Talking Cricket and Difficult Conversations – If Only I’d Said…

Having recently spent a fun and rewarding week training in Saudi Arabia, ISaudi PS2 01awas again reminded how different people respond to similar situations and how often their response is programmed or influenced by their experiences, upbringing and the environment or culture they live in.

I was further pondering this yesterday while watching a cricket match. A batsman played a poor stroke and missed the ball, but did not lose his wicket. He proceeded to play a number of “air strokes,” practicing a better shot. The commentators gently ridiculed this as being wishful and too late. Air ShotBut it reminded me of something I had read about reinforcing good or desired behaviours over less effective ones. The brain, or unconscious mind would process and memorise those practice shots in exactly the same way as the one made in actual play. So, in fact, the “air strokes” are a good technique for eliminating the bad habit or behaviour and replacing it with a better one.

So, applying this to ourselves, such as after a difficult conversation, reflect on what you learned.

Imagine you’ve made it through a tough conversation. Perhaps you askedTough Conversation your boss for a raise, gave tough feedback to a colleague or managed a customer complaint. Now what? You may just be happy to have the conversation over with. But before you move on, take time to think through how it went.

Ask yourself:
 Do you feel proud of how you managed the conversation?
 Or do you feel embarrassed or let down?
 Did you meet the goals you set out for the discussion? (Did you define these beforehand?)
 Do you feel differently now about the person or the problem?
 What do you wish you had said or done differently, and how?
 Now rehearse this better option in your head to add it to your “memory,” just as those top sportspeople and other performers do.

This reflection will give you a sense of what you should do next (perhaps you need to go back to the person for a follow-up conversation) and will help you better prepare for future discussions.

Join our workshop on 4th July for more insights into Dealing with Difficult Behaviours.

Pschometrics: Panacea or Mumbo-Jumbo?

Does psychometric testing represent a viable proposition?

I wrote this article a few years ago and have been reminded of it by and updated it in light of recent conversations which are reminiscent of those that prompted it then. The range of options continues to grow and while this adds to choice, it also adds to complexity and confusion – there are, for example over a dozen that use colours to differentiate people, which sounds simple and easy to understand. However, they don’t use the same colour for the same trait!Pschobabble

I was horrified at the time, if secretly a little pleased, to hear a psychologist condemn all psychometric tests as a waste of time. His ensuing argument was a fair one, although I believe somewhat flawed, more of which later.
Most of us have some experience of psychometric tests; we will probably have completed one even if we haven’t administered any. My first exposure to them was during recruitment selection for the forces. I passed . . . well got in any way! Later I found myself required to administer tests with no training at all, an experience which could have put me off for good, but rather encouraged me to learn more. Even poorly administered the results were too insightful and useful to be ignored. I resolved to continue using them, but to learn how to do it properly.

The psychometric test or instrument is a varied species. Some are cobbled together in a back bedroom for a one-off use, while others are the result of years, even decades of research, validation and evaluation. They claim to measure everything from your sex drive to your suitability as the next company chairman. They have an equally mixed reputation and justifiably so, often compared to star signs and other folklore.

The value of any test, its credibility, validity and benefit to the user owes much to the administrator. Tests that are poorly presented or explained are liable to be less accurate, possibly worthless, or at worst false and potentially damaging. Just as the conditions and briefing for an academic examination should be the same for all participants, so should it be for anyone completing a psychometric test. My early concerns were aroused when I heard the different briefings given by fellow trainers from the same organisation administering the same test:

“Write down the first answer that comes to mind.”
“Consider each question carefully.”
“You have 20 minutes.”
“Take as long as you like.”
“Answer as quickly as you can.”
“You have 40 minutes.”

When delegates compare notes and discover such anomalies not only is the reliability of the test called into question, but also the ability and trustworthiness of the trainers.
There are other ethical considerations. How confidential will the results be? Have you told the delegates? Have you told their superiors? Doubts in this area will cause concerns and can affect the results.

