move on from mistakes … don’t dwell on them.
– You lead by example … your people see everything you do.
– Keep your people updated … it kills gossip and starves the rumour mill.
– Tell stories that people will understand and remember … legends live long.
– Never scream or lose your temper … people will know when you are angry anyway.
– Understand the difference between friendliness and friendship.
– The boss is not always right.
– Gender, race, religion, sexual orientation are never business decision criteria for anything.
– There is no one size fits all … every person is different.
– Be readily available, but on your terms and with your time well-managed.
– Talk to your customers … both internal and external.
– Control and limit the number of meetings … let people decide things on their own.
– Tell your people it is easier to get forgiveness than approval.
– Don’t email anything important when you can talk directly to the addressees.
– Laugh often … there is much to laugh about in business and life.
– Manage behaviours not people … behaviours define the organisation.
– Keep it simple.
– Manage the financials or they will manage you.
– Build networks … real linkages, not just linkedin connections.
– Being fair is more important than being tough.
– Delegate, delegate, delegate.
– Give people challenging assignments so they can learn and also be tested.
– Mentor high potentials and exciting young people … it is fun, inspirational and rewarding.
– Challenge people to run faster and jump higher … it shows you know they can.
– Walk the talk … you are their role model.
– Meet commitments that you make, or leave them for someone who can.
– Integrity is key … What you believe is what you say is what you do.
– People are the only sustainable competitive advantage.
– Recruit for attitude more than skill … skills can be taught.
– Create a level playing field for all.
– Never start a sentence with “When I was in your role ….” or “What I did was …”.
– Drive change and allow others the same right to question the status quo.
– Encourage creativity, innovation and calculated risk-taking.
– Build a dream/vision, share it and get buy-in.
– Never accept dishonesty of any kind.
– Share knowledge … it is contagious.
– Fight for your people … you are their champion.
– “I don’t know” is a valid response no matter how senior you are.
– Read voraciously … for business and pleasure.

Author: Joe Crawford from Moorpark; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Joe Crawford from Moorpark; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– Build a peer support team … it helps to have a sounding board.
– No dress down days … just ask people to dress appropriately for the job they are doing.
– Encourage people to introduce suitable recruits … they are great judges of who would fit.
– When good people seriously need to move on, let them go with grace and dignity.
– Your word is your bond … always.
– Meet deadlines and commitments.
– Projects must be well managed … make sure you have the best project managers.
– You can’t win everything … take losses graciously (doesn’t mean you must enjoy them).
– Nothing happens in the world until someone sells something.
– If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.
– Many senior people think they are great speakers … most aren’t … practice is key.
– No matter your opinion of your boss, you must build a strong business relationship with them.
– Make appointments with yourself … at least 1 hour per day.
– Take your job seriously … but not yourself and never your own importance.
– Have a mentor or coach no matter how senior you are.
– Dress to impress and set the standard.
– Money is only one reward and not a true motivator for everyone.
– Finding the right PA is a key to personal success.
– If you can’t explain it in just a few sentences to an outsider, it is too complex.
– It only takes a few passionate people to start a revolution.
– Only unreasonable people drive change.

… and my last 10 points which are personal tips ….

– Never forget you have a family.

By Yesenia603 (own work); CC BY 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By Yesenia603 (own work); CC BY 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– You must take regular breaks and vacations.
– If you don’t love the job, change it for something that excites you.
– Plan the time with your family with same importance as business meetings.
– Play truancy every once in a while.
– Being the richest person in the cemetery makes no sense.

By Chris 73; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By Chris 73; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– It helps to be physically fit … exercise your mind and body.
– Keep your family up to date with what is happening … travel, breaks etc.
– The time after you wake should be for someone/something you love.
– Put a photo of your family in view to remind you why you are working so hard.

GREAT LEADERS TELL STORIES

… and so do great speakers.

