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Sunday, 26 February 2017

Leave It To Me, I’ll Do It!

It’s the cry of the leader who just can’t let go, who considers that if he/she dives in to do the job, then it will be done right and, moreover, quickly.

How many times have we heard the cry?  Worse, how many times have we said it ourselves?

I recall a Vistage member some time ago who started a business when he was very young and, perhaps not to his surprise but certainly to everyone else’s, it was successful to the extent that he had developed a (at the time) unique product and sales were beating £2million.  Not bad for a twenty something.

However, not only was he the sole owner, he was the sole leader and consequently everyone reported to him.  In addition, sales had started to flatten out. 

The inevitable happened.  He started to experience “upward delegation”, that phenomenon which moves the monkey from one back to another and preferably to that of the leader.

To give him his due he had read some books on management and he decided that he would have to build a management team if he were to grow the business so he recruited.

He told me: “I was fed up with being nagged for decisions all the time so I decided that we would have a Sales Director, an Operations Director and a Finance Director.  What is more, I accepted that they wouldn’t do the job as well as I could but I had to accept that.”

“In fact, arrogant as I was” ,he said, “I persuaded myself that even if they did the job only half as well as I could, then it would be worth while”.

So what happened?” I asked him

Slightly shamefaced, he said “I soon discovered that not only did they do their job as well as I could, they were actually far better because they were dealing with their own function, in which they were expert, and I had to do it all and learn how to do it at the same time”.

The company went on to grow by about 700% and he bought a Ferrari and a boat in Italy.

And the moral is?   As we say in Vistage, “No-one is as smart as all of us”.
Building a business is a matter of building a team of like-minded individuals all of whom have the same objective, to make the business successful.

Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great, says that we need to get the right people on the bus and all facing in the same direction.  US Vistage speaker Lee Thayer says that we need to employ only virtuosi and someone on Facebook said recently: “Appoint or recruit the best possible people then get out of their way and let them get on with it.”

In the end it’s a matter of trust.  It is arrogant to assume that we know more, are better at, are better trained, are more competent and so on.

Try it out and you may well find that there are people already in the business who are manifestly talented and we might well be suppressing them to the extent that they could easily leave to find a slot where they are valued.

Get your people policy right and you might just finish up with a Ferrari and a boat in Italy.


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Sunday, 19 February 2017

It’s Groundhog Day – Again? Again? Again?

Strange how things never change or as the French say “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I saw a nice quotation recently which said:

“Children nowadays are tyrants, they contradict their parents, gobble their food and tyrannise their teachers”.

The Education Secretary?  The Shadow Education Secretary?  No, it was Socrates in 425 BCE.

Plus ca change etc.   So how is all this relevant to today and to business as we know it?

It seems to me that it all comes down to learning from our experience and on the face of it, we are not too successful.   Had we been, then recessions and financial crashes would be a thing of the past, we would have learnt about the futility of war, and most importantly, our lives would be far more ordered.

A previous mother-in-law of mine used to start her homily with “If you’ll take my advice, in my experience.......” which of course irritated the hell out of both my wife and me because we wanted to gain our own experience.  Perhaps it would be by trial and error but it was ours and not someone else’s.

We always say that we don’t learn from our successes, only from our failures and perhaps we need to assess consciously how we can put that into practice.  

It is all down to a reluctance to accept change, to accept that the status quo is the easiest alternative to presumed chaos, that the peaceful life is our main objective.

Change means that we go through a process of denial and denigration, of organised chaos and finally rebirth and regeneration.   The danger is always that we eventually subside back into the comfort zone where change is seen as a problem not an opportunity.

Implementation of any changes in the business needs to be done with that inherent reluctance in mind so that the benefits of any change are emphasised. Great communication is the answer and that together with as much transparency as can be given will deal with the fear factor.  Remember that communication as well as being two-way is also a short-term exercise so there needs to be constant repetition.

American presidential candidates in years past used to travel the country in a train and would stop to appear on the back of the carriage and make a stump speech.  This would normally be exactly the same wherever he stopped.

Nowadays it is translated as an elevator speech when telling people what our job is or what our business does in a few well-chosen words.

Prepare an elevator speech of no more than fifteen words or seven seconds that will encourage and energise the people and keep on saying it. 

Incidentally do you know how many Jewish mothers are needed to change a light bulb?  “Just the one but don’t worry about me darling, I don’t mid sitting in the dark, I know you’re busy”.


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Sunday, 12 February 2017

Some Team Member Becoming Mutinous? It’s Time for Confrontation!

A couple of cases recently have brought to mind the occasional need for leaders to be more assertive in their relationships with some people in the business.

Leaders need to be more assertive?  Are you kidding, I hear you say?

