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Sunday, 30 July 2017

People Reluctant To Learn? The Key Is Self-Motivation!

In my early days of leadership I ran a small subsidiary of a large corporate in which we specialised in supplying sports surfaces and equipment.

As my sporting activities were severely limited to to very average hockey and slightly more average table tennis, the fact that we were manufacturing athletics artificial track, artificial ski slopes and marketing ski equipment there was something of a knowledge gap.

Accordingly we retained consultants who did know what they were about and I had the pleasure of getting to know people like Ron Pickering, a renowned athletics coach and broadcaster and John Shedden, possibly the best British ski instructor and later the Director of Coaching for the National Ski Federation of Great Britain.

John is a brilliant coach with many very happy clients both in Europe and the U.K.   He worked with individuals as well as families and groups and it was probably their enthusiasm that encouraged him to take up teaching as a career.

He went to University, graduated and got his first job in a tough school in Liverpool where he met, possibly for the first time, young people with a marked reluctance to conform to the wishes of authority. I forgot to mention that he also had a black belt martial arts and that helped to say the least.

None of this implied that his methods were wrong, it is just that unless people actively want to learn then we might as well try to push boulders uphill.

The fact was that while his clients were delighted with him his students (and I use the word reluctantly) considered that they had better things to do. Very few people are autodidactic and those that are will generally be voracious learners.

There are a few educational geniuses who are able through force of personality perhaps to turn reluctant youth into enthusiastic learners and they are to be applauded.

However, all speakers, presenters, trainers and the like know that feeling when we see someone sitting in the audience, arms folded, and looking resentful because they had been SENT to today’s event.

Motivational speakers of which there are legion can offer great advice as to how to motivate people but under analysis it is a very difficult outcome to achieve.

It is almost arrogant to suggest that we can motivate people. The best that we can offer is to give them a culture and environment in which they can motivate themselves to study and learn, should they so desire.

This is not a negative approach.  In fact it is extremely positive and many leaders can attest to great success.  In the end, however, motivation is a strictly personal attribute and self-motivation is the key.  Nobody motivated me to start this blog nearly eight years ago and now I realise that it wouldn’t appear unless I am constantly  self-motivated to continue.  

How then do we develop that enthusiasm in our teams that enable us to develop and grow the business?

Simple really.  First of all make sure that you have  very best people in key positions, give them freedom to make decisions, learn from mistakes and failures, use reprimand as infrequently as possible, give praise and reward (other than financially) as often as possible and have sufficient humility to accept that some people actually know better than we do.

It is a matter of culture and it can readily be measured by the rate of attrition in the team.  A high retention rate can indicate a desire to succeed in the business and that is a great metric.


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People Reluctant To Learn? The Key Is Self-Motivation!

In my early days of leadership I ran a small subsidiary of a large corporate in which we specialised in supplying sports surfaces and equipment.

As my sporting activities were severely limited to to very average hockey and slightly more average table tennis, the fact that we were manufacturing athletics artificial track, artificial ski slopes and marketing ski equipment there was something of a knowledge gap.

Accordingly we retained consultants who did know what they were about and I had the pleasure of getting to know people like Ron Pickering, a renowned athletics coach and broadcaster and John Shedden, possibly the best British ski instructor and later the Director of Coaching for the National Ski Federation of Great Britain.

John is a brilliant coach with many very happy clients both in Europe and the U.K.   He worked with individuals as well as families and groups and it was probably their enthusiasm that encouraged him to take up teaching as a career.

He went to University, graduated and got his first job in a tough school in Liverpool where he met, possibly for the first time, young people with a marked reluctance to conform to the wishes of authority. I forgot to mention that he also had a black belt martial arts and that helped to say the least.

None of this implied that his methods were wrong, it is just that unless people actively want to learn then we might as well try to push boulders uphill.

The fact was that while his clients were delighted with him his students (and I use the word reluctantly) considered that they had better things to do. Very few people are autodidactic and those that are will generally be voracious learners.

There are a few educational geniuses who are able through force of personality perhaps to turn reluctant youth into enthusiastic learners and they are to be applauded.

However, all speakers, presenters, trainers and the like know that feeling when we see someone sitting in the audience, arms folded, and looking resentful because they had been SENT to today’s event.

Motivational speakers of which there are legion can offer great advice as to how to motivate people but under analysis it is a very difficult outcome to achieve.

It is almost arrogant to suggest that we can motivate people. The best that we can offer is to give them a culture and environment in which they can motivate themselves to study and learn, should they so desire.

This is not a negative approach.  In fact it is extremely positive and many leaders can attest to great success.  In the end, however, motivation is a strictly personal attribute and self-motivation is the key.  Nobody motivated me to start this blog nearly eight years ago and now I realise that it wouldn’t appear unless I am constantly  self-motivated to continue.  

