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the lockdown log 58


It has been one of those weeks when working around the weather has been paramount and I have managed to get a fair amount done outside. The high winds have also tested some of my bodges (I can’t think of a kinder expression) to reinforce my neighbour’s dodgy fences and we have come through that examination well.

In between downpours I have managed to paint our patio set with a coat of Hammerite and it looks reasonable, certainly much better than it did, although the colour is a lot lighter than the Navy Blue that is shown on the tin. It is another job done and the Berkshire Belle can get on and order us some cushions.

I have more repairs to make to the deck that I had thought and have found a problem that needs some thought as to how best to fix it. The cost keeps mounting and in some ways the fact that we are starting to accept that we will not be going away on holiday again this year is a blessing because I can divert funds to the garden. Looking at it the other way if I fix the deck we won’t be able to afford a holiday, but my way is easier to accept I think. At least we will have somewhere to sit and enjoy our bit of England.

The birds are back after the desecration of their trees in our neighbour’s garden and it has been nice to hear them singing as I work. A young robin spent most of Sunday afternoon poking about the garden just a few feet away from me as I painted and was not at all put off my the radio commentary from the Portuguese Grand Prix. I also had one of the young foxes watching me for a while from behind a flowerpot.

The foxes are still causing major damage and leaving me a mess to sort out every morning. There are two of the out playing on the deck this evening as I write this. One thing that I had not appreciated was their desire to have toys and I find all sorts, some traditional dog things like balls that I assume they have pinched form other gardens, but they also have the plastic rose off a watering can, plastic bottles and bits of wood. The cubs are growing and one is almost as big as mum now.

Poling day today, but we have postal votes and so ours were sent off about three weeks ago. We always try to vote; the postal votes are a hang up from the time that we would often be away in May and wanted to avoid missing out. Having registered back then we have just carried on and it is relatively easy although this time we have two elections. One is for the local council and is a straightforward vote, but the other is for the police commissioner and that one is one of the alternative vote type which I am not in favour of. Personally I think that the requirement to cast an alternative vote is just ridiculous.

Doom and gloom hangs over us both at the moment and neither of us can find a way out of it for now so we just have to get on with life. The Berkshire Belle has got used to her weekly trip out, but didn’t get one today as we were waiting in this morning for a delivery that didn’t turn up until half past two by which time it had started raining and we had both lost the will to go out – the garden centre will have to wait until next week.

We do have one treat lined up in that we have booked to go out for lunch one Friday early next month so that is something to look forward to. So one that note I’ll close for this week. Stay safe wherever you are.

on pandemics


Over the thirty or so years that I had some senior management responsibility I have sat through many hours of crisis management, business continuity and disaster recovery sessions looking at strategy and tactics for such events. I have also been involved in many dry runs to test the plans that same from these sessions and a good few incidents where such planning and practice helped, even if the planning was actually flawed.

One topic that came late to these discussions was that of a pandemic. I think that it was towards the end of the nineties that it was first brought up, but we were, at that time, dealing with all sorts of nonsense about what the millennium would bring and that, being imminent, was very much the priority even if we were wasting our time.

The risk of a pandemic took hold as were saw things like bird ‘flu and ebola rampage around the globe, but there was little impact here in the UK and I don’t think that any of us took such threats too seriously. They always seemed a bit science fiction and I don’t think the way that these potential events were presented helped. After all wee were hard bitten operational people who dealt with real life issues; strikes, power cuts, road accidents, weather and such. Yes, there were times when some form of sickness might sweep through the workforce, but such events were rare and when they did happen they were very localised.

It was about ten years ago when I had the last discussion on risk management plans and was, at that time, acting in a consultancy role rather than being the person whom would be left holding the can. By then we had seen a few more viral infections spread around the world and almost all office environments had become open plan on every floor of a building which increased the opportunity to spread infections around a building. The one thing that I remember from that time is the potential scale of a pandemic was beyond everyone’s imagination; it was just too hard to grasp a scenario such as the one that the world has gone through over the last eighteen months.

