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Sunday, 18 December 2011

Do You Know Where Your Business is Going? Do Your People Know?

Some years ago I was fortunate enough to be at a presentation in London by the legendary Theodore (Ted) Levitt, Professor of Marketing at Harvard Business School and one of his sayings has stayed with me ever since.

He said: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there”.  There was some resonance of Alice in Wonderland there.

Now I discover that the Roman philosopher, Seneca (4BC-65AD) said:

“If a man knows not what harbour he seeks, any wind is the right wind”.
So, there is nothing new under the sun and both (or all) of them, of course, were right.  Again for years I have used another little saying which I like very much and which is so relevant:
“People want to know two things; how am I doing and where are WE going”.
It is all a matter of good communication and it is the function of the leader to ensure that the team are kept well aware of both criteria.  By far the best way is to have regular one-to-ones with everyone on the team.  Timings and dates should be diaried and the time allocated must be sacrosanct.
It is a matter of respect for each team member and nothing should get in the way.  The agenda, by the way, belongs to the team member not the leader.  Length of time for each one-to-one?  Anything from one to two hours is best and they should be scheduled at least monthly.
The leader needs to ask questions and above all to listen.  Regular one-to-ones like this almost obviate the need for annual appraisals because feedback monthly will solve the issue of “how am I doing?”.
The “where are we going” question is another matter.  Setting the values, the vision and the goals for the future of the business should be largely a matter for the leader because they define the culture which the leader sees as appropriate for the business.
From then on, setting the objectives and defining the strategy and the action, short term and longer term, is a matter of discussion with the team on a regular basis.  It is, however, vital that when the objectives and the strategy have been set, some form of accountability needs to be established so that action can be monitored.
Too many strategic plans are beautifully prepared and presented and then languish in a filing cabinet until someone remembers and gets it out to see if it had worked.
Good planning with action and accountability answers both Ted Levitt and Seneca who might have said:
“When you DO know where you are going, your people will go with you, as long as they are constantly involved”. 
Remember, no-one ever feels committed to achieving other peoples’ objectives.
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Sunday, 11 December 2011

What Don’t You Know About Your People? Ask Them the Story of Their Life!

During the summer we (my wife Hilary and I with Bailey, our Cavalier King Charles spaniel) took a day out in the Cheshire countryside finishing up in Chester.  While Hilary went into a well known store to buy something to eat that evening, I stood outside with Bailey and did some people watching.

We were accosted (in the nicest possible way) by a charming African American lady who insisted on showing us pictures of her Cavalier back home in the US and then took several photographs of Bailey.

I wished her well for her trip to England and she said:

“Oh, I come here often.  This time I’m here to speak at a conference”.

Interested, I asked her what the conference was about and she said:

“It’s an Anglican conference – I’m a Bishop” and went smilingly on her way.

I hadn’t even considered her occupation during our chat.  Looking back I suppose that I could have imagined her being a senior administrator in a business or a head teacher, but it wasn’t relevant in the context of our meeting.

The fact is that unless we ask our people or at least give them the opportunity, we frequently don’t know anything about them other than their interaction in the business and their performance.

Too often our people are allowed to come in to work, take off their coats, take off their brains, hang them both up and then do their allotted time until they go home again having put on  their coats and their brains.  What a waste of talent.

I have fond in my one- to-ones, particularly at the first meeting, that it can be disarming to say to someone: “So, tell me story of your life” and it can be remarkable. if the leader then keeps quiet and listens, how easily people can talk about themselves.

It is always a matter of giving people the respect that they deserve and of showing genuine interest in them and their lives.  Of course, confidentiality is vital and it needs to be stressed.

Even more importantly, we can learn so much more about our people, their interests, their hobbies, their families. There is the constant surprise when we find out that someone does something remarkable in their spare time.

And why shouldn’t those hidden talents be brought to bear in the business to the advantage of the company and, more importantly, to the advantage of the member of the team?

Most of them aren’t Bishops, of course, but they are all individuals with feeling, interests and aspirations, and they deserve to be respected as such.

Visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.vistage.co.uk/chairs/ivan.goldberg
Email ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk
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Sunday, 4 December 2011

What Can Be Done in a Nightmare Scenario? Use PEST Analysis!

