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Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

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 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.

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.

on the ABC principle


I’ve joined a new Facebook group recently and have been sharing memories and catching up with people from a 30 year career. A lot of things have come flooding back including the ABC principle, although that was something that I had learned even earlier.

I’ll take you back to around 1975 and the East End of London. Much of the docklands area was abandoned and near derelict, but it made good space for some transport operators to use and these were amongst my customers as I plied my trade selling commercial vehicle parts and hydraulic fittings. I worked for a franchise operation and was asked to spend a couple of weeks with someone from the parent operation who would advise on credit control and debt management, not that I had much trouble in that direction as most of my customers paid cash and my only concern was to be sure that they were not dud notes I was accepting.

My new partner was ex Royal Navy and ex Kent Police and he looked it. I am not sure how much value our two weeks together were, but I hope that he, being new to this job, got an insight into what really went on at the sharp end rather than what those in the ivory tower thought. For my part I got little from it as his appearance, and the fact that we were running around in his dark blue Morris Marina rather than my usual van, meant that a lot of my customers that that we were the Old Bill when we drove into their yards and my orders plummeted. However, on the last day he gave me a nugget; the ABC principle.

I had taken him the he Waterman’s Arms on the Isle of Dogs, Dan Farsons’ old pub, for lunch and he gave me that bit of advice which he claimed came from his days in CID. ABC: Accept nothing, Believe no-one, Challenge everything.

To me at first it sounded very cynical and, to a large degree, counter-productive for a salesman who was trying to build trust with customers, but as he explained it a degree of sense emerged.

Accept nothing, at least at face value. That isn’t the same as rejecting everything because it is all useful, but don’t trust anything until you can verify it.

Believe no-one. It is not because they are lying, rather that even if they believe what they are saying is true, it may not be. They may also be only telling you what they think that you want to know. If you ask ten eye witnesses what they saw you will get ten different answers, so listen, question, and file it all away until, as with the first point, you can verify it.

Challenge everything. Look at it from every angle that you can think af and then think of some news angles. Test every theory and, you guessed it, verify it.

On that day I took the advice and did not believe it. It all sounded like it had come from an episode of The Sweeney, but I considered it and, in time, tried it. I found that it worked for me. I accept that it is a little extreme, but if you apply the ABC principle with a little common sense it works and will serve you well. For my own part I have applied it very strongly when considering disciplinary matters and accidents at work through to a more casual application pretty much every day when considering something that needs doing. It has kept me out of trouble more often than I can remember.

So don’t take my word here, but do challenge the thinking if you do nothing else. Think about it, work on it and see what you can do with it. You might find that it works for you too.

on heroes and villains


Which are you, hero or villain? If you have made anything out of your life you will almost certainly be both and this is one of the things that leaders have to accept and learn how to deal with. How you deal with it will define you, so getting it right is important.

The hero thing mainly comes through results. If you are constantly delivering then you will be well regarded from above and, if you ensure that your team get the glory, or at least share the rewards, then flowers will be lain in your path. Or not, because any success you enjoy will bring about jealousy from some of your less enlightened peers and they, along with anyone above you in the hierarchy who is also none too secure will see you as a villain. They will feel threatened and it is no use trying to present that they won’t because it is a fact of life that in any organisation there will be some who react that way.

If you are at the top of the tree then you can set the agenda for your organisation and one of the first things that you should be doing as a leader is to establish the right kind of culture, but for most people they can only do that within their own team and hope that others see the benefit and follow your lead.

Jealousy and fear are emotions that are common throughout the animal world and is not just confined to us humans. It is unlikely that we can ever change so what needs to be done is to try and avoid the things that trigger them. You can’t hide success, and you shouldn’t, but don’t ram it down other people’s throats: A little humility goes a long way. Being open with your peers about how you do things can also help, not least because if they can use some of your methods to help themselves the the organisation that you all work for benefits too.

