people want me to be their leader – I must follow them”
The crux of the matter is that great leaders know that their
function is a mixture of both leadership and followership and really great
leaders realise that their most important function is the creation of more
leaders, not just followers.
I recall that Andrew Strauss, England cricket captain when
they won the Ashes in 2005 (not a good day to mention that this morning!) said
that while he was nominally the captain, he actually wanted eleven captains on
Simply put he wanted to have people on his team who were
prepared to take the initiative, to offer thoughts and advice and to work
together for the overall success of the team.
Listen to any discussion about rugby as it is played these
days and understand that there are several metaphorical captains on the field;
not in name perhaps but certainly de facto.
For example, there will be a player who leads the pack,
someone who leaders the backs and so on.More often than not these “extra” leaders are not normally appointed as
such but they certainly emerge during training or in a match.
While the business leader has the overall responsibility for
determining how the business is run and indeed for its overall performance,
when the headcount in the company grows it becomes well nigh impossible to
retain that measure of overall contact that is needed.
Just take a look in any business at how each section or
department operates.Well run and well led
departments contribute more to the overall success than is commonly realised
and they can be a great training ground for future leaders.
Far seeing leaders encourage these “extra” leaders to act as
mentors for their people and naturally they are in line for promotion as the
The Hopper brothers in their excellent book, “The Puritan Gift” make the point that
in the great engines of growth in pre-war America developed “bottom up” management where there was a
constant upwards flow of information which enabled the management to make
decisions that reflected what was really happening at shop floor level.
The onset of change in those companies, largely post-war,
led to the appointment of financial officers to the highest posts with a
consequent change to top down management and in many cases a steady decline in performance.
As long as answers to those two fundamental questions are
constantly transmitted to the people in the business:
·How am I
then they will understand and acceptthat they are involved in a business which
knows its purpose, what it is there to do, what it exists to achieve, and as a
consequence they will be far more likely to want to be a part of the future of
It takes an effort of will on the part of leaders and top
management to involve their people to this extent but the results can be
startling in terms of morale, in terms of involvement and consequently in terms
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Over the past couple of days the media has been awash with
the story of the National Health Service and the possible imposition of a five
year jail sentence in cases of “wilful neglect”.
My first reaction was to imagine a meeting at a hospital
with the management saying to the assembled doctors and nurses:
“Unless you are kind
to the patients, then you could go to prison!”
This, by the way, is to members of a caring profession.What an insult.
It is all a matter of culture.There is no way that the NHS, that leviathan,
can be changed overall but I am convinced that it is feasible to change the
system (without changing the rules) in individual units such as a health centre
or a hospital.
If the leadership at any level is fixated with box ticking
(and what idiot thought that one up) then it will be a top down organisation
run on the basis of keep your nose clean and keep to the rules.
The problem is the ingrained blame culture in the NHS and to
an extent it is far too prevalent in business in general.As long as people know or even feel that any
mistake will be severely punished then they will keep their heads down and make
sure that all the boxes are ticked and they have covered their corporate
backside by copying everyone in on emails.
By the way, this is not a rant about the public sector; it
is a plea for a more enlightened approach to running a business or an
What is even more galling is that it a classic case of attacking the symptom of a problem and not the underlying cause. That is another insult to the professionalism of the NHS.
The fact is that unless the needs of the consumer of the
service (in this case, the patients) are paramount and are the driver behind
every decision, then the suits will prevail and nothing will change.
I am convinced that a good leader in a hospital (and I am
sure that there are many of them) will make sure that there is a management
team in place that has the patient absolutely at the forefront of everything
that goes on.This, of course, implies
that everyone at management level has the same ethos.
I would suggest that whether public or private, the course
is clear.If that ethos is absent in
anyone at management level then they need to move on or out.There can be no compromise; we hire people
for their experience and expertise and we fire them for their attitude.
If you can’t change
the people, change the people.
Experience and expertise should be a given and should take
no more than fifteen or twenty minutes in an interview.Far more important is the attitude and
behaviour of the people.
The NHS, of which we can be justly proud, is a caring profession and the leader should give
everyone whether professional or administrative the opportunity to demonstrate that
in their view the patients’ needs are the most important factor in the success
of the unit.
People need to be paid the compliment of assuming that they
do care, that they are compassionate, that they do understand the needs of people
in an environment outside the normal.
