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Sunday, 28 July 2013

Prefer Living In The Past? There’s No Future In It!


Being an avid collector of pithy sayings I was pleased to hear one last week which tickled me somewhat.  It was during a rather bizarre interview with Len Goodman, judge on Strictly Come Dancing, during the lunch interval of the Ashes Test at Lords and he casually dropped into the conversation: 

·       “The older we get, the better it used to be” 

I thought it gently amusing until I got serious and began to look at it in rather more detail.  What it says, of course, is that the old days were better and everything has gone downhill ever since.  What is more, as we age, the pull of the old days becomes even more appealing. 

That has been a recurring theme probably since the beginnings of time and it is about as useful as anything else relating to the “good old days”. 

I suppose that one of the problems of ageing is that in many cases the outlook becomes limited and encompassed by reduced mobility and lack of normal contact with the outside world plus an increasing resistance and dislike of change. 

I know that if I am in the company of people of my generation it is fatal to ask anyone “How are you?” because one is likely to have a full recital of the current medical condition with a complete rundown of the medication involved including all the side effects. 

As we age, by definition our experience increases and really ought to be transformed into expertise in some manner so that it can be used and exploited (n the nicest possible way). 

Older people have great opportunities to use and give of their experience (without being dogmatic or laying down the law) and to offer it to any community which would value it. 

Volunteering is a great way to give something back to any community such as a charity and retired business people have a lot to offer in this respect. 

The fact is, of course, that the old days were not necessarily good but it is pleasant to look back and remember, albeit inaccurately, that all the summers were sunny and hot, and that the winters gave us enough snow for perpetual sledging. 

If we are truly honest about the past we would accept that our standard of living was far lower than it is today even if the way we lived then was simpler and less frantic. 

Naturally as we age there is likely to be more to look back at than there is to look forward to, but heaven preserve us from those who march bravely backwards into the future with their eyes fixed firmly on the past while wearing rose-coloured spectacles. 

The fact that we are becoming more mature should never prevent us from looking forward positively into the future because that is where we are all going.  The past is immutable and we can learn from it.  The present is where we are and we should give thanks for being there, and for the ability to plan for the future irrespective of how long that will be. 

Things were not necessarily better in the past but they were certainly different and the way in which we live these days is dramatically different from the time “when I were a lad”.   

I reckon times are pretty good these days and we should be constantly grateful for the chance to experience all the advantages of life in the 21st century.  Whatever - it’s a lot better than the alternative.
 
 
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Sunday, 21 July 2013

How Effective is Your Networking? Get Out There and Meet People!


The whole question of leadership is predicated on the leader’s ability to understand and work with a set of unique individuals with the objective of melding them into a successful and co-operative team. 

While undeniably every one of us is unique, there is a latent desire to conform and to join with others who have the same objectives, interests and ethos as we do.  We call them like minded. 

It is an odd paradox; even though we claim to be, indeed are, unique individuals we still possess the herding instinct and that probably goes back in the psyche deep into the mists of time. 

Just consider it; we join sports clubs, we join political parties, we join social clubs, we go to the pub, we join business peer groups and we join social media groups, among many others. 

The need to congregate and to be with other people goes deeply into our very being.  Primitive man and woman gathered together for mutual support.    Today what we in the west patronisingly refer to as tribalism is strong in Africa, the Middle and Far East. 

Why don’t we accept that that same “tribalism” is just as prevalent in so-called developed countries?  It is now disguised as sectarianism and the effect is exactly the same. 

The fact is that we like to have a group of similar thinking people around us although sometimes the result has been disastrous as in a succession of dictatorships across the world. 

So what has this got to do with business, I hear you ask?   The fact is that this tendency to gathering together has become an integral part of business life especially in the sphere of networking. 

We all network in one way or another and to do it formally through organised groups is a great way to meet people.  In fact, it is now suggested that the very act of networking drives the economy in a positive way. 

Author and economist Paul Ormerod (http://www.paulormerod.com) in his new book, Positive Lining: How Networks Can Revolutionise the World, defines networks as:  how people, firms, things are connected to each other, and how different ways in which they are connected have different implications”. 

Furthermore, he suggests that “the properties of systems as a whole emerge from the interactions of their component parts. These are systems in which the whole is more than the sum of the parts”. 

Whether we realise it or not, in business we operate in a succession networks and at many different levels.  On the surface, we tend to consider the network as a potential opportunity for business growth but in fact, the effect is far more wide ranging. 

Input to network can be just as rewarding and business resulting from contacts simply because it is frequently a matter of “casting thy bread on the waters”.  The key is not to network only to obtain direct business but to build relationships which can, in the longer term, positively affect business growth. 

Some companies and many professional practices generate the majority of their business through active and indeed ferocious networking and they understand the value of making relevant contacts. 

Sadly there are many who do not understand how networking can materially affect the business in a really positive way and discount it as a fad or “not for us”. 

Remember the Vistage mantra: “No-one is as smart as all of us” and while this was derived originally for the concept of peer groups it applies just as effectively for building real and valuable networks of like minded people
 
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Sunday, 14 July 2013

It’s a Summer of Sport and It’s a Metaphor for Leadership!


