Over the years, I’ve read a huge quantity of books around leadership from biographies to methodologies. It’s easy to copy a successful formula if you are trying to develop your leadership capabilities however you may end up not being the true and authentic version of you.
As I rose up within my own business, it started to dawn on me that I got far more done when I spent more time just being me, not trying to be a Jack Welch clone. People responded to me far more when I stopped trying to be something/someone I wasn’t. From that point my career rocketed, on to lead the UK organisation from humble beginnings as a fax salesman.
To this day, I could kick myself for the “work mask” that I had developed in my early years. Only when I began to work with business psychologists in 2000, did I realise the error of my ways. Over the following years, my leadership style has simply been focused on being the best possible version of me – that’s it. Let me share with you 10 simple things that I have learned about leadership as a framework which may work for you: -
- Being truthful with yourself.
- Being truthful with others.
- Respecting everyone regardless of where they sit.
- Pressing CTRL+ALT+DEL on your past and living in the now.
- Letting your true personality come through not what you think other people want to see.
- Being compassionate when making tough decisions.
- Always giving space for others to give a view.
- Being fair.
- Admitting your shortcomings and mistakes.
- Seeing everyone and everything as a potential for learning.
Back to my opening paragraph, this is not about creating an army of “me’s”. These are just some of the things that allowed myself to be the best possible version of me, when heading up a large organisation. I’ve found that the topic of leadership is more about respect. Respect for self, others and your wider environment, however you define it. When you practice that, it drifts you more towards the familiar descriptions of what “leadership looks like” in a book but with your personality stamped all over it.
More scandal this week as it has been established that Findus Lasagne has been discovered containing 100% horse meat, not beef as advertised. It’s the latest in the on-going headlines about horse meat being discovered in processed food products, sold by supermarkets and brands. I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of this issue, as no doubt all parties in the supply chain are now busily drilling down to the root cause.
Whilst out riding my bike this weekend, I got to thinking about this issue and what thoughts it triggers within consumers when scandal hits. Believe it or not, the words that came up happened to make an acronym called MEAT! Scandals tend to boil down to four major things, whether you are Lance Armstrong, a merchant banker, an MP or Findus. Generally speaking they tend to fall into one of the categories below. I’ve made some comment against each of them relative to the horsemeat scandal.
M = Morality. In the UK, we have an issue with eating horses. To us, they are primarily pets, not a food source unlike other cultures across the world. It’s funny how no-one has picked up the taste difference, when smothered in sauces, sugar and colouring! So, it’s not about the taste, it’s about the ingredients.
E = Ethics. No household name brand on earth would risk their reputation by substituting constituent ingredients in their products. The risks are simply too large, starting at shareholder value. Nestle previously owned the brand up to 2000, but sold rights to Findus Group. Ethically, major issues like this can set a brand back years and many other food processing businesses will be working overtime to see if they too are affected. Major brands spend significant sums of money protecting their Corporate reputation and suppliers will have been audited, so there is likely to be foul play.
A = Accountability. Consumers will want the root cause to be quickly established. The brand involved – Findus – has already launched its own investigation which points the finger at a Romanian supplier. They’ve been quick, as with all PR crisis management, to get a statement up on their website. The major supermarkets will be applying the pressure big time, exerting their full weight on the supplier to come up with some answers. No doubt they are all busy checking their own brand and private label products, likely sourced from the same suppliers. Consumers expect you to stand up, man up, and be honest if you are in the frame.
T = Trust. Consumers put huge trust in big brands, supermarkets particularly. They take the position that if a supermarket is selling something, then it must be OK. I bet your bottom dollar that the category manager in charge of the ready-meal/frozen foods category is looking at a chart that shows negative sales for value products in their range. We (consumers) can be a funny bunch when it comes to establishing who we want to take the hit. Is it the supermarkets or the supplier who will feel the pain of our brand switch? Worst thing possible for a consumer to lose trust in your brand.
The acronym works for leaders of businesses too. Stakeholders expect morality, ethics, accountability and trust as characteristics of the people charged to lead them. It’s critical that you have these things in order, for example: -
Morality. Doing the right thing, having a strong organisational and moral compass.