Whilst appropriate plans were drawn up for mass home working , disruptions to supplies and trade there was little enthusiasm for any of it. How wrong we were and yet we have, largely, come though it fairly well. Business has changed and there have been casualties. We have not seen the last of the latter, but there has been a demonstration of just how adaptable businesses are in the face of a challenge.

I do not advocate ignoring risk nor failing to plan and train for dealing with potential risks, but throughout my career I saw various crises arise that did not fit the planning. The old military adage of no strategy surviving past first contact with the enemy is very true. Business is often derided as is the capitalist system, but it works and any business that is flexible and adaptable will rise to meet significant change in its environment. What planning for a crisis does is it get managers thinking about how they will react and considering where to find resources and how to deploy them. When a challenge arises, whilst it may not resemble anything that has been planned for, the thinking processes are in place and they work.

Thinking time is never wasted. Perhaps the current pandemic might have given us time to ponder on that.

the lockdown log 57


On Tuesday I have my second Pfizer Covid vaccination. I felt a bit odd later in the day and had the bizarre experience of my right arm being uncomfortable at the same point that I had had the jab in my left one. Weird, but that’s how it was and I went off somewhat through the day. I took a couple of singleton paracetamol during the day and then two at bedtime. Next day I felt rotten, but went into work and ploughed on before going home to collapse in a heap and have a quiet second half to the day and today I feel fine again.

Here in North Wiltshire I had a few windy days when trying to sand down and paint was not a good idea, especially with my neighbour’s silver birch shedding its catkins by the hundredweight and so I contented myself with pruning, weeding and working on some anti fox measures. Not much has been done on finishing the bit of the fence and deck that I wanted to have done by the end of April and that is a deadline that is now gone. So it goes and I will get that bit finished soon as I have everything I need to hand. During the general tidy up I found myself looking at the essential elements of the garden that I had planned out back in the 2019/20 Winter so I am getting close to the main goal.

The foxes are giving me all sorts of trouble. They practice their digging in my garden and are destroying plants at an astonishing rate. They use my garden as a dining room too and I spend time every day clearing up after them. The four babies are growing well and should be leaving for their own territories soon at which point I shall start to work on closing off every access point that I can find to stop them getting under the deck. Mrs Reynard is a deadly birder and regularly catches starlings and pigeons to feed her brood.

The Berkshire Belle has got the bug for doing the weekly food shop again and today was her third or fourth run out in a row. She buys far more than I do and we have a house stuffed with food so that, apart from one or two essentials like bread and milk we will not need to shop next week. We are eating well and I think that that keeps us healthy too.

After my disastrous weigh in last week I have reverted to my old eating regime and have lost all of what I put on so I am happy with that. I am not making any special efforts to cut down on my intake, but I am putting more salad type things into my sandwiches and wraps for work; tomatoes, lettuce and cucumber for example to perk them up rather than a dash of mustard or ketchup. It is tiny steps, but maybe it helps mentally. I don’t know why the change to my eating habits caused a spike, perhaps it was something like fluid retention. Odd, but changing back has me back on course and so that will do.

Our plans for a holiday later this year are fading. We had pretty much given up on going back to the USA again, but were thinking about maybe Dubai. That though seems to be out too as it is a major hub and therefore is regarded as a potential Covid hotspot. We do not fancy anywhere in Europe looking at the Covid position there and so this could be a second year that we go nowhere. In thirty two years together we blew out in 2016 for a number of reasons, but that was the first year in which we did. to have at least one holiday abroad until last year. Now it looks like two on the bounce, but we will have to suck it up. I have a week off later this month and we might try and have a day out if regulations permit.

So there we are, both double vaccinated and in rude health. I hope that you are all well too and staying safe wherever you are.

on gardening and leadership


Like many of us in lockdown, or seclusion as some overseas are calling it, I am spending more time in my garden than I probably would have done, although, for me, I am still working on a project that was conceived around the time that Covid-19 was taking hold in China and we were still in blissful ignorance of what was about to descend on the world.

