Blending Youth and Experience – What’s Your Style?

There has been much coverage in the press recently of sporting awards, with rugby and football players being named player and young player of the year. Christian Wade and Gareth Bale took both awards this year in their respective sports, and I would not deny them their accolades as both have been outstanding. I do wonder though, why is there no award for old player of the year? Sometimes the feats of the older players are more impressive. Some have been recognised with James Hook  voted Perpignan’s player of the year at 27, Michael Carrick Players’ Player of the year at Champions Manchester United and Jonny Wilkinson named European Player of the Year at the ripe old age of 33, ten years since he was the last player to win both rugby awards. However, even Jonny’s success is overshadowed by Easton  Roy of Stirling County RFC, who has pledged to keep on playing – just days after scoring a try on his  ninetieth birthday.

Further afield, I read of 80-year old Japanese mountaineer, Yuichiro Miurahas reaching the summit  of Mount Everest, making him the oldest man to scale the world’s highest peak. Another Japanese man, Jiroemon Kimura, who holds the distinction of being the world’s  oldest living person, celebrated his 116th birthday on Friday.
 

Not to be outdone by the Japanese, British great-great grandmother, Doris Long fearlessly abseiled down a  110ft building to mark her 99th birthday and raise money for The Rowans Hospice. I am still proud of my Mother, who shyly announced on her 80th birthday that she had taken up a new hobby of archery and earlier this year achieved the rare feat, sometimes referred to as a Robin Hood, of splitting one arrow with another, not once, but twice!
Age is seemingly not a barrier to sporting success and even less so to management success. Whatever your allegiance, it would be churlish not to acknowledge the amazing career of Alex Ferguson, retiring from football management at 71. Several CEOs in the U.S.A. are in their 70s, 80s and even one in his 90s. Jack Welch continues to write and consult on all aspects of management at 77 and in the UK, John Timpson is still chief executive of his family business at 72 and writes regularly on management in the Daily Telegraph.
Of course, it is not only sports people who vie for awards. The National Business Awards are about to be announced and are partnering with Cranfield School of Management this year, who are calling for business leaders, particularly young entrepreneurs to think more strategically. Apparently younger managers are more likely to adopt a style as the Meddler, the Hero, or the Artisan and while all of these have great strengths, they advocate the Strategist style to grow and develop the business.
An understanding of management style is a topic that many of the delegates on our Stepping in to Management courses find helpful as they seek to be more effective and advance their careers. Flexibility of style is a great asset in managing people and strategy is more about the language we use and the way we work with others than it is about gazing into crystal balls. We have been partnering with Nottingham Business School to explore these concepts and are developing a programme to share them with our clients. Contact me for more information. Strong leadership style and coherent strategy are not the preserve of the old, nor even necessarily the product of experience, but both can be learned.
I talk a lot about experience and learning from it – some say “there is no substitute for experience.” and while this may be true, I believe it is more important that we learn from that experience. How many of you have felt or been told that you do not have enough experience? Does someone who has been in the same job for 15 years have 15 years experience or one year’s experience repeated 15 times – it, of course depends on a number of factors. One of these is attitude – the young players who have won awards and the older players and managers mentioned above all have a positive attitude. Do you always act your age or can you still act your shoe size? While our bodies may tell us we are past it, mind set and self belief can play a big part in how we make the most of our advancing years. Start on that bucket list now!

The Real Tweet and More Pythons.