Ethics. Never compromising your personal or organisational credibility for a quick short term financial win, always play the long game.
Accountability. Being the buck stops here person. Calling the big shots and standing behind them. Saying sorry when you get it wrong.
Trust. Keeping confidences, doing the things you say, being honest even when the news is difficult, having personal integrity.
In a social media driven world, leaders and brands are instantly accountable for their actions. News spreads like wildfire, opinion spreads, blame spreads and your reputation can be gone in an instant. Take the lessons from Findus and apply them to your own business in terms of your business and personal reputations.
You’d have to live on space to have not seen the news around disgraced cyclist – Lance Armstrong – stripped of his seven Tour de France titles by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey (which many cynics labelled the “DOPRAH” interview).
After years of denying doping (use of banned performance enhancing drugs and techniques like blood transfusions), the evidence has become so overwhelming, that it’s not left not a shred of wriggle room for the usual “I’ve never failed a drug test” response that Armstrong has repeated so many times (does that remind you of a similar response by Bill Clinton – “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” when questioned on the Monica Lewinsky affair some years ago).
Now falling from grace, Armstrongs former team mates have all given sworn evidence of his doping to USADA, the evidence is irrefutable and now it’s all about news and reputation management. A big coup for Oprah, the Armstrong interview is his first step in re-gaining control of the story (Armstrong openly admits to being a control freak).
For those into road cycling (I’d count myself within that), his reputation has been under the microscope for years. Journalist David Walsh has written a great book which I’d recommend you read called “The Seven Deadly Sins” if you want to know more about it. If you want the first hand detail, read Tyler Hamiltons book ”The Secret Race” which goes into the specifics. Hamilton was a former teammate of Armstrong and a trusted lieutenant who broke ranks.
Armstrong has built a global reputation as the cancer survivor, offering hope to millions through his own personal story and the Livestrong foundation which he helped found. It’s been difficult for believers to now separate the two stories of cancer survivorship and his cheating in sports. The Livestrong bands, his auto-biographies and other promotional material have left their “personal buildings” with the same speed as the corporate sponsors – Nike, Oakley and Trek to name but a few.
Over the years of accuations, Armstrong has been vociferous in his responses to those who challenged him. Deploying legal teams, destroying the reputations of those who dared challenge him. Bullying, manipulating and narcissistic in his response, he took no prisoners, villifying those who dared speak out.
In his book “Mask of Sanity” – psychiatrist Hervey M. Cleckley cited sixteen common qualities of a psychopath, I’ve quoted ten of them below and I’ll leave you to judge whether you feel Armstrong has displayed any in his career thus far: -
- Superficial charm and good “intelligence”
- Absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking
- Absence of “nervousness” or psychoneurotic manifestations
- Untruthfulness and insincerity
- Lack of remorse and shame
- Inadequately motivated antisocial behavior
- Poor judgment and failure to learn by experience
- Pathologic egocentricity and incapacity for love
- Specific loss of insight
- Unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations
There is of course a huge back story to this whole thing, much bigger than I plan to write about here, particularly relating to Armstrong’s lack of father figures in his life. It’s no surprise to me that he has this me vs. the world mentality, that’s how it must of felt his whole life. You’d need to read a few books to get the full picture, I compiled a list of five good reads on my cycling blog here.
What are the lessons to be identified?
So, ultimately what are the lessons for all of us here. Here’s 10 random things that I thought about: -
- The truth always catches you up. No matter how intricate the web you spin, it always seems to become untangled. Much more likely in the world of instantaneousness we now live in with smartphones permanently planted in peoples hands.
- Life has a karma. Doing bad to others ultimately always ends up in it coming back to you.
- Forgive your past. Don’t let the stored beliefs in your parietal brain determine your future. Update them and your current beliefs about yourself.
- Trust is so key in life. Breach trust and it’s very hard to ever re-gain it to the same previous levels.
- Bullying behaviour is all about the bully. Hiding their own insecurity, they manipulate others, it’s all about them, never about their victim(s).