Gardening gives you time to think and one of those random thoughts that have passed through my grey cells as I have been weeding and pruning is how much of what I have been doing in my front and back yards ties in to the leadership lessons that I have learned down the years.

It may seem odd that such solitary activities give rise to thoughts of leading, but one of the crucial talents that a leader needs is self discipline. Without that it is easy to lose focus and drift off track. In the business world you are dealing with customers, suppliers, competitors and regulators who create a dynamic environment much of which you cannot control despite any effort to influence it. The expression juggling chainsaws is a little extreme, but is not far off the mark at times and the person at the top of the team needs to be watching, evaluating, re-calculating, delegating, motivating, monitoring, planning and driving. Focus is essential.

Out in the garden things may seem more relaxed with just you and the vegetation, but that is an illusion to some degree for the equivalent of your business marketplace is nature and she never sleeps. Weeds are just plants that you don’t want and they are usually the most successful. They are resilient because they are left to evolve to their strengths; they compete to survive. Cultivated plants are much weaker as they are bred for other things and they need much more care to enable them to survive and flourish. The slugs, snails and aphids all ignore my weeds, but will destroy the stuff that I have spent my hard earned cash on in hours. Leadership 101 really; life is not fair and shit happens.

Tending to the garden requires planning, but also the ability to church the lan out of the window tom deal with the unexpected. Take weather. You check the forecasts (two or three at least) to get a feel for what is coming up. Like any business forecast the data will get less robust the further away you move, but, also like in business, the forecasts rarely agree exactly and you plan on worst case or maybe averaging the predictions depending on what you have in mind. What you get is rarely what you expect and you make do with what you get (sound familiar; sales forecasts anyone, or maybe delivery dates?).

Looking after a garden also means a lot of boring drudgery work, but you have to do it. Time management is all over this. You set aside maybe half an hour do do some pruning or weeding, but once you start you find something else and, if you are not focused you are still at it an hour later to the detriment of something else and you are on the back foot as far as getting what you planned for the day done. Pruning is a case in point for me as last week I decided to tackle the ivy growing over from next door where it has wrecked one of my fence panels. The plan was to strip the ivy, pull out what was left of the old panel and replace it with a new one that has been sat there since last year (when I was planning on doing it, but got distracted…). It should have taken me about 15 minutes to strip enough ivy to do the job, but an hour and a half later the Berkshire Belle was at the back door enquiring when I planned to cook her dinner; I had almost cleared the length of the fence.

These mindless tasks are a minefield for me. Sometimes I get bored immediately, give up and move on to something else which leaves a problem getting worse (and needing more time when I do get around to it), but at other times I get into the groove with my eyes and hands working on their own whilst my mind wanders off into, well anything really. I have to really work hard at keeping on track and it is an area where a leader’s followers need to pick up the tone because if they see you wandering off track where do you think that they will go? Do what needs doing and if that is not what you had planned then be sure you understand why you are changing tack and when you need to be turning back onto a course to recover.

I do. not mean to imply that gardening is a high stress environment, but then neither is leadership all of the time and when you have either activity under a modicum of control then both can be quite relaxing and certainly both will give pleasure. In that last sentence the key word is probably control. Whilst many of us get an element of pleasure from the gang-ho antics of firefighting and a good panic now and again can be fun in the aftermath, being in control is far better.

I will be back in the garden later weaving the essential periodic maintenance tasks into my various projects that make ups the overall strategy and doing my best to keep it all on track using the resources that I have whilst staying within my budget. Sound familiar?

the lockdown log 56


Today has been an odd day to round out an odd week. More disasters than triumphs, but that’s life eh? I’ll tell you a bit more in the coming paragraphs, but all in all I am still here as are those closest to me so I am thankful for that.

This morning started quite well. I was up just after five (my day off so a bit of a lie in) and breakfast of pasta with some homemade tomato sauce was good. The Berkshire Belle decided that we would go shopping and so my quiet time got a little disrupted as she wanted to be out by eight thirty and I had a few household chore to get done, but I still managed to watch a Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain concert on YouTube as well as a bit of use practice myself so things were going quite well at first.

