What Kind Of Leader Was Tony Blair?

With Tony Blair’s book just published there has been renewed focus on what kind of leader he was. We thought it was timely to allow you to judge Blair as a leader against our model of leadership. Have a read through the overview of the four dimensions below and make your own judgement.

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We examined 16 success input drivers grouped under the four headings of:

‘Point of View’, ‘Drive’, ‘Integrity’ and ‘Empathy’

Point of View
Effective leaders know what they are trying to do and can contextualise the environment in which they are trying to do it. This gives others a compass bearing in deciding whether their leader is offering them a compelling sense of direction.

Drive
Effective leaders make things happen. They cause movement through their energy and focus in getting things done.

Integrity
Effective leaders are trusted. They behave consistently and are values driven. They have clear ‘lines in the sand’ which they will not cross. They are reliable in their support and clear about what they stand for.

Empathy
Effective leaders connect with people. They give people time and communicate in ways that others can relate to. They have a genuine interest in others views and are good listeners.

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What do you think? How many out of ten would you give Tony Blair on each of the four criteria?

Often we find when looking at famous leaders they do well on one dimension but less well on others. Or they have three out of four but have a fundamental weakness on one dimension which really undermines their efficacy as a leader.

How would you compare Brown to Blair on the four dimensions?

Another conviction politician was Margaret Thatcher, how would she rate on against the four criteria and what about more pragmatic Prime Ministers like John Major or David Cameron?

If you are able to put your political/personal preferences to one side, the rating of them relative to each other is a really interesting pub or dinner table discussion.

Mercenaries Or Stakeholders? How Engaged Are Your Employees?

Charles Handy rather famously suggested that nearly all organisations are made up to some extent of both mercenaries and stakeholders. If this sounds a little over-simplistic it still helps us to look at how this split affects employee engagement in organisations across the spectrum from global businesses to local family firms and from national public sector bodies to small not-for-profit organisations.

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Many of our clients say they feel as though they have more mercenaries in their organisations than stakeholders and that seems to be a growing trend. Now they are trying to tackle this by improving their employee engagement for better performance/productivity all round.

First of all it helps to define what we mean by the terms ‘mercenary’ and ‘stakeholder’:

Mercenary: literally this is someone who’s in it for the money. For our purposes this is someone who is looking out for themselves and feels little or no loyalty for the organisation that employs them. They are motivated by personal things; reward, recognition, status, achievement, even glory – and if they don’t get it from their current employer they will up sticks and move without shedding a tear.

Stakeholder: this person is deeply attached to the organisation – their whole being is associated with the central core values of the organisation. They care passionately about its history and its future goals. They may grumble from time to time but will always go the extra mile, without being asked, in order to meet their shared goals and objectives. They are like a stick of rock and have the organisation’s values running all the way through them – they couldn’t conceive of working for anyone else.

Between these two extremes most people have some of the qualities from both of these sets. The thing with these ‘in-betweeners’ is that they are persuadable one way or the other.

So how do we ensure we have the right balance of mercenaries and stakeholders in our organisation? And more importantly how do we convert more of the right people to become stakeholders when and where we need them?

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Attraction: it’s all about attraction. Most organisations go to a lot of trouble to attract the right people through their recruitment and selection process. And then once they’ve got them on board they then start managing them and stop attracting them. All organisations must strive to continually attract the right people no matter how long they’ve been on board.

Attraction works at three levels:

  1. the role must be attractive to that individual
  2. their manager must be someone they want to work with
  3. the organisation must be one where they feel in-tune with the core values.

And if you do all this, you would probably spend less time managing people and more time taking the organisation where it’s aiming to go.

Why Is A Great Innovating Company, In Reality, More Of An Also Ran?

If you had a 60 year history of producing electronics, had produced many segment defining products, some backed with proprietary technology you licensed to competitors and then, to protect your supply chain, you bought a film studio and a record company you would think you had a real chance of future proofing your business. Wrong.