I have so far scrupulously avoided any religious or political discussion in Ivan’s Blog but events have overtaken me and I feel that I must state a case for the leaders of SMEs in the UK (possibly everywhere).

The number of column inches devoted to the eurozone crisis is limitless.  TV and radio cover the whole process with enthusiasm and drag “experts” out of any closet they can find to pontificate on the dreadful scenario.

Words like, “cataclysmic”, “unprecedented”, "catastrophe", “nightmare”, “desperate”, and many others are being bandied about and everyone in the media seems to be saying that the end is nigh.

The cold facts are that as leaders of SMEs, there is virtually nothing that we can do about the situation which comes well into the PEST analysis (political, economic, sociological and technological) all of which are external influences over which we have no control.
Who really knows what will happen in Europe?  Summit meeting follows summit meeting within a few days and the markets react, positively or negatively as is their wont.  The fact is that the concept of the euro was faulty in the first place – one size DOESN’T fit all and it certainly doesn’t fit a lot of very differing cultures in the hotch-potch of cultures which make up Europe.

In 2008 I suggested that we were in an L-shaped recession and were subsequently in a New Normality.  This has been repeated and we are back into a Newer Normality again.  

Leaders of SMEs particularly need to understand that the world hasn’t stopped.  There is still a vast amount of business out there provided that we go for it in a competitive way, not by discounting prices but by offering a service second to none.

Boom times may return but it is certain that it will not happen for some years.  New Normality means that what is out there isn’t going to change significantly so redesign your business and your activities according to what IS out there.

So what to do right now?  Ask yourself questions for each criterion such as "What political/economic/social/technological events could affect the business?", then discuss with your people what you could do to ameliorate the potential effects.

Do your PEST analysis and see where you can be as prepared as possible for an uncertain future, take immediate action and then go for it,  Good luck!

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Monday, 28 November 2011

Thought About Your Exit Route? Look At ALL The Options!

I was in discussion with a consultancy client about the longer term objectives for the business (manufacturing engineering), when he laughed and said:

I’ll look at the long term but I may not get there!”
“Rubbish”, I said, “Why do you say that?”
“Well, I’m 69 and very fit but you never know what might happen”.
I was a trifle surprised as he didn’t look it but it raised a great raft of questions.  So many owner managers just plough on, running their businesses with very little thought about the future and how they are going to release the asset in the business which they have built up over the years.
He was reluctant to get into a detailed discussion at first, but eventually he decided to look at the options open to him.
The business was well run (mostly by him, let it be said), growing and profitable but he was, as many owner managers are, something of a control freak.  He needed to know exactly what was going on and he had his little coterie of spies around the company to tell him.
In fact, although he had what could laughably be called a Board, he didn’t have a real management structure.  What he had was a group of gophers who did his every demand.  It seemed that there was no-one whom he would rate as potential succession.
In any case, after years of ruling the roost, he would have found it exceptionally difficult to let go and allow people to get on with running the business.
So what are the options for an exit route?  For example he could prepare the business for a trade sale, see if an MBO is a feasible option, stay on and run it but accept that succession is essential, and so on.
The real answer here is, of course, to prepare long before it becomes critical.   This would allow the leader to bring in and test potential succession, to build a management team which would encourage potential buyers of the business and to start the process of looking at all the options in a non-pressurised environment.
A salutary tale.  I was asked to discuss with a lady how the business which her recently deceased husband had built, could be run effectively without her input.  For the time being accountants were running it and they resolutely blocked any ideas I had for the continuation of the company.  Eventually they liquidated it and several people lost their livelihoods
A sad story – make sure that it doesn’t happen to you.

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Sunday, 20 November 2011

800 Years Old Yoda? Who He? (I’ve Never Seen Star Wars!)

One of my Vistage members recently left the group after nearly five years membership during which we went through some difficult times together.  The group undoubtedly helped him to stay afloat and successfully stay afloat he did.

At his final meeting he very kindly gave me the gift of a shirt with a picture of Yoda, who I understand is an 800 year old mentor character in Star Wars (which I have never seen).  Some resonance there.