On the day that many of us will go to the polls to elect local leaders, it may be appropriate to remember that politicians are supposed to be the great communicators, although from the press coverage of this election you would not think so, with Ed Miliband saying no to his own question which clearly required a yes answer and Cameron resorting to name calling.
It is not just in politics that communication is poor, with reports from the civil service and the BBC of staff being bullied, threatened and consequently fearful of speaking up or challenging their bosses and thus becoming less productive and more resistant to change – surely not what we need in these difficult times.
Another survey highlights the widespread dislike of jargon with phrases such as “Thinking outside the box” being rated particularly irksome. Some of these phrases are, of course entirely appropriate in the right situation or context and if they are understood by all involved. The real problem is their over-use or when they are used to obfuscate or confuse.
The key to good communication is still simplicity (KISS), but we also need to be more careful and conscious of not only what we say, but how we say it. I still remember texting my teenager daughter on her first mobile, announcing that I was “home now”, admittedly all in capital letters through laziness or incompetence, which she interpreted as me demanding she come home now. (HOME, NOW!) With more ways to communicate in ever quicker ways, the lesson is surely to take more time and more care to be understood. Don’t blame the receiver when it is misinterpreted, ensure you get the right message across.
It is so important to read things more than once, before we send them or react to them – my eye was caught by a job advert recently for Python

trainers, not sadly intended for charmers, but for geeks, sorry IT experts. In response to a clever and amusingly intentional twist, I have set my alarm early from next week to catch David Attenborough’s Tweet of the Day– not that the great man has just embraced the latest in social media, but he will be presenting a different bird song each morning for our education and enjoyment. There is a man who can communicate.

For a vivid example of what not to do, look no further than the way Citigroup announced that it was cutting 4% of its workforce in December:
“Citigroup today announced a series of repositioning actions that will further reduce expenses and improve efficiency across the company while maintaining Citi’s unique capabilities to serve clients, especially in the emerging markets. These actions will result in increased business efficiency, streamlined operations and an optimized consumer footprint across geographies.”
In other words:
“Citigroup today announced [lay offs]. These actions will [save money].”
 

Rome wasn’t Built in a Day – Andrew Marr meets Monty Python.

 BBC journalist and presenter, Andrew Marr has been reported as blaming an intense workout for his recent stroke. In almost the same breath, he stated that he had been heavily overworking for a year before this workout and the stroke. While the workout may have triggered the attack, I suspect the 12 months overworking was probably more to blame. Too often, it seems to me people want the quick fix and are ready to blame something else when it goes wrong. Gym membership will not make you fitter, unless you make regular, and initially supervised, use of it. In the same way, crash diets rarely work or at least any weight loss is temporary – don’t go on a diet, change your diet.
Stephen Covey talks at length in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People of the law of the farm. This, simply put says that you will sow what you reap, but have to wait for the harvest –you cannot plant in March and harvest in April – and tend the crop in the meantime. You don’t start training for a marathon the week before the event, there is no such thing as a credible MBA in a week.
Margaret Thatcher once famously said, to massive outrage, that there was no such thing as society. Unfortunately, the message was totally misinterpreted as an attack on society rather than the intended appeal for individuals to recognise that they make up society and need to take personal responsibility.
Or as Monty Python put it in the dead bishop’s sketch:
  • Man: “All right, it’s a fair cop, but society’s to blame.
  • Church Policeman: “Right, we’ll be charging them as well.”
  • — Monty Python’s Flying Circus, “Church Police”
Don’t look for someone or something to blame for your problems, look to what you can do about them. Don’t look for the quick fix, find a way that fits with your values and is sustainable. That is the real art of being proactive, effective and successful. Anything worth working for will take time and effort, in life, sport or work.
For details of workshops on personal effectiveness, contact Steve.
 
The full context of Thatcher’s remark was as follows:
 
I think we’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it: ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant.’ ‘I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society.
 
There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There’s no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.
 

Do Manners Matter? Class, Brogues and Bad Role Models.

Will putting on airs and graces help you to climb the career ladder, or is that all out of date nonsense and is it more important to speak your mind with confidence. Should women be more like men if they want to get on in business?