- If you need to say sorry, mean it. A deep heart felt apology can assist in repairing a rift. A lot of viewers came away from the Oprah show feeling there not full and unconditional apologies given to some of those whose lives Armstrong had made very miserable indeed.
- The truth sets you free. Now he is admitting everything, it must be a relief to Armstrong to now have it all out there.
- Have a strong and well defined moral compass. If you have a strong belief system, then your moral sense check will help guide you. Write down the things that matter to you, the things you would never compromise on and keep them close at all times.
- Collective consciousness is a powerful thing. The bulk of the pro peloton were using performance enhancing drugs at this time in history. Using a principle called “the omerta” (code of silence) to ostracise anyone who ‘spat in the soup’ and broke ranks by talking to the press. There were clean riders whose careers were ruined who left the sport as they simply couldn’t keep up. Always be aware of where collective consciousness exists and ensure you walk your own pathway.
- Forgiveness is a powerful thing. I disagree with what he has done, the way he has acted, the deceipt, the manipulation and the lies he has portrayed. Despite all those things, it’s not worth holding on to personal anger ever for someone else, it’s simply energy depleting. To be at your best, you have to let those things go, or you get held back.
One thing I always remember from spending a day with the Apache Attack Force at Wattisham a couple of years back was that a lesson identified is different from a lesson learned. A lesson learned is where you took the things you identified and did something about them.
I hope that Armstrong can now learn from his mistakes and come out of this whole thing with a new purpose, a new perspective and a series of solid lessons for young sportspeople everywhere. If this is just some showpiece to set up a stage for a new book, a re-launched celebrity career, then it’s just a set of lessons identified.
Hindsight in not always a wonderful thing, in fact it can be really damaging. When you spend time remorsing about outcomes in the now using words like “I wish” and “I should” they are simply wasted thoughts and energy.
The only moment that matters is now. You are where you are. Reflection of what you could have done differently from what has passed, now that is a different thing. Reflection allows you to take all the lessons and re-apply them to the future you to help refine and re-define who you really are, a better version of you.
Spending time remorsing about where you are based upon the decisions you have already taken is self-destructive. Your brain will happily indulge you – if you give it permission to – in the thousand different reasons why you’re circumstances are why there are right now. “If I’d of been six inches taller I’d of been a pro-basketball player and my life would be different to what it is now.” All that says is “I’m not taking responsibility for my past decisions, my current version of me and the energy I chose to put into creating my future.” If you want to stay stuck in the past or even your present, remorseful hindsight will keep you there.
Three Tips to Assist
- Eliminate the word “Should” from your internal dialogue and replace it with “could, but I didn’t”. So, “I should have done this” turns into “I could have done that, but I didn’t”. It quietens your internal dialogue, allows you to accept your past decisions and move.
- Always look to refine and re-define yourself. Every experience is an opportunity for you to learn more about who you really are. Take the constructive lessons from what you’ve been through, but never dwell by going back and back by comparing your current circumstances. Simply take the learning and get it applied – fast to your current circumstance.
- Fly TWA. See previous blogpost on this subject here.
It’s amazing how much past experience dictates current thinking. When you can move on quickly, life is far happier. I meet lots of people that still wear their “black armband” of remorse for a past event or behaviour, keeping themselves in this period of mourning for what they should have done differently. Ask yourself if you are wearing one? If you are – For what? For who? And for how long do you want to keep going over this?
With 2012 coming to a close, it’s always a good point to have some personal reflection time. Being the best possible version of you means simply taking all the learning from those experiences from 2012, updating your brains belief systems and moral compass and living “in the now”.
To all my readers, my seasonal thought for you is about “being happy”. Happiness is simply that state of mind when you feel “peace”, “joy” and “purpose” in the things you do, a lovely balance where everything just falls into place. You can re-create who you are in a moment with a brand new thought, what lies ahead of you is simply there to be created. See you out there.
Yesterday I spoke at the Cheshire Business Expo (organised by Profile Communications) on what small businesses can learn from big businesses and leaders of big businesses. I covered quite a lot of content but wanted to summarise some of the key points here for the people that attended as a reminder of the key takeaways. Bullet form for easy digestion: -
- Have a clear vision.