How then do we develop that enthusiasm in our teams that enable us to develop and grow the business?

Simple really.  First of all make sure that you have  very best people in key positions, give them freedom to make decisions, learn from mistakes and failures, use reprimand as infrequently as possible, give praise and reward (other than financially) as often as possible and have sufficient humility to accept that some people actually know better than we do.

It is a matter of culture and it can readily be measured by the rate of attrition in the team.  A high retention rate can indicate a desire to succeed in the business and that is a great metric.


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Sunday, 23 July 2017

Experiencing Indifferent Behaviour? Maybe It’s Time For Tough Love!

There comes a time in the life of every leader when we come to an “if all else fails” decision and that is usually when we have exhausted every possible route to bring an incalcitrant member of the team back on board.

It isn’t necessarily an attitude issue, it isn’t necessarily a performance issue.

It is often a product of enthusiasm linked to a lack of organisational abilities and it can cause lots of confusion and even havoc in the team.

Given that the member has been and continues to be a valuable contributor with somewhat of a behaviour problem, there comes a time when action needs to be taken.

Please note, bad attitude is totally unacceptable.  Bad behaviour can be corrected given that the individual has enough honesty to realise the shortcomings.

Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, was equally legendary for his quotes, one of which was:

“I want you to be fired with enthusiasm, because if you aren’t, then you will be fired – with enthusiasm”.

He took a failing team and during his tenure they won five out of eight Super-Bowls.

Another of his quotes was

“The only place where success comes before work, is in the dictionary”.

Question – did he love his teams and did they love him? You bet they did even if they were probably terrified of him.

There is a vital difference between authoritarianism and assertiveness.  The true leader understands the need to accept and even tolerate some people because of their abilities without accepting disruption and without taking an aggressive stance.

Here in the UK possibly the most successful football manager ever is Sir Alex Ferguson and no-one could ever say about him that he is a gentle soul. The stories about him are legion and the dressing room echoed many times to the sound of his fury, not to mention the notorious hair dryer.

Again, how do his people see him? Manchester United, love them or hate them, have always had a culture of togetherness and if anyone bucks that trend then their time with the club tends to be  limited. The departure of some high profile players over the years is testament to that fact.

On the other hand ask anyone who has experienced Sir Alec in the background.  They will tell you that he knows everyone’s name, speaks to everyone and is always approachable.

The easy way out, of course, is to go with the flow and hope that people will conform. Generally they don’t and it is the leader who gives firm direction with respect who succeeds.

The tough leaders engender respect while giving honest, fair and consistent feedback to their people and the most significant of those talents is probably consistency.

Most importantly, not only do they earn the respect of their people, they GIVE respect back to them and that can be the most motivating criterion of all.


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Sunday, 16 July 2017

Living In The Past? Live Now And Go Bravely Into The Future!

June 2017 was an emotional time for me as, somewhat to my surprise, I reached my 25th anniversary as a Vistage group chair.  

It was a very heartwarming time and perhaps I may be excused a little personal reflection.

I am eternally grateful for the constant support of my wife Hilary, my wonderful Vistage groups, chair colleagues and everyone at Vistage UK not to mention the combined efforts of the National Health Service and the pharmaceutical industry.

An anniversary like this can set off an orgy of hoary reminiscence and that can be excessively boring so I have avoided it. Apart from mentioning that I have been involved in over 3,500 one-to-one mentoring sessions and heard more than 400 speaker presentations I have kept well away from looking back, as far as I can, that is.

That is not to say that we all have happy memories and why ever not recall them to give us pleasure.  

The past, good, bad or irrelevant, will always be with us and the trick is to use it as a tool, not as a comfort blanket.   We can’t change what has happened and there are too many people who live in a world of “if only…..”.

The brilliant Israeli-American psychologist, Dr Amos Tversky with his colleague Dr Daniel Kahneman evolved a theory that proposed a link between decision making and feelings of regret.  On the basis that we feel regret at a poor decision, one that could have been more adventurous or even our inability to make a decision the conjunction seems logical.

The point is that regret, if it is evident, is a product of our past and we need to harness the vast amount of knowledge and experience that we keep in the database we call memory. Regret is a useless emotion unless we use it solely as a learning experience. Otherwise it can eat us up in the certain knowledge that nothing can be done to  change the situation.

The equation E+R=O (event plus response equals outcome) encapsulates the position precisely. The event has passed and nothing can be done to change it. However the response to an event is absolutely in our own hands and we can always affect the outcome for the best given some careful thought.

I believe that instinct or gut-feeling is actually our rational brain searching out memory bank for previous experience that can colour our response to any event and that says, trust your feelings.

We all know the mantra that says we learn from the past, we live in the present and we plan for the future (or at least, should in all cases) but how often do we get them out of kilter.  The worst alternative is to live in the past and hope for either more of it or some way that it can be altered for the better..

