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 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.

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.