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Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Most Valuable Function of a Leader? Great Leaders Create More Great Leaders!

Back to the theme of leadership this week.   

A wise man once said: 

·       “The people want me to be their leader – I must follow them” 

The crux of the matter is that great leaders know that their function is a mixture of both leadership and followership and really great leaders realise that their most important function is the creation of more leaders, not just followers. 

I recall that Andrew Strauss, England cricket captain when they won the Ashes in 2005 (not a good day to mention that this morning!) said that while he was nominally the captain, he actually wanted eleven captains on the field. 

Simply put he wanted to have people on his team who were prepared to take the initiative, to offer thoughts and advice and to work together for the overall success of the team. 

Listen to any discussion about rugby as it is played these days and understand that there are several metaphorical captains on the field; not in name perhaps but certainly de facto. 

For example, there will be a player who leads the pack, someone who leaders the backs and so on.  More often than not these “extra” leaders are not normally appointed as such but they certainly emerge during training or in a match. 

While the business leader has the overall responsibility for determining how the business is run and indeed for its overall performance, when the headcount in the company grows it becomes well nigh impossible to retain that measure of overall contact that is needed. 

Just take a look in any business at how each section or department operates.  Well run and well led departments contribute more to the overall success than is commonly realised and they can be a great training ground for future leaders. 

Far seeing leaders encourage these “extra” leaders to act as mentors for their people and naturally they are in line for promotion as the situation arises. 

The Hopper brothers in their excellent book, “The Puritan Gift” make the point that in the great engines of growth in pre-war America developed “bottom up” management where there was a constant upwards flow of information which enabled the management to make decisions that reflected what was really happening at shop floor level. 

The onset of change in those companies, largely post-war, led to the appointment of financial officers to the highest posts with a consequent change to top down management and in many cases a steady decline in performance. 

As long as answers to those two fundamental questions are constantly transmitted to the people in the business: 

·       How am I doing?
·       Where are WE going? 

then they will understand and accept  that they are involved in a business which knows its purpose, what it is there to do, what it exists to achieve, and as a consequence they will be far more likely to want to be a part of the future of the business. 

It takes an effort of will on the part of leaders and top management to involve their people to this extent but the results can be startling in terms of morale, in terms of involvement and consequently in terms of performance.
 
 
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Sunday, 17 November 2013

Be Kind or You Will Go to Prison! What a Way to Run a Caring Organisation!

Over the past couple of days the media has been awash with the story of the National Health Service and the possible imposition of a five year jail sentence in cases of “wilful neglect”. 

My first reaction was to imagine a meeting at a hospital with the management saying to the assembled doctors and nurses: 

“Unless you are kind to the patients, then you could go to prison!” 

This, by the way, is to members of a caring profession.  What an insult. 

It is all a matter of culture.  There is no way that the NHS, that leviathan, can be changed overall but I am convinced that it is feasible to change the system (without changing the rules) in individual units such as a health centre or a hospital. 

If the leadership at any level is fixated with box ticking (and what idiot thought that one up) then it will be a top down organisation run on the basis of keep your nose clean and keep to the rules. 

The problem is the ingrained blame culture in the NHS and to an extent it is far too prevalent in business in general.  As long as people know or even feel that any mistake will be severely punished then they will keep their heads down and make sure that all the boxes are ticked and they have covered their corporate backside by copying everyone in on emails. 

By the way, this is not a rant about the public sector; it is a plea for a more enlightened approach to running a business or an organisation.  What is even more galling is that it a classic case of attacking the symptom of a problem and not the underlying cause.  That is another insult to the professionalism of the NHS.

The fact is that unless the needs of the consumer of the service (in this case, the patients) are paramount and are the driver behind every decision, then the suits will prevail and nothing will change. 

I am convinced that a good leader in a hospital (and I am sure that there are many of them) will make sure that there is a management team in place that has the patient absolutely at the forefront of everything that goes on.  This, of course, implies that everyone at management level has the same ethos. 

I would suggest that whether public or private, the course is clear.  If that ethos is absent in anyone at management level then they need to move on or out.  There can be no compromise; we hire people for their experience and expertise and we fire them for their attitude.   

If you can’t change the people, change the people. 

Experience and expertise should be a given and should take no more than fifteen or twenty minutes in an interview.  Far more important is the attitude and behaviour of the people. 

The NHS, of which we can be justly proud, is a caring profession and the leader should give everyone whether professional or administrative the opportunity to demonstrate that in their view the patients’ needs are the most important factor in the success of the unit. 

People need to be paid the compliment of assuming that they do care, that they are compassionate, that they do understand the needs of people in an environment outside the normal. 