What can be changed is our reaction and response to the past so that the path to the future will be, if not exactly flower strewn, at least one that we have planned positively.

We shouldn’t  live our lives by walking bravely backwards into the future with our eyes firmly fixed on the past.

Live life forwards.  My next anniversary, G-d willing,  will be my Vistage CEO group’s 25th birthday in June 2018 and I am starting the planning right now.

Thank you to everyone who have been so kind in their comments, messages and calls.  I never realised that I had so many great friends.


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Sunday, 9 July 2017

If It Looks Right It Will Fly!

In my technical consulting days I was appointed to an assignment with a large engineering company. Their problem was that they manufactured straddle carriers for stacking dockside containers and they were rather concerned that they kept failing resulting in some flat dock workers.

In the approved manner I did all the static and dynamic loading checks and came to the conclusion that the suspension chains were under-engineered and hence kept failing especially under dynamic loading.

To make sure I took my friend George to have a look at a straddle carrier in action locally. George, balding, hunched as usual in his gabardine raincoat and inevitably smoking his pipe took a look, shook his head, took another look and said:

“You're right Ivan, it doesn't look right to me".

That was enough for me. While the calculations had given me the answer, the real answer came from a lifetime of experience and knowledge. This was true experience and George was able to give an opinion simply by drawing on that experience and knowing deep down that something just wasn't right.

On another occasion I was working with some executives who had been made redundant during an earlier recession and one of them claimed to be an accountant. It soon transpired that he was floundering so I dug a little into his background.

He had qualified all right and then had been made head of Purchase Ledger department in a large company.  His experience over 25 years was actually one year's experience replicated 25 times.

Kenneth and Will Hopper, in their brilliant book The Puritan Gift, talk about "domain knowledge", that vital component that can only be developed in a company that typically promotes from within and, among other criteria, treats promotion as a reward for great performance. The "science" of management has to be learned and the best place to learn it is as one moves up through the levels of the business.

Under certain circumstances it is inevitable that a vacancy can only be filled from outside the business for example in the case of a new function where there is no experience internally or when there is no-one in the organisation ready for promotion.

Nevertheless taking what may seem to be a risk and promoting someone who may still be short of some experience can often result in a surprising and  happy outcome.

The key is that if they have the right attitude and importantly that domain knowledge that says they know how the business works, its culture and how they do things, then it can be surprisingly successful.

In my early apprentice days in the aircraft industry we had a Chief Designer whose constant mantra was:

"If it looks right, it'll fly!"

Whether it is aircraft or people, that is  a classic example of confident "domain knowledge”.


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Sunday, 2 July 2017

You’re Entitled To What? Take Some Personal Responsibility!

The turmoil and tumult of the past couple of weeks have led me to the deeper realisation that in the majority of cases immigration has much to offer this country and indeed has brought great benefits over many years.  We are beginning to understand slowly that we need willing hands to assist in so many areas of the economy and pre-Brexit concerns are apparently slowing the flow of people wanting to come here to work.

I heard an economist saying recently that in order to continue to maintain the growth in GDP we will need at least 160,00 more people to be employed and most of that will have to come from immigration.  Significantly there seems to be the start of a slowdown.

It brought to mind the experiences of my grandfather who, in the 1870s, was sent by his parents to England from Poland, at the age of 15, to escape the prevailing persecution.

Unescorted and unable to speak English, he travelled by horse and cart, train and eventually a ship, with a label attached to his coat bearing an address in Manchester where some relations lived having come to England a few years before.

Miraculously he arrived safely, survived and made a new life in this country which he adored.  When I knew him he was a voracious reader, had taught himself English as well as Hebrew, Latin and Greek and was making a somewhat tenuous living as a tailor.

In all his 80-odd years he paid his taxes, never asked the state for anything and, indeed, never expected anything.  He was an intensely fulfilled individual who had survived through his own efforts and had made a happy life in this country having married and raised a family of five children.

A recent broadcast by a “community” leader complained that the state was not helping them and that they needed more assistance.  My grandfather would have been totally bemused by this; what can the state do to help people if they don’t make an effort to help themselves first?  Unquestionably there will always be a proportion of the population that through disability or sickness need assistance and it is right that the state is always there as a helping backstop.

If we consider the situation in business, much the same criteria apply.  To employ people who spend their time whingeing and moaning, constantly complaining and in “something needs to be done about it” mode, is depressing and corrosive for other members of the team.

We need to give our people the freedom to express themselves, to encourage initiative and decision making and to ensure that if anything goes awry, then it is looked upon as a learning challenge not a case for reprimand.

We need to get away from the “it’s my right” syndrome and encourage the “it’s my responsibility” attitude.

That way we can start to make headway into a new positive post- Brexit start for the country and for business in general.


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