Fear is harder to cope with because it can be even less rational than jealousy. If you are more successful than a colleague then they may fear for their job. Again, sharing what you do and how you do it might help, if nothing else it shows that you want to be on their side and not a threat to them. The fear factor can also apply to your boss as I have found more than once. There is nothing wrong with having one of your team who can run rings around you in some aspect of work; you should want people who are better than you working for you, but not everyone can cope with that. My approach has been to always be open about what I am doing and, when I get the chance to talk to the next person up the line, to say how supportive my boss is and how much that contributes to any success coming my way. Taking the threat away as much as I can.

When all is said any done you can’t win them all and some people will not be won round. My consolation has always come from two sources; firstly in results. If my part of the empire is doing well then I am doing my job and I expect no less from myself. The other factor is through having a motivated team who are, because they are generally happy, delivering the results that are cheering me up. If I have these then it does not matter if some see me as a villain and, most of the time, I don’t care if I am a hero to anyone or not these days: I have been around long enough to become comfortable with who I am.

It wasn’t always that way though and I have had some hard times with self doubt and all the baggage that comes with that. If that is where you are then stick with it. Experience is everything and do not worry too much about the times when things go wrong, just learn from them and get better. Trust your team and work with them to make them better. Learn from your peers even when they don’t want to help you and encourage feedback on how you are doing. If you can believe in yourself through it all you will make it. One last though: it doesn’t matter whether others see you as hero or villain for if they think of you as one or the other then you have been noticed and people who are noticed have a tendency to get the opportunities to get on in life.

on personal motivation


Last week I was musing on teams, but the question of what motivates the leader is always worth considering, especially when the leader is you. Just like everyone else leaders have bad days, even bad weeks, but have to hide that from the troops as best as they can because the rot will spread. Whatever is going on inside the world needs to see a positive attitude.

One of the hardest things that a leader has to face up to and find a way to conquer is fear. There is no getting away from it; everyone will be afraid at some point and failure is probably the biggest cause of fear. It is important here to look at failure from two perspectives; failures through a mistake, making the wrong call or whatever, is something that you should embrace because you can learn from these things. There may be bad consequences, but you still can look at why you made the wrong decision and do better next time.

The other form of failure comes from where you fail to act, to not do something that you knew needed doing, but just let it slide. The fear then move to the consequences and, let’s be honest, if you pull this one then you deserve what you get. You ought to learn from this too though, the lesson being that, as the leader, you have to face whatever the job throws at you. The old adage of if you can’t stand the heat then stay out of the kitchen was never more apt.

Motivation for a leader may come from material things; car, money, fringe benefits, power and the like. At the core should always be a desire to do the best that you can though and to improve all the while. Managing fear will come though all of that and one driver will be your ambition.

Looking back I don’t know where my ambition came from and it certainly rarely ever seemed to have any focus. As a small boy I wanted to be a coach driver; it seemed wonderful to me to be able to take people on trips that gave such pleasure whilst also getting to drive what I thought were the most wonderful vehicles. That faded to be replaced by becoming a pilot and that looked, briefly, as though there might have been a chance, but it didn’t work out. By then I had begun to experience the careers advice offered at school and had decided that I wanted to be a manager. I had no idea as to what they did, but going to work in a suit, having a nice car, an office and a secretary all seemed attractive.

Others had the same idea about me as I later came to understand and worked hard on developing me in that direction. I was an organiser in my teens and was given responsibility at school that I did not understand the significance of for many years. It was only when I was into the development of others that I started to understand some of the opportunities that I had wasted, or at least not fully grasped, in my younger days.

Eventually I made it, going all the way from the shop floor to the boardroom. The two things that seemed to drive me, and that I thrived on, was having responsibility and influence. They were my motivators even if it did take me time to recognise their influence. But I think that underpinning all motivating factors is that you need to be hungry for success and to do what you need to to earn it.

I did, at times specialise at work. I have four professional qualifications in IT, Purchasing Facilities Management and Logistics each of which was acquired when I was specialising in those areas, but the common thread was that I was a decent organiser, or manager, and got things done. I established a reputation through project delivery, but was equally successful at routine operations and still regard myself as a generalist rather than a specialist.

