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.

PATIENCE IS NOT A VIRTUE

“All human wisdom is summed up in two words – wait and hope.”

This was said by Alexander Dumas (1802-1870), one of the most prolific and most popular authors of the 19th century, and while I am a fan of Dumas, having as a teenager read and enjoyed his books “The three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo”, I just can’t agree with him.

Author: Charles-Alphonse-Paul Bellay (1826-1900); PD-Art tag; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Charles-Alphonse-Paul Bellay (1826-1900); PD-Art tag; via Wikimedia Commons


Firstly I have long believed that “hope is never a strategy” for anything in life, and secondly I have long believed that little comes to those who wait, other than sore backsides and boredom, the only exception being that “one should never run after a bus, a man or a woman, as there will always be another one along in a reasonable time”.

Hope (and prayer) may have been an acceptable way to go in Dumas’ time in the early 19th century when life expectancy was about 38 in the US and Europe, less than 1% of households had a bath, over 99% of births took place in the home, and the 3 major causes of death were Pneumonia, Tuberculosis, and Diarrhea, now all eminently treatable. In the 21st century we have replaced these 3 with Heart Disease, Strokes and Cancer, but at least we now understand that we should seek medical help rather than just lighting candles or sitting there hoping they will go away.

I just cannot accept that patience is a true virtue.

I am not talking about waiting, which we sometimes have to do, for example when we are in a queue to get through airport security or when sitting at a set of traffic lights, which are the sort of situations where we have little choice but to wait our turn. We also have little choice but to wait for broken bones to mend, or wait for annual vacations to come around. We generally just have to accept that these will come in their “own sweet time”, and that there is little that we can do about it but wait.

I am often amused by watching the agitation of people in queues particularly in France where, unlike Anglophone countries, standing in line is not a cultural imperative. After a relatively short time, queues will just disintegrate into a crowd press to the single entry point, where the aggressive rather than the impatient can gain the most territory. I was recently in a line to gain entry to a historic building which opens just one day a year, and had to continually defend my entrance slot. One woman, when trying to push past me for about the fourth time, and realising I was not actually French, yelled at me in frustration “You just don’t understand ! We French do not like to wait.”

Author: horax zeigt hier; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: horax zeigt hier; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


None of us like to wait, but I differentiate this acceptance of waiting as an aspect of life that is different from patience.

I am also not suggesting that we should just expect success to arrive overnight, or that we should not understand that it takes considerable effort and application to achieve worthwhile results in business, in relationships and also in life generally. I have never really accepted the “I want it now” attitude that I often see in western societies where many believe for example that weight loss is not the result of a healthy lifestyle, controlled diet and regular exercise, but is just a question of finding the right medication for the kilos to drop off, or that success in the business world just involves joining the right start-up and waiting for the IPO (see “I want it today” posted December 2, 2010).

But I do not see this “I want it now” attitude to be an indicator of impatience as much as being either a sign of a lack of discipline and control, or just another example of “hope as a strategy”.

I see patience as being more an acceptance of the status quo, and whilst I have long believed that in many companies people who protect the status quo are more likely to be seen as candidates for promotion than are game changers, I believe strongly that those who are patient will not achieve much.

Successful people are generally impatient because they want to drive change, whether this is in the world of technology, the business world, medicine, the arts, education or even in not-for-profit charity organisations. Steve Jobs (1955-2011), co-founder of Apple was an incredibly impatient man, and while this meant that he was not particularly liked as a manager, CEO or human being, (regularly getting him into trouble and even fired from Apple in 1985), no one can question his game-changer status.

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

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


Important things in life can only be changed by unreasonable impatient people.

I have never known patient and reasonable people who have driven dramatic change. Even Mahatma Gandhi understood this when he said “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it. You must be the change that you want to see in the world.”

Reasonable and patient people will adapt to the world around them, whereas unreasonable impatient people believe that they need to adapt the world around them to suit their own needs.