- Have the right people, in the right seat.
- Understand their economic engine.
- Are disciplined in Thoughts, Words and Actions.
- Don’t just have a plan A, but also a B) Big and C) Contingency.
- Know what their main effort should be to deliver the vision.
- Have a stop doing list.
- Confront the brutal facts.
- Act quickly on poor performance at all levels.
- Spend more time thinking about the future.
Successful Leaders of Big Companies
- Manage their emotional state.
- Make evidence led decisons.
- Look to data and facts.
- Check assumptions.
- Spend more time creating than reacting to things.
- Are focused on “being their best” not comparing to others.
- Are open to everyone and everything.
- Have their mind, body and soul aligned.
- Effectively delegate and spend their time coaching/aligning others.
- Know their Ding!
I spoke quite a bit about emotional intelligence, here are a few additional articles for you to read: -
- The Ocean of Opportunity (all about the future and not looking back).
- Fly TWA (why you should put thoughts and words into action).
- AFD-MO (why you should just forgive everything and everybody as the only moment is now).
I do wonder sometimes about who are the high-profile role models for Generation Y+Z to base their lives upon. Most of what is in the media is sensationalist reality television depicting lifestyles dominated by drama, micro-celebrity and the pursuit of money plus things to artifically elevate social status – not great for our next generation of young people. Hopefully the London 2012 Olympics did it’s job in “inspiring a generation” of young people to take a different pathway inspired by different values of teamwork, personal success through hard work and recognition through personal sacrifice.
I spent a day at a conference yesterday , where two keynotes speakers inspired me, enter stage left – Sir Ranulph Fiennes OBE and Roger Black MBE. Fiennes our greatest living explorer and Black a great former Olympian. I seek out opportunities to hear stories from people like these as there are always transferable lessons from their achievements and timelines to transfer into your own. These two guys are great role modes with bonefide achievements and life lessons. I’ve bulleted five key points from each speaker to share and added some further thoughts in italics: -
Roger Black MBE
- “My Silver medal was my Gold”. Perhaps one of the most profound comments of the day and one that I totally identified with. The day he ran his own best race in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, he came second to perhaps the greatest athlete of that time, American – Michael Johnson. Rather than say he failed, he re-framed the way he looked at that to say that he ran his best possible race and won a silver medal. He walked away from that track knowing that he had delivered his full capability, in the moment. When he looked in the mirror, he could say there was nothing else he could of done on the day and the result was the result. He felt proud that he performed to his best when needed – This is a powerful lesson in moving on and acceptance, when all you aim to deliver in life is your personal best then it leads you to a really great place of accepting who you are.
- “Have the courage to change a winning formula. ” Black re-counted a race when they turned the conventions of running a 400m relay upside down by putting him as the first man, not the last, in order to beat the dominant Americans. The night before they realised that they could not beat them conventionally and had to put immediate pressure on their competitors. The result was a thrilling race which saw them execute their plan perfectly and win – A great example to always question what, why and how you do things – are your competitors planning to switch their running order to outpace you?
- “Wanting to win isn’t enough.“ At the Olympics, every athlete wants to win so everyone is in the same place mentally, which neutralises everyone. He spoke of the need to develop your own “need to achieve” which transcends “wanting to win” into a greater purpose. I think this is a great metaphor for life, I see so many people “wanting to be successful” but not being driven by the purpose of “why they want to be successful.” When you switch “I want to be successful because I want greater status in society” (short term happiness) to “I want to be successful so that I can help others less fortunate” (long term happiness) see what happens to your purpose and your results.
- “Champions are reactive, they are pro-active.” Linked back to point one but a different point. There was a time in Blacks career that he kept a close eye on his rivals, comparing race times to his, getting feedback about their winter training camps or form. He spent a lot of time comparing himself to them and then trying to fine tune against them. At one point he received career changing advice from a coach that he had to stop comparing against them and focus on running his perfect race. I wrote a blog on this theme called “Being Your Best” which you can read here. Bottom line is this, focus on your own potential, not others.