By the time we got out a sinus headache had set in and was getting worse. The low sun didn’t help either on the drive across town tom Sainsbury’s so by the time that we were in the store I was not feeling great. We then had one of those shopping sessions where we had a total communication breakdown and compounded things by going into the store next door for further shopping. We had recovered our sense of humour bu the time that we got home, but then the bank that I use for my business contacted me for some further information and when I powered up the PC it decided to do a software update and I could not use it until after lunch.

Later I did sort out the bank and paid the paper bill on-line before heading out into the garden with no thought of what I was going to do other than that I needed to do something to take my mind off on my headache. The box of extra long wood screws that I had ordered from Amazon had arrived and so I put those to good use and was starting to have a productive afternoon when the tree surgeons turned up to work of the Leylandii hedge at the bottom of a neighbour’s garden. The noise and smell from there petrol chainsaws was too much even with my ear defenders on and so I retired early. At least I had made some progress.

The week has not been a good one in general, especially in terms of my weight. I deiced after writing last week’s lockdown log to change my eating habits slightly to see if it would help kick off a losing streak, but, despite cutting down on intake, I have put on 2.5 kilos according to my scales. Now I accept that it could just be another rogue reading and tomorrow may show something a bit more where I want to be. I hope so, but this was a blow.

My big idea was this. Five days a week I walk about 5-6 miles at work (8 km) and I eat my breakfast pack in two stages, about one third before I start work and the rest about half way through. Now my tracker estimates calorie burn off at around 1400 per morning, but I do about two thirds of that in the first half and so I thought that if I was to eat two thirds of my nosh before I start it would be a better balance. With cutting back on what I eat later in the day too, including having a couple of soup lunches, I was hoping to maybe lose a kilo or maybe two instead of which I have gone the wrong way. I have no idea why, but I am going to persevere for another week and see what happens.

I have been generally very fed up all week, apart from a few good moments. One of the latter came on Tuesday when I was hoping for a text offering me my second Covid vaccination. This did not come through at lunchtime as had happened for the first one and I went off into the garden in the afternoon in low spirits. I had just got started when Bane, the little black cat from next door, turned up to offer advice and I suggested to her that, as she looked like a good witch’s favour, could she not magic up my appointment? Meow she said and my ‘phone warbled; it was the text from the doctor! I will be getting my second jab next Tuesday morning and will be treating Bane with a lot more respect in future…

The fox family are still wreaking havoc in our garden (another source of downers), but the cubs are showing signs of rapid growth and I thing that a couple of them are being encouraged to set up their own homes. All being well they will all be leaving soon and I will be adding some fox prevention measures into my garden project programme. I doubt that I can entirely rid myself of them, but I will try and take away some of the fox friendly aspects whilst still leaving room for hedgehogs.

The garden project is coming along, but I have had a few setbacks this week and have not made the progress that I though possible this time last week. Today, despite an early shutdown, did see some good progress towards finishing the jobs that I want to have done by the end of this month. I have over a week to go though and am determined to hit my deadline.

Stay safe wherever you are and I will try to too.

on leadership examples


A recent Facebook group has got me thinking about the old days at one of my former employers, The Post Office. It goes back to 1982/3 and concerns the then Chairman, Sir Ron Dearing.

At that time I was newly promoted to a first line manager role, but with no team of my own; I was a member of a project team looking into the computerisation of Post Office counters and we had developed four systems in conjunction with various industry bodies. There was to be a formal media launch and I was elected to set everything up and to star in the filming along with my boss, the wonderful Diane Santos.

On the afternoon before the launch I was setting things up and making sure that the room looked good with a colleague, and agency casual named George. We were pretty much finished when the Public Affairs Director came in and briefed us on the timetable and running order for the next morning. A little while after he left we had another visitor; Sir Ron Dearing, our Chairman. He was on his own, no bagman or PA in tow, and introduced himself rather than assume we knew who he was (George didn’t). He talked us through how he wanted things to go and what he wanted from the session and he noticed that one of the posters on the wall was out of date. This was sharp as it was only about a month past, but he checked his watch and, noting that it was around five thirty, said that it would be too late for us to get a replacement for eight the next morning so he asked us to take all of the posters down. I mentioned this because there were many who would have told us to find the right one, but to have someone accept that such a task was not possible was encouraging.