The problem is that the politicians think that by threatening
the people in the NHS they will achieve better care.What nonsense!
Engage the people in the NHS, let them demonstrate their inherent compassion, that the
patients needs come first, that they truly care for the vocation they have
entered and things will change.
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In the past couple of weeks I have experienced issues with
Vistage members and mentoring clients all of whom are excellent leaders and are
having problems in managing managers.
It can be in both directions: upwards and downwards.For example in one case my client runs a very
large and successful section of a business which has recently lost its overall
leader.The replacement turns out to be
an individual who works absolutely “by the book” with virtually no exceptions.
There seems to be no attempt at flexibility, no
consideration of alternative routes, no desire to depart from the rules and
regulations.The consequence is that
there is now an imbalance in the relationship, a difficulty in understanding each
other’s way of doing business and consequently a potential breakdown in
This is perhaps an extreme example but it does emphasis the
essential difference between the entrepreneurial leader and the professional
US Vistage speaker, Walt Sutton, says that very few managers
per se transfer to being entrepreneurial leaders simply because they feel left
out of the day to day which historically had been their preferred milieu.
Some people are far more comfortable in ensuring that they
do the right things, that is, as managers, rather than doing things right which
should be the objective of all good leaders.
It is equally rare for entrepreneurial leaders to become
good managers. They may well try and often will want to leap into a situation
to sort it out which can lead to minor chaos and lots of toes being trodden on.
The fact is that most leaders can become managers but
generally they are far less efficient and consequently far less effective than
Walt Sutton says that the great unifying principle of this
paradox is that great leaders accept, understand and nourish good managers but
do not attempt to become one.
The fact is that the best working model includes both
leaders and managers, and better still, great teams, operating in a symbiotic
The most successful entrepreneurs are usually world class
leaders but it must be emphasised that they do not “do the work”.The work is done by equally talented and
committed managers and teams who know the ultimate objectives of the business
and who are able to develop and adjust processes and procedures to help get
It is the leader who will be flexible, who says “Get on with
it and we’ll sport the paperwork out afterwards” which usually gives pain to
the professional manager.The leader
needs to be sparing in flexibility but employ it to the best extent when it is
Otherwise, the leader
should let the managers get on with running the business and do what great
leaders do best; bring in change, help people accept and understand the need
for change, drive towards understood and accepted objectives for the business and
overall, create a culture inwhich
people will feel wanted, needed and valued.
Some months ago my CEO group had a visit from Vistage
speaker, John Cremer (www.johncremer.co.uk)
for a most entertaining and valuable presentation on the use of Improvisation.
One of the techniques that John employs is to have two
people facing each other, one starting with a statement like “I think we should.....” to which the
other person responds with “Yes,
and......” followed by the “yes,
and.....” etc until the whole thing collapses in helpless mirth.
Then he changes the rules so that the first and subsequent
responses are “Yes, BUT....” and just
watch how everything changes.
In the “Yes And”
role play there is brightness, enthusiasm, amusement, and positivity whereas in
the “Yes But” scenario, even the body
language changes and this is just role play.
Just listen to almost any interview on the radio these days
where the interviewer takes down apparently good news with a “Yes, but...” follow up question.
It is a question of positivity and frankly, there is far too
much negativity both on the radio and also in printed media, in politics and in
Perhaps the long years of bad news about the economy has
made us look for even worse news.If as
seems likely the economy is beginning to turn upwards then it behoves all of us
to take a more positive view of the situation.
I recall US Vistage speaker, Edgar Papke, (www.edgarpapke.com)
who banned the word “but”
from all conversations during his presentation and stopped the discussion if
someone backslid.He asked the miscreant
to rephrase the sentence to drop the word.
The results were dramatic and were substantiated by the
results from John Cremer’s presentation.People really started to realise that they can change the whole aspect
of a conversation, either one-to-one or in a group, simply by dropping the “but” word so far as is feasible and
It takes an effort of will and concentration to do it and it
is well worth giving it a try. On the
face of it a small change like this seems insignificant BUT (notice that its use here leads to a positive
result) it is a change that can genuinely lead to a complete turnaround in
Anything becomes possible; “and” is an open invitation to expand on an idea, to develop a
thought, to do something positive whereas “but”
is simply a put down and a stopper.
It is a simple and very dramatic change in your approach and
will bring significant changes to you and your working life.
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