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The company is Sony and for all its assets, track record, great marketing, economies of scale and international reach it still keeps missing the technology zeitgeist, and perhaps that’s its issue, it doesn’t really get technology. To see its dominant share of the mobile music market destroyed in 5 years by a competitor with few of the capabilities previously described takes some doing. It’s not iPod that killed Walkman, but iTunes. Technology as distribution, not just as devices.

Don’t misunderstand the argument, Sony produce some great products; its Bravia (and before that Trinitron) TVs, cameras, phones, Playstations, Hi-fi, VCR’s, Vaio computers, the list goes on. But what it doesn’t win plaudits for is its propriety software, its user interfaces, the way its products can be networked etc. Its Playstation console is arguably better than Microsoft’s Xbox 360, with its built in Blue-ray player (again it invented it) and none of the Xbox’s red ring of death problems, but it still hasn’t dominated. Why? Not innovative enough around supporting game design and not developing the on-line offering fast or effectively enough.

The CEO, Howard Stringer, is on a mission to make Sony “cool”. To do that he’s got to change the cultural mind-set, away from the slinky, sliver Sony products, to something that might not even be product focused at all. What about creating memorable, immersive user experiences? Or taking their hardware excellence and linking it with some really innovative software and showing how that (app style) might link into social networks.

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Sony doesn’t need better products, they need a different kind of imagination.

Book Review: Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin – an important book, particularly for salespeople

This is a book that has been around for a while and has picked up some very good reviews. We agree, this is an excellent, thought provoking read, and deserves a higher profile.
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Talent not being a major part of somebody’s performance make-up seems counter-intuitive. Naturally talented is a phrase we might all use about someone who can do things to an extraordinary standard. But it’s not so.

As long as you have the minimum requirement of capability to perform the task you can develop to the top decile of that particular discipline. But how you achieve that requires a very specific approach.

Firstly be prepared to put in lots of practice, at least 10,000 hours. This figure has cropped up in other research and seems to hold good. Two hours a day for (say) 360 days a year will take you over 13 years. And most world class performers have practiced a lot longer than that.

If that isn’t daunting enough the next key element is based on doing the right kind of practice. Not the typical golf practice you might do at the driving range, hitting a basket of balls for half an hour and thinking you may have improved slightly. No, this kind of practice follows five criteria:

  1. It is designed specifically to improve performance – and is measured accordingly
  2. It can be repeated a lot
  3. Feedback on results is continuously available
  4. It is highly demanding mentally
  5. It isn’t much fun – because it’s so relentless

What happens with a child prodigy? They start their 10,000 hours early and they apply this intensive regime – what Colvin calls deliberate practice.

What stands out when you read the book is how little deliberate practice goes on in the business world. You realise how threadbare the term performance coaching is.

For salespeople this is central. What is the available development stimulus for salespeople? Customer sales meetings, a few joint visits with their manager (if they’re lucky), a ragbag of sales meetings and the occasional training course are the most obvious environments. How much deliberate practice is going on here?

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Potential Is For Life – Not Just For Career Launches

When a person starts out on their career they have more unused potential than performance track record. As they become more competent their performance should meet their potential, but it will never exceed it for any sustainable period. Potential limits performance.
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Can you increase potential? Firstly there are two kinds of potential to work with – Raw Potential and Developed Potential.

Raw Potential is sometimes used as a proxy for talent. Evidence is increasingly showing this is wrong. See Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers or our book review of Talent Is Overrated for evidence that shows that all Raw Potential does is act as a kind of ‘permission to play’. You need only the minimum requirements to compete, perform and express yourself.

It seems Developed Potential is much more a significant factor. For a physical sport, age will act as an inhibitor, the body can only cheat time for so long. But in a (largely) non physical role like selling, age shouldn’t be a factor.

How does one maintain an upward curve of Developed Potential?

The first thing is the recognition of just that point. Potential is a wasting, not a growing asset. Unless it is managed, focused and worked on it will convert into the graveyard phrase of unsuccessful middle-aged salespeople ‘I have extensive experience’. Experience is the fuel for driving increased Developed Potential. But fuel that isn’t converted into energy becomes a dead weight. It’s what you do with experience that matters. Experience that increases your forward vision and momentum rather than just creating a larger rear view mirror is what we talking about. This is not down to the type of experiences you have but the way you leverage them.