The problem is that the politicians think that by threatening the people in the NHS they will achieve better care.  What nonsense! 

Engage the people in the NHS, let them demonstrate their inherent compassion, that the patients needs come first, that they truly care for the vocation they have entered and things will change.
 
 
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Sunday, 10 November 2013

Are You a Leader or a Manager? Choose, Because You Can’t be Successful at Both!

In the past couple of weeks I have experienced issues with Vistage members and mentoring clients all of whom are excellent leaders and are having problems in managing managers. 

It can be in both directions: upwards and downwards.  For example in one case my client runs a very large and successful section of a business which has recently lost its overall leader.  The replacement turns out to be an individual who works absolutely “by the book” with virtually no exceptions. 

There seems to be no attempt at flexibility, no consideration of alternative routes, no desire to depart from the rules and regulations.  The consequence is that there is now an imbalance in the relationship, a difficulty in understanding each other’s way of doing business and consequently a potential breakdown in communication. 

This is perhaps an extreme example but it does emphasis the essential difference between the entrepreneurial leader and the professional manager. 

US Vistage speaker, Walt Sutton, says that very few managers per se transfer to being entrepreneurial leaders simply because they feel left out of the day to day which historically had been their preferred milieu. 

Some people are far more comfortable in ensuring that they do the right things, that is, as managers, rather than doing things right which should be the objective of all good leaders.   

It is equally rare for entrepreneurial leaders to become good managers. They may well try and often will want to leap into a situation to sort it out which can lead to minor chaos and lots of toes being trodden on. 

The fact is that most leaders can become managers but generally they are far less efficient and consequently far less effective than the professionals. 

Walt Sutton says that the great unifying principle of this paradox is that great leaders accept, understand and nourish good managers but do not attempt to become one. 

The fact is that the best working model includes both leaders and managers, and better still, great teams, operating in a symbiotic relationship.
The most successful entrepreneurs are usually world class leaders but it must be emphasised that they do not “do the work”.  The work is done by equally talented and committed managers and teams who know the ultimate objectives of the business and who are able to develop and adjust processes and procedures to help get there. 

It is the leader who will be flexible, who says “Get on with it and we’ll sport the paperwork out afterwards” which usually gives pain to the professional manager.  The leader needs to be sparing in flexibility but employ it to the best extent when it is really necessary.
Otherwise, the leader should let the managers get on with running the business and do what great leaders do best; bring in change, help people accept and understand the need for change, drive towards understood and accepted objectives for the business and overall, create a culture in  which people will feel wanted, needed and valued.


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Sunday, 3 November 2013

Want To Be More Positive? Kick The BUT Out Of Your Conversation!

Some months ago my CEO group had a visit from Vistage speaker, John Cremer (www.johncremer.co.uk) for a most entertaining and valuable presentation on the use of Improvisation. 

One of the techniques that John employs is to have two people facing each other, one starting with a statement like “I think we should.....” to which the other person responds with “Yes, and......” followed by the “yes, and.....” etc until the whole thing collapses in helpless mirth. 

Then he changes the rules so that the first and subsequent responses are “Yes, BUT....” and just watch how everything changes. 

In the “Yes And” role play there is brightness, enthusiasm, amusement, and positivity whereas in the “Yes But” scenario, even the body language changes and this is just role play. 

Just listen to almost any interview on the radio these days where the interviewer takes down apparently good news with a “Yes, but...” follow up question. 

It is a question of positivity and frankly, there is far too much negativity both on the radio and also in printed media, in politics and in everyday life. 

Perhaps the long years of bad news about the economy has made us look for even worse news.  If as seems likely the economy is beginning to turn upwards then it behoves all of us to take a more positive view of the situation. 

I recall US Vistage speaker, Edgar Papke, (www.edgarpapke.com) who banned the word “but” from all conversations during his presentation and stopped the discussion if someone backslid.  He asked the miscreant to rephrase the sentence to drop the word. 

The results were dramatic and were substantiated by the results from John Cremer’s presentation.  People really started to realise that they can change the whole aspect of a conversation, either one-to-one or in a group, simply by dropping the “but” word so far as is feasible and sensible. 

It takes an effort of will and concentration to do it and it is well worth giving it a try.  On the face of it a small change like this seems insignificant BUT (notice that its use here leads to a positive result) it is a change that can genuinely lead to a complete turnaround in a discussion. 

Anything becomes possible; “and” is an open invitation to expand on an idea, to develop a thought, to do something positive whereas “but” is simply a put down and a stopper. 

It is a simple and very dramatic change in your approach and will bring significant changes to you and your working life.
 
 
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