Notwithstanding these potential problems the psychometric test does have its uses and I believe the better tests, the well-researched and validated ones, are worth more than the paper they are printed on. They can be a useful aid to the trainer, the consultant, the personnel officer and, most importantly, the trainee. It can provide data for training needs analysis, particularly using group results which are less sensitive. They can be an aid in team building, where I have found they can help delegates to understand differences and how to manage them.

The psychologist mentioned at the beginning claimed that the test can tell you nothing about someone that you can’t find out by talking to them. Sound and admirable sentiments, but not always practical. Some people don’t come over well in interviews, many others don’t conduct them very well! The test can give an alternative viewpoint, identify new facts, or reinforce interview impressions. I have found delegates grateful for a label to identify ideas or problems, and appreciative of a framework to help them understand the different ways some colleagues operate.

Dilbert MBTI

Interviews and tests are both valuable and fallible. They are best used to complement each other, and better still if used in conjunction with other data, such as past performance or assessment exercises. After testing, every participant should have a personal de-briefing of their results and be given the chance to comment.
One of the most sensible comments I have heard about any psychometric instrument was, in fact, about one of the most respected, but holds true for all: “Remember, the instrument does not tell you what you are like; you tell the instrument.” And, “Tests are like computers, only as accurate as the information fed to them. ‘Rubbish in, rubbish out’.

So, don’t condemn testing out of hand, but use it sensibly and professionally. Take particular care in the selection of tests and ensure you use them properly or find ‘someone who can’. It can be expensive to become a qualified practitioner or to hire one, but the cost of misuse is greater.

Leadership Lessons from the Royal Marines III

Operations

When a Royal marine joins his first unit, he is expected to perform straight

The beret badge of the Royal Marines. The badge of the Royal Marines is designed to commemorate the history of the Corps. The Lion and Crown denotes a Royal regiment. King George III conferred this honour in 1802 "in consideration of the very meritorious services of the Marines in the late war". The "Great Globe", itself surrounded by laurels, was chosen by King George IV as a symbol of the Marines' successes in every quarter of the world. The laurels are believed to honour the gallantry they displayed during the investment and capture of Belle Isle, off Lorient, in April–June 1761.

away, but will be treated as a “sprog” or rookie, and be the brunt of that Commando humour, which can be cruel and merciless, but you will also be given further training and support to become an effective member of that new team.

How does that happen? For me, there are three key elements that build and maintain that ethos, namely:

  • Team Alignment
  • Continuous Improvement
  • Leadership on Purpose

Team Alignment

This feeds off and builds on the team ethos and requires a clearly RM Arcticunderstood and shared purpose. It enables everyone to answer the question “why does this unit exist?” For 45 Commando based in Scotland and deployed annually for three months to Norway it was and still is to defend the northern flank of NATO. For the 3rd Raiding Squadron (3RSRM) it was to keep the borders of Hong Kong secure.

This purpose then translates into shorter term objectives or goals which are always clear, measurable, achievable, and relevant. Every team member knows his role, his tasks and how they contribute to the unit’s goal. All military briefings follow a standard and well tested format and that goal or objective, called the mission, is always stated twice with real emphasis because it is so important:

  • To secure the building
  • To destroy the enemy radar
  • To sell 500 widgets

To reinforce this all team members are expected to conduct situational appraisals at regular intervals and all relevant information is shared. This means anyone is able to take over leadership at any time. It is also important that the leader clarifies their intentions, why some things are

The OC of Bravo Company Major Dan Cheeseman RM talks to an Elder at the weekly (Shura) gatering of Elders at Sangin. Nov 2007

done in certain ways. For example, while the role of 3RSRM required them to arrest and repatriate illegal immigrants in Hong Kong, we still felt and showed sympathy for the situation of those people. Indeed while part of our role was to intercept illegal immigrants, our main focus was to capture the people smugglers who preyed on those poor souls. Similarly, while the role of 3 Commando Brigade was to defeat the Taliban, it was crucial that they also won the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

Finally the leader empowers and trusts all team members to act in accordance with the objective.

Royal Marines are given huge responsibility from a very young age. The marine in charge of that road block in Kabul may be only 19 or 20 years old, the corporal in charge of the weapons search not much older. I was just 23 when I took charge of the green goddesses in Glasgow during the fireman’s strike. They accept those responsibilities because they know what is expected of them, that they will be given the necessary support and that they will be held accountable for their actions and those of their team.