I am seriously sick of PowerPoint no matter how many pretty pictures are included, and I am also dismayed at the way it is overused by many managers in the invalid belief that it is the best way to deliver a strong message and to manage behaviour.

Author: Gareth Saunders; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Gareth Saunders; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I recently attended an all-hands meeting at a company where the board had asked me to accept an executive coaching assignment for their recently appointed CEO, so it was a great opportunity to see him in action. The company is doing well and he had a lot of good news and successes to share with his people. There was a serious air of excitement and expectation amongst the attendees, and a roar went up when the CEO came on stage amongst considerable fanfare.

He began his presentation and, after just a few words of thanks to his troops, he then launched into a 40 minute presentation with so many PowerPoints, and so many bullet points on each one, that after about 10 minutes of increasing frustration and ennui, amongst his people as well as me, I felt like standing up and screaming at him to just turn off his PC and to talk to his people … to just tell them something interesting that had a good chance that they would actually remember.

Great leaders paint pictures by telling stories, not by showing people lists of bullet points.

It is lucky that Mark Antony did not have PowerPoint at the time he said “Friends, Romans, Countrymen lend me your ears” otherwise he may have said “You can all see on bullet point 7 on slide 17 that I am asking you to take part in an aural loaner programme”, or something similar.

We do tend to remember stories that are interesting, that are compelling, that tell us something that resonates with who we are and what we are doing. It is very rare that we remember a list of bullet points, even if they do have a field of pretty sunflowers as their background.

Here are 4 examples of what I mean by the power of story-telling, all from my time in Singapore, where I moved nearly 20 years ago, and that have stayed with me ever since.

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

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


– How Singapore handled black market Viagra … When Viagra was first released by Pfizer, and before it was approved by the Singapore medical authorities, there quickly grew a thriving black market for these magic “uplifting” blue pills. To combat this there appeared in the Singapore Straits Times a front-page story about an unfortunate young man who had been admitted to hospital after ingesting one of these pills, and after suffering an erection lasting over 24 hours. His life-saving treatment had necessitated the siphoning of blood from his penis to be injected back into his overall blood supply. As a result, he had been rendered permanently impotent. While the story did not make a lot of sense, the Viagra black market in Singapore died overnight.

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

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


– Singapore and the Charlatan Medical Wizards … Elderly and sick people are generally very susceptible to charlatan medical cures for any serious ailments. The newspapers in Singapore regularly ran stories of elderly people, mostly women living on their own, who had been tricked into spending their life savings on a miraculous cure obtained from some “wizard”, who had managed to convince them of his power through some sleight of hand. This was a much more effective way of warning the elderly to be wary of such trickery than would have been even 1000s of PowerPoint presentations in retirement homes and clubs for the elderly.

– This donkey not look so good … For a conference keynote address, I wanted to illustrate the challenges of working in a region that had so many diverse cultures, and particularly about the fact that even though English was spoken in so many Asian countries, it was really a case of Nations being divided by a common language. I told the story of how because of a delayed flight I had arrived late in Malaysia for a company donkey trek down a beach to a pleasant bay for a bar-b-que. When I arrived at the saddling area there was only one very old and very mangy donkey left available for me to use. When I tried to climb on to the donkey the Malaysian handler said to me “This donkey not look so good”. I shouted that I didn’t care about physical appearances and that all I cared about was getting up the beach to the meeting point where I was expected. After just a few perilous metres into some palms I dismounted and berated the man as it was obvious that the donkey was blind. He couldn’t believe my anger as he had specifically told me “This donkey not look so good” when I had first arrived. I have been regularly reminded of this story over the last 20 years, most recently just a few months ago. I doubt whether any of these old colleagues of mine remember any of my PowerPoint presentations.

