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Sunday, 14 April 2019

Modern Thoughts About Leadership? Most of Them Are Nearly 2,500 Years Old!

Many of the social media pundits on leadership seem to think that their ideas are brand new, radical, revolutionary and innovative.

As it happens, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle (384BC-322BC) suggested that there are three forms of rule: the rule of one, the rule of the few and the rule of the many.  A student of Plato, he opined that the 'rule of one' was necessary to prevent anarchy and mob rule.  Now that is radical.

In those years and subsequently during the rise of Rome, the 'rule of one' came into prominence with emperors like Augustus, Claudius and the unlamented Caligula ruling.  So what happened to the rule of the few and the rule of the many?

It seems that even if there were a valid example of the 'rule of the many', in very short order a leader emerges to impose the 'rule of one'.   Post 1917 Russia is a classic example where the revolution of the masses spawned Stalin's 'rule of one'.

I recall a workshop weekend with a previous company where we had some six breakout groups of about ten in each, and we were asked to work on solving an insoluble problem.  Each group was allocated a minder who sat there and took notes and then reported back to the meeting after an hour's deliberation.

It turned out that we weren't actually working on problem solving, but were there to give the minders (all psychologists) a view of how groups work and how they choose their leaders.

Astonishingly, all the minders reported the same results.  In every case each group elected a notional leader/chairman, usually a Director of the company who happened to be in their group, and then proceeded to ignore him.

The more forceful and articulate seemed in each case to emerge into a leadership role with the majority of the other members of the groups deferring to them.  Seniority had no effect.

So what does this mean in terms of a modern approach to leadership?  Many businesses, especially those which are essentially entrepreneurial, are work on the 'rule of one' basis and the 'rule of the many' applies only in unusual cases like the John Lewis Partnership.   Many SMEs are run on the 'rule of the few' basis and preferably 'the virtuous few'.

However, it must be said that in the business world, Aristotle was percipient to the extent that in well run companies, all his rules apply.  Starting with an entrepreneurial leader, as the business grows and expands, an effective management team has to be built into a 'virtuous few'.

So where does the 'rule of the many' come into the calculation?   Until a business understands that 'the many' have much more to offer than merely their labour, then it will effectively be run on a 'top down' basis with minimal upwards contribution.

Perhaps this implies that one of the most important facets of great leaders is that of humility; the acceptance that they don't know everything about everything, and that everyone in the business has a place in the scheme of things.

David Marquet, lately of the US Navy and author of the best-selling book, Turn the Ship Around, says that he changed the governance of his failing command from Leader/Follower to Leader/Leader. This gave responsibility at every level of leadership rather than solely top down with all its consequent blockages.


If you would like to hear David in person he is the keynote speaker at the next Vistage Open Day on May 17th at the Hilton Hotel, Manchester.  DM me to be registered as my guest, FOC for the first three applications from executives at CEO or MD level. It could change your whole approach to leadership.


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Sunday, 7 April 2019

Are All Your Salespeople Closers? Train Them to AFTO!

I have long had an aversion to the use of synonyms for sales as if the very word ‘sales’ were objectionable. High on the list is “business development”, a tortuous way of describing possibly the most important department in any commercial enterprise.


For some unfathomable reason here in the United Kingdom, Sales have been regarded as a slightly sleazy description of an honourable and professional activity. Typical is the description “used car salesman” and that says it all.


Just as bad, I submit, is the lumping together of sales and marketing, two vastly differing activities.  Marketing, per se, is essentially an analytical activity without which sales operations are missing a trick.  Market research, media research, promotional activity and publicity all come under the generic heading of marketing.


Indeed some would argue that sales is also a marketing function.   I don’t agree simply because marketing is largely a desk activity and needs people comfortable in that environment, whereas sales demands driven, determined, self-starting loners.


It has been wisely said that the worst albeit very tempting appointment that ca be made is to promote your best sales person to be sales manager. Great sales operators by definition are loners, self starters while sales managers must have the ability to encourage, develop and coordinate a motley group of loners.


Joke: A sprtsman used to go shooting regularly and always asked for a dog called Salesman because it was quick, intelligent, obeyed commands and generally was exceptional. One day he went to book the dog for a shoot and the owner said sadly:
Sorry, but he’s been ruined.  Some idiot called him Sales Manager and now he just sits on his ass and barks”.


Since the times when I spent many happy days motoring around the UK going to see engineers and helping them make technical decisions, the methods we use to get to the market have changed significantly primarily through the astonishing growth in social media .