For me I was fortunate in that I had a lot of training along the way. The opportunities to learn were always grasped with both hands right from my first school days and I still, aged 68, will grab any opportunity to try something new that comes my way. How you motivate yourself is something that you must find. Don’t sweat it too much, but do try and see if you can understand what makes you tick and channel it to you advantage.

on teams


So much of team building chatter is based on the premise that we are all capable of being excellent, that same mentality of the Blair years that we can all have anything that we want, that there are no losers and similar excuses that blights genuine progress. The reality is that there are always losers because there are so few genuine winners and, in any case, true excellence is something that comes at the expense of much else. If you want that you can forget most of the work:life balance claptrap that is bandied around.

For anyone leading a team the issue is how to get the best balance from what you have and you will rarely have any choice in picking your team, at least at first, so you will be doing what you can with the hand that you are dealt. There is every chance that you will have a star or rough diamond in the mix and a number of people who are very competent as well as what will seem to be a dud or two.

The first step is to get to know them and try to understand what makes them tick. Weaknesses are important, but put them at the back of the queue for now and concentrate of strengths. You may want to work on people’s weak areas in time, but for now use the team to cover each other’s weak area. If someone is not good on the ‘phone don’t let them answer it. It is important to the team to feel that you believe in them so if you get them doing the things that they are best at they will be happier and start to trust you. As that trust builds they will be more receptive to your efforts to develop them and these should always be around polishing their skills before working on their weaker areas.

If you can get that right you will find that at least some of your team will start to ask about working on their weaknesses. This only comes when people begin to feel confident and you will not get that by harping on about their weaknesses; you need to be subtle and building the confidence that they, and you, need. It is about building an atmosphere of mutual trust.

Another benefit from this approach is that when things go wrong people will be more open about what they did which helps to understand what you need to do to prevent recurrence. Eliminating errors becomes a lot easier when your team truly believe that they are working in a no-blame culture so always look for what went wrong rather than who did it.

As you come to understand your team better you will also understand what motivates them. Not everyone wants to be a star and there is no reason why they should. For many people to just do a job that fulfils them and enables them to survive in modest comfort is all they want and people like that are the bedrock of any team. They turn up, do their stuff and go home day in, day out. What will demotivate people like that quickly is a poor working environment so, as leader, you want to make sure that the physical infrastructure works well and that your team have the things that they need. It can become a huge problem when the stapler can rarely be found and, when it can, it is out of staples or the photocopier is always out of paper. These are simple things to fix, but are the grains of sand that can grind people down. Fix them and people will be happier and happier people are more motivated and productive.

A few thought to play with. As always, feel free to disagree.

on putting in a shift


Many years ago I was given some feedback (although we didn’t call it that in those days) on my recent performance on the management training scheme. The comment that stuck with me at the time was “He shows up on time and gets on with it. He puts in a shift, but is nowhere near ready for the move up”.

Those thoughts stung the 20 year old me quite a bit and, despite the offer of a move up to department manager a few months later I had already decided to move on: The stupidity of youth. With the benefit of hindsight my mentor had been spot on and it would be a couple more years before I could see that and had begun to work out what I needed to do to move from worker to manager.

But even as a manager there is still the need to show up, get on with it and put in a shift and to be able to do that day in day out regardless of how you feel. Yes there are times when there is that urge to get in to the office (or wherever, and start making things happen, but there are days when there will be no spark at all. It happens to everyone regardless of where they sit in an organisation and is a common cause of the odd day off here and there.

To “Put in a shift” has been a philosophy that I have carried for nearly fifty years now and it has become ingrained. It’s just what I do and I am happy with the approach. I turn up on time, do my best and go home. As long as I can do the latter feeling that I have been able to make a positive contribution then I will be content. It also means that I am never embarrassed about getting paid.

It is advice that I would offer anyone as a basic plan to working life. Yes there is more to it than that simple statement. You especially need need to learn as you go along if nothing else, but if you turn up and get on with it you will be well on your way.