Author: Raul654 (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Raul654 (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– Two roosters for a single hen … After I had been in Singapore for about 6 months I was asked to do a TV interview about the hectic life of an executive with the responsibility of running such a geographically large and diverse region. One of the questions I was asked was about how my wife handled my regular absences.I said that my wife was very independent, had many interests, and being in a somewhat silly mood, I added that she had also just told me that she had taken up a new hobby which was the keeping of chickens, and that she had therefore bought 2 roosters and one hen. When I had asked her whether this didn’t create a situation where the 2 roosters would spend all their time fighting over the one hen, she replied that it was not a problem if one of the roosters travelled a lot. About 2 years later at a company event, a young Indian colleague sidled hesitantly up to my wife to shyly tell her that they had something in common as he also kept chickens. My wife, who had not seen the TV programme had no idea what he was talking about. I believe that this may be one of the few things he clearly remembers about me from my time in Singapore.

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

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


GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME DEATH

I have taken the above quotation from American founding father, politician and orator Patrick Henry (1736-1799) from a speech that he made to the Virginia Convention in 1775.

He was obviously referring to personal, political and national freedom as he was a champion of the American Revolution and the fight for independence, but I believe that this phrase, maybe now more accurately worded as “Give me liberty or I will leave” has become a core requirement of today’s workforce, irrespective of age.

By Gwillhickers; CC-PD-Mark, Liberty, PD US Government; via Wikimedia Commons

By Gwillhickers; CC-PD-Mark, Liberty, PD US Government; via Wikimedia Commons


I have long believed that the role of a manager is not to tell people how to do things, but to tell them what needs to be done, and then give them the freedom, the tools and the support to enable them to do it. This belief grew in me as I realised that if you give people the opportunity to do great things most of them will seize the opportunity to do so.

This tenet gave me one of my greatest career challenges when I moved from Sydney to Singapore to set up the Regional headquarters of SAP Asia Pacific in 1997.

By Bjørn Christian Tørrissen; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By Bjørn Christian Tørrissen; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Young, educated Australians and New Zealanders generally do not need to be told that they have the freedom to decide things for themselves, that they should not be scared to try something new, to question things, to push the boundaries, and to not be scared to make some honest mistakes along the way. This was not the case in Asia, where the culture was much more hierarchical with much more top-down control. People would wait to be told what to do and how to do it, and as a result driving change was slow and ponderous.

As well, the concept that work was also meant to be fun was one that was hard to imbue in people, beyond the foreign managers and subject matter expert expats that worked in various parts of our organisation in the SAP Singapore Headquarters. Friday night drinks, after hours in the office, only really attracted the gweilos (white ghosts as we were called), until we also started serving a large variety of noodles and Asian food, when the locals would all turn up en-masse at 5.00pm, eat all the food and immediately leave, which defeated the whole purpose of a relaxed, stress-free end of the work week celebration with colleagues.

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

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


Everything started to change when, after a few months, we had our first formal all-hands event for staff and their partners at the Shangri-la Hotel. It was a lavish, black tie dinner and dance event, which also included a large variety of winnable prizes (TVs, PCs, mobile phones, trips etc., all donated by our suppliers), and which would not be announced till midnight, thus ensuring that the locals would not automatically leave as soon as their meals had been consumed.

The theme was “James Bond” and after the dessert course waiters appeared and placed a large platter of small plastic water pistols on every table, which only generated lots of giggling. One young lady, a bit more adventurous than the rest, filled her pistol with water in the ladies restroom and then ran through the room indiscriminately squirting all within range, including me … the exalted Grand Poobah, Emperor, Member of the Board, President and CEO of the region. A deathly hush descended on the room, as everyone waited to see how I would react. I pushed my chair back from the table and rose to my full height, at the same time pulling a large pump-action water cannon (about 10 litre capacity) from under my seat, which I then emptied over this young colleague, drenching her till she looked as though she had just been dipped into the hotel pool.

Mayhem broke loose … when people finally left after 1.00am all 300 attendees were drenched, my driver made my wife and me sit on plastic rubbish bags for the drive home, we had to pay for the water damage to the carpet, and the company was permanently banned from ever having another function at this particular hotel.