One of the members of my Vistage CEO peer group has exploited the medium very successfully.  Apart from the replacement of print advertising by the same methods on social media there has been a growth in using the medium as a news source.


Relatively new as it is, advertising on social media is beginning to lose its impact and one hears some irritation at its perceived intrusion”.   Far more effective is the use of social media, especially those more sector dedicated, to careful dissemination of “news” stories that are more interesting and are not seen as being intrusive.


As an example, one of the members of my Vistage CEO peer group started an initiative just a year ago that has resulted in around 8% sales growth from new customers. He uses very good photography and appends an interesting story.  Crucially he posts 3 or 4 times a day and that demands dedicated resource.


Of course that initiative started as a marketing exercise that has generated direct sales and which has opened the door to face to face contact meetings classed as warm leads


There are many mantras about sales such as “Build a relationship”, “Selling isn’t telling”, “Ask questions and shut up” and so on that emphasise techniques for that crucial eyeball to eyeball meeting.  


I was under training many years ago with one of those (useless) conventional salesmen, (trilby hat, battered briefcase etc.) who merely recited extracts from the company catalogue and waited for the prospect to bite. The interview usually ended with the buyer glazing over and the salesman threatening to “see you again next month”.


A completely valueless exercise that results in the “he’s in a meeting”  response at reception. In short, he wasn’t a “closer”.


My old sales mentor, Phil Copp, the Sage of Wythenshawe, used the “ask relevant questions then listen, listen, listen” and he was massively successful. People like to talk about their businesses and listening to them encourages a positive relationship.


Methods may have changed but in general people haven’t and a great face-to-face meeting is still the best marketing tool.

Finally, be positive, helpful and collaborative and don’t forget to AFTO! (Ask For The Order)!



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Sunday, 31 March 2019

I Used to be Indecisive, Now I’m In JFDI Mode!

Scratch your head, have a large gin and tonic, bet on a horse, cross the room, all of these are the result of making a decision and some of us are good and some bad at the exercise.

We have just had an exceptional keynote speaker presentation at my Vistage CEO Peer group delivered by "the SUMO guy", Paul McGee.   Paul made the interesting point that more than 80% of the decisions we make are made on autopilot.

Think about driving on the motorway, arriving at the destination and suddenly realising that we can’t recall anything about the journey.  We have all experienced this strange phenomenon from time to time which tends to support the 80% estimate.

What makes it more significant is an estimate by psychologists that we make on average the astonishing number of 35,000 decisions a day and more than 80% are made without our realising it.

In the last few months I have been experiencing (age related) lack of mobility and as a consequence I am consciously making decisions so as to reduce unnecessary walking about.  This, I suppose, reduced the auto-pilot proportion by a significant amount.

However, the brain is a wondrous instrument and after a few days of thinking about it, I now find that many of the decisions I need to make have gone into auto-pilot node

In past consultancy days I used a useful model, The Decision Tree, with clients especially where they were grappling with  a seemingly intractable problem.

The technique, using a very large sheet of paper or a white board, was to start with a box and a statement of the problem.

Beneath that box we drew a series of boxes each containing a potential solution and from each of these  we drew an action flow chart that eventually arrived at a series of answers with costings, time issues, people issues and any other relevant details.

From there it was possible draw comparisons to enable the making of a very considered decision as to the most appropriate solution.

All well and good but as the model needs to be very detailed it takes a lot of time and effort so its use should be restricted to major issues.

On the other hand I had a member if my Vistage `CEO Peer group who had a Technical Director, very competent and technically accomplished, but who drove him to distraction.

The problem was that the Director, being a methodical engineer, refused to make a decision until he he considered that he had all the relevant information and as this took forever, or so it seemed, his decision making process was extended to say the least.

It often takes a brave soul to accept that enough background information is available in order to make a decision, especially when importance and urgency raise demanding heads.

The ability to cut through all the “stuff” that gets in the way of good and quick decision making is the hallmark of a capable leader.  In addition there has to be an acceptance that we don’t always get it right and a decision can go awry.

However, in many cases it is better to bite the bullet and decide rather than constantly look for a better solution. Remember that even matters that seem important at the time, probably because someone else says that they are, won’t always be as significant in six month’s time.  

Perhaps a good dose of JFDI would be the best answer.


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Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Do You Take CSR seriously? If Not, Why Not!

