leadership

Set Free by the Truth!

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I learnt a looooong time ago that success comes from effort you put in + talent + luck.  What I didn’t learn until a couple of years ago is that whilst I thought I was putting in the max, actually I wasn’t.  This is a truth that applies to most all of us, we spend sometimes hours just doing meaningless and pointless tasks.

I admit facing the reality was a difficulty, after all I’m perfect aint I? Well, NO actually.

The possibility that I could make better and quicker decisions just hadn’t occurred to me and when it did it was like being hit by a juggernaut. The reality just hit me right between the eyes, suddenly it was obvious what I had to do, I had to measure my activity and the waste would become self evident. I adopted a method I have to use every couple of years and I kept a diary for a couple of weeks. When I was a child I was in hospital for a very long time and at the time had pioneering surgery to correct a congenital heart defect. Anyway since turning 40 years of age (and that seems like a life-time ago now) I go for a check every couple of years to make sure I still have a functioning heart and nobody’s replaced it with a lump of rock.  Before the appointment where I’m prodded, pressed, listened to and covered in wires I have to keep a diary of diet and activity.  Thankfully over the last 8 years I’ve actually improved my health! Yes, I’m fitter now than I was 10 years ago!

Anyhow, the lesson is there. Measure stuff and stuff gets done. So I applied the logic to activity, especially activity that brought me closer to my dreams. And you’ll never guess what? I found I waste time.

I waste time day-dreaming (not necessarily a total waste of time but too much dreaming and not enough doing, well need I say more?).

I waste time flicking though pages of magazines looking at cars and phones and computers that I will never consider buying.

I sleep more than I thought I did.

I watch a lot more TV than I thought I did.

I spend hours, yes honestly hours on-line looking at and not buying cycling gear (yes its a fantasy, I am a MAMIL; a middle aged man in lycra)

The truth is that I measured what I did and hey presto I became more productive. Its no miracle just facing up to the truth and then doing something about what I didn’t like about my life.

Learning to be HONEST!

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For quite a few years I was a shitty person, selfish, self-centered, self-obsessed… the list could go on.

Essentially I put my needs (for needs read wants) ahead of everybody else’s, of my friends, of my girlfriends, of my work colleagues… yes everybody without exception.

My friends abandoned me, regularly, and I had to make new ones (which incidentally I became quite adept at from the amount of practice), my girlfriends dumped me but that really should be no surprise and I got sacked (but not often).

Like most people I didn’t and still dont like to hear bad things being said about me and even less so being said to me so I rationalized them, went defensive, went on the attack (more people walking away) and ignored what was being said. I thought they were wrong, they were jealous, they were just moaning, being needy and high maintenance and generally were being real pain in the derriere.

Because… I was good, I was a nice person, I had the answers, my needs were more important, I was important!!!

I didn’t get the other people have needs thing, I didn’t get the other people are important thing.

I still have relapses, but then my wife slaps (yes sometimes she really does but not hard, just hard enough) me back to reality, she keeps me grounded and enlightens me on what’s important, which quite often is not necessarily me and what I want.

I would blame everybody but me if something went wrong, but I can HONESTLY say that I’ve learnt that sometimes I do actually screw-up. Painful to admit, yes, but I do make mistakes.

I eventually realized that I was being an Ass-Hole and started to make changes. This didn’t always go well, the people around didn’t know which Philip would turn-up, which head of the day I was using and I can see why there was some confusion. But I was beginning to ignore those little demons inside my head that kept on pushing me to just get what I wanted and screw the rest, go on just this one more time, I’ll be good tomorrow. It was like a drug being selfish, being me was giving me a high and destroying my chances of ever being a fully functioning adult.

It finally dawned on me that I had to be HONEST not just with others but probably more importantly with myself. It is sometimes good to put yourself first, you are not always in the wrong. The realization journey was like a pendulum and I’d reached the edge of the opposite swing and was beating myself-up way too much. You have to stand-up and support what is the right thing to do, not just the right result but the right way of doing it.

Today I feel well adjusted, a little stressed from time to time but I guess that’s normal and importantly on the whole I’m HONEST with myself, with others and with the people I care about.

McDonald’s Promise Sustainable Beef

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McDonald’s, the biggest purchaser of beef in the US has promised that it will begin buying beef from a verified and sustainable source by 2016.