There have been a number of articles in the press recently about class

and etiquette. If you haven’t yet seen the article about the new British class system, it is well worth a read. You can take a questionnaire to determine where you fit, and with a little tinkering work out what you need to do to move up the scale, or down or across! Many claim not to like stereotyping or being typed, but few can resist trying it out, if only to ridicule the results. It certainly seems to be more representative of our current society than the simple three class system, so delightfully sent up in “The Frost Report

There have also been articles about what is acceptable behaviour when cold calling, how to deal with those who seem to abuse this and tips on how to be a ladyin the modern business world, and even why a gentleman’s brogues are so important to his well being and self esteem.
The cold calling dilemma certainly struck a chord with me, finding so many of them to be intrusive and unprofessional, and assuming it is OK to use my first name as though we are well acquainted. I try to fend them off, while remaining firm, but polite, although I suspect I often stray into rude. I have not got the time or patience to “get my own back” as some claim to do by stringing them along, let alone claiming to be a detective at a murder scene and that they are now a viable suspect!
In terms of self improvement and career management, I would agree with all of the more moderate recommendations in these articles – being rude back to someone is rarely going to improve the relationship and you never know when these things will return to haunt you. I am about to interview someone for a coaching position at my rugby club, who was a much vaunted star in his playing days, but rather offhand when I asked him for some help.

To summarise the articles on etiquette, being a lady to is about treating people with respect, having self respect (so not being drunk and disorderly) and having your own personality – but not being abrupt with people (as people so often are today). And all of these traits are to be taken into the workplace, instead of the home– which is where the majority of women spend the bulk of their time.

You may well think, as I do that all of those expectations are just common sense and behaviour that should be expected from both genders? “Manners are all about putting other people at ease and thinking about others,” which is surely the best way to get on and get the best from others.

For the gents, apparently cheap shoes look slobbish and make men shuffle. Quality footwear endows a man with authority, poise and an air of reliability – not to mention desirability! If only I’d known.

Mind your language!

Does swearing make us more credible? According to some recent research in Holland, this may be true. The researchers asked students to read a fictional account of a statement made by a suspect burglar during a police interview. Students who read the version in which the suspect swore rated his statement as more believable than those who read a version that was identical in every respect but with the swearwords removed.
However, the research seems flawed to me. To remove the swearwords, but otherwise leave it intact would inevitably change the way it is perceived. I wonder whether it might have been a fairer comparison had the swear words been replaced by other adjectives, especially emotive ones.
Surely it depends on the context and your audience. The use of expletives can, of course add to a statement’s impact, but would that make it acceptable or effective in a business presentation. I doubt it.
Swearing certainly has a negative impact on some people, especially when used excessively – I have observed people who missed much of the message because they were so offended by the unnecessary use of profanities. This is partly a cultural phenomenon, with older people more likely to be upset by coarse language. Swearing is more common in younger people, but also may depend on where you are from.
I know in my military career, swearing was quite commonplace, but also selective. It was used extensively when at work, largely irrespective of rank, but significantly reduced when in social situations, especially when women were present. With women more widely integrated in the forces, I wonder how this has changed and fear that they have come to accept and adopt the swearing, as seems to be the case in factory environments.
I once heard a quote that said something like: “Swearing is a means by which the inarticulate gain a feeling of eloquence.” I do swear, but try to limit it, especially in business situations. To me it seems unprofessional and unnecessary. As in my quote, if I want to emphasise something, I should be able to find more appropriate and expressive words, which will not cause offence or detract from the message. Did Martin Luther King, Kennedy, Churchill or any other great orator resort to swearing. Certainly not. We might not expect eloquence and may understand emotional outbursts from sports men and women in the heat of competition, but nor should we have to accept foul language. In business, we may want to encourage and express passion and commitment, but should be able to do so without offending our audience.

Incidentally, personality research suggests that people who swear more, not surprisingly, score higher on traits such as extraversion, dominance, and hostility.

And finally… According to a disturbing news report today, a British tourist on holiday in Dubai was arrested for swearing. He was later ´badly beaten up´ to the point of being unconscious, slammed against a concrete wall, refused food, water, and a lawyer, and then his body was stuffed into a body bag while being removed from the facility.