When one of my patrol craft was in collision with an unlit junk in the South China Sea in the middle of the night, it was me that reported to the Naval Commander and debriefed the crew, even though I had been at home in bed at the time of the incident.

What is the lesson for business? – are your front-line troops really aligned with your strategy?

Continuous Improvement

As important as clear briefings are effective and timely debriefs, where everyone is encouraged to critique the last operation. Openness and honesty further build the mutual trust and team spirit. It is also the time to hold people to account, for people to put their hands up more than to point fingers. Too many businesses, in my experience do this poorly, if at all.

Leadership on Purpose

Leaders develop leaders. After their 6 months basic training, Royal Marines join a unit where they will be given more training and look forward to being selected for the 11 week Junior Command Course, which qualifies them for promotion to corporal. How many managers in business receive even 11 hours of training before promotion?

Continual Professional Development is a fact of life for all marines. That does not mean that all will be promoted. There is a tradition that some will serve their entire careers, sometimes over 20 years in the rank of marine. These characters are revered and celebrated for their experience and common sense and given roles where that can be taken advantage of.

How can these lessons be applied to business? I am sure you can see many transferable leadership lessons from these ramblings, but I would highlight Trust (through genuine empowerment), Support and Accountability……. and to enjoy ourselves when we could!RCDO 025

 

 

Leadership Lessons from the Royal Marines II

CTCRM-Lympstone-75th-Birthday(part two)
Training

Having completed that brief introductory course, I moved with the rest of my troop of 66 recruits to the Commando Training Centre at Lympstone. There we began the longest basic military training in the world, designed to prepare us for life as a Royal Marines Commando.

Despite the intensity, the objective was not mindless obedience, but to follow (and question) orders while encouraging initiative and dependability. There were a lot of physical challenges – assault courses, speed marches and battle swimming tests. These were interspersed with training in weapon handling, fieldcraft, navigation, corps history, tactics and even legal issues.

The (self) selection and de-selection continued and six months later just 14 out of that original 66 passed out for duty. This sounds attritional and, while our troop lost more than most a 50% drop out rate was average in those days.

Water Tunnel 02However, what is not obvious from the numbers is that the culture within the troop was as supportive as it was demanding. Although each individual was tested in the classroom, the gymnasium, on the moors and the parade ground, there was a strong ethic that if one failed, we all failed. This was literally true of the regular speed marches (running as a squad carrying battle order, weighing in at 30 lbs and a 9 lb rifle) – if anyone did not finish in time, the whole troop ran again the next day.

We started very much as individuals competing to better each other, but soon became a team who worked together to collectively overcome the challenges of the programme.

This is how we nurture and develop the unique ethos that helps the Royal Marines excel as an organisation. Incidentally, Royal Marine officers train at the same centre and have a higher standard to achieve in all of the Commando tests.

The theme of this article is leadership and this is fostered in every recruit from the start. They are all expected to show personal leadership through self-discipline and are also required to take turns at leading sections during training exercises. Those who show particular potential will be earmarked for fast track promotion on joining their operational units.

RM ValuesThe four elements of the Commando Spirit, Courage, Determination, Unselfishness and Cheerfulness are what turn individuals into commandos. What shapes how they work as a team, giving the Royal Marines its special identity are the Commando values and the wider set of group values. The seeds of these values are sown during training and further developed when joining a commando unit.

Joel Kurtzman in his book of the name, describes “Common Purpose” as a new concept. I would accept that the label and understanding is relatively new, but it has been part of what makes commandos into leaders for a long time.

While not having the luxury of a long training period, few organisations have an induction process that shares the values, purpose and culture that they are looking to promote.

