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Sunday, 30 September 2018

How Can The Role of a Leader be Defined? Ask The Followers!

I recall a friend of mine who was promoted to the lofty heights of Chief Executive in his company and he really looked forward to starting in the new post.

He was delighted to see his name on his office door and went in and sat behind the desk.  Then reality kicked in.  He looked around and thought to himself:

What on earth do I do now?  More to the point, what am I supposed to do?

Of course he did the clever thing and called his PA and asked her.  She was equally realistic and gave him a few ideas that got him up and running.  Perhaps the best advice that she gave him was “Just go for a walk around the business
 and make yourself known to everyone”.

A simple tale but it reminded me that there is very little if any formalised training for leadership, perhaps because the role is an intangible.  Operational managers in functions such as finance, sales, marketing, operations, technical and so on have (or should have) clearly defined roles but the role of the overall leader is holistic.

There are perhaps two effective routes by which a leader can expand his/her knowledge; the MBA route and by being involved in a peer group.

The MBA route, by definition and because it emanates from an academic institution, tends to be both academic and theoretical.  This is not to say that there isn’t great value in this experience but rather to understand that the basis is not angled towards the practical application of the theoretical.

On the other hand, the peer group, as in the Vistage example, is strictly practical, drawing as it does on the experience of other members of the group and helping the members come to decisions as to their objectives and the desired outcome. The ideal, of course, is a blend of the theoretical and the practical simply because the definition of the leader’s role demands both.  Again, in the Vistage example, members hear the theoretical through high-end speakers as well as having the peer group experience.

Admire him or not, the election of President Donald Trump has elicited a kind description of his leadership style as “complex, charismatic and controversial”.  It seems to me that this description encompasses the style of just about any leader of note who comes to mind.

Think about it; Churchill, Gandhi, Douglas MacArthur, Lord (Bernard) Montgomery, Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, Sir Alec Ferguson, Brian Clough and many others in many different fields of activity, all had that indefinable ability to lead and they were all complex, charismatic and controversial in their own way, and by the way, these are the benign examples.

The best people to tell you about the abilities of the leader are the followers; they are the ones who will go with the leader to the metaphorical ends of the earth simply because belief has been instilled in them; a belief in their own abilities and a belief in the leader and his/her objectives for them and for the business.

In the end developing leadership strengths is auto-didactic. It is a matter of learning from the experiences of great leaders, reading the right books, taking on board the theoretical and the academic and learning from the experiences of others in a similar position.

Above all, it demands dedication, commitment, resilience, enthusiasm, understanding and the humility to accept that the learning never stops.  

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Sunday, 23 September 2018

Having Difficulty Closing the Sale? Ask AIDA to Help!

One of the perennial faults with many sales people (note: Sales, not Business Development) is the tendency to talk incessantly rather than to ask questions and then shut up and listen.

I well recall a young lady who came to us for a sales position and she told us that she would be ideal for the job as she “had the gift of the gab”.  She was right. End of interview.

It seems to me that not only do we need to ask pertinent questions and then listen but we also need to be very aware of what might be called buying signals from the buyer.  I am using that description although it encompasses any individual sitting across the table in a sales pitch and they can be in any function of their business, not only in the Purchasing role.

Again I remember being taken to a sales call with a senior colleague a lot of years ago and I was there to learn from the master.  He started out by showing the buyer our brochure with some lovely photographs of the Managing Director and the factory and eventually got round to discussing the reason for the call.

The buyer listened to the sales pitch that had been delivered without any reference to his possible needs and started to nod from time to time and make interested noises.

This is called a “buying signal” and the great sales people like my old sales mentor, Phil Copp, the Sage of Wythenshawe, would immediately take the hint and start in on the detail and possible ways in which we could help to solve a problem.

Not my senior colleague.  He prattled on until the buyer’s eyes started to glaze over as he looked at his watch and shuffled some papers. Even then my colleague didn’t take the hint until we were courteously but firmly shown the door.  My colleague appeared satisfied with this result and said that we would meet again in a couple of months time etc etc etc and off we went.

The moral of the story?  Not only do we need to ask questions and then listen but we also need to keep a very close eye on how the buyer reacts to information.

In fact I was given a great mnemonic recently to ensure that we do just that.  It is:

·      AIDA

and that stands for

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action

those being the stages through which any buyer would pass during the sales pitch.  That is would IDEALLY pas.

The initial route is to ask relevant questions to elicit, if at all possible, the level of need on the part of the buyer followed by at least a modicum of information to create the awareness of your product or service, always answering the WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) question.

At this stage we need to look out for expressions of interest and ideally expressions of desire (that would do the job, it sounds just right for us, how much?) and so on.

Finally there is the action phase and surprisingly that seems to be the one that gives so many sales people the biggest problems. 

Heaven protect us from those sales people who create great relationships and don’t ever close them out. In the end, we have to Ask For The Order (another acronym - AFTO) and there are many ways in which to do that.

The key to the whole discussion of effective selling techniques is to realise that we don’t sell, but people buy from us to solve a problem.  They are in the driving seat and it behoves us to use that charming lady, AIDA to encourage the buyer along the path to success (ours, that is).

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Sunday, 16 September 2018

Problems Challenging the Team? Try Being Carefrontational!

In my long experience in Vistage UK I have collected several great techniques and methods that have stood me in good stead in chairing my group.

For fairly obvious reasons a major part of the process is to challenge the members to make sure that they drill down into an issue to establish the root cause and then to help the group to offer their opinions as to the solution that is the bit they enjoy the most.

It has been wisely said that there is nothing so satisfying as telling other people how to run their business.

This can, however, be a painful process for the presenter of the issue because while they know, deep down, the solution they do not like the answer and would prefer not to hear it or take the suggested action.

We realise that the whole rationale for joining a peer group like Vistage is to learn from each other and to have someone to listen to them in a safe environment.  However, when the chips are down it can be difficult to absorb and to accept.

A wonderful word borrowed from Vistage colleagues in the USA is:


and that neatly encompasses all that is good in a business relationship.

How then does it work?  In essence it emphasises that challenge is essential; not, you will accept, on the basis of reprimand but rather in the mode of questioning and constantly searching, as Thomas Edison said, for a better way to do things.

However, the human psyche being what it is, there is always a possibility and sometimes a probability for defence mechanisms to be unleashed whenever an idea or a method is challenged.

There is nothing worse than the defensive rebuttal to challenge.  It slows everything down, promotes argument that is usually unproductive, and generally drains energy from the situation.

The question to ask, then, is why do people become defensive when they are challenged?  In some cases it can be a matter of pride, even a matter principle, in some a fear of seeming inadequate and under certain conditions, even a feeling if rejection, none of which add to the effectiveness of the individual.

The whole carefrontational approach means that although the team member is challenged (and why not in a go-ahead business?), it is done in a way which maintains respect and that, to my mind, is an essential in all working relationships.

My friend, mentor and top Vistage speaker, Lynn Leahy taught me long ago that there is a major difference between being assertive and being aggressive although it can be a short step from one to the other. 

Lynn says that being aggressive implies top-down authoritarian management whereas being assertive means that while a point can be made in a forthright way, it will always be made with respect to the opinions and feelings of the other person.

In other words, people can be challenged in a forthright way while still being shown that combination of care, understanding and respect that is the right of everyone to expect.  

The result is far less likely to be defensive and will more likely be positive and productive, an outcome always to be desired.

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Sunday, 9 September 2018

Family Businesses, a Curse or a Blessing?

There is an interesting quotation that I found recently as follows:

Children today love luxury.   They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”

It could have been added that they think more of social media to the exclusion of pretty well everything else but it would have been an unlikely comment at the time of writing.  It was postulated by the Greek philosopher, Socrates (470-399 BCE).

There are, of course, numberless quotations on the whole subject of change/no change such as:  

What goes round, comes around.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose” (the more things change the more they stay the same)”

and so on and son o.

It struck me as significant recently when I realised with some surprise that there is a preponderance of family businesses in my Vistage CEO peer group and normally one would expect that the issues they exhibit should be much the same.

Not so, of course.  In one sense they are the same because they are generally rooted in emotional issues rather than rational thinking but in the end they cover a vast array of  issues not normally seen in a non-family business.

My group has three members who are sons of former members of Vistage groups and that says a great deal for the value and power of the peer group system.

In fact there are only four members of the group who are not involved in family businesses and even then one of them is a salaried Director of a family controlled company.

To repeat then, the issues around family businesses are almost always emotionally based and seem to be exclusive to the sector.

For example, there is the vexed issue of shareholdings especially where the father is the founder of the company and is very reluctant to give up control.

The upshot of this is the feeling by the next generation that however well they are recompensed they are still only employees.

The group has experienced a variety of issues around this problem sometimes solved quite simply and sometimes made worse by  the shareholder deciding to distribute the shares “fairly” to siblings when only one of them is actually involved in the business.

There have been some strange issues as well.  For example the major shareholder when it was suggested that a third generation of the family should join the company said that “we have enough family members in the company”.  

In another case the group member wanted to use his father as a sounding board, quite rightly, and was constantly told “You decide, you are doing a good job!”  Encouraging but not what is wanted.

These are all issues that are emotionally based with the founder often wanting to “do the right thing” and failing to understand the implications.

There are a couple of examples of iconic brands that have been almost decimated by family arguments, among them the Aldi/Lidl fracas when two brothers decided to split, successfully in the end and worse, the Gucci family that managed to send the son of the founder aged 80 to prison on tax charges.

Fear not, the vast majority of family businesses are happy and successful so where does the matter of no change/change impact?  Largely it is the need to realise that family matters should be left at the office door. If they do intrude then it must be only for the good of the business and the stakeholders, especially the workforce.

When this happens the family business can and should plan succession so that the older generation can feel needed and the next generation can feel secure.

Above all there is a constant need to try to keep emotion out of the discussions so that the family Christmas lunch will be a happy event with everyone there.

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Sunday, 2 September 2018

You’re Entitled to What? Take Personal Responsibility!

In his inaugural address in January 1961, President John F Kennedy said:

Ask not what your country can do for you.  Rather ask what you can do for your country

and that resonates especially this week.

The unpleasant rhetoric and constant whinging and moaning of people having their 15 minutes of fame on the radio or TV recently led me to recall 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 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.  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?

Agreed there is a proportion of people for whom the state can and must give succour and aid and that is both self-evident and necessary.  That is why we pay our taxes.
If we consider the situation in business, much the same criteria apply.  While it is right and proper to employ a proportion of disadvantaged people, it can be very depressing to employ people who spend their time constantly complaining and in  “something needs to done about it” mode, is toxic and corrosive for other members of staff.
We need to give 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 experience rather than a case for reprimand.
In the end we must get away from the “it’s my right” syndrome and encourage the “it’s my responsibility” approach.
If you would like to know how this can be accomplished just read “Turn The Ship Around” by David Marquet.  He radically changed the way in which his US Navy submarine was managed from Leader/Follower to Leader/Leader and cut through all the morass of line responsibility that hampered the way that the ship was run.

The simple mantra was to eliminate the “What do you want me to do….?” and replace it with “I intend to…..”.  In other words people took responsibility rather than waiting to be told what to do.  The result? Most effective ship in the Navy.

Read the book.  It could radically change your leadership life.

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