All Change – From Snowdon to the Amazon

 I am again talking about change and how it affects us. I remember being horrified that Jaguar had produced a diesel variant, and then an estate version – that is not a Jaguar, I screamed! This week I read that they have laid a tarmac path to the summit of Mount Snowdon in Wales, to make it more accessible, why, why, why? Then again, there is already a railway up there and you can still do it the hard way if you want to (I know I do!)

Much is written about change and our reactions to it. I have been working recently with Royal Mail, who are undergoing a huge amount of change, some would say not before time. Much of the focus on the workshops was on debating and preparing for how people would react to change with considerable emphasis on those who would resist and even attempt  to forestall the new ways of working. Of course not everyone is against change, indeed, many of the managers we were working with were positive and even excited about the opportunities that the changes promise. They also reported that many of their people, including union representatives were supportive of the changes.

This does not, of course mean that these champions and advocates are

 immune to the emotional upheavals common to resistors. They need at least the same consideration, support and encouragement as they will have doubts, concerns and even reversals. They will feel any setbacks or lack of progress acutely. If not suitably nurtured and recognised they may even defect to the nay-sayers.

My younger daughter has just completed her degree and is somewhat relieved that the academic ordeal is over and looking forward eagerly to  starting her career. However, even change coming from success presents some challenges. She is now finding that it is not easy to secure a job, which frustrates her ambition and dampens her enthusiasm. Moving back into the family home means she has had to readjust to different norms and standards than those she has become accustomed to; her close circle of friends is dispersed to the four winds and all but lost, despite or maybe exacerbated by the apparent ease of maintaining contact provided by Facebook and email. So lots of changes all brought about by something she wanted deeply and worked hard to achieve. The euphoria and relief of graduation have been tempered with self-doubt and frustration.

Remember that denial and a range of emotion will precede the rationalisation needed for acceptance and commitment to the change, sometimes captured as the mnemonic DERAC. To help people through these stages we need to show that we understand and are willing to offer the support they need. (I remember these stages by reversing the letters and trying to show I CARED.)

A common piece of advice is to beware of spending too much time with the relatively small number of vocal resistors and instead to work with the undecided waverers, who usually form a quieter majority and if converted can provide the critical mass needed for success. Although this thinking is logical, I sound a note of caution. If your focus is too closely on those people, you may neglect your erstwhile allies and fail to recognise important signals of discontent. If you lose your champions, the struggle will be considerably greater to convert the rest.

Spare a thought for Ed Stafford, the intrepid former soldier who has just  completed a marathon 4,000 mile trek to walk the length of the Amazon in 859 days. I am sure he is exultant at his record breaking achievement and relieved to have completed it. However, he will now face huge new challenges in adjusting to “normal” life again and without his goal to focus on.

So it is for my daughter and for those managers in Royal Mail, change is an inevitable part of life and careers, but it does exact a toll. Understanding and support from friends, colleagues and managers will help them all to cope.

A change, though can be as good as a rest. So for something different, have a look at http://www.recyclethis.co.uk/ for tips on recycling everything from old wall planners to empty walnut shells!

Changing Times Call for New Perspectives and Challenging the Rules

Change, we are often told, is inevitable, unavoidable and should be embraced by leaders. Change, though is not just organisational, it is also social and as leaders we need to recognise and appreciate all its manifestations.

A great friend of mine, in his seventies and a military man is exasperated when he sees young men enter a building or room while wearing a hat. In his day this was completely taboo and considered rude. The offenders are more likely to be ignorant of this tradition rather than rebellious or intentionally disrespectful.
Another friend berates the younger members of the rugby team he coaches for not phoning him with their availability, preferring instead to communicate through Facebook.

I read recently of people “tweeting” each other during a presentation. Normally I would consider anyone using their mobile phones during a presentation as rude and inconsiderate, but are these just new norms and am I in danger of becoming as curmudgeonly as my aforementioned friends? Looking at this in another way, it offers a new way to interact with your audience
The etiquette of social media is evolving rapidly as is this new way of interacting with people. Organisations are trying to come to terms with it, writing rules to avoid the worst potential consequences, but this is not easy. I read last week of a police force that had issued a 7,000 word document outlining acceptable email practice, the size of which may reflect the complexity of the subject, but also inhibits the likelihood of anybody reading it, let alone complying with it. Sites like Facebook are a potential minefield as they are very public, but the traps are avoidable if you use common sense and sensitivity, providing a powerful new communication tool.