On the front of the shirt is a quote from the aforementioned ancient which also resonated with me:

“Do or not do: there is no try”  Master Yoda

Now that is a great thought.  How many times do we hear someone say “I’ll try to....” or “I hope that......”  as examples.

It isn’t so much a matter of indecision; it is more a lack of confidence in an ability to deliver the goods.       At one level it is fear of failure and at another a genuine uncertainty as to an innate ability to deliver.

In the end it all comes down to belief in oneself.  Belief that we can achieve anything if we put our minds to it.  Belief is at the core of every successful athlete; without that belief they can only rely on their athletic talent alone to take them there.

It is not enough; the great coaches certainly do not need to have the same level of technical ability as their charges.  The coach of the great swimmer, Mark Spitz who won seven gold medals at the 1972 Munich Olympics, not only could not swim but apparently had a morbid fear of water.

What he could do (and did successfully) was to implant in Mark Spitz the unwavering belief that he was the best in the world and the results were evidence of his success.

Do or not do: there is no try.  Make the decision. Either do it or don’t do it (whatever it is) or not but just saying that you will try is of little value.  In my Vistage group we call it the JFDI Syndrome.

I will wear that shirt with gratitude.  Thanks Mike!

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Sunday, 13 November 2011

Are Your Sales People Farmers or Hunters? Both is Best!

Business Development (which is the posh modern description of sales, it seems to me) is the buzz word in many businesses and perhaps needs to be examined.

Many august consultancy companies have run surveys of the amount of effort needed to build sales through new customers as against developing the existing customer base.

Conventional wisdom has it that the usual ratio is between 7 and 9 times the effort in order to achieve the same level of activity and that means a vast amount of work both externally and internally.

That quadrant so beloved of consultants, the Ansoff Matrix (http://tutor2u.net/business/strategy/ansoff_matrix.htm) looks at the four general routes to market: existing products into existing markets, new products into existing markets, existing products into new markets and finally, new products into new markets.

My old sales mentor, Phil Copp, the Sage of Wythenshawe, used to analyse his working year on the basis a sort of reverse 80:20 rule.  For example he would plan for say 30 calls in a week of which 24 were to existing customers and 6 to potentials.  Phil was a very wise man and knew where his best efforts would bring success.
Another survey says that we only obtain, in general, around 40% of the available business from our existing customers, simply because they frequently don’t realise that they can deal with us for a range of products or services and not just one.  Law firms and accountants are classic examples of this problem.
So what can we learn from that?  It is certainly not the customer’s fault; it is up to us to use every possible method (and there are plenty available these days) to make sure that our existing customer base knows what we can offer across the board. 
It’s time to change their perceptions.
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Sunday, 6 November 2011

How Good is Your Top Team? Use the 9.5 Test to Check Them Out!!

Taking the Top Performer subject a stage further reminds me of Vistage speaker, Larry King from the USA, who has the group assessing in some detail the capacities and abilities of their top team.

The first question is: do you really know who are, or should be, on your top team?  We frequently have people there who have gravitated upwards less through their abilities but rather more by dint of their longevity.  They have simply been around and while they have shown loyalty, their contribution has perhaps been only adequate.

Furthermore people like that hold down the up and coming people who can be the future of the business.  The great leader will make it his or her duty to seek out and develop new talent.

However we have what we have and Larry suggests that we shine a light on our top team to assess their real capabilities and how they contribute to the business.

It is not a particularly objective study; rather a subjective view of each individual and how they fit in and contribute.  For example how do they relate to others on the team?  What (if anything) drives them?  What is their work ethic?  What are their ambitions?  How do they contribute to discussions?

The trick now is to make it more objective so if we then allocate an assessment number from 1 (why are they there?) to 10 (can’t run the business without them) for each of the criteria we start to get to a more objective view of each individual.

The hard, and sometimes emotional problem, is that we then can get an average number from 1 to 10 as to their overall value to the business.  The aim is to have everyone on the top team rating 9.5 at least and questions must be asked of those whose ratings are lower than that.

Larry King says that someone scoring 8 will probably be able to improve with help to a top rating but below 8 there is some doubt as to whether people can improve sufficiently to make the 9.5.