Leadership Lessons from the Royal Marines

(part one)

RM Eyes

When I initiate a discussion about leadership, the examples most often cited are from the realms of sport or the military. Many express admiration for Alex Ferguson, Clive Woodward, Norman Schwarzkopf or Tim Collins. Others will quote various military strategists from Sun Tzu to Clausewitz, from Churchill to Montgomery. A couple of relevant ones from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” are:

  • Leadership alone determines success
  • A leader leads not by force, but by example

While I appreciate the sport analogies, having been a rugby coach for 20 years, those from the military are closer to my heart. However, I disagree with many of the opinions about military leadership, which are riddled with inaccuracies and misconceptions fuelled by Hollywood and old comics.` Having said that, I do believe there is much we can learn from the armed forces and that can be transferred to the world of business. In this and subsequent articles, I hope to give you some insights into how leadership is developed in the Royal Marines and how these lessons can be applied to your business.

I served in the Royal Marines for 13 years rising from recruit to Captain, served in Northern Ireland, Norway and the Far East.

I do believe that there are a number of lessons that businesses can learn about Leadership from the Royal Marines. There are, of course many differences between running a business and commanding a military unit – with the consequences of failure being one stark example. However I intend to focus on the areas of similarity and what we can learn from them.

The Royal Marines have been in existence since 1664, celebrating its 350th anniversary two years ago. They have fought in conflicts around the world, earning many honours. They fought at Trafalgar, and captured the Rock of Gibraltar, but are probably best known for their exploits during and since the 2nd World War as Britain’s Commando force, specialising in Raiding, Amphibious, Mountain and Arctic warfare.

I have chosen three areas to explore when charting the development of a commando leader: selection, training and operations.

Selection

The recruitment process for the Corps is rigorous and demanding. The adverts tell us that 99.9% need not apply. The initial requirements in terms of physical, intellectual and other attributes are of a higher standard than any other part of the UK armed forces.

RM State of Mind

A job interview like no other

Having said that, probably the most important criterion is attitude – my drill sergeant summed this up when he told me that Royal Marines select themselves. I remember my first day, when we travelled down to Deal in Kent for a 10 day induction course and initial screening. Two opted to leave after just one hour!

What lessons do you recognise from this? I would love to hear your thoughts and will talk about the impact of training in the next article. For me, one obvious link is the oft quoted adage to:

“Recruit for Attitude, Train for Skills.”

 

Commonwealth Communication – Who Deserve the Medals?

TdF Having seen the Tour de France start here in Yorkshire, and race through my village a couple of weeks ago, I spent this weekend in Glasgow watching the Commonwealth Games Rugby Sevens tournament at Ibrox stadium. I enjoyed the occasion and witnessed some great rugby. The South Africans were particularly impressive and worthy champions. I equally appreciated the efforts of some of the lesser known nations, such as my old friends from Trinidad and Tobago, who went on to win the non-medal Shield trophy.
A great sporting occasion which was slightly marred by the continuous, contrived jolliness of the stadium compere at every break in play, seemingly unaware that some people were there to watch the sport, not to make fools of themselves. Curmudgeonly perhaps, but it did seem overdone.

I was struck by the usual plaudits and platitudes one hears from organisations about how the event or business would not succeed without its people. The Tour de France recruited 10,000 volunteer “Tour Makers” and the Games recruited 15,000 “Clydesiders” to make the events a success – all unpaid and often too little appreciated. “People make Glasgow” was a logo plastered on many billboards in the city. How many posters have you seen claiming that people are our greatest asset? It was certainly true of the Commonwealth Games – I was a volunteer at the Manchester games in 2002 – and the volunteers I encountered in Glasgow were almost universally smiling, welcoming and helpful, refusing to be embarrassed by having to point the way with giant green fingers! However, they were often hampered by poor information.
CW LogoThere was an excellent free bus shuttle service from the city centre to the stadium, which worked brilliantly on the way there, but was a little less well organised on the way back as 40,000 people swarmed out of Ibrox and were herded into queues for the subway, the shuttle or the park and ride. People were asked to walk ½ mile or more down streets to join the back of queues coming back up the same streets. The highlight was a policewoman exhorting one section of the crowd, queueing four or five abreast to “fill the road” just yards before that road was narrowed into a funnel by steel barriers. Even the horse she was riding looked bemused and even embarrassed as the crowd in front of her just smiled and ignored her. Memories of the article I posted last week about ambulatory anarchists!
The following day, the shuttle to Ibrox was as efficient as before, but this time on leaving, the stadium announcer told us there was a problem with the shuttle buses and to follow directions outside. Once outside the shouted advice was to take the subway or walk to the city centre – three miles away. The volunteers were excellent at shepherding us in the right direction, but none of them knew what had happened to the buses. We later heard that “our” buses had been diverted to help the congestion at Hampden Park, home of the athletics competition. The crowd stoically walked into the city centre with much good humour in evidence, but frustrated because they had no information. I smiled at the huge cheer when a Porsche was stopped by the police motorcyclist for ignoring the road closed signs.