But we had made people understand that they were free to have fun, that there were no sacred-cows and not any unassailable, unreachable management “heavies” … we were all just people with different jobs to do. Not quite “workplace democracy”, but at least the start of an environment that could allow people to build some workplace freedoms.

On the Monday morning following this event, I had called an all staff meeting.

My messages were all about freedom.

– No-one would get punished for making an honest mistake.
– I expected them to try new things and if we could get 6-7 of them right out of every 10 that we tried we would be way ahead of our competition.
– That we had to keep changing and growing and learning and getting smarter or we would not survive, and that they should change the titles on their business cards to “Change Agent”.
– That I expected them to do whatever they felt was needed at any time to help a customer fix an issue, rather than to consult a rule book or the terms of the customer contract.
– That I expected them to understand that while we would be fierce competitors externally, we would collaborate and always help each other to be successful internally.
– That I expected them to always question things that they felt didn’t make sense.
– That they would have the freedom to do their job their way.
– That whilst I was rejecting the suggestion in front of me of having dress-down Fridays, I was recommending that people should dress in a way that they felt was appropriate to their job, and that in Singapore this rarely constituted a suit, though I did not like jeans and sneakers in the office (note that I didn’t ban them, I just said that I didn’t like them … it was enough), and that all I needed was for them to dress in a way that was a credit to themselves, their colleagues, the company and our customers.
– That I would work at all times with the regional executive team and all the country management teams to ensure that these values would be at the core of the way we all lived our work lives.

And finally …. That I preferred to be called “Les” rather than “Mr. Hayman”, and similarly with all the rest of those in management roles, who all preferred to not be called “Mr. or Ma’am”.

American President Theodore Roosevelt (1882-1945) summed it up when he said “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and the self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”

By John Singer Sargent; CC-PD-Mark; via Wikimedia Commons

By John Singer Sargent; CC-PD-Mark; via Wikimedia Commons


REMOVING MANAGEMENT CLUTTER

“Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house burn down.”
American author and farmer Wendell Berry

After 13 years of ownership we have recently sold our home near Bordeaux … with mixed emotions. There is an expression here that the happiest day in your life is when you buy your first French chateau, surpassed only by the day that you sell it. I know well what they mean.

At this stage in our lives we eventually found 15 acres, 8000 square feet of home, 2 additional cottages, several extra outbuildings, assorted staff and various animals and livestock to be somewhat restricting to our changing lifestyle needs. We will look for a smaller home (2-3000 sq. ft.) on a more manageable parcel of land (1-2 acres) just a bit further away from the city of Bordeaux, and closer to the small pretty village of St. Emilion, where most of our friends live. This should also give us the freedom to be able to spend more time with our daughters, grand-daughters and friends in Australia and New Zealand.

Author: Fabien1309 (own work); CC BY-SA 2.0 FR license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Fabien1309 (own work); CC BY-SA 2.0 FR license; via Wikimedia Commons


This “downsizing” has necessitated the need to seriously unclutter, as having previously lived in a house of similar size in Singapore, we have now had 20 years of living in large homes with unlimited storage.

We have already ordered a large rubbish skip, made multiple trips to the local dechetterie (tip/dump) and charity shops to dispose of accumulated memorabilia, keepsakes and souvenirs including old electrical equipment … TVs, DVD players, VHS tape decks, old irons, PCs and other assorted bits that still worked, so the hoarder in me just found another storage spot for them in our voluminous attics. We have also made a number of trips to the local dog refuge with 4 old large kennels and assorted dog paraphernalia, which we kept after our old dogs went on to doggie Valhalla, despite now only having 2 small terriers. I even finally disposed of the vast assortment of chargers that I have accumulated in a box over the last 20 years, a box that I am sure many of my contemporaries can also claim to own.

Author: Speculos (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Speculos (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I admit that we still have a long way to go !!!