A sales role is (or should be) a particularly experience rich environment, but only if a learning approach is adopted. If not, all the experiences do is confirm prejudices and pre-conceived views.
If you have the right mind-set you can focus on personal development objectives, not just connected to the narrow criterion of sales results but on broader factors linked to improving and extending your own capabilities.
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The effort you put into constantly developing your potential will always pay you back. Never outsource the responsibility to your employer, or to leave it to chance, or think that as you gain experience you are developing your potential.

Turing potential into performance should be a conscious, focused activity.

Do You Have To Do Much More Than The Other Guy?

Prepare yourself for a flurry of commemorations later this year when it will have been 20 years since the Berlin Wall fell signalling the demise of East vs West thinking. There will be plenty of books published, and in his book, ‘Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire‘, Victor Sebestyen makes some fascinating observations about the period.
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In some fairly heavy going academic text he argues that it wasn’t the irresistible allure of Western capitalism, Levi’s Jeans and Coca-Cola that lead to the demise of the Soviet Union. It wasn’t the strong rhetoric of Reagan and, closer to home, Thatcher that made the difference. It wasn’t even the courage and leadership of the Polish priest who became Pope John Paul II and stirred up thoughts of freedom in Poland, along with Solidarność.

The core argument is that the Soviet empire was just not very good at anything. There was little left to defend and so a safe transition to jobs in a democracy looked like a good idea.

Some businesses develop a hugely successful model of just being good enough to be better than the competition, take a little bit of slack out of the processes, spend a little more time listening to customers, demonstrate a smidge more care in product design and manufacture and it will be enough to bring customers over to you.

Great employers know it too. It’s not just money and brand that keep great employees. Spending a bit more time coaching them, offering a few extra opportunities to develop, creating a few new delegation opportunities all lead to happier more motivated employees.

You may not need grand gestures and great rhetoric to work through the recession, you just need better customer service and employee management than your competitors.

The Two Business Questions Everyone Wants Answers To

In today’s unique business environment there are two questions that should be occupying all business peoples’ minds.

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  1. What is going to happen?
  2. What should I change in my business in the light of what is going to happen?

These seem impossible questions, the kind of questions that you need crystal ball reading abilities to answer.

What Is Going To Happen?

The Knowns

  • Consumer spending is not going to return to the unsustainable levels of 2007, as per capita debt reduces and saving increases.
  • House prices will continue to fall as a function of the economy rebalancing.
  • Consumer confidence will not return until the fear of redundancy recedes.
  • The banks will only move as fast as the government forces them too.
  • Things will improve.

The Unknowns

  • How quickly liquidity will return to the banking system.
  • Whether the government will have to fully nationalise the banks and if they do whether they then will be as dynamic and bold as will be required.
  • Future unknown forces yet to materialise. Bad ones like the Madoff scandal and (potentially) good ones like Barack Obama’s first 100 days.
  • Our own government’s handling of the crises.
  • When things start to improve (green shoots yet anyone?).

Which brings us to the second question

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What Should I Change In My Business In The Light Of What Is Going To Happen?

You cannot predict the future only prepare for it as best you can. You will have read the operational, obvious (but still important) business checklists around what you should do. Click Here for a selection.

The first requirement is that you have done all that is needed, ready for what is to come, as best as you can predict.

The second is to try to be as adaptive as possible, no sacred cows, no red lines, but constantly applying a pragmatic view of what you might need to do.

What you are seeking are not solutions but options. The organisations most likely to survive are the ones with options. Seek options not solutions.

To help with your thought processes it might be worth revisiting Peter Drucker’s Theory Of Business and look at the following

  • The specific purpose of the organisation.
  • Assumptions about the environment of the organisation.
  • The core competencies needed to accomplish the organisation’s purpose.

Taken together, these assumptions define what an organisation gets paid for, what results it considers meaningful, and what it must excel at to maintain its competitive position.

The actions and decisions you take in the next 6-9 months will determine whether you control the destiny of your organisation.