- “Talent is not enough unless properly applied. “ Black was a talented runner, with a physique perfect for the 400m. He has been gifted the physical attributes to run very, very fast. He had the talent. However, to maximise that talent he needed the right people around him to demonstrate how to use it. Successful running is about many different things including tactics and he had to listen and learn to refine his talent to become world class. If you are trying to be world class in your business, then don’t do it on your own. Get great non-executive directors, hire great talent – the best you can afford, go to conferences and listen to how world class people achieved, read white papers around excellence in your industry and most importantly – develop yourself.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes OBE
- “You can sack someone on an expedition but you can’t get rid of them.“ If someone isn’t performing in the middle of the Antarctic, you can say “you’re fired” but there is nowhere for them to go as you’re in the middle of nowhere. Candidate selection is vital for the expeditions that Fiennes leads, it’s also vital for business. Spend time at the front of the process – particularly with key hires – to ensure best fit.
- “We go for any record that any human has never done before.” How do you frame that? Achieving what most think is the impossible. Using your frame of reference as to what everyone else things is unchartered territory. Are you confining your thoughts to the market as defined by everyone else or the potential of the market in a completely new unchartered way?
- “We had nothing but morse code for communication with the outside world. “ Describing one of his major expeditions which saw him circumnavigate the globe, a feat to which this day has not been repeated and took him three years, Fiennes described a world without GPS, satellite navigation and mobile devices. He and his companion – Charles Burton – had each other and morse code only for communication with hunanity. They mapped regions of the world for the first time ever, by hand for the great good of humanity. Can you imagine life without a device, wireless access or 24/7 communication? Are you comfortable with your own company? Can you sit and think without agitaton to be connected? Can you imagine having to walk for thousands of miles over ice, which is constantly moving only navigating by a compass? The lesson here is all about the growing need to be connected to the matrix in order to feel in touch and the growing need for things to be automated which ultimately stops your brain doing the work. It’s not a bad thing to be out of touch, to allow your mind to drift from “attention” to “possibilities.”
- “Have mental ammunition at the ready.” A question came about how Fiennes kept going in some of toughest conditions on the planet, ravaged by frostbite, in constant pain with huge distances still to travel. He said he had “mental ammunition” which he always fired at his brain to overcome the overwhelming need to stop.“ Ability to cope under pressure and mental toughness is a fantastic quality, which you can personally develop. You’re potential to achieve is far greater than you imagine and your pain threshold far further than you might think. Have your own mental ammunition ready for the tough times to dig you out of a hole. Good ammunition are things like: – “Pain is temporary, quitting is forever,” “How bad is this compared to being diagnosed with a terminal illness.” Get some perspective and push on through.
- “I recruit on motivation.” Many of the people that accompanied Fiennes on his expeditions were unpaid, took time out of their lives and risked their livelihoods to accompany him. For Fiennes this meant that their purpose was not money or status, but the adventure. Fiennes knew that these people would give every last drop in their tank if they had to because they had nothing to lose. Fantastic lesson to find the fanatics in your business whose purpose is all about the adventure and the experiences.
I don’t watch much television nowadays, the TV I do watch tends to be documentaries, business shows or cycling! (Saying that I have recently been wowed by introducing an Apple TV set-top box and Netflix subscription into the house following a new high speed broadband network at home – lots of new possibilities there).
I have however been impressed by some of the shows on Channel Four recently and one that recently caught my eye was The Audience. Imagine a crowd of fifty people who follow you everywhere you go as you wrestle with a personal dilemma or big decision, their job is to view your problem through their eyes then debate and counsel you as to route you should take.
The fifty are drawn from all walks of life, different ages, ethnic origins, regions and backgrounds. They observe, listen, question, then debate amongst themselves the issue at hand ultimately then answering the dilemma at the end of the show having thrashed the issue out amongst themselves.
It’s compelling viewing and there is a huge lesson in there. This problem isn’t just a problem halved, it’s quartered up into fifty slices with fifty brains working on potential solutions. Each of the individuals bring different perspective, life experience, logic and rationality to the process. The lesson is about using the wisdom of crowds. Not everyone thinks the same, sees the problem with the same eyes or has the emotional attachment to a set of circumstances.