I believe that American journalist and satirist Ambrose Bierce (1842-1913) had it right when he said “Patience is a minor form of despair disguised as a virtue.”

via Wikimedia Commons; PD-Art tag

via Wikimedia Commons; PD-Art tag


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”.

IF YOU ALWAYS DO WHAT YOU HAVE ALWAYS DONE …..

Most people do not want change; they just want things to get better.

The majority of people would like to have their life improve in some way; to have better health, better family relationships, better friends, a better job, a nicer living environment, be more loved, be slimmer, taller, better looking, less wrinkled, fitter and for most, to have more money.

But very few people seem to be prepared to accept that in order to successfully achieve anything in life, particularly in an ever-changing world, the first requirement is that they change something about what they are doing today.

Author: Felix Burton; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Felix Burton; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) understood that “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

The reality is that this desire to not have to change anything is also true of many companies, particularly during times of success. Strangely, this is true despite the fact that business history is littered with the corporate epitaphs of companies that believed that they didn’t need to change what they were doing, and that all they needed to do was to hope things would get better and then people would just buy more of their products and/or services.

I have two such examples from my own personal career history.

International Harvester (where I worked 1966-1973), who invented a large part of the farm equipment and machinery which is still used today, and who dominated their industry for decades, came to believe that their customers would stay loyal to them even if they stopped investing in R&D. They embarked on a major cost savings programme to improve profitability, and their customers deserted them in droves when smaller competitors appeared who could differentiate themselves, even in small ways, from the then giant.

Author: Joost J. Bakker; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Joost J. Bakker; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


The same is true of Digital Equipment (where I worked from 1997-1984) who dominated large parts of the IT world with their range of minicomputers in the 1970s and 1980s. They would not accept that “people would want a computer on their desk or in the home”, despite the fact that the workstation revolution was happening all around them. (see “Hero to zero in the corner office” posted October 29, 2012).

Despite all the lessons available from history, I too often see this same sort of attitude today in some companies who appear to believe that their survival and success is now mainly dependant on them just being able to get through the current economic crisis. A belief that everything will return to “normal” when the crisis is over, and that this should happen fairly soon, as it has already been going on for 5 years since 2008, so can’t go on forever. Anyway the media do deliver to us the occasional hopeful sign.

Author: Slowking4; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Slowking4; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


However, I believe that this view that we are in a traditional crisis state, that has a beginning and an end, is a complete misunderstanding of the financial situation that the world is in today. I believe that we are going through a more fundamental shift in the economic environment, and that companies who cannot adjust to the new economic realities will not survive, in the same way that in the past we have seen companies die because they did not change to meet fundamental shifts in their industries. (see “Growing a new leg” posted June 20,2010).

In the Western economies we have built national, corporate and personal wealth on a belief in continual growth, and the availability of inexpensive capital to fund our drive for growth. Growth has been the major change agent for everything that was needed for success, and growth could disguise basic weaknesses in any structure whether at a country, corporate or personal level.

At a personal level, as long as we had a job, and our wages went up every year, we could build our future life on debt, as growth would guarantee our ability to manage it all and we could continue to survive and prosper.

Countries and companies were no different. Growth drove taxation to fund country administrations and citizen wealth, and hence loyalty, and growth drove companies’ profits to enable them to continue to drive growth, for business growth was the ultimate goal that forgave most sins and delivered success.

But today, in most countries, most industries and most companies there is neither the ready availability of inexpensive money nor economic growth, and I believe that those that are not fundamentally changing, but are just waiting for these to return, will continue to struggle for survival.

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

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


Today, even if we want to stay the same, we have to make changes to be able to do so, because our only choice is to live within an environment that is driven and changed by others, or to make the changes that enable us to live within an environment that we have helped to create.

Companies that will survive this current revolutionary shift in business fundamentals will not only have to change the way that they manage their finances, but will have to change the way that they compete, find and keep their customers, satisfy their ecosystem, the way that they go to market and the way that they find, recruit, manage, motivate, reward and retain their people.

As is often attributed to Charles Darwin (1809-1892) “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

I have long believed that if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you already have, but I have now come to believe that you will actually keep getting less and less.