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Sunday, 24 December 2017

Great Performance and Bad Attitude? A Maverick or a Troublemaker?

A few times lately the perennial problem of the high performer with a bad attitude has come up in mentoring sessions with members of my Vistage CEO peer group.

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 we 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 and the business.

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.

On the other hand in my days running an engineering company my colleague hired a salesman for an area in the Midlands.  I asked him about the newcomer and he said that everything he had discovered about his sales ability was excellent and his experience was just what we needed.  I asked what sort of personality was he and he said: “Horrible!".

My colleague (an accountant by the way) felt that the newcomer’s experience and ability would overcome his objectionable persona.  He lasted about six weeks during which he upset most of the internal staff and we started to have customers calling us to say: “Don’t let that idiot come here again” and other similar compliments.

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.

US Vistage speaker Ed Ryan asks who does it take us eighteen months to get rid of someone we interviewed for90 minutes?  Shakespeare said in Macbeth: “If t’were done, t’were better done quickly” and he knew what he was talking about.

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. When we remember 9/11 and the attacks in London, Paris, Manchester and many more it would be both inappropriate and insensitive to use that word in the context of business.  However, the thrust of the argument still stands.

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Sunday, 17 December 2017

Do You Really Need That New Device or Do You Just Want It?

I have always been a devotee of music in the widest sense raging from Mozart and the baroque composers through 1930s/40s big bands, flamenco, New Orleans jazz and the Rolling Stones. If I weren’t Jewish you might call it catholic taste.

I heard a Stones track the other day and actually listened to the lyrics for a change. It encompasses for me a great philosophy for  today’s living.

“You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try you  might find you get what you need”

Some years ago at a presentation by top Vistage speaker, Nigel Risner, we went into buddy mode and asked each other “What do you want?”  Nothing else, just “What do you want?

I heard the pair next to us going through the usual “Ferrari and a boat in the South of France” routine and half an hour later one of them was crying.

The issue is that we can easily interchange want and need especially when we are seduced by marketing glitz and glamour. Fashion is a fickle friend and how many of us have in the wardrobe fashionable clothes that we have never worn.

We wanted them for some unaccountable emotional reason but we certainly didn’t need them.  Before I am accused of preaching I confess to being an impulse shopper so you can imagine some of the rubbish that I have accumulated over the years.

Once again Dr Steve Peters comes to our aid. The crux of the matter is that Want is essentially driven by our emotions while Need tens to be driven more on rational criteria.  Not always of course because over the years  the availability and popularity of a mass of products has encouraged us to look upon them as essential and therefore are a need rather than a want.

The mobile phone is a classic case in point.  My first venture involved a brick shaped article which had to be plumbed into the car with a vast transmitter/receiver in the boot (trunk for anyone in the US).

It operated solely as a telephone and overall was pretty good.  Its disadvantages were its clumsy design and the fact that it could only be used in the car. Nowadays using a mobile in the car can be a criminal offence!

In a comparatively short space of time we now have the smart phone in all its glory with a multitude of available facilities that we don’t use.

Indeed an assistant at a mobile phone emporium once complained to me that he was being expected to sell cameras that could also make telephone calls.

Remember that range of Nokia mobiles?  They were exclusively telephones and the battery lasted week.  The question is: do we really need all those amazing facilities or are we just being slaves to fashion?

A hermit who had been in a cave for fifty years eventually emerged and talked to the first person he met about what had changed.  The man said:

In my pocket I have a device that can give me access to all the knowledge in the world

The hermit was duly astonished and asked his companion what he used it for.

He said: “Mainly for looking at pictures of dogs and cats and having violent arguments with complete strangers”.

It seems that as we become more mature our wants decrease as long as our needs are satisfied: food, clothing, a roof over our heads and relationships are some of the needs we crave.  Most everything else is probably in the category of wants and while it is pleasant to indulge ourselves from time to time there are more things in life that really matter.

It is interesting to hear people on TV antiques auction programmes when asked why are they selling the reply is invariably “We are downsizing and decluttering”.

Satisfying our basic needs as far as possible is essential and satisfying those wants can be a pleasant if ephemeral experience.  Getting them into balance is the trick as long as we understand that the balance changes over the years.

PS: You may like to take a look at an article that The Guardian published last week:

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Sunday, 10 December 2017

Thinking Seriously About The Business? It’s Really Worth Taking The Time!

One of the most important factors in the life of the leader is simply thinking about his/her organisation.   Easily said but how often do we actually take time out to reflect on the business and our part in it?  We may think ABOUT it, yes, but do we also think INTO it?

It may be a subtle difference but it is well worth the consideration.  We can almost substitute “worry” for “think” in so many instances when we really ought to be quietly cogitating on the business and its future outside the day to day detail. In that wonderful film, Bridge of Spies, the defence attorney asks the spy “Aren’t you worried about your possible fate?” and the spy replies “Why, would it help?:
One of the most significant parts of the Vistage experience is the annual retreat for the whole group where we go away to a pleasant venue and spend time together.   Some groups in the UK have been overseas and my group had a memorable (for many reasons) retreat in a castle in Scotland which was next door (about four miles away in fact) to the legendary Castle of Dunsinane.
That sort of retreat is in a group context and on the other hand, Vistage speaker, Walt Sutton, reminds us of the saying of golfer Sam Snead who said “Take time out to smell the roses”.  Walt encourages leaders to take time out for a solitary retreat which he describes as taking a metaphorical walk on the beach. No smart phones or notebooks.  Just a quiet walk and perhaps work on an issue that is taking up too much time right now.
It is vital for the leader to realise that he/she is generally the only person in the business who actually thinks about it holistically, about its present and its future, about its vision and about its potential.
Yes, everyone in the business will give some thought to their job and its manifestations, but only the leader thinks about the business in a holistic sense.  That thinking time is vital for the future of the business and it is usually the last thing in which the leader indulges.
There seems to be an inherent sense of guilt at apparently not doing anything visibly tangible but just sitting quietly and thinking.   One member of my group did just that for a full day (after a lot of encouragement) to think about a relatively difficult issue in the business. When I asked him what had happened he said:
“At the end of the thinking day, nothing at all, but a couple of days later, ideas started to pop out and I was able to attack the problem”.
It is known that if we consider a problem, then close down and forget it, the brain continues to work on it subconsciously.  Even if there doesn’t seem to be an immediate answer (our brain is not a smart phone) the answer can pop up seemingly out of the blue a day or two later.
Remember that if the leader doesn’t apply serious thinking to the business and its future, no-one else will and the future will just happen for good or bad.  

Go smell those roses.

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Sunday, 3 December 2017

What Do You Mean, You Forget Things? Write Them Down!

I am now of an age that when I go upstairs I frequently forget why I did so.  Not so unusual I am given to understand and it is probably a function of too many distractions in our lives.
Some years ago we went to a marvellous Festival of Music and Wine in the south of France and on one occasion were treated to an extraordinary recital of Schubert’s piano sonatas by the redoubtable and remarkable Moura Lympany.   She played the whole evening entirely from memory, without any written music in sight, and we were entranced.
At the cocktail party afterwards she revealed (unwittingly perhaps) that memory can be very selective as she wandered round introducing people to each other by the simple expedient of:
“Darling, have you met darling?”  
By the way, she was well into pensionable age at the time.
It is said that as we age or better, become more mature, our memory starts to fail.  Apart from the sad impact of dementia and other similar conditions, I don’t believe that this is necessarily the case. Perhaps it is because as we age we generate more and more experiences against a limited ability to recall.
The crux of the matter is, of course, that ability to recall.  The information is there all right, however old we may be, but recall sometimes can be a problem.  In addition we also tend to remember things in a selective way so that, for instance, two people from the same family can have vastly differing recollections of events in their joint past.
It is possible to train ourselves to improve recall and Vistage speaker, the very entertaining David Thomas, tells how he managed to remember and recall Pi to well over 23,000 decimal places (we did suggest when he did a limited demonstration for my Group that perhaps he needed to get out more).  Of course, David has trained himself to be able to do that and some more equally amazing feats by using relatively simple and centuries old techniques.
There are so many distractions in the world in which we live that even though we may start the day knowing precisely what is needed to be done, as time progresses through the day we forget some things and start to remember others which may or may not be of comparable significance.
The “to do” list does help, of course.  I went to see a client once who said that he had a “to do” list on which he worked every day.  Impressed, I asked to see it and was slightly surprised to find that he had 72 items on it.  I suggested that it was more a “things that I hope I may get round to doing” rather than a “to do” list as such but he said that unless he wrote them all down, he wouldn’t remember them anyway.
That is a fair point; writing down something that you feel a need to remember immediately enhances the ability to recall even without looking at the list.
Keeping a daily journal is a great way to assist in recall; noting down the things to do and the things that you have done, as well as other useful bits and pieces on a daily basis, can be invaluable.
The key to it all is to accept that memory is selective.  We recall things that are significant and tuck the rest away.  The trick is to decide what we need to recall and put a system in place to help it happen.  Now all you need to do is to remember to do it.

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