The next morning I was in at six and was happy that we were ready to go when asked. No I should here describe the room because it has some relevance to my story. It was about the size of a single deck ‘bus, say ten metres by about two and a half. The door was at one side of one of the narrow ends and, as you walked in, the right side to about half was down was filled with computer equipment. From the half way point along the centre line for the rest of the room was a four position mock up of a Post Office counter. Into this space were assembling two TV news crews, one each from ITV and the BBC. The latter were filming for both of their channels whilst the former represented their own channel plus the new Channel 4. There was also a business correspondent from each channel, a couple of photographers and our own Public Affairs team, George, Diane and I and some of the Post Office hierarchy. Maybe forty people in all.

Into this mob came a wizened old man who, at that moment, looked like a pensioner. It was Sir Ron and he had been doing radio interviews since around six. This time his bagman was with him and carrying his jacket. He spoke briefly with one or two people and then came a transformation that still brings a shiver to me after all these years. He asked for his jacket and was helped into it, he ran his hand through his hair and, before my eyes, the frail looking old man became the chairman of one of the largest public corporations in the country.

Diane and I were called forward too do our bit for the cameras and all went well. Sir Ron did a bit to camera for each crew and then it was done. One or two people began to drift away and the news crews packed up. Diane went back to the office and George and I wedged ourselves into a corner to wait until we could have the room back to shut things down. As we waited we saw the Chairman’s bagman touch his arm and point to his watch, but rather than leave Sir Ron, who was not a big man, peered around the room until he spotted George and I. He pushed through the throng to get to us and thanked us both by name for making the morning a success.

It was a wonderful gesture and not many would have made it. He was a busy man with a lot to get through and yet he found time to acknowledge a pair of front line troops. It was gesture that I still treasure. It was also a lesson that I never forgot.

the lockdown log 55


I’m writing this in the sunshine having had a decent day with various jobs. We went out shopping together earlier, the Berkshire Belle very frightened of being out, but she did it. My concern is that the more she hides away the harder it will become to get her out and so I will continue to push her to have an outing a week now.

This afternoon I have finished the repairs to one section of the deck and am happy with the new solid and level section. Now I can block off my neighbour’s disintegrating fence and get on with the next stage of painting and will be able to see something that I can call complete before moving on to the next part of the great garden project.

The poxy foxes are steadily destroying the back garden. The four babies are practising their digging and are already able to tell flowers and vegetables from weeds.The latter they will not touch, but everything else is fair game. It has become a continuous battle between us with me trying to thwart them and them me. So far they are winning. Add in the debris from what their mum brings them home to eat and it really is not too much fun at the moment, made worse by the fact that they live next door and just use our garden as a creche and dining room.

Fortunately they haven’t worked out how to get into the greenhouse and I have all sorts of stuff growing happily in there. It is amazing how quickly the space has been filled up although I do still have room for the tomatoes that are on order. Once the weather warms up I can get some of it planted out assuming that I can build adequate fox defences. (From the corner of my eye I can see the little bleeders are back). Another month and they will probably be ready to head off and fend for themselves.

I find my mood swings are quite pronounced at the moment and I can go from one end of the spectrum to the other at the flick of a switch. Half off the time don’t know what triggers a change and try hard not to bother too much, but when you plunge into the abyss it is no fun. Overall I have lost the feeling of generally being well and all sorts of odd niggles are developing. There is something amiss in my neck that is causing occasional clicks that are loud enough for the Berkshire Belle to hear from the other end of the sofa. Changing pillows has not helped, but I have started wearing my neck pillow that I bought for flying long haul. It seems to help in that, when watching TV, it holds my head at the right angle without me having to do it with muscle power. Today I have started to get a little pain from that area and so I think that the doctor beckons.

