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Monday, 27 August 2012

So You Are a Leader! Do You Know How to be a Follower?

We talk a great deal about leadership but it seems that there is also a strong case for looking at followership.  It is self evident that a leader needs followers but do we sufficiently take account of their wants and needs?

Following a recent blog I had a note from a good friend who sent me this very wise saying:

·      “If you walk in front of me, I might not follow.  If you walk behind me, I might not know the way.  If you walk beside me, we will be able to encourage and support each other; arriving together at our destination.”  (Thank you, Harold)

Countless books, articles and blogs have been written about the whole concept of leadership covering just about every aspect but there has been very little literature (that I can find, admittedly) about what it takes to be a great follower.

It has become a truism in business that one should never promote your best salesman to be sales manager; it is equally inadvisable, for example, to promote your financial controller to be finance director.

The fact is that the requirements of both positions are quite different.

The sales expert is usually a loner, operating away from base, making quick decisions, honing the skills of negotiation and developing a very thick skin from the repeated experience of rejection.

On the other hand, the sales manager has to be a leader with all the qualities that implies.  He/she needs to understand the (often psychological) needs of the people in the team, to be able to encourage as necessary and be demanding as necessary, to understand and to communicate the philosophy and ethos of the business and to monitor performance on a regular basis.

In the same way, the financial controller must be a specialist in terms of the production of accurate and timely financial information which is then passed to the finance director for analysis and assistance to the CEO in decision making.
Again, there are two entirely differing roles with the only links being sales performance overall, and the financial health of the business.
So what are the implications for a business?   It becomes evident that there is more than one leader in any company.  If anyone in the company  has people reporting to him/her then by definition they are a leader.
The complexity arises at this level when the leader has to become a follower to, for example, the CEO.
In general therefore, virtually anyone in the business with any responsibility has a divided role; that of leader and that of follower and it important that the latter role be understood.
It does not imply blind obedience; it does not imply either that the follower has no legitimate role in the business other than a functional one.  Indeed it is insulting to imply otherwise.
Look again at the saying sent to me; travel together, the leader encouraging and supporting the follower/s until the destination is reached together.   A wise man once said “The people want me to be their leader; I must follow them”
Tyranny in business is no longer an option.
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Sunday, 19 August 2012

Want to be a Great Leader? Get On Yer Bike and Learn from the Master!

There was an excellent little programme on BBC Radio 4 last week featuring a 15 minute profile of David Brailsdord, the Performance Director of Team GB Cycling.

The results of British cycling at London 2012 speak for themselves; twelve medals including eight gold and two each silver and bronze.

All of this came after Team GB at the Beijing games in 2008 were also very successful to the extent that the cycling powers that be seemed to think that British cycling was becoming too successful and changed the rules for London.  Fat lot of good that did!

Quietly, in the background, David Brailsford was working to make British cycling the best in the world by any measure in which he has been remarkably successful and contuse to be so.

So what has this to do with business?  Leadership is a common theme in these blogs and listening to the broadcast, it became evident that David Brailsford has all the hallmarks of the great leader.

It was said of him that “He doesn’t lead from the front and he doesn’t lead from behind;  he leads from the centre” which implies that he is very involved with everything that makes the team so effective.

You will notice that the word is TEAM and that is a vital component of his management style.  The team has been together, living, training, working and competing for the four years between the games, and it was fascinating to hear team members say constantly “we are a family”.

He believes in a ferocious application of the “aggregation of marginal gains”, mentioned by all his team whenever they were interviewed, and obviously one of the major factors of his leadership philosophy.  The Japanese call it kai-zen, or incremental improvement, however small.

He is hugely supportive of his team, extremely demanding, sometimes tyrannical and always looking to the next challenge.  Indeed he is now preparing for Rio 2016.  He was called ruthless; I prefer to suggest that he makes decisions quickly and without sentiment or emotion to the greater good of his team.

Add to all this the fact that he took a few weeks off to run Team Sky in the Tour de France which was won by Bradley Wiggins with Chris Froome coming second; the first ever success by British riders in more than 100 years of the Tour.

His management style is not for everyone; suffice it to say that we can all learn something from people like David Brailsford. 

Incidentally, have you noticed that the teams which were very successful, cycling, rowing, boxing, all used the same method of the athletes living and working together, while other teams, less effective, didn’t?