The tough question is; what do we do about the low scorers and why are they there anyway?  That is a management issue and decisions need to be taken as to how perhaps to re-allocate them into positions where their talents can be better utilised.

As Jim Collins says, we need to get the best possible people on the bus and all facing on the same direction.  Ideally the leader has to have all 9.5 people in the team and this is a useful tool to help shine the light on the team.

The tough question to ask yourself is, what action do you need to take right now?

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Sunday, 30 October 2011

Look After Your Top Performers or Someone Else Will Do It Instead!

Some time ago I had a consultancy assignment with a company running a large door to door sales force and this involved discussions with virtually all 50 of the sales personnel.

It soon became evident that the sales force could be roughly divided into three main sections; high performers (15%), medium performers (70%) and indifferent or poor performers (15%)

The analysis was carried out based on both turnover and the rate of improvement in building their contacts.

It became even more evident that there was an enormous difference in the performance of the top and bottom teams so we initiated some interviews to see if we could isolate the reasons.

In the end, not really to my surprise, it all came down to drive, passion, enthusiasm, dedication, commitment and an overwhelming desire for success or, sadly, the lack of all those desirables.

A learned Vistage speaker once said that the leader should put more effort into working with and encouraging the top performers rather than taking a vast amount of time in trying to improve the poor performers.  It does make sense because probably the best that one can achieve is to move them from poor to mediocre and even that with a great deal of effort.

In the end, we need to accept that we can’t change other people.  The best that we can do it to create an environment in which people can change if they so desire.  The worst of all worlds is to accept poor performance and then tip toe round the problem while making excuses for not biting the bullet.

It all comes down to the strictures of people like Lee Thayer, Ed Ryan, Jim Collins and many other leadership sages all of whom have been saying for years that we need virtuosi, top people, the best that we can find rather than trying to improve poor or even mediocre performers.

Not at all easy, and it starts with the recruitment process.  I have said it before and I guess that I will say it again, that we need to recruit on attitude not skills.  Only by doing that all the time will we build businesses that are both successful and sustainable.

It is your top people who will take you there.  Make sure that it is you that they take there, not someone else.

Visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.vistage.co.uk/chairs/ivan.goldberg
Email: ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk
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Sunday, 23 October 2011

Don’t Hold It All In! Talk to Someone About It!

The more I talk to leaders the more I have come to realise that under that strong, confident, assertive, committed exterior there lies a bubbling mass of insecurity and uncertainty.  Not in every case, it must said, but definitely in many.

It is also remarkable how few leaders understand and accept the situation and then do something about it.  Possibly the reason for inaction is that they don’t really know what to do.

The answer is usually to swallow foolish pride and talk someone else about the matter, what can be done and how best to do it.
The underlying problem is almost invariably one which has been seen before and even if it is absolutely new, which is unlikely, then a sensible discussion with someone can be enormously helpful.  Again, it is curious how often the very act of downloading an issue to a trusted and trustworthy colleague who just listens, can help to solve a problem.
Innately we almost always have the solution to a problem within us; we just don’t want to accept the solution which in many cases can be difficult to accept and achieve.
My several years of experience in Vistage (www.vistage.co.uk) have shown me how powerful the peer group approach can be.  Members with what they consider to be an intractable problem, bring it to the group who are supportive and interested, and what is more, have probably experienced the same in the past.
Add to that the ability to talk to a trusted mentor on a regular one-t-one basis and the leader has a very effective support system to get over those seemingly difficult issues which plague us all from time to time.
The worst thing that the leader can do is to hold it all in and hope that it will go away.  Sometimes it does but mostly it doesn’t and usually goes worse. 
The answer is to grasp the nettle (or bite the bullet), and talk about it to a dedicated listener (or listeners).

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Sunday, 16 October 2011

Change is Inevitable! Be an Enthusiastic Early Adopter!

Two very interesting statistics came to my notice this week:

·       Cities and towns cover 2% of the surface of the planet, 50% of the world population live there, they use 75% of all the energy produced and in turn, they produce 80% of all emissions.

·       Of a total world population of 7billion, 5billion have mobile (cell) phones and there are more than 7billion in use.