On the diet front I have been very silly this last week and find myself eating without any conscious thought. One evening whilst making my sandwiches for the next day I had a piece of bread that had not cut too well and I had made into a sandwich and was eating it. That sort of casual extra calorie intake is not conducive to weight loss and I am lucky that the scales weighed me in at 107.5 kg this morning – I had thought that 110 was probably deserved. I am back onto trying to refuse myself things as I think that a slide may be on the cards and I really do not want to start going backwards. I suppose that the good news about my diabetes test has had an effect and I know that my head is not in the right place for a concerted effort to cut down, but I am more conscious of feeling fat rather than feeling thin. I don’t want to feel fat, but do I want to feel thin enough to stop me eating? Only I can answer that one.

I have been making my own bread again, one or two loaves a week. I am using the old faithful Panasonic bread maker rather than doing it the hard way, but the results are good and hopefully the results are slightly more healthy than shop bought bread. The Berkshire Belle keeps hinting about making sourdough loaves, but my previous attempts have all failed. Even keeping a starter going seems beyond me and I would rather just buy one when the fancy takes me. Another starter kit has turned up though so I will have to take the hint and make an effort to try it soon.

Time to go and cook a Thai chicken curry for tea, so stay safe wherever you are and I will be back next week with a Monday Musing and the next lockdown log on Thursday.

on developing leadership qualities


I suppose that, to start this blog off, I should define leadership qualities, but they are something that I can know when I see them, but find it very hard to pin down exactly what they are. It is a bit like looking at a painting. What makes a great artist? There are things like composition, brushwork, use of colour and so on, but put something done by a competent amateur alongside a Rembrandt or a Turner or whatever and the difference is obvious even to an uneducated eye like mine.

One my years at work I have seen leadership good, bad and average and would say that most of the leaders that I have encountered were inconsistent. There were some who had one moment where they could have stood with the top ten percent and then never reached those heights again, some who were generally awful, but had the odd moment where they did well and others who were average performers with the occasional moment up or down.

This leads to another question and that is how do you evaluate success as a leader? Results in terms of the way that the teams that they lead have performed is one, but it is not entirely reliable because I have seen badly led teams achieve remarkable results despite the person at the top. Perhaps a more reliable indicator is in the number of people that come through their ranks and go on to achieve good things. Some good leaders may be loved, but some are unloveable despite their abilities. Respect might be another criteria, but are we talking here about respect for their professionalism or as a person? Either could be relevant, but neither is a given.

And so it is hard to pin these things down. Physical presence might be a factor, but now always. Chaerisma is often mentioned, but it does not always make for a good leader even if it does tend to attract followers. Most measures are subjective and they are in the eyes of those who follow or look on. I know what I like as they say, and when I see it I know it.

The problem that I had to face, as do all leaders, is how do you develop others? John Adair maintained that it can be taught and his Action Centred Leadership principles are well established. I agree with that to some degree for I have attended and ACL course back in my early years as a junior manager in a large corporation. It is not a course that I remember fondly because the tutor was somewhat wooden and gave no signs of leadership qualities whatsoever, they worked through the syllabus by rote and I did absorb some of the thinking, but I made my way home thinking that it would have been so much better had it been delivered by someone who demonstrated leadership from the front.

For me trying to teach leadership is a bit like teaching someone to play an instrument. There are many people who can pick up enough of the rudiments to be able to play a recognisable tune, but you they may never get much further than that. The better leaders will benefit from tuition and, as I discussed last week, blending theory with practice is the most effective mix. It depends on the individual though and they have to have something that represents a talent for leadership; some spark that will light their fire.

All leaders have to start somewhere and trying to spot those elusive leadership qualities in someone who is not yet leading is your next challenge. In my most successful years of doing this I used to give people mini projects to deal with, allowing them support, but room to fail and always being prepared to accept the consequences of any such failure. Another opportunity was to have one of the team chair out monthly meeting. It provides an element of pressure in that you are amongst your peers and have your boss down the table too, but you are in a more benevolent environment that you might otherwise be. Seeing how someone manages to control a meeting like that is an opportunity to observe whatever leadership qualities they may have and to see where they might be helped along with advice. (Many of these meetings were videotaped and the results could be observed and dissected at leisure afterwards).