There is a but… They don’t know what verified sustainable beef actually is!

There is no definition of beef, for anybody that is, so this claim by McDonald’s is ambitious in more ways than one I guess. On the plus side McDonald’s are working with suppliers such as Wal-Mart to come with a definition they can work within, but this sounds a bit like asking a fox to guard the chickens. It’ll be a definition that suits McDonald’s but which may not actually resemble anything you or I might understand as beef. So on the negative side the players are setting the rules!

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When I go to my local butcher and ask for a cut of beef I fairly well know what I’m looking at is beef. This might not be so clear with a McDonald’s definition I venture. Beef could end-up being something that’s mechanically reclaimed beef which is roughly equivalent in terms of protein content.

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Bob Langert, McDonald’s vice president has explained that they are not ready to give a figure for how much beef will be from a verifiable sustainable source in 2016, its an “aspirational goal” he says, you better believe it if they don’t actually know what beef is I reckon. But it has been speculated that the process to get from zero to 100% beef from verifiable sustainable sources could take 10-years.

But think about this for a moment; the route the beef takes – cattle farm – suppliers – slaughter houses – patty makers… burger on a bun.  All parts of the supply chain act independently with each taking a profit and still we have the £1.99 Happy Meal!

How do they do it for the money?

Nonetheless verifiable sustainable beef or not a McDonald’s burger will still be 550 calories, and half the recommended level of fat for a day.

Dieudonne; A Sinister Clown

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SINISTER CLOWN

I have been following with interest and repulsion in equal measure the Dieudonne saga in France, partly because I’m obsessed with France and partly because of my innate fear of all things fascist/right-wing/nazi and following the very public goal celebration in the UK by Nicolas Anelka recently.

Dieudonne shows have been cancelled in some parts of France but not without a public outcry from some sections of the society that this is an attack on freedom of speech or freedom of expression. But I find myself thinking as one who will willingly defend the right of freedom of speech even when I fundamentally disagree with the sentiments being expressed, that actually even a bad clown can make a mistake and may even break the laws of the land. Wearing a red nose or pretending to give humor never prevented anyone from committing a crime. If a thief steels a motorcycle he has committed a crime even when he does in an amusing way.

However, Dieudonne, the sinister clown seeks to further his obnoxious views through so called humor. By going on a tour, publishing dates and venues he is being provocative and foolish. The French have not prevented his freedom of expression but have prevented public discord and a potential for civil conflict. Dieudonne is not a victim, he has not suffered a crime against humanity, he has had his talentless show which trades on scandal and abuse brought to a close in the name of public safety.

Dieudonne only speaks to those who cling onto the unintelligible thought of anti-Semites, to them his act, if indeed that is what it is, is a source of humor. He therefore only speaks to a small but nonetheless nuisance minority of people. To this day there are conferences and a vast number of books which speak of the Nazi Holocaust, a permanent stain on modern society. To think that this could be a subject for humor frankly beggars belief.

The notion that the law can impose limits on public behavior to me is something which should and must be challenged frequently. But the exploitation of crimes against humanity for the humor of a very few is not an area I would recommend to anybody as a place to challenge accepted decencies. His act is a cynical insult for his own reward. His act is one of many which seeks to raise the infamous beast of anti-Semitic thought from the ashes of hate.

It is quite amazing to me to notice that resistance of Dieudonne and his like comes from all sides, both left and right leaning thought. Of course Dieudonne argues that he provides a refuge in humor from the Zionist, he may well do this but I ask what is Zionism in 2014?

Certainly 100 years ago when the thought was to make a Jewish state the idea was simple; to provide a state that all Jews from around the world could come to where safety was guaranteed. I recognize the visionary genius of Theodor Herzl without question. However, Zionism in 2014 may look as if it is all about the West Bank and Gaza but really is this so? I think Zionism today is the same as it ever was, especially when you consider the threats from Iran, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Hesbollah, Hammas…

If only Dieudonne could see the threats from without the ‘Zionist’ state maybe then he wouldn’t be such a sinister clown about it all.

To add to the anti-Semitic attacks which are frequent the need for humor at the expense of the dead is an insult. To do this at the expense of Holocaust dead is a crime!

