Archive for the ‘The Monday Musings Column’ Category

on fake news

I am not one for conspiracy theories and am fully aware that news media are not, in this day and age, unbiased so I treat anything that I read or hear from them with as open a mind as I can. If something interests me enough then I try to triangulate and get bearing from other directions and try to form my opinions accordingly. I was, at least, taught at school to try and think critically and that side of my education was refreshed as I worked my way up the greasy pole of management through three decades.

An example of something that is puzzling me at the moment, and it is an area in which I have a professional interest, is a claim that I saw recently that we have lost over 100,000 lorry drivers from the UK job market.

Now I know that some drivers from EU countries have left due to the UK leaving the EU, but 100,000? This just does not gel with what I see and hear around me. There are not loads of trucks parked up with no drivers and when I talk to immigrant drivers they will admit that some of their compatriots have gone home, but not in any great numbers.

There are issues in terms of recruiting and retaining drivers within the industry; poor pay, nowhere to park for statutory breaks, poor facilities and, for those not directly employed, the costs of retaining their licence. Even getting a licence now is a problem because of a ridiculous EU regulation that we have not struck from the statute that prevents someone going directing to an articulated truck licence (you have to take a rigid truck test first and then move up to an artic) effectively pretty much doubling the cost of a licence.

But the media channels are reporting a shortage of drivers as a problem of us having left the EU and so that is what the person in the street believes when they see an empty shelf at their local store.

I will refrain from banging on too much about these things; there are plenty of other examples and you may well have favourites of your own. It seems that the media are either trying to make a political point or are just looking for ways to sex up a story and think that we are all too stupid to challenge them, or maybe it is also just the echo chamber effect; to give their readers news biased to the way that they want to hear it.

Sad really, but the truth has become what you want it to be and that is dangerous. Orwell’s 1984 might have come late, but I think that it has, perhaps, caught up with us.

on freedom of speech part two

I dashed off a rant the other day on this topic. Naughty because I try not to do that sort of thing, but I was incensed and that is an especially bad time to launch into print. I will try to be a bit more considered here.

The issue with Piers Morgan worries me considerably in terms of our society because it seems that there is a view that one person can give a TV interview and say what they like, but another person commenting on that issue gets shouted down. Why is one allowed to speak freely and another not? That has to be wrong.

Over the last few days there has been a move by the Left to persuade advertisers to shun the new UK TV news channel because it styles itself as right of centre. Personally I had not intended to watch it of a regular basis, but I am temped to watch it daily now and to shun any company that pulls its advertising. Censorship is not acceptable to me.

I have moved around to political spectrum over the years. I leaned a bit left in my younger days before drifting into the centre. Yes, I have some views that will seem extreme and used to joke about being turned down by a South American Junta for being too right wing, but, for example, I did not support the abolition of capital punishment back in the 1960s and am still opposed to those that support its exclusion from the options available to our courts. If that makes me a right wing extremist in your eyes then so be it. I am entitled to a view.

One of the things that we did not have in my youth was social media and so to express a view you needed an audience in person. One of my delights was Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park where there were all sorts that you could listen to. Not all were good orators, but some, like Donald Soper, were very good and, even if I did not agree with the views that they were expressing, there was a joy in listening and an opportunity to consider what they said. To think critically about what was said, weigh up the various points and form my own opinion was a big part of my teenage education.

Heckling was part of public speaking and a good heckler versus a good speaker was another part of the free entertainment as was the ability of a good speaker to deal with a moronic heckler. Indeed many of the crowds would turn on the latter, something that you rarely see in the social media echo chambers of today. In any case heckling is a dead art now as political events and conferences eject anyone not espousing the common view. Another loss of the freedom to speak.

We are in danger of becoming intellectually sterile and that is not good for society. There should be open debate and an acceptance that, through constructive argument, alternative views can be weighed. Freedom of speech is also about the freedom to think, but it is also about freedom itself. Let us not lose it.

on taking a knee

I do not care whether the England football team take a knee before their games or not and nor do I care whether people applaud them or boo. I understood that I grew up in a country in which freedom of speech was a given and so my feeling is that if they want to do it then it is up to them.

Having read the logic behind their action and heard their manager explain it I think that they are being incredibly naïve to say that it has nothing to do with the BLM movement. The swastika is a symbol of good fortune in many parts of Asia, but it was appropriated by the Nazis and is still vilified in most of the countries that fought that regime and so if I were to plaster my car with that symbol how far do you think that I would get with the argument that I was not promoting Nazism?