At long last it seems like summer has arrived and there is a very difficult decision to make; do I work in the office, bask in the unaccustomed sunshine or do I retreat inside to watch the vast array of sport coverage on TV? 

There was no discussion last weekend, of course, and we all (17.9 million of us) played every ball with Andy and cheered him for the worthy winner that he was. 

As far as possible I jumped from Wimbledon to ITV4 to watch another great sporting occasion, the Tour de France and again a Briton was carrying the flag or at least wearing the race leader’s maillot jaune, the yellow jersey. 

Apart from the excitement and the pleasure of watching, albeit with a touch of envy, there are so many lessons to be learnt for business leaders. 

In all the excitement of Andy’s great achievement, and remember that he won in straight sets against the world number one, the role of Ivan Lendl, his coach, has not been exactly overemphasised. 

Since Lendl joined the Murray team Andy’s performance has noticeably changed and for the better.  A couple of years ago he seemed at times overburdened by the responsibility of being the only truly talented British male tennis player.  Unforced errors led to internal rants and a visible dropping of the shoulders. 

Since Lendl has been his coach, Andy’s whole demeanour has changed.  He is more mature in his approach, more controlled in his reactions, playing each point on its merits, and with a visible steely determination to win.  Add to that the significant and demonstrable change in his fitness levels all show the effect that the coach has had on his performance. 

Lendl has been a great champion in his own right but he says that when Andy is on court he plays the shots and there is nothing that the coach can do.  What he can and definitely does do is to instill in his charge a determination and will to win, and that shows in the change in the Wimbledon champion. 

Reverting to the Tour de France, there is a marked difference in that it is very much a team exercise while in tennis, like golf, you are on your own when in action.  Cycling in the Tour demands great leadership both on the road and in the dressing room and the Sky Team has Sir David Brailsford behind them. 

The Tour is an exercise (and I really mean exercise) in tactics right throughout every stage.  Each member of each team has a specific job to do whether it is protecting the team leader, climber, lead out or sprinter and the objective is to ensure that the leader wears the yellow jersey right through to Paris. 

Both sports offer important metaphors for business.  They emphasise the need for enlightened and active coaching either on the job or behind the scenes, and furthermore, they show what can be achieved with great leadership and equally great team spirit. 

The key is to know your objectives and then to make sure that you achieve them, either on your own or with a dedicated team.
 
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Sunday, 7 July 2013

How Good a Coach Are You? You Need to Ask the Right Questions!

Ever had a “light bulb” moment?  That time when you hear something and immediately realise that it was there all the time and you just hadn’t noticed it?  I experienced just such a moment during the recent Vistage UK National Chair meeting participating in a coaching workshop led by the excellent Carole Gaskell (www.fullpotentialgroup.com)
 
We were exploring the subject of questioning which is central to good coaching and especially the need to major on the open questions rather than the closed.  Open questions start with Who, Why, What, When, How and Where and to quote Eric Morecambe, not necessarily in that order. 

In fact the starters can be split into two sections; those generating transactional answers and those bringing on transformation. 

In simple terms, Who, Where and When can be defined as transactional in that the person being coached is initially likely to concentrate on the superficial level of the issue.  There is no harm in starting with this technique of course as very often the context needs to be explored in some detail. 

However, at the next stage we need to drill down to establish whether what is being described is the real issue.  It is surprising how frequently the headline changes during a coaching session and using the transformational starter words, this can often be achieved. 

The starter words are Why, What and How all of which help the coachee (there must be a better word!) to go deeper into the issue.  Carole has a strong belief that Why should be avoided as it can lead to justification, rationalisation and sometimes just waffle as well as tending to sound aggressive. 

We differ on that point.   Careful, and I do mean careful, use of Why can help to drill down into a problem and can lead to another cliché, peeling the onion.  An alternative is to use “and what else?” as an encouragement to open up and accept for reality. 

In fact, all of this is yet another GBO, a Glimpse of the Blindingly Obvious, but when we are coaching people or even in a discussion, do we really ask the questions that can and should lead to the other person digging deep and finding the right answer, which may be painful?  Certainly the light went on for me. 

One of my CEO group members says that we always know the answer to a problem but don’t want to admit it until it is brought out into the light by a competent coach. 

All of this leads to the reminder that an important part of the leadership function is that of coach to the team and some form of coaching training can help the leader to polish his/her technique. 

There is a line leading from coaching through mentoring to consultancy and I believe that the best position for a leader in business on that continuum is somewhere between coaching and mentoring. 

However, successful coaching is a two way function.  Coaching cannot be imposed to someone who doesn’t want to be there.  The result can be resentment, defensiveness, irrationality and makes the whole thing a general waste of time for both sides.   

Watch out for what the psychologists call cognitive dissonance; the knowledge that a poor decision has been made but it is defended to the death.  Politicians are very adept at that.  Your people should be encouraged to be open, honest and transparent in their answers with a strong emphasis on confidentiality. 

Great coaching doesn’t only depend on the sensitive and forensic questioning; it demands listening and a demonstration of interest from the coach.  Listening is not just hearing; it is hearing with an intellectual input leading to an output of value. 

All senior people on the team should act as coaches to their people.  Ask yourself, how good are they, and you for that matter? (and thank you Carole for that light bulb moment)
 
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