It has made me think about the clutter that most managers tend to accumulate during their careers, and the need that they have to regularly clean out their own “house” in the same way that we are now doing. This includes:

– Followers … Most executives will over a successful career accumulate a coterie of followers, and the tendency for many successful and mobile managers is to take them along in their travels. I believe that this is mostly wrong. A key role of every manager is to create and develop talent for the whole organisation rather than only for themselves. Furthermore, keeping a team of people with you, across different roles and different companies, means that you just continue to perpetuate your own image and beliefs in an ever changing business environment. Your direct reports, especially those that are skilled, are like your children, in that you can train them, grow them, teach them values such as integrity and honesty, and then cut them loose to build their own successes rather than to trail along behind yours. New situations and new companies will need new people and different ideas.

– History … I have no question that it is important that we all learn from history, but it is critically important that we do not become prisoners of history. The fact that something worked (or did not work) some time ago in your past does not mean that it will (or will not) work today. Philosopher and novelist George Santayana (1863-1952) is believed to have said “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. The point is that many of us build patterns that we tend to repeat whether they worked well or not. Successful executives tend to try and address new situations with an open and fresh approach rather than to believe that past patterns will always provide a solution to new challenges.

Author: W. J. Robertson and the Education Department of Ontario; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: W. J. Robertson and the Education Department of Ontario; via Wikimedia Commons


– Beliefs … While key human and business values may not readily need to change, beliefs should be questioned at all times. One such example is the belief that women are mainly only capable of succeeding in certain management roles such as HR and Finance, and that executive roles in fields such as Engineering and Sales are much more suited to males, this being a statement made to me recently by a company CEO. What a load of bollocks, as it has been proved over and over again that management skills and management roles are not gender specific. My father believed that medical practitioners sat at the right hand of god and were infallible, and that bank managers should be revered and feared, both beliefs that have been proved to be entirely incorrect today. To be successful, managers need to ensure that they are not building their environment on ingrained, but outdated and hence questionable beliefs.

– Successful strategies … I have met quite a few executives who seem to have a belief in the “one size fits all” approach when it comes to developing business strategies, based on the simple fact that something has worked for them in the past, and so they are reluctant to let it go. Successful strategies in the past need to remain exactly that … in the past. I have come across people who on their resumes claim to have 15 years of experience, but who on closer examination really may only have 3 years of experience five times, having implemented the same approach and the same strategic initiatives each time, and often having then moved on before this one approach to business challenges even had a chance to be well tested.

Author: Pkor43 at English Wikipedia; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Pkor43 at English Wikipedia; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– Busyness rather than business … Many executives clutter their day with meetings, emails, attendance at conferences and other commitments on their calendar that keeps them incredibly busy, but in areas that add little real value to their careers or to their company. Simplicity is not about how much we can do with how little, but is more about how well we can prioritise and how good we are at doing the important things first. When you are clear about your role, your purpose and your priorities you can more easily discard whatever is unnecessary.

American author Christina Scalise rightly said “Clutter is the physical manifestation of unmade decisions fuelled by procrastination.”

WHY PERFORMANCE REVIEWS DON’T WORK

“An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.”
American actress and sex symbol Mae West (1893-1980)

I was recently involved in sitting in with a Regional Head while he reviewed his direct reports, just so I could get an understanding of how he interacted with his people. As I had just embarked on an executive coaching programme with him (at the request of his CEO), I was keen to see how he would handle these quarterly sessions, as I have long been against the whole idea of formal performance reviews, no matter how regularly they are planned.