What We’re Reading – Aesop’s Fables

Business books come and go with favourites such as Drucker, Peters and Blanchard all having had a big following only to be replaced by some new author with a new approach for a modern age.
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With attention spans shortening books like Fish! and Who Moved My Cheese became popular as their simple points could be quickly translated into posters and soft toys to publicise their message in office environments.

These books owe more than a little to the early business writing of Aesop. Hardly a media friendly character in life, Aesop’s Fables were ‘published’ 250 years after his execution for sacrilege. There’s plenty of good learning material in there still, and though people may know quite a few of the fables by heart, some of the less popular ones ring true for managers today.

Here’s one for over-promoted, bullying managers:

Standing securely on a high rock, a kid (that’s a young goat, not a child!) noticed a wolf passing below and began to taunt him and shower him with abuse. The wolf merely stopped to reply, “Coward! Don’t think that you can annoy me. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not you who’s taunting me, but the place on which you’re standing”

Some Inspirational Reading/Viewing for Christmas

For one of the most effective lessons in tactical leadership you’ll ever experience, use your Christmas holiday to either read the book or watch the DVD box set of Band of Brothers. Historian Stephen Ambrose and co-producer Steven Spielberg follow the US 101st Airborne Division’s “Easy” E-Company from initial training through D-Day and across Holland, Belgium, Germany and Austria until the end of the war.

This true story gives a leadership master class in demonstrating the following:

    1. Leadership is about action not position. It is about leading by example and doing things rather than pontificating, procrastinating or passing the buck.
    2. Putting the welfare of your people before your personal well being. This is becoming a very rare characteristic in the self serving, self promoting world of many organisations.
    3. Integrity. There is a line real leaders won’t cross, regardless of personal safety, career advancement or loss of popularity.
    4. Using personal values to inform the way you treat people. The golden rule is a good start. Treat others as you would expect to be treated.
    5. Breaking (bad) rules. To know how to spot the difference see points 3 and 4.
    6. Understanding that power confers responsibilities not privileges.
    7. Being a role model for your team. Never asking them to do something you either don’t or wouldn’t do yourself.

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The strength of this leadership produces some very positive benefits, phenomenal loyalty to your colleagues, great team spirit, and a real feeling of togetherness and mutual support.

Not only is it a great business coaching tool but also personally inspiring. Highly recommended.

 

 

What We’re Reading: The Secret Life Of The Corporate Jester

With Christmas fast approaching we find ourselves at crowded dinner tables talking and laughing with friends and family. Just as at work we have expectations of people in our social circles. There’s the worried ones who constantly express concerns about everything going smoothly, the capable ones making sure that everything does, the good humour people ensuring that everyone is getting along well and enjoying themselves, the responsible ones carefully clearing up after the others and the freeloaders who simply show up and expect everything to fall into place around them.
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We tend to have expectations of people and it’s hard to shake them off. It’s just as true of colleagues that we’ve worked with for years as it is of family members who we still treat in the same way as we have for a decade or two.

Sometimes it’s fun to throw someone new into the holiday dinner mix, an outsider with no preconceptions. It may cause some discomfort, and there may even be hostility, but outsiders can often see the current reality which is hidden from the usual suspects. Just like the little boy who didn’t know the background who notices that the emperor is in fact in the altogether, an incomer has the ability to ask the naïve questions and cut to the chase.

In historic courts saying the wrong thing to the king could have fatal consequences, courtiers and top advisors trod a careful line, ensuring that they played the political game to their best advantage. Telling the king that he was wrong, or even that he needed to keep an eye on a certain area of his domain because of unrest, was often out of the question if you wanted to keep your head. To ensure that their feet remained close to the ground kings and noblemen often employed Jesters. Whilst part of the role was to dance merrily and play the fool, another key role was to lightly poke fun at errors and softly introduce areas where things may be going wrong through good humour.

The same is true in organisations. People who have been working together for a long time, and who have been working on specific projects for a while can work in ways that even they would consider strange if they stopped for a moment to look at them, it just takes a gentle nudge delivered with charm and positivity to make them realise.

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Look out for family jesters over the Christmas break, and if you need any help upping your Jester quotient in the New Year contact us.