CW Volunteers 2What are the lessons for our business leaders? Yes, of course the people are the most important element of any organisation, but the fuel they need is accurate, timely information. Too many managers keep things to them-selves, worried that the information they hold is incomplete, time sensitive or just plain wrong. They should share it anyway, with caveats if necessary, but tell the people on the front line and then they can look after your customers, who are the ones we need to look after if we are to run a successful sporting event, a public service or a business.

Driven by Greed, Ego or Expectation?

A theme I have mentioned before is the ability to identify and learn from the experience of others. Obvious enough you may think, but we often listen too much to our heroes and not enough to those we cast as villains.
shontayne_hape1_250 Two recent articles highlighted this for me. On the one hand, I read the story of international rugby star, Shontayne Hape and how he battled concussion. It is easy to admire, and even attempt to emulate, his determination to carry on regardless. Indeed, as he intimates it is almost expected in rugby circles. However, less admirable were his attempts to beat the system, to ignore advice and refuse help. What lessons are there for us in a business context? It may be as simple as my daughter refusing to take time off work while battling a chest infection or expecting our people to bend the rules in a good cause.
Wolf Wall StreetOn the other hand, Jordan Belfort, the self styled Wolf of Wall Street, who swindled people out of millions of dollars in the 90s and for which he served a mere 22 months in prison is inspiring a lot of comment in the press and the blogosphere.
He has now re-invented himself as a motivational speaker and sales coach (at a claimed rate of $1 million per annum). His seminars are selling out to hundreds despite the price tag of £100-200 a seat with people keen to hear his money making secrets. He liberally peppers his talks with reminders to apply his techniques ethically, but this does ring rather hollow.
If you can endure the Anthony Robbins-esque hype, ignore the All American “Yee-Hah,” and resist the teasers demanding that you shell out even more money for the full three day boot camp, there are many useful ideas and techniques in what he says.
A colleague who attended his recent London seminar identified over 50 useful tips, about managing your emotional state, self belief, clear vision and good sales practice. That doesn’t mean he bought into all that the Wolf proposed, far from it, but it does show how he listened, filtered and identified the nuggets in all the rhetoric.
Ask yourself how often have you admired someone so much that they can do no wrong or, conversely reviled someone so that they can do nothing right?

Lost Aircraft, Lost Baggage, Lost Reputation.

Look at the Big Picture.Indian Ocean

 During our sessions we often discuss the importance of leadership at all levels in an organisation and about being pro-active. The reputation and credibility of your organisation is critical to success. This reputation is fragile, can take years to establish, but only moments to destroy. As leaders we are all aware of our role as standard bearers for our organisation and take pride in the image we present. As such, we should also take responsibility for ensuring others do the same. Recent press coverage of mistakes by British Airways and American Airlines provide ample evidence of this. One would appear to be a mistake at quite a high level in marketing, the other “just” one lowly person in baggage handling. Both examples demonstrate how we need to be constantly vigilant and everyone needs to be on message.

It seems incomprehensible that someone did not realise the potential damage that could be caused by BA’s ill timed advert, even if this had been planned for some time. I would be asking stern questions of the agency involved, too as they could have prevented the embarrassment.

Equally, someone other than the author of the inappropriate note could have recognised the insensitivity and done something about it.

It would be easy to blame others, and take no responsibility, but the real lessons are about awareness, accountability and assertiveness. We need to recognise the potential and do something about it; start by looking in the mirror and asking what we could do to prevent similar mishaps in our own organisation.

See: BA Advert and AA Bagtag.

 

 

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!