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

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


I have long believed that the holding of formal performance reviews does little to actually manage performance, and flies against my strong belief that managers need to manage behaviour rather than manage people (see “People performance pitfalls” posted October 28, 2013)

These particular performance review sessions only reinforced my beliefs, and here are some of the reasons why:

– Neither side was particularly well prepared … I was surprised at how little preparation had been done on either side in readiness for these sessions, apart from some hastily scribbled bullet points, and could only surmise that this was because no-one treated them with a great deal of seriousness, which begged the question as to why they did them at all. The lack of preparation was actually mentioned by nearly all of them, and justified and forgiven because of the “pressures of work” taking priority. If you must do these formal reviews, then serious, studied and thoughtful preparation is key. When I had no choice but to do these, I found that a standard format worked well, and I mostly used the simple one of … Here are the things that I want you to do more of, do less of, stop doing and start doing.

– They tended to discuss business issues rather than how the subordinate was actually addressing them … The major part of the sessions tended to be informal discussions on what was happening in their marketplace, their competition and the global economy rather than how the direct report was performing against specific goals that had been set by their CEO, and cascaded down by the Regional Head, and that were actually documented in the strategic plan, of which I had been given a copy. Executives can chat about these topics whenever they want to do so over a coffee or a cocktail, but a performance review should be about discussing how a person is coping with the tasks that they have been assigned, and what is needed to sustain or improve the situation, and not be just an information sharing session.

By  Grahams Child; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By Grahams Child; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– They spent the major part of the actual review time discussing financial performance … I have yet to meet a surviving executive that comes into any review session without a clear understanding of what are his numbers and his performance against them at that time. This means that spending most of any real review discussion on an analysis of the numbers is the wrong focus. Discussing how the numbers can be improved makes sense, but for example beyond saying “watch your spending”, going through a fine tooth-analysis of why marketing expense is 7% over budget for the quarter is a distraction rather than a benefit to the business. If something doesn’t look good, the only valid question is “What are you doing about it ?”.

– The only time people issues were discussed was with the HR Director … I was surprised at how little discussion was given to people issues, particularly as I believe that people are the only true long-term sustainable competitive advantage. There was a long discussion with the HR Director about attrition, recruitment, engagement, succession and other related HR “issues de jour”, yet strangely none of these topics had been discussed with the line managers. What I also found fascinating was that there was no discussion at all with the HR Head as to his personal actual performance and what benefit HR brought to the business, only about the HR metrics on their dashboard. I felt like standing up and yelling “It’s all about people stupid” but held my tongue and wondered about whether I may have accepted a coaching task equivalent to Hercules having to clean out the stables of Augeas. The reality is that there are no HR problems, there are only business problems, and discussions about people are at the core of performance management in every division and at every level of the business for every executive.

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

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


– There were no references back to previous reviews … Interestingly, this company has a highly developed (if somewhat cumbersome) on-line performance management tool, but this was not referred to at any time by either of the parties, and the only recording that was done was some regular scribbling on pads and notebooks that seemed to be ubiquitous in this management team. The whole process to me seemed along schoolboy lines of “Johnny you are trying hard, but I want you to do better”. There is no point in doing any sort of review if one cannot look at a starting reference point and what actions were agreed in the last session. The objective should at the least be to see whether behaviour is changing in a way that will help to meet the objectives. I am not suggesting that the focus should be only historical, as it should rather be on future behaviour, but it is important that one can see whether you are actually making some headway.

– There was no feedback to the boss’s own performance requested, nor given … There was not even a question asked such as “what can I do to help you or to make things better ?”. I believe that any review session has to be bi-directional to be at all worthwhile, as no one does it alone, and the person at the top has the responsibility for the conditions and culture that those below have to work within.

It is worthwhile remembering the words of American statesman and retired 4-star general Colin Powell “Organisation doesn’t really accomplish anything. Plans don’t accomplish anything either. Theories of management don’t much matter. Endeavours succeed or fail because of the people involved.”

WHAT COULD THE GREEK GODS HAVE DONE IN MANAGEMENT ROLES TODAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

By Phe; via Wikimedia Commons

By Phe; via Wikimedia Commons


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

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

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

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

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


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

Author: Prevezamuseum; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Prevezamuseum; via Wikimedia Commons


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

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

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

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


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

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