Assigned Roles

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Cover of "The Road Not Taken: A Selection...
Cover via Amazon

Leaders lead. That doesn’t mean to say that they don’t follow, for often they are following an idea, a thought, a principle or just somebody else who inspires them. But its probably safe to say what they follow is different from what most people follow. They don’t conform for the sake of conforming. They don’t do what others do merely because others are doing it. They follow an inner voice, a call. They have a vision, not of what is, but of what might be. They think outside the box. They march to a different tune. In short they are not sheep, they lead.

Power allows us to rule over others without their consent. As the Greek historian Thucydides put it: “The strong do what they wish, and the weak suffer what they must.”

A key experiment was conducted by Solomon Asch. He assembled a group of people, asking them to perform a series of simple cognitive tasks. They were shown two cards, one with a line on it, the other with three lines of different lengths, and asked which was the same size as the line on the first. Unbeknown to one participant, all the others had been briefed by Asch to give the right answer for the first few cards, then the wrong one for most of the rest. On a significant number of occasions the experimental subject gave an answer he could see was wrong, because everyone else had done so. Such is the power of the pressure to conform that it can lead us to say what we know is untrue.

One extraordinary finding of Solomon Asch’s is worth noting however. If just one other person was willing to support the individual who could see that the others were giving the wrong answer, it gave him the strength to stand out against the consensus.

On a more frightening note was the Stanford experiment carried out in the early 1970s by Philip Zimbardo. The participants were randomly assigned roles as guards or prisoners in a mock prison. Within days the students cast as guards were behaving abusively, some of them subjecting the “prisoners” to psychological torture. The students cast as prisoners put up with this passively, even siding with the guards against those who resisted. The experiment was called off after six days, during which time even Zimbardo found himself drawn into the artificial reality he had created. The pressure to conform to assigned roles is strong enough to lead people into doing what they know is wrong.

Robert Frost wrote in his poem; The Road not taken

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

To me leadership can take many forms, the charismatic, the reflective, the quiet type, the good and the bad. There are many forms indeed but all of them lead others in a direction they would not have necessarily chosen for themselves. The styles adopted will equally very according to the leader and their natural leaning to one or other style; engaging, autocratic, democratic, free-reign…

True leadership however is concerned with forging ahead on new paths, on paths less followed. The aim of the leader is not measured in financial gain but in how people follow and why they follow. Gain of any nature is as a consequence, a symptom of leadership. The real and true value of a leader is to make a difference to themselves and those who follow.

We see from the examples above that real, honest, natural leadership is in (very) short supply. Most people want to follow even in the face of obvious defect of judgment. People just don’t trust themselves and in that case will suffer what they must.

Success through Recognition

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A vital component of success is recognizing it when it hits you, its very much part of (good, sorry great) leadership.  By recognizing a persons success you are effectively saying they have achieved, they have arrived.  You are giving the person something emotional in nature and reinforcing that bond between you the employer and them the employee.

You could, if you had the will and time formalize the recognition process by giving rewards, even if they’re only a badge to say best performer… but this too is part of the process of making those emotional bonds stronger.  The best rewards are financial but I’d always urge these to be totally results related, measurable by all.

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Rewarded, emotionally attached staff who are trained and motivated to do whats right, whats required will give exceptional service.

Exceptional service = return customers! (and we all want them)

But….

Don’t be afraid to do the daring things.  You might find that the culture needs to be redefined, engagement encouraged, people (your people) reignited, the brand reinforced.  This may mean that taking a brutal approach to ensuring the right people are on-board is one of the options you take.  If you do go down this route (I have) you’ll wind-up with groups of people:

Players – those people on-board, know what they’re doing, need no further motivation

Wannabe’s – those who need more training

Potentials – could go either way

Assassins – saboteurs

Find a way of getting rid of the assassins, things will be better once they’ve gone. The potentials, they need telling improve or you go the same way!

Get on top of succession planning.

Build strong teams, especially the one around you.  You need a small handful of potential contenders to be your replacement.  Make sure that team members buy-in to the brand, to what you’re trying to achieve, to what you’re saying.  Internal appointments to management are very important, but leave space for external hires as well.  You are going to need fresh and new ideas; not always possible from within.

Make absolutely sure that who-ever you appoint they understand and appreciate the culture; no short-cuts on this one.