Etiquette is peculiar to generations and to cultures. Globalisation, multi-culturalism and foreign travel all expose us to different practices and standards, occasionally causing confusion and offence, but also delight, wonder and appreciation. I remember being fascinated in Hong Kong by the local tradition of burning money and laying out food on graves to honour deceased ancestors. This was all the more intriguing when the money was revealed as “hell money” – akin to Monopoly money and the food was retrieved and enjoyed by the family once the ancestors had chosen not to partake!
When abroad it is tempting and generally a good idea to adopt the local customs – when in Rome – but you can still stay true to your self. You don’t have to use the mixed sauna if you find it embarrassing, no matter how much pressure from your host.
On a recent course with students on an international Masters programme at Nottingham Business School, we were treated, on top of Mam Tor in snowy Derbyshire to songs in several different languages – three of them were to the tune of “Frère Jaques” but were about tigers and butterflies. A wonderful demonstration that in many ways we are as alike as we are different.

When is it correct to bow, when to shake hands, when to hug and when to kiss cheeks? Should emails contain greetings, and polite sign offs? I believe that leaders help to set standards, but not by being stubborn, change resistant or aloof. Leaders should look to set an example, but also to be sensitive to others’ preferences, upbringing and habits, and maybe even embracing the new way. Challenge different behaviour and standards if it bothers you, but more to appreciate why they do things as they do. Remember Stephen Covey’s 5th Habit of Highly Effective People – “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.”

Stalin and the Stranglers

Two radio news items captured my attention today and the Stranglers sang “No More Heroes” as I started to type this, which seemed fitting.

The first news item was an interview with the UK managing director of Lego, who told us that the company name Lego was coined by Christiansen from the Danish phrase “leg godt”, which means “play well“. The name could also be interpreted as Latin for “I put together“, though this may be a somewhat forced application of the general sense “I collect; I gather; I learn“; the word is most used in the derived sense “I read“. Close enough for me, deserves to be true! Lego is certainly a great toy for helping children to learn.


The second was an interview with Stalin’s grandson, who was stoutly defending his reputation and honour. This put me in mind of a theme I have explored in a number of training sessions, where I have asked people to identify major influences in their lives – both positive and negative, or “Heroes and Villains.” This can be useful when we analyse how much influence we take or allow from these people, and how valuable or limiting this can be to our personal development.


One personal example could be Dean Richards, who I admired hugely as a rugby player in the 1980’s, but who has recently been pilloried for his involvement in rugby’s “bloodgate” episode.  I do not approve of what he has done, indeed I find it indefensible, but this does not mean that I have to rewrite my memories or re-evaluate my admiration for his leadership and skill on the rugby field. Other sporting heroes have been caught stretching the rules, including Neil Back, Michael Atherton and Maradonna.

How many people refused to believe scandals involving Michael Jackson, because they loved his music, performances and public persona?
This works equally well for those we dislike as well as those we admire. I always thought of David Beckham as a prima donna of the worst kind, but was genuinely impressed by his maturity and inspiration as England captain.

Sometimes we can take these influences even further. During my military career I met Paddy Ashdown, himself an ex-Royal Marine and then a Member of Parliament, but I felt snubbed by him, and developed a strong dislike of him. I then found myself dismissing all statements from the party he went on to lead, just because I identified them with him – not a very rational or useful attitude.

I also resent the way some people revisit the life stories of historical figures and unfairly re-assess their character against the morals, values and experience of our own times. That is not to condone or justify evil or selfish acts, but I feel we should recognise that things were different then. I am still awed by the bravery of the likes of Scott, Nelson and Lawrence – all possibly flawed in some way, but still deserving of their hero status. Similarly, Mao and Stalin surely deserve their reputations as despots, but may have had some good personal qualities.


