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.

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

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

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].”
 

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.

Positive Feedback – What a Great Message

Had just posted my comments about receiving difficult feedback positively, when I was pointed to this by a colleague, Dr John Kenworthy – thanks, John.

Just watch this – it is quite long – 15 minutes, but great story and you can all work out the message for yourself! You can get the gist in the first 5 minutes, but if you are like me, you will have to watch it right through!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cbk980jV7Ao

Shoes, Pizzas, and Well Aimed Feedback!

In the week that President Bush had shoes thrown at him by an Iraqi
journalist and a delivery man was saved by a pizza, I was prompted to reflect on the learning potential of feedback.
To explain, George Bush had shoes thrown at him in Baghdad, although he was agile enough to avoid both missiles. He then showed presence of mind and even statesmanship by defending the man’s right to protest in a free society and pointing out to journalists that his assailant had succeeded in getting people talking about his protest.
The other story relates to how a Florida pizza delivery man was challenged by armed robbers in the city of Miramar, but got in first with his own weapon – a large pepperoni pizza. Eric Lopez Devictoria, flung the piping hot pizza at the gunman, then turned on his heels and ran, making a safe getaway, despite one shot being fired as he fled. Police later arrested three teenage suspects, who have been charged with armed robbery.
I came across these two stories as I was thinking about how some people still cower in their comfort zones, avoiding risk and change. If you want to develop, you need to step out of your areas of competence and confidence, and challenge your fears. Children have few fears and often explore the world with wild abandon. As they mature they are taught and learn to respect and even fear experiencing some life situations and activities. While this is useful learning in some potentially dangerous situations, they can develop the unfortunate idea that to try anything new and failing is embarrassing and uncomfortable and should be avoided.
This learned fear of failure can become stronger as we grow older and severely limit our development. One way of learning is to invite, contemplate and act on feedback. If we don’t ask for it, or worse still ignore it or even punish the giver, we lose that learning channel. As leaders we need to encourage feedback, even if delivered in awkward or rude ways. A mature learner will filter out the insult and listen to the kernel of truth in what has been said. In the same way that George Bush ducked the shoes, but respected the journalist’s right to criticise him!
Remember that feedback is not the absolute truth, but someone else’s perception. To accept feedback constructively you need to:
  • LISTEN – and ask for clarification if necessary
  • DON’T ARGUE
  • DON’T DEFEND
  • REFLECT
  • ACCEPT IT OR REJECT IT – whichever you choose, try to identify the learning.

And finally, this week’s bizarre fact – Please keep all raisins away from your dog… they are extremely toxic to dogs and can be deadly! (I never knew that!)

 

Business Jargon now called “Buffling”

All those jargon terms that we love to hate are now being referred to as buffling. An interesting article about the most hated ones appeared in today’s press, with few surprises. I have to admit I do use some of these and wonder if the survey spoke to the wrong people. Most of these terms are, in my view quite reasonable in the right context and with the right audience.

Like any jargon or abbreviations, they can be useful common language as long as everybody understands them. However beware of using to impress or baffle….