Both of these stats exemplify the dramatic changes that have taken place on this planet over the past fifty or so years.  Dramatic isn’t really a strong enough word; extraordinary is probably nearer the truth.

The fact is that the rate of change in the last fifty years has been exponential and this has taken with it the rate of change in the availability of data which is readily available to us via Google and other search engines.

As usual, the gloom mongers and naysayers tell us that the web is a repository of incorrect, dangerous and misleading information and we should therefore treat it with great care and suspicion.  For goodness sake, we have been saying that about newspapers for years so what is so different?

One of the most compelling effects of these changes has been the compression of time; not actually but apparently.  We now expect a response to our communication, probably through text or email, in hours and preferably minutes, whereas even twenty years ago, we had to wait for a snail mail response which could take days if not weeks.

Urgency has shortened, we are constantly distracted by that ping which tells us that another text message or email has arrived and we must read it and reply instantly.

We can see the demise of email, possibly in the next ten years as the use of messaging on social networking sites takes over.  And how long will those social networking sites last before something else arrives out of left field to improve our lives?

None of this is right or wrong, good or bad.  It is simply the reality of the way in which our lives have been changed and it is up to us as to whether is for the better.

Sure, we can contract out if we wish; it is always a matter of choice.  For example, we can change the cities and the environment by moving out and living a simpler, less compressed existence in the country.

The fact is that aspirations and expectations among those currently condemned in any case to live outside the cities will inevitably draw them there to live a more fulfilled existence, as they see it (mostly on TV).

Change is inevitable and while we can always decide not to join that club, change will still happen around us and by definition affect the way we live.  Saying that we are not interested in modern technology is a very King Canute-like approach and just as effective.

By far the best way is to embrace these exciting changes and use them for our benefit.  See you in the queue for the next new Apple.

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Sunday, 9 October 2011

You Don’t Know What is Going On? Talk to Your People!

It has been truly said that great leadership is mostly about building and maintaining relationships so that the leader becomes a real person in the minds of the team.

I recall going into the office of one of my Vistage members and noticing that a flip chart, which had been there for some time, had some seemingly mysterious figures on it.

Intrigued,  I asked what the numbers meant.
“The column on the left is the week number, fairly obviously” he said, “and the other numbers are the unit cost of production of our products, week by week”.
“OK”, I said, “so tell me why the unit cost of production is reducing so significantly from around £7.00 to just over £5.00.  Have you found some sort of magic bullet?”
“There have been no changes in the product” he replied, “No changes in the method of manufacture and virtually no changes in the personnel either.  What seems to have made the difference is that I have started to take time out every day to go on to the shop floor and talk to the operatives – nothing about business, just about them, their families and their interests”.
Significantly he later hired an Operations Director and suggested that he should take over the daily chat and, guess what?  Unit costs went up. 
The whole point was that people wanted to speak to the leader not the stand-in, so he went back to his original plan and improved production resumed.
So what can we learn from the story?   It is a matter of having and showing respect for people in whatever function they happen to be involved.  It has been truly said that every human being has something, some talent, to offer and great leaders develop the ability to draw it out for the benefit of all.
It starts and finishes with respecting the abilities of everyone, whoever they may be and whatever their position, and most importantly demonstrating that respect at all times. 
It used to be called Management by Walking About but it could better be called Management by Building Relationships (If you can think of a more snappy description, let me know)
Talk to your people – you never know what you might learn

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Sunday, 2 October 2011

What Do You Mean, I Can’t? Just Watch Me!