These are slightly artificial pressures, but observing people in the heat of battle is a great opportunity to see how the lead. Are they just watching their own corner or are they looking out for the team? Do they encourage their colleagues or harangue them? A good leader will always be observing and forming judgements, if for no there reason than you want to improve team performance generally, but within that looking for signs of tomorrow’s leaders is important.

What specifically am I looking for then? Mostly it is about subtleties; do they have a feel for when to push and when to back off, are they seeing the different needs of individuals in terms of what motivates them and makes them tick, how do they assess the mood of the team and evaluate the environment in which they are working. Life is dynamic and so change is constant. Having the ability to read that change and be able to adjust the focus of the team accordingly is another leadership skill. Seeing how people think, how they reason things and their decision making process against what is known and what is predicted gives an indication of their potential.

Something else that I will be looking for is whether or not people naturally follow because you cannot lead without followers. Someone with good leadership potential will show that tendency to naturally take charge, but if you put someone in charge of a task will the others accept that leadership or not? There is a difference here between leading and being bossy that you should be able too see.

There is no one size fits all here. List your own top ten leaders and consider them in as dispassionate a detail as you can and you will probably find that there are a range of styles; there may even be ten different ones. You can learn from what you deduce, but do try to develop your own styles for copying someone else is unlikely to work for you. Also don’t be afraid to learn form lessons of poor leadership as there are bound to be a reasonable number of such examples around you.

the lockdown log 54


It is grey and cold again today after a brighter start. The greenhouse is working as the temperature was up around 40C earlier when the sun was out. The plants that I started out with last week have all come on leaps and bounds under glass and so I am very pleased with progress.

I had intended to weigh myself when I got up this morning, but I was about 45 minutes later getting top and forgot so I will try and remember to do it this evening before bed. I am always heavier in the evenings, but I do want to have a quick check on where I am especially after a lax Easter weekend as far as calorie control was concerned.

I did try to re-start exercise walking in the afternoons this week as the weather has been cold and windy with of which preclude some of the jobs I want to get on with, but on my one effort it snowed and so I gave up having only managed 2k. I am still getting in over 10k a day in the mornings any work though and have been filling in using a neighbour’s treadmill on days off. She is moving this weekend though and so that option is going to be closed to me. I don’t want to re-join the gym (even if it does open) and will rely on the weather getting better and allowing more pleasurable walks.

This morning I have done the shopping alone as The Berkshire Belle does not do cold outings and she stayed in bed whilst I went off foraging at first light. A three shop trip this morning; Lidl, M&S then Aldi, but we are shopped for the week. I will make fish pie tonight; we haven’t had that for a while and it will give us a second seafood meal of the week. As a confirmed carnivore I am getting used to moving away from red meat and these days a steak that is about half of the size of the ones that I used to eat myself will do the two of us as the protein content of dinner.

We are down to red meat about once a week now, not so much from trying to avoid it as because there are so many other things that we can cook and enjoy. Whilst we do have our routines around food, always having dinner at 6pm for example, we have never got into the pattern of certain meals on certain days of the week. We might make a slightly greater effort for our dinners Friday through Sunday and possibly try and do something special for lunch on Saturday and Sunday, but that is about it apart from our bottle of wine that we make last over two days, usually Friday and Saturday, and firing up the coffee machine for a latte on Saturday and Sunday.

Trying to keep variety in our meals is important to us and it is surprising how many different things you can do with 250 gas of mince or a couple of chicken thighs. One of the things that has crept more and more into our cooking is the use of spices and using them to impart flavour rather than heat. There is a lot more to a curry, for example, than bunging in a handful of chilli and some the best curries we have eaten have not been hot at all.

One thing that we two differ on is that if the Berkshire Belle enjoys her meal she will not go looking for extras, but if she has something that she does not enjoy the contents of the cupboards develop a strong gravitational pull for her. I am the opposite and if I have really enjoyed what I have eaten I have to fight hard to stop myself going after more, even if I know that I will regret it by overeating, but if I don’t enjoy my meal I will usually just give up and have no interest in a supplementary bite. Having had a nice meal going out to the kitchen to wash up can. be torture for me with all of the temptation around me and I will often just make a black coffee (instant from a jar) because it will fill me up to a degree.

