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Sunday, 27 February 2011

But Who Mentors the Mentor (and How Frequently)?

Vince Lombardi, the great ex-coach of the recent Super Bowl winners, Green Bay Packers was an inveterate purveyor of quotable one-liners and became almost as famous for them as he was for his evident coaching skills.

One of my favourites on the general subject of leadership was:

“Having the capacity to lead is not enough. The leader must be willing to use it.”

That is a big statement and warrants some serious consideration.  For example, in discussion with a business leader this last week, we assessed the methods of communication with his executive team.

When I asked about one-to-one meetings with his team, he said that he did just that, once a year.  Nothing wrong with that, of course, but in essence it becomes too much of an event, too formal and moving towards more of an appraisal.

Communication is the heartbeat of an organisation and unless the leader exerts his leadership with his team, they will tend to do their own thing and run their own business within the business.

This is not to say, in any respect, that he is failing in his leadership: just the opposite, as it happens as the business is coming through the recession in good heart under his influence.  It is, perhaps more that he is not exerting his leadership qualities to the optimum extent.

One of the primary functions of a leader is that of coach or mentor to his team and that cannot be exerted without direct, one-to-one discussions  Corridor meetings, occasional chats, team sessions, board or partner meetings are insufficient.  It is only when the leader meets with his individual team members on a regular, formal basis that communication really starts to work.

Crucially, the leader needs upward communication so the agenda of the one-to-one is not his/hers; it is that of the team member.   The function of the leader then is to listen and help the team member to uncover the issues which are really important and perhaps help him/her to identify the options for solution.

It takes time for people to fall into a level of comfort with the practice but it is well worth the effort.  So, set a programme of one-to-ones with the team, on a diaried, regular basis, perhaps once a month, for a set time. 90 minutes to two hours, ask the team member for the agenda a couple of days beforehand, and then sit and listen.

It's tough call for a leader just to listen and not dive in to solve a problem, but it is essential to allow the team member to dig as deeply as possible into the issues.

This is, of course, all well and good and leads to far better communication and usually a higher level of job satisfaction for the team member. 

But, the big question remains: who mentors the leader and how frequently?

For more information visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.maa-uk.co.uk
To contact s, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk 
Twitter @ivanjgoldberg

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Doing the Right Things or Doing Things Right?

It isn't often that we can really learn a lesson in honesty and courage from one of our politicians but this week has seen something of an exception.  The Secretary of State for the Environment, Caroline Spellman, came to the snake pit of the House and actually said "We got it wrong" and apologised.  More's the point, she went on to say that she will now consult with interested parties to see what can be done to improve the situation.

Of course, there were the ritual screams of "humiliated" and "u-turn" but she had taken the wind out of the sails of the nay-sayers by her honesty and frankness.  Whether she was metaphorically pushed to say what she said or jumped herself is academic.  Suffice it to say, she did it and with some aplomb.

So what can we learn from this event?   There is always a danger when things start to go slightly awry that we default to defence mode and the excuses start to appear.  I have had occasions in my Vistage group when certain members, when confronted with radical ideas as to how to solve an issue, revert to "we tried that before and it didn't work" or "my people wouldn't like that" or, inevitably, "it's different in our industry".

Without wanting to appear unbending, unless members with that approach change pretty quickly, they don't last long in the group as the other members expect and indeed want to be challenged.

In essence the same thing applies in the business and, of course, in our daily lives on a regular basis.  Simply because we are not perfect, things do occasionally go wrong and the question must be, how do we react?  Do we cover up  and make like it didn't happen, or brave it out, or best of all, admit the error and take steps to make sure that it won't happen again?

Making mistakes is an all too human trait but we only learn from mistakes, not from success.  A business which accepts human frailty and learns from it will go forward whereas the business with a blame culture will  only engender fear which leads to people reverting to defensive mode.

It's not easy to admit to making a mistake but the rewards are there; greater honesty, better communication and enhanced confidence in knowing that it's a matter of doing things right, rather than just doing the right things.

For further information, visit http://www.vistage.co.uk/ and www.maa-uk.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Which Processes Do You Have? Are They Efficient or Effective?