“We can’t plan ahead – there’s too much uncertainty and change out there.  We can only be reactive”
So said a business leader to me this week.    
Ask yourself the question: when can you remember anything but uncertainty out there?   We are in a New Normality again and what is happening is an event that we can’t change so we had better get on with changing ourselves to accommodate it and make the solution work.
The trouble is that out there as well are masses of so-called pundits who are in essence naysayers and gloom mongers.  Just watch, read or listen to the media across the board and all you will hear is what is wrong, and absolutely no sensible ideas of what needs to be changed to put it right.
At the micro level it can be just as debilitating.  It can seem that whatever ideas the leader (or anyone else for that matter) brings forward then out come the naysayers and gloom mongers again.
How often have we heard: “It won’t work”, “There isn’t a market for it”. No-one will be interested” and worst of all, “We tried it before and it didn’t happen that time so why should it happen now
Confidence can be catching but lack of confidence and prophesies of failure can be equally catching.  Winston Churchill said: “Failure is just another step on the road to success”.
A major function of the leader is to engender a feeling of confidence in the people so that even though the prophets of death and destruction will always be with us, their voices are muted and discounted.
That is not to say that over confidence is right – unchecked it could be construed as arrogance; a modicum of reflection and careful thought may just change or modify a plan but that is quite different from what the press used to call “knocking copy”; merely rubbishing without offering a workable solution.  Listen to any opposition (and for that matter some Coalition) politicians right now to hear that happening.
Remember, there are so many people out there who will tell you that you can’t.  So stop, look them in the eye and say: “I can’t?  Just watch me!”.

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Sunday, 25 September 2011

No Time to Spare? Be a Human Being, not a Human Doing!

One of the constant moans that I hear from leaders is that they never have any time to spare and they are always too busy.
The question is: what are they doing with the time that is available to all of us, and why do they not have enough of it?
It is usually a symptom of the “leave it to me – I’ll sort it out” syndrome which means that the leader accepts (and probably enjoys) upwards delegation.  People are usually very happy to get the monkey off their backs and on to someone else’s and the best person to take on that responsibility is, of course, their leader.
The overall result is fire fighting, accepting the tyranny of the urgent and ignoring whether the problem is important or not   If it is neither urgent nor important, then put it on the back burner or ignore it completely.
If it is urgent and important then delegate it to the person who is best competent to deal with it on the basis of monitor progress, measure results, and evaluate together how the outcome was achieved and ask how could it have been improved (if at all).
The one that is the true and sole domain of the leader is the issue which is important but not urgent.  This needs quiet reflection and consideration and demands the valid use of time.  The only person in the business who has to take time out to think is the leader.  If that vital thinking time is absorbed in merely doing things, then any vision of the future will be dulled or even non-existent.
The primary function of the leader is to define the vision and hence the future and that demands the thinking process.

The fact is that many leaders (and many others for that matter) waste vast amounts of valuable time in doing things that are the jobs of other people and should be delegated to them without question.  They then complain about never having enough time for important matters.  Just ask yourself: Whose job am I doing now and why aren’t they doing it?
It isn’t a matter of what leaders do; it is a matter of what they are and how they relate to their people, how they value them and how they constantly encourage them.
To be a human being wastes far less time than being a human doing.  Get other, probably more competent, people to be that.

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Sunday, 18 September 2011

Things Not Going Well in the Business? Get That Winning Mentality!

Vince Lombardi, the legendary and very successful coach of the Green Bay Packers football (American) team was almost as legendary for his long list of pithy quotes.  One of them that I like very much is:

“Winning can become a habit.  Unfortunately so can losing”

He could easily have replaced “winning” and “losing” with “positivity” and “negativity”.  Both of them can be catching.

One of the drivers in Transactional Analysis is the “Be Perfect” drive which can be very painful simply because perfection as such is unattainable.  This driver can make an individual both frustrated and dissatisfied both of which are pretty unhealthy.

I recall a colleague who, when asked how her day had gone, would reply:

“If I had done something differently, which I thought about after the event, it would have been much better”.

Her husband, cleverly, would say:

“Before you decide what didn’t go well, tell me about what did go well”

Again, on one occasion I was waiting for one of my Vistage members in a hotel where we were meeting for his monthly mentoring session and as he came through the door still on his mobile phone, I could see that he was in some turmoil.  He sat down and started to bang on about how difficult people could be and what a problem he had and etc, etc, etc.

I stopped him, said that what I wanted to hear was what had gone really well since I had last seen him and when he had finished telling me that, then h could tell me about his problems.

After some thought and telling me the good news, I asked about his difficulties which had seemed almost overwhelming when he came in.

“Oh, nothing of any significance really” he said.

One of the primary functions of the leader is to help the team to make winning a habit, not necessarily in the sporting sense but more in terms of generating an attitude of mind – the “can do” approach. 

When a leader (or a customer for that matter) asks for something unusual the answer should always be “Yes” and then find out how to achieve it afterwards.

Too often we experience that metaphorical intake of breath, the shaking of the head and the negative response which is always a turn off.  The winning mentality is an attitude of mind and needs to become a habit in everyone in the team.

It is possibly the primary function of the leader to make sure that the winning habit is ingrained into the team. 

Vince Lombardi certainly knew how to do just that.

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Sunday, 11 September 2011

Great Performance and Bad Attitude? A Trouble-Maker or a Maverick?

A few times this week, the perennial problem of the high performer with a bad
attitude has come up in mentoring sessions with my Vistage members.

It is curious how the very mention of the problem can raise a rueful smile and a knowing nod of the head. How many times do we have to face up to this problem before we take action?
The leader needs to take action before the problem becomes truly corrosive.  I know of one situation where a high performer has failed a drugs test.   If the status quo is allowed to continue then other people in the team can logically assume that that behaviour is permitted, or at worst, there is a blind eye turned towards it, so they might as well safely do the same.
But there is a caveat.   I recall that my old sales mentor, Phil Copp, the sage of Wythenshawe (which is a place in Manchester by the way) was consistently the highest sales performer in the company.  On the other hand, he was probably difficult and at times impossible to manage.
He could be the leader of the awkward squad, he was acerbic, he certainly didn’t suffer fools gladly, and he knew that what he was doing didn’t always conform to the demands of the company.  On the other hand, he was dedicated, loyal, committed and always worked for the best solution for his customers.
Many people could have said that he had a bad attitude but in truth, he was actually a maverick.  Vistage speaker Lee Thayer says that leaders need to have virtuosi around them and Phil was certainly a virtuoso.
So what is answer to the vexed question of what to do with that high performing individual with a truly bad attitude?  However painful it may be, the only real solution is to manage them out before the situation around them deteriorates.  However, the leader needs to watch out that mavericks are not tainted with the allegation that their behaviour is a result of a bad attitude.
Sometimes we need people around us who are not always easy to manage, who are not necessarily malleable, but who can and will contribute something that is a little different and which can make a big difference.
PS  I have in the past described the high performer with bad attitude as an internal terrorist.  On this tenth anniversary of the dreadful happenings in New York and Washington on 9/11, it would be both inappropriate and insensitive to use that word in the context of business. 

However, the thrust of the argument and what action to take still stands however we describe it.

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Sunday, 4 September 2011

Teller or Seller? Great Leaders Need to be Both!

Some time ago I went to one of my Vistage members (Managing Director of a significantly sized company) for his one-to-one mentoring session and he greeted me with:

“I’m very concerned.”
“OK” I said, “concerned about what?”
“I think that I am beginning to develop certainties” he said, and sat back looking worried.  I pointed out that developing certainties was unlikely to be terminal and he cheered up a bit.
Some judicious questioning elicited the fact that, as a leader, he felt very conscious of the need to involve his people and indeed had put processes in place to ensure that this happened as far as possible throughout the business.  In other words, that was his preferred management style.
What had happened, of course, was something well known to all leaders when in some frustration and possibly even irritation, he had decided to impose his decision and get the job done, rather than do the decent thing and discuss it with his people before taking action.
All leaders are instinctvely tellers or sellers.  The tellers are the authoritative leaders who hand down decisions from on high, top down, and then expect action and even more so, successful action.  In this environment the blame culture flourishes.
The other type is the seller, a leader who shares ideas and thoughts with his/her team and takes action only when satisfied that everyone has bought into the decision.
The problem for the leader is that certain situations demand that he/she needs to be a teller when all instincts scream out to say “That is not your preferred style!”
We need to realise that it is not as black and white as that.  In fact, there is a continuum from teller to seller and we move, hopefully effortlessly, towards one or another as the situation demands.   
The instinctive style of a seller will keep him/her nearer to that end of the continuum but if some movement towards that of the teller is needed, it is vital to understand that it is not a betrayal of all that is holy.
It is merely an acceptable answer to an immediate need so don’t worry about it.  It is very unlikely to be terminal.
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