Perhaps their stand (no pun intended) will at least keep some debate going on the subject of racism, but I fear that all it will do is to create further polarisation. Sadly that is a cause and consequence of the Woke generation. The whole concept is to polarise; you are with us or against us with no middle ground, no attempt at informed debate, just “We’re right and if you don’t agree, you’re wrong.”

For professional footballers I think that they are missing a very fundamental point. Football, like most sport, is about tribalism. You support your tribe (team) and hurl abuse at the other lot. It wasn’t always like that; there was a time when it was all a lot more relaxed, but money has swept through the game and there are fortunes to be made from tribalism; selling apparel, kit and memorabilia well to the fore. Hurling insults at the opposition is part and parcel of the game and if you can get under the skin of a player on the opposing side and put them off then so much the better.

We are talking about human nature here, even if it is a side that we would rather suppress. I remember my first encounters with professional wrestling back in the 1960s when middle aged women, including my mother, a God-fearing Christian, would be whipped into partisan frenzy. Civilisation is a thin veneer at times and yes, latching on to a physical characteristic; heigh, weight, hair or skin colour included, is a way of targeting your abuse. Yes, that is bullying, or one form of it, but it is encouraged in sports because there are some who are making shedloads of cash from it and that includes the players.

I don’t doubt that the players are sincere, but if racial abuse is a form of bullying so is the premise that everyone else should back them. It is very unlikely that I will be at any of the England games in the foreseeable future, but if I was I would neither boo nor applaud them taking a knee. I don’t agree with them, but it is their choice and they are entitled to make it. I will make mine too and I hope that they are man enough to respect that too.

Just because I don’t support their way of going about it does not mean that I do not agree with their aim, so do not alienate my support simply because I choose a different path to the same end.

on discrimination

Discrimination is a word appearing a lot at the moment, not least in reference to the, for some, dreaded Vaccination Passport. Much has been done in the last thirty or forty years to try and eliminate discrimination, but I will argue here that it is another example of trying to suppress a basic human emotion.

We all discriminate: If there is something that you choose not to like you are discriminating about it. It could be a food (hands up all who hate Marmite), a sporting team, a TV programme, a band or singer, anything at all. Discrimination is simply a choice and to be discriminating is, still, a compliment for it implies a level off sophistication.

The argument against discrimination is about how we apply it and I have no argument with the principle of equality here. However, there are inconsistencies. For example my doctor’s surgery will offer ladies the opportunity to see a lady doctor or, if seeing a male doctor, to have a chaperone. The Berkshire Belle takes the latter option and takes me with her. Not because of any caution, she is an ex-nurse, but because she knows that I will listen carefully and be a better sounding board on what was actually said.The option is there though and I have no problem with it, but when I make an appointment I have, son far, not been offered the choice to see a make doctor. A clear case of discrimination, but not one that I am making a fuss about, simply making the observation.

The safety of females is another issue that has been high lately and it seems ironic to me that, in the general sweeping away of things to level the male:female playing field, one thing that we have lost is the Ladies Waiting Room at stations and Ladies Only compartments on trains. Whilst we still have separate changing rooms and toilets the distinction there is becoming a little blurred though. I have become used to having females coming into the male toilet at venues where there are queues for there own facilities and their need is too great for them to wait in line. It does not especially bother me, but the Berkshire Belle is very unhappy about the prospects of males coming into the female facilities whilst she is using them; it makes her feel unsafe.

Protecting minorities is all very well, but what about majorities? Democracy is about the will of the latter and as a society we have to have a sense of proportion. There is so much noise being made around the edges where, by definition things are extreme, that the moderate voice cannot be heard. Indeed, the minority tactic is to shout down any voice of reason.

I do not see any reason why a group of like minded people cannot decide who they want in their number. If I go to a bar and there is a large group in one corner enjoying their mutual company can I just gate crash and join in? In all probability I will unwelcome. Try looking in on social media at any of the echo chambers that exist for a particular point of view. When you find one try chucking in something of a contrary viewpoint and see what happens. Inclusive? I don’t think so. I can remember the days when football crowds were not segregated and it was possible to mingle with opposition fans and not go home via the local ER facility, but I would not try it now. In any case I would not be allowed to; dissemination? Yes, but there is no outcry.

There is a lot of hypocrisy around discrimination. It is something that is as much a part of human existence as is breathing and we need to accept that, even embrace it. What we do not want is unreasonable discrimination. There is a difference.

on a new normal

Change is constant, at least in that things change all of the time. We all get older for one thing, speeding towards death at sixty minutes in every hour. The only thing that changes about change, if you see what I mean, is the pace of change.