I think it can be very inspiring to have heroes or role models, but it doesn’t have to mean we admire and try to emulate all their traits. We need to be selective and recognise that they may be admirable, but are not always perfect. We can then make intelligent choices about what behaviours to learn and which to avoid. These role models may not be celebrities or even well known, they may just be exemplars from our own life or work. Most people can identify their best boss and their worst. Are there traits from the best to avoid and even some from the worst, which could help make us better bosses?

Don’t Knock It Until You’ve tried It

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.

An article in the Guardian caught my eye and furrowed my brow this

week, as it denigrated the benefits of positive thinking. In particular, it took to task “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill, the self-help book from the 1930s, and a bestseller ever since. This reminded me of so many instances where people, in print or in person denounce ideas and philosophies without fully understanding or testing them. It seems that too many people are looking for the easy way, the quick fix or the shortcut to health, wealth and happiness.
I have heard people ridicule and demonise all sorts of things, claiming that they don’t work or are a matter of luck. More often than not, the people who make the most noise about them have never read the book, never tried the technique or given the method chance to work. I am thinking of those who condemned the Atkins diet, when only following a small selection of the recommendations; or those who pour scorn on the Law of Attraction without following all of the steps in the formula. I even read a piece in a magazine declaring that brainstorming doesn’t work, but deep in the summary it admitted that it only didn’t work if the process was not followed correctly.

Both Hill and Stephen Covey invoke natural law, calling it the law of gender or the law of the farm – some things, most things happen when they are ready. Seeds take time to germinate and grow, bread dough needs time to rise, successful farmers only harvest when the crop is ready, and many of these ideas will work, but only if we use them correctly and give them enough time to work.


Of course I am, on occasion as guilty as others. I scoff at fad diets, believing it better to change your diet rather than “go on a diet”. However, I know people who have found diets that have worked for them, so good luck to them. Six months of nothing but Guinness and bananas will not be to everyone’s taste, but it helped a rugby friend to lose a lot of weight! We all have different experiences, and all learn differently from them, but do avoid condemning new – or old – ideas until you have tried them, or at least read the book! I have read these books and have doubts about some of their claims, and am sure nobody can become thin, rich or famous just by wishing for it, but thinking positively about your goals and ambitions is an important step to success in any field.

Life Lessons from Gandhi and Clint Eastwood

I have read a lot in the last week or so about people and blame. We have had political leaders apologising, refusing to apologise, blaming others or global forces for problems. We have even had Josef Fritzl blaming his mother for the abhorrent crimes against his family.

And then I was directed to an article in the Times, condemning all “management” theories as irrelevant and blaming them for organisations ills.

This all takes me back to a central tenet of my personal philosophy, which is best summed up as the first of Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which is to be proactive. Covey’s definition of this term takes it back to the fundamental premise of taking responsibility for yourself, your life and your actions, past, present and future – a strong theme from Transactional Analysis, which is another good old theory. This was well put by Abe Wagner, my favourite TA tutor, who advised us to “Be self determining and help others to do the same.”

I believe that if we do that, which frees our minds and our spirit. it then becomes much easier to be effective and successful. You are not hot tempered because you are Irish or have red hair or because your Dad was like that. Life and personality are based on choices – choices about acceptance and direction. No-one else is to blame, and certainly not a theory, which is only someone’s attempt to describe or explain their experience of how life has been for them. How you interpret and live that theory is your responsibility.

We can all learn from experience, whether it is our own or someone else’s, which is why we like to read or watch biographies and in a shorter version, peoples quotes.

As Mahatma Gandhi said: “Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”

Or as Clint Eastwood puts it: “Respect your efforts, respect yourself. Self-respect leads to self-discipline. When you have both firmly under your belt, that’s real power.”

So I need to “make my day”, not wait for some punk to do it for me! We should all learn to learn from and through experience.