Not at all.  It is very surprising how diffident leaders in business can be when it comes to dealing with even slightly difficult members of the team.

First things first.  If the leader has an inclusive and collaborative relationship with senior members of the team which is always desirable, rather than any “top down” direction then that freedom can from time to time be abused or at least tested.

If we give our people the freedom to express themselves then we must expect occasionally for strange concepts and ideas to be expressed and sometimes forcefully.

Leaders need to lay down ground rules of behaviour that should be an integral part of the statement of values that underpin the whole of the ethos and culture of the business.

There is a fine line to be drawn between disagreement and outright mutiny.  We should welcome some disagreement from time to time because that will engender debate whereas mutiny implies entrenched positions that are unacceptable.

The two cases in mind are different but the answer is much the same.  In one case the team member has started to express strong opinions about his role and responsibilities that run counter to the needs of the business and he is becoming a problem.  Focus on specific activities is what is needed, not a radical change in his functions.

In the other case a small department, that to some extent has legacy issues, mutely and deliberately refuses to do as the leader directs and visibly does what they think is required and what they obviously prefer to do.

There comes a time when the leader has to exert or at least assert authority for the greater good of the business. This can often run counter to the innate instincts of the leader and can lead to that often feared situation - confrontation.

It really is curious how many outwardly strong and confident leaders are reluctant to confront difficult situations and difficult people. Not surprising therefore that some situations can run on and on and get out of hand.

Most people in the business know full well when one of the team is becoming a problem and it can cause friction when there is no action.  One of our Vistage speakers from the USA says that after visibly taking action you can expect people to say: “What took you so long?”

At some stage a solution is essential and only the leader can make that decision.  However, confrontation can be achieved in different ways primarily by assertiveness or by aggression.

My great friend and renowned Vistage speaker, Lynn Leahy, taught me long ago that there is a huge difference between being assertive and being aggressive.

Assertiveness assumes that instructions are given with respect to the feelings of the team member whereas an aggressive approach rides roughshod over anyone’s feelings just to get the job done.

What is required in both these cases is assertiveness, a firmness of approach that permits no discussion but only a change in attitude and an acceptance on the part of the individual of the needs of the business.


It is called “biting the bullet” or “grasping the nettle” and is a necessary and hopefully seldom needed part of the armoury of leadership.  There comes a time, however, when it must be done.


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Sunday, 5 February 2017

Dealing With Your People Too Harshly? Try a Touch of Kindness!

I had a curious and memorable series of events occur to me last week.  Those of you who know me are aware that I no longer can drive due to failing eyesight and I now generally use taxis for local trips.

One of the members of my Vistage CEO peer group was visiting for his monthly one-to-one mentoring session and kindly offered to give me a lift to the local supermarket afterwards.

The shopping having been done I rocked up at the checkout and started to open the bag that I had for a change remembered to bring with me.  Somewhat to my surprise a gentleman took over and started to help to pack the groceries into the bag.  He said with a big cheerful grin: “Now that I have retired I have to find things to do”.  I thanked him for his kindness, paid the checkout and went on my way.

I was just telephoning for a taxi when a lady who lives very close to us came over asked if she could give me a lift home.

Three acts of kindness within the space of a couple of hours and they really made my day.  Is that because acts of kindness are rare or just because so many had happened to me?

It was brought to mind again recently by the excellent “In Business” programme on BBC Radio 4 when presented Peter Day interviewed several people who had experienced kindness being shown to them in their businesses for apparently altruistic reasons.

For example a well known author had written some advertising copy for a woman who was in a start-up business marketing unusual and rare teas, and there was a taxi driver who had shown kindness to several deserving people without thought of reward.

Classic examples of old fashioned leadership invariably include plenty of loud shouting and a hard man approach to personal relationships.  There is little doubt that more sensible and intelligent methods are taking the place of that authoritarianism.

Indeed the great families who built sustainable businesses like Cadbury and Lever Brothers realised the power of kindness to the people they employed and actually built villages for them with all the necessary amenities.

Yes, there was method there and they knew that a happy workforce is less likely to give trouble but nevertheless acts of individual kindness were evident and normal.

The fact is that modern thinking leaders accept that everyone deserves the respect and courtesy of being treated as human beings, that people are not just numbers or cannon fodder but rather that they all have something of value to offer.

To show kindness without the thought of reward may be rare in business but if we are to grow away from the authoritarian neo-bullying approach to a more inclusive and sensitive form of leadership then voluntary and indeed involuntary acts of kindness will and should become a major part of the canon.

Moreover the great Judeo-Christian religions say that acts of kindness evinced by giving charity should always be anonymous so that there is no other self-aggranising reason for giving.

J M Barrie wrote:

“Always be a little kinder than necessary” and that encapsulates it for me.


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