There was an interesting debate on the BBC World Service recently about the difference between a charity and a Not for Profit company and the morality or otherwise of large businesses supporting them. 

Corporate Social Responsibility should mean just that.  While businesses employ people and so give them a living it is also good to feel a responsibility for the local community in some tangible way. 

Several of the members of my Vistage CEO peer group are actively involved in their local communities and that is admirable. 

For example, the Casey Group of Companies, a major construction company in Rochdale, helped on a BBC TV  programme which was renovating a whole street for disabled service personnel by allocating construction specialists to work on the project. 

In another instance alumnus The School Bus in  Macclesfield have instituted a charity, The School Bus Foundation devoted to assisting disadvantaged children and they raise funds through events and donations. 

The Casey Group example is typical of businesses offering resources to assist in a community project while The School Bus  have gone directly to the charity sector and both are equally laudable. 

In both cases, by the way, these are symptomatic and represent a wide range of activities by both companies. Other Vistage members like the 144 years established
Alfred Bagnall and Sons have a wide range of activities designed to benefit local communities. 

My interest was sparked by the radio programme which discussed the relationship between a Not for Profit company, Marathon Kids in Austin, Texas and sports goods manufacturer Nike. 

Marathon Kids was set up to encourage young children to take up running for good health, for a level of sport in their lives and above all for fun. 

There was some dis quiet in the programme at the thought of Nike "moving in" to what seemed to be a perfect opportunity for some heavy marketing which was looked on as being of dubious morality. However nothing could be further from the truth. 

The only mention of Nike on the Marathon Kids website is that Nike rewards are given to competitors who achieve distance milestones. 

In fact Nike do not give money to Marathon Kids and they do not give shoes at will.  

What they do is offer resources that Marathon Kids manifestly do not have such as branding and marketing advice especially when a club is being started in a new location. 

The question is at what point does a large company involvement in "good works" become self seeking, if at all?

There are after all many wealthy individuals who are extremely philanthropic and they do it because they consider it the right thing to do rather than looking for any gain. 

When a company does it and perhaps makes a fuss about it there can be a suspicion that there may just be an ulterior motive. 

I am both Jewish and a Freemason and I realise that both have charity at the heart of what they are. 

For example a core prayer at the Jewish New Year mentions Penitence, Prayer and Charity as being central to the whole ethos of the religion. 

The very basis of Freemasonry lists Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth where Relief is a synonym for charity. It should be mentioned, by the way, that Freemasonry is the second largest contributor to charity in the UK after the National Lottery. 

Nobody mentions gain after giving charity in either case so there is no question of morality whereas large companies donating noisily may be accused of doing it for gain. 

True or false, giving charity either in cash or kind is essential to keep many social organisations in business and if it does good then that is wonderful. For example, the Air Ambulance Service could not exist without donations from many individuals and organisations. 

Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, says that the only way to give charity is anonymously so that nobody knows what you have done and the only gain is a feeling of satisfaction by doing the right thing. 

Quite a thought.  


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Sunday, 17 March 2019

What Do You Mean, Too Old? Everyone Can And Should Contribute!

I am slightly reluctant to return to the subject of ageism as it may be thought that I have a hidden agenda (which I have).

Sadly old age and infirmity are reducing my physical mobility but happily I still have my marbles, or at least some of them.

I had a wonderful colleague in the USA, Pat Hyndman, who died a couple of years ago at the age of 95 , and was still chairing two Vistage CEO groups.

Pat's approach to retirement was that he intended to go on until "they had to carry him out on the flip chart" and if only metaphorically that is what he achieved.

However in conversation with several of my Vistage CEO members of late I have been looking at the subject on a less personal and emotive basis.

There is no doubt that here in the UK we are in a period of fuller employment.  During the past period of recession, austerity measures led to a reduction in skills training and we are reaping the consequences now.

My friends in the recruitment industry tell me that certain sectors have become candidate led simply because of the shortage of good, trained people looking to move.

Indeed in one case the member told me that they had offered positions to three potential candidates all of whom had gone elsewhere.

The eye watering salaries  being offered are way above the current market range even though the member's company has an enviable reputation as an exceptional  employer.

The whole market is going through  a cyclical change right now and I suspect that it will get even  harder rather than easier to find, recruit and retain great people.

What, then, can be done about this problem?

There is a whole range of variables that impact on the situation that I would suggest is one of the most serious facing business leaders at this moment whatever happens in the Brexit negotiations.

For example, the change in legislation stopping companies imposing mandatory retirement to employees has led to the occasional blockage in available career paths.