The last eighteen months have seen an accelerated change that the world in general has probably not seen since World War 2, although localised areas have had conflicts that have had severe impact. It is that impact, rather than the pace, that we probably notice more and beneficial changes probably sneak through with less notice.

Take the mobile device revolution. The speed at which mobile communications took hold was stupendous, changing business and personal lives at a stroke. It has had a huge effect on society and mostly good, but it has also opened doors for criminals and terrorists that we could have done without. Einstein’s cause and effect principles apply here.

A pandemic on the scale of Covid-19 and its variants has been able to spread so rapidly because of advances in travel and the way that the world works these days. Forty years ago it would have been different, but the changes that have happened over that time made such a devastating spread more possible. Perhaps Bubonic plague is the nearest equivalent in human history and that, too, spread mainly through commerce and isolation principles helped defeat it, or at least to slow the spread.

Terrorism changed global travel in the early 2000s and Covid will change it further. The freedoms that we enjoyed at one time in jetting off around the world allowed those with nefarious intent the opportunity to exploit them and so we had them curtailed. There are those who have allowed selfish interests to spread Covid and their actions have seen freedoms removed, if temporarily, but to what extent will we get them back?

Working patterns have changed too and the future is again unclear. Much office work depended on workforces that commuted and on jam packed public transport. Will such circumstances come back? As always, business, the capitalist system, has risen to the challenge and found new ways to sell to us as we have embraced new ways of buying.

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, as they say, and whilst sometimes we yearn for simpler times of the past, we would not really want to go back. This time may be different, but the past is gone and the future is up to us. Will mask wearing become a common sight as it is in many Asian cities? I know that I am going to find it strange not wearing a mask in public places and credit having worn one, along with a greater hand hygiene regime, with the fact that I have not had so much as a common cold through the last two Winters. Fringe benefits maybe, but it will be interesting to see how things are this time twelve months hence.

I hope that you and I are still here to see the new normal.

on diminishing returns

I should start by saying that I have often been assessed over my management career and have rarely, if ever, been classed as a Completer Finisher. That fact may colour what follows, but stay with me.

Regular readers of these musings will know that I am a fan of the Pareto principle in the sense that you can get 80% of the results with 20% of the effort and it is something that I have employed often over the years, especially in planning where you can get to a point that you have so much information that the answer is obvious, so give up and go with what you have.

This is the principle of Diminishing Returns; you have done well, but to continue will not yield the same productivity so stop there and move on.

It is not something that you should do every time. Take, for example, installing some plant where you will still get 80% there with 20% of the effort, but you do need to spend the other 80% effort to finish the job. I think that surgeons apply the same principle. or at east I hope that you will should they ever operate on me.

The point is knowing when to give up. Planning is a problem partly because people like planning. It is comfortable and you are not actually doing anything. The desire to get everything perfect is understandable, but there comes a point where you have to say go or you risk being late in delivering that which you are planning and too many times I have been lumbered with leading a project where the planning has not only gone past the necessary start date, but has also been so far out that the end date is hopelessly wrong. No plan survives first contact, so do your best and get cracking.

Another area of procrastination is in the bid process. There will be a deadline for submission of tenders and that will almost always be too optimistic anyway. You do your due diligence and costing and get the proposal written, but there will always be an element in the team who want to keep tweaking and adding. I remember once being drafted in on the last day before a tender submission for a French company. The bid had to be in French and the commercial translator had been booked to put our English into French, but their engagement ended 48 hours before the tender was due because it was to be printed in multiple copies and sent by courier across the Chanel.

Our team decided that they wanted last minute changes and would send the documents over with one of our team on the morning of the due date. Eurostar would have them in Paris in time they said and duly wrote their revisions, but overlooked that the translator had moved on to another job for another client. That was why I was there, although people’s faith in my technical French was touching to say the least, but I finished the changes late that evening, printed off the pages and rebound the bid documents before starting the drive to Ashford where I was due to meet our man who was taking the documents over.

About ten minutes after midnight the ‘phone in my car rang; “John? I’ve got some more changes…”

Despite it all we won that bid and were very pleased to do so, but there was no need; the client was only looking at price and delivery. They had already made their minds up that it did not matter which of their short list got the job as we were all capable. All of that stress and last minute polishing was just a waste of time and effort.

These things are a judgement call, but there needs to be strong leadership to sense when the moment has come to stop and move on, then to make that call and change tack.

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.

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?

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.

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.