Out in our back garden Mrs Reynard has three babies, not the two that I thought. She has the task of finding food for that family as well as for herself and as she entertains them under our deck for at least part of the day I am not sure what we might face in a few weeks time by way of unfortunate aromas. The last time that we know we had a fox family living under there it was before the council had introduced wheelie bins and we got back from an early holiday to find the back garden full of part destroyed bin bags. Nature is wonderful, but…

I am back on clearing out my upstairs office as it is too cold for concerted efforts outside. I thought that the purge of last February had got rid of most of it, but there is still more rubbish coming to light, most ion which begs the question “Why am I keeping this?” A lot of it is stuff that would be useful to me if I was still widely working as a consultant, but as I have largely given that up I really do not need this vast source of reference and so there is a steady pile of paper feeding the recycling boxes.Last weekend I read through one of my day books that covered the period October 1998 to November 1999 and was staggered by just how much I was doing and how far that I travelled to do it, despite a car crash (hit from behind) and a bout of diverticulitis. It brought back a lot of memories of people and places.

That’s it from me for this week. Stay safe wherever you are and thanks for looking in.

on theory versus practice


That title almost suggests a rivalry or conflict between the two, but they are complementary tools. A leader needs both and the more of each that they have the more effective their leadership should be. You can start with either, it really doesn’t matter which. The important thing is to keep a balance between the two. 

Theory is fine from the basic thought process through to detailed research. Taking time to consider why things work, or don’t work, is important. Reading, listening and discussing should be something that we all do so that we can understand out actions and the likely consequences of them. Continuous improvement is essential, but theory alone will not be enough.

As a practitioner you gain experience and that builds two things. One is that you can improve your judgement and, for some tasks, you will cease to consciously think about certain things and just do them automatically. Think about driving a car, operating a piece of equipment or playing an instrument. To begin with you are slow and jerky in how you do things, but, with practice, you just do them fluidly. The same applies to how you lead or manage as your experience makes some things instinctive in the way that you respond. The other thing that experience brings is that you can better understand the theory if you have done the job and being able to relate theory with the practice of doing. For some they will begin to contribute to and further develop that theory.

There are theorist who have never practiced and there are practitioners who have not studied theory. It isn’t a problem, but the better people in either discipline have experience of both fields and the marriage of both makes for the best results. From my own experience some of the worst people that I have had to work for have been stuck in one camp or the other and, if I had to choose, I would go for a practitioner every time for there is an element of truth in the old adage that those who can do and those who can’t teach.

One example comes to mind of a boss who was on an MBA course and at team meetings we would get to some point of planning and he would announce that he had just done that module on his course and, pulling the relevant binder off his bookshelf would regale us with its contents. Now there would be the odd nugget that we could use, and did, but most times he was not bright enough to spot the relevance and would go banging on past that point with all sorts of bullet points read verbatim off the page; he had no real idea of how to apply the knowledge let alone apply it to any good effect. The theorist at his worst.

Your abilities will evolve as you go along. You will learn from your mistakes and, better still, from the mistakes of others. If you also try and learn from your successes you can pool all of that and go read some theory to see where you can spot the joins; how much of your success and failure can you match with the theory. The correlation of these points of reference can help you improve through a better understanding of the theoretical side of what you do and a better understanding of why certain results come from your actions (or inactions).

It is not always easy as a practitioner to find the time to study, but it is worth finding some if for no other reason that the better you get at your job the more time you will find that you have. All too often you can find yourself firefighting issues and coping with re-working mistakes. These are the two biggest wastes of your time and as you get better they are the easiest things to fix. Use the time that this gives you to think further about what you do and how you can do it better is the best investment you can make in yourself.

It is not easy, but none of the good things are cheap. Something as worthwhile as this is worth working for. Give it a try, starting today.