Regardless if your problem is personal, technical or business related, a third party can always give you fresh perspective. If you think you know always know the answers, you’re likely to be closed to new possibilities. I often tell a story at work of a pharma company whose development of a blockbuster drug was halted whilst their chief scientist wrestled with a highly technical development issue. A chance meeting at a coffee machine with a colleague from the finance department solved it. The guy in finance happened to have graduated with a degree in chemistry, then had a career change. His fresh set of eyes and ears on the problem, simplified the solution and development got back on track.
Surround yourself with others. Appreciate their differences to you. If you’re logical, seek non-logical people – the opposite to you to get a fresh perspective. Appreciate the wisdom of others. Welcome feedback. Don’t always think you have the answers, there is something to learn from everybody.
If you’ve ever flown in a helicopter or light aircraft, then you’ll be familiar with the words “you have control” when a pilot hands over the joystock to a co-pilot or vice versa. It’s a very specific instruction so that both are clear as to who is flying the machine. I used this metaphor the other day when explaining a leadership situation around delegation, that once you have handed over control, don’t try and wrestle it back!
Another great helicopter metaphor relates to staying in the sky and retaining ” the helicopter view.” As the leader of the business you have to stay above the business, looking down and keeping the aerial view – it’s a commonly used anecdote. The bit that most people don’t tell you though is how easy it is to come crashing back to ground when problems occur!
Your first response will be to grab the controls, descend as fast as possible, get the chopper on the ground and get problem solving. This is the thing you must avoid at all costs, if you are to truly delegate. Trust those you work with to solve the situation, you stay up in the air and keep in radio contact!
In the early days it’s hard to do but you soon get the hang of it. By staying “up there,” you can remain objective and provide the best possible advice keeping the big picture in mind. It’s very tempting to land the helicopter but remind yourself that if you’ve said “you have control” to a colleague, then unless they are struggling or specifically ask you to get back down on the ground and help out, then keep flying, keep thinking and keep big picture.
“People are our most valued asset.” How many times have you heard that in a press release or presentation?
They’re not empty words because most businesses do really value their people. Isn’t it interesting though that there isn’t a standardised way that you can value your people, so that they could appear on your balance sheet? What value do you think Steve Jobs would have had? Many businesses spend years developing the right people, so much so that they become the business, transcending the product or service, yet with no indendently recognised value other than perhaps their annual salary. A key person leaves and it can have a catastrophic impact to operations.
You can of course in PLC companies, judge many high level CEO’s by the share price of their organisation at the beginning, during and end of their tenure. However, if selling or buying a business how do you value the people within it as part of the sale/purchase? It’s a pretty tough call to which I don’t have the answer but thought it an interesting question.
Your thoughts? Leave a comment.
What makes a great leader? It’s an often asked question in the crusade for the perfect template for others to emulate. This morning I was invited to sit on a roundtable debating leadership by Insider magazine. I won’t go in to the detail of the points raised, as you can read that in their article, however I have one takeaway to share.
Ten leaders of different businesses were represented, from large corporates to entrepreneur owned and what was striking was the variety of styles, all of which were successful. When trying to pin down the perfect blueprint, there wasn’t really one. There are common traits that are needed, including charisma, vision, authenticity, achievement orientation and inspiration, however beyond that, differing styles definitely prevailed. I call this the Lexicon of Leadership.
For me, you have to develop your own leadership style, taking into account your environment, your size, your culture and your own ding. It’s a journey without an end. Learning agility being cited as one of the key attributes of modern day leaders. I’ve previously described this a your leadership API (API is a technology term used to describe an interface made available to developers), that is, if you open up yourself for development and continually allow others to develop you by reading, going to conferences, listening to your peer group etc you will quickly realise that there is still so much to learn.
I learned a lot from listening to the differing styles round the table today. Big or small, we all face common challenges which is how to get humans to perform to their highest level. There are base characteristics that you’ll need, however beyond that, you can build your lexicon of skills as time passes to continue to evolve your style.