Medical advances are also leading to longer life (about which I am not complaining) that implies a bank of knowledge and skills is growing and still in employment.

The current shortage of candidates means that there is a further issue stemming from the dramatic changes in business technology.

The younger people take these changes for granted and embrace them automatically while those at the more elderly end of the workforce find absorption of these changes more difficult.

There is no doubt that many people who are passing or have already passed the notional retirement age can expect two or three decades more and I have always said that much of that skill bank is neither realised or exploited.

There is a natural reluctance on the part of employers to bring older people into the workforce but here and there it may be at least a part solution to the problem.

While I am a great believer in the more mature citizens keeping working and contributing (should they so desire) I would accept that there will be many whose skills can easily be supplied by someone younger or by advances in technology.

Manual workers for example will find continued work becomes inhibited by the natural ageing process with the consequent reduction in strength and mobility.

However with the growth in the apprenticeship schemes why not employ these older people to pass on their skills to the young generation?  For example, some of my Vistage CEO group members have exploited the situation by forming training academies to develop their own people rather than recruiting.

For the more mature who have come through a professional career path, there is no reason why they should not keep themselves available to help out on a part-time or interim basis.

Alternatively a portfolio of activities can bring intellectual rigour with a measure of freedom of the diary.

Finally remember that as we age, it's the knees that go first closely followed by parallel parking.


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Sunday, 10 March 2019

Is The Business Becoming Boring? Then Dare to be Different!

At a Vistage Open Day a couple of years ago, US speaker Jaynie Smith examined the way that businesses promote themselves to prospects and existing customers and she came to the conclusion that most of it was just blah, blah, blah. 

A depressing thought but when we look carefully at what we inaccurately consider to be our USP (Unique Selling Proposition) we rapidly come to the conclusion that not only does it not sell but it certainly isn't unique. 

Unique means precisely that; there are no shades of uniqueness, things cannot be fairly or very unique. 

Consequently very few businesses can offer something that is truly unique; at best it may be unusual or rare. 

Jaynie calls it the Competitive Advantage; what is it that you offer that genuinely is different and makes you stand out from the competition?
Think of those businesses that are (or were before the copyists arrived) truly different like Google through brilliant software design, Apple through constant product innovation and Amazon which has revolutionised retailing. 

Ask yourself the question; what do we offer in terms of our product, our quality, our service, our people that makes us stand out from the crowd and encourages us to seek a premium from the markets we serve?

In my youth, my (pre-girls) passion was cricket and particularly Lancashire League cricket. As a very ordinary off spin bowler, my role model was an extraordinary leg spinner called Tom.

Tom managed to deliver sumptuous leg breaks and gigantic googlies while bowling like a demented octopus, arms and legs flailing in all directions. To say that the batsmen had difficulty in picking his googly is an understatement. In fact they seemed to have just as much difficulty in deciding which of his wildly gyrating extremities would be delivering the ball.

The consequence was, of course, that he gained a reputation of invincibility in the League and he eventually went on to bigger and better things in his career. Sadly it was cut short by physical problems but the memory remains.

So what is the point of this tale? The point is that even though he had talent, enthusiasm, drive and commitment in abundance, his greatest attribute was that he was different.

I don't mean different just for the sake of it or to make an impression. I mean rather be different so as to impact on people's thinking, to help them to change in a positive sense and to stand out from that crowd which seems to be growing ever bigger.

Our education system in the UK from GCSE through A-levels, to University and then on to Post Graduate studies can lead to a standardisation of the eventual outcomes with an emphasis on conventionality.

Will and Kenneth Hopper in their wonderful book, The Puritan Gift, quote the late Professor Russell L Ackhoff, formerly of the Wharton Business School in the USA, as saying that there are three principal achievements of a business school education which are:

"to equip students with a vocabulary that enables them to talk about subjects that they don't understand, to give students principles that would demonstrate their ability to withstand any amount of disconfirming evidence, and finally, the give students a ticket of admission to a job where they could learn something about management".

It is not a surprise to me that seemingly a significant proportion of Managing Directors and CEO members of Vistage International groups, at least in the UK, did not go to University but found their success through a burning desire to succeed, through humility, a voracious appetite for learning and above all, through being different.

It is the difference that ensures that competitive advantage in the market place, that encourages the market to deal and to stave off the attacks of the insidious competition.


Never be in the position of worrying about competitors; make sure that your success makes them worry about you. 


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