As a sporting postscript, I have blogged extensively about “terrorists” in business; extremely high performers with a bad attitude.  It is so difficult for the leader to deal with them; anxious not to lose their performance contribution but vastly concerned about the corrosive effect of their behaviour.

There is only one answer, of course, and that is to dispense with their services to the greater good of the team.  The general response from the team is usually “what took you so long?”
Ever heard of Kevin Pietersen?

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Sunday, 12 August 2012

Planning Your Exit Route? Make Sure That You Have Planned Succession In Place!

So you’re an entrepreneur?  You started the business alone and now it is a well managed, energetic and successful company.  Your background is perhaps technology or sales or ever finance.

The problem is that you started the business some years ago when you were young and enthusiastic and you are now no longer as young as you were and perhaps even slightly less enthusiastic.

I recall a very eminent business man some years ago telling me that he “didn’t much enjoy patient trading”.  He said that he much preferred making money to earning it.  That meant to him doing deals rather than the steady drip, drip of everyday business.  It was more exciting and he needed excitement.

Perhaps the excitement and uncertainty of the start up years has diminished and going into the office each day seems to be much as it was yesterday.  Perhaps even the dreaded word “boring” comes to mind on occasions.

So is now the right time to start thinking about the exit route are the alternatives?

So what are the alternatives?  Close the business down and sell the assets, sell it to the management, a trade sale, become non-executive Chairman and hold on to a majority stake paying a dividend, keep going until you fall off at the other end and so on.

Whatever is decided (other than closing down, of course) it is vital to ensure that the management is strong and capable of taking the business on to the next phase.

A trade sale will mean that the business goes into new hands and the owner can sail away into the sunset with his bank account enhanced.  Not always correct.  Frequently the acquiring company can want the owner to stay on for a couple of years (ideally) so that continuity is maintained. It can also happen that they will expect an earn out based on projected results.

One useful approach is for the owner to sell a proportion of the shares to the management over a period of, say, four years keeping an interest at the finish.

Every one of these options (again except the close down) demands a strong, capable and committed management team especially in the case of the trade sale where the acquiring company is likely to pay a premium for buying good management.

The big question is: if you are considering an exit route have you examined the abilities of the management team, strengthened it as necessary and cleared out anyone who is not performing.  Running a business and selling a business both demand having the right people on the bus.

It can make all the difference between a successful sale and perhaps a fire sale.

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Monday, 6 August 2012

Big Project Ahead? We Need to Prepare and Plan for Success!

In the days of my callow youth, I was, like many of my generation, an enthusiastic member of the Wolf Cubs and later, the Boy Scouts with  their motto of “Be Prepared”.

This was brought to mind this week when I heard in a radio broadcast a saying of US President, Abraham Lincoln:

·       “Preparation is the key; if I am to chop down a tree in a week’s time, then I must take six days to sharpen the axe”

Remember the witty rewrite of “Ready, Aim, Fire” to “Ready, Fire, Aim”?
All too often we tend to shoot from the hip without much thought as to the consequences and worse still, to unintended consequences.

Take a look at the success of the Team GB cycling team over the past five or so years.  Every time anyone from the team is interviewed about its successes, the word “preparation” is invariably brought up.  This can be translated as a ferocious attention to detail and planning of every possible facet of activity and performance.

Great leaders know how vital it is to prepare meticulously beforehand, be it for a battle, a project or indeed any activity where the team is involved.

This is not to say that the leader should be involved in the detail planning.  One of the functions of the leader is to encourage any method which will lead to success and which certainly should not include being personally deeply involved in the detail.

Again, just watch the great sportsmen and women before their explosion of energy; watch how they visualise what is about to happen and their part in the procedure.

Top downhill skiers, for instance, visualise the whole of the track, the changes in terrain and the bumps and curves that they have to negotiate.  See them just before the run, often with eyes closed, hands waving, seeing themselves on a successful run.

It is the result of planning and preparation which undoubtedly takes a great deal of time prior to the event and every minute spent is another step towards eventual success.

It is always preferable to achieve the “finished early and below budget” result than “sort of finished and late and over budget” which is the invariable result of a lack of preparation and planning.

There are so many techniques available to us these days in the form of project planning software, critical path analysis, PERT and so on, all of which can take the uncertainty out of any project, or at least minimise it.

The “shoot from the hip” syndrome can be exciting and shows a measure of decisiveness but much better it is to take time out to think first, talk it over, decide what to do and then fire; it’s a far better way to hit the target.

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