I have mentioned in earlier posts how remarkable it is that themes for this blog seem to pop up during one-to-one mentoring sessions with the members of my Vistage group, and then continue with other members for days afterwards.  Not too surprising, I suspect, as once the thought is implanted, the conversations  can trend accordingly.

This week a member, who runs a consultancy practice, remarked how the people in one of his clients (in social housing), had taken enthusiastically to the process of "lean thinking" in which they had had comprehensive training recently.  However, the process seemed to have taken over from common sense.

In one case, a member of staff has suggested that one-to-one meetings, manager and staff member, were not "lean" and it is better to have a team meeting instead.  This does not take into account the subject of the meeting or indeed the desired outcome.  It merely says that it more "efficient" to see several people at once rather than one at a time.

It's a classic case of a desire for efficiency over the real need for enhanced effectiveness.  We hear all the time of the need not just to cut expenditure in the public sector, but to achieve it through "efficiencies".  On the face of it there is some sense in suggesting that merely firing people is an easy way out, if not for the victims, whereas thee are many a varied ways to reduce expenditure and maintain the effectiveness of the organisation.  This does, of course, need some thought and is not usually politically acceptable to some.

The fashionable business and industrial processes of which lean thinking is a prime example mostly originated in the automotive industry where the relentless pursuit of waste,  of either time or movement or both, leads to enhanced efficiency and better productivity.  Eminently sensible, but the automotive industry is highly automated and modifying the process on a kai-zen, or incremental, basis can lead to significant improvements.

Strangely, people are not automated systems so the outcome of a relentless drive for efficiency over effectiveness will only result in a crazy world where slavish adherence to the process, as such, overrides common sense.

In previous posts I have emphasised the need to involve the people in the business in the running of the business; this needs a drive for effectiveness of thinking, of decision making and of action. 

Systems and processes should be looked upon as important management tools, means to an end, and certainly not as the end themselves.

For further information visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.maa-uk.co.uk
To contact us email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Sunday, 6 February 2011

No Enthusasm or Commitment? Involve Your People!

One of the perennial complaints of Vistage members and certainly the owner managers, at least in my experience, is that the troops don't think like I do, they aren't as enthusiastic, they aren't as committed.

Why does this come as such a surprise?   The person starting and/or running a business is there precisely for that reason; the thinking, enthusiasm and commitment are in the DNA.  On the other hand unless that thinking process, enthusiasm and commitment is transmitted constantly into the business then it is understandable that people look upon it as a job and not a career.

It all comes down to the culture in the business and defining it and driving it into the core of the business is the responsibility of the leader.

Too often, and again especially in owner managed businesses, the owner succumbs to to the "if I don't do it, then it won't be done properly" syndrome and that leads to upward delegation.   The upshot is, of course, a lack of initiative and a reluctance to make decisions.  It is far easier to move the monkey off your back and shift it on to the leader's.  Job done.

None of that, of course, helps the team to the thinking, enthusiasm and commitment so desired by the leader, and in the end morale suffers.

It is not all doom, gloom and despondency, however.  The culture of the business, if properly designed and defined by the leader will, and certainly should, encourage innovation, creative thinking, and a positive approach to decision making.  I know that it probably now a business cliche but the idea of "bring to me solutions, not problems", is a great start.

Equally one of my Vistage members has scrapped his weekly Executive Meeting in favour of a Communication Meeting for everyone who wishes to be there when all ideas are encouraged and accepted for consideration.  At the same time, the leader can and will be open in telling the team precisely what is happening, both for good and for less than good.

This is a radical idea and deserves a great deal of thought.  Giving the people in the business more autonomy and realising that they have, all of them, a great deal to offer, can completely transform a business for the better.

People want to know two things - how am I doing and where are we going?  If they can materially contribute to the answers of both of those questions, then the problems of lack of thinking, enthusiasm and commitment will rapidly disappear.

On a very topical note and with tongue firmly ensconced in the cheek on this post SuperBowl Monday, it is well to recall Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers (triumphant last night) who said "I want you guys to be fired with enthusiasm because if you aren't, then you'll be fired - with enthusiasm!"   What more can I say?

For more information visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.maa-uk.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk