"Frank's skill in asking the right questions is un-mistakable, and is at the core of his leadership philosophy.

The power of these questions cannot be underestimated, especially if you want to lead and not manage."
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Archive for the 'Management' Category

Life Work Balance

A recent meeting of the British Psychological Society enjoyed a talk from American-born British psychologist Sir Cary Cooper.

You won’t have needed to have read too many of my blog entries to know that Sir Cary’s subject—’Social media damaging our work-life balance’—and particular topic—’Mental capital and wellbeing at work’—are both close to my heart.
  • In his talk Sir Cary stressed the need for:
  • control or autonomy for employees in their jobs
  • management through praise and reward rather than fault-finding
  • manageable workloads and achievable deadlines
  • work life balance.*

*(funny how we all tend to put the word ‘work’ before the word ‘life’!)

Sir Cary highlighted the usual suspects. Long hours and their damaging effect on health, electronic mail overload and how the downside of email and social media now outweigh the benefits.

Finally, Sir Cary alluded to a John Ruskin (British social reformer) 1851 quote which I will reprise here:
In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: they must be fit for it, they must not do too much of it, and they must have a sense of success in it.

Don’t just take my word on these issues … eminent workplace psychology specialists are making the same points!


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Some folks need special approval to wear pink in honor of their loved ones that died of cancer; or display their respect in any other way.

That’s not leadership but micro-management at its worst.

Check the NFL or Hillsborough County FL

PS: My dad is a cancer survivor


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Narcissistic Leadership

Narcissism is an unpleasant personality trait—yet one that seems particularly prevalent in our time.

I was thinking this as I reflected on a world of Facebook and other social media and their ‘look at me’ ethos. A world where people seem quite comfortable spending their time taking endless pictures of themselves… the so called ’selfie’.

The Encarta online dictionary defines narcissism as excessive self-admiration and self-centeredness. You have to extrapolate this a little bit further when considering narcissistic leaders. They will have only one priority in the way in which they run things.


I thought I might have invented the term ‘narcissistic leadership’ (which is a bit narcissistic of me!) but a quick look at Wikipedia proves me wrong. Apparently Linda L. Neider and Chester A. Schriesheim in their 2010 publication ‘The Dark Side of Management” already defined narcissistic leadership as being driven by ‘unyielding arrogance, self-absorption and a personal egotistic need for power and admiration.’

Other commentators on the phenomenon of narcissistic leadership include Neville Symington who writes in ‘Narcissism: A New Theory’ that ‘one of the ways of differentiating a good-enough organization from one that is pathological is through its ability to exclude narcissistic characters from key posts.’

Mr Symington is definitely on to something here. If I visit your company and find some narcissistic tendencies at senior management level then I know something fundamental will have to change if things are to improve.

So, are you a narcissistic leader, surrounding yourself with nodding cronies and focused on your own self-aggrandizement? Well… we all know what happened to the original Narcissus, don’t we.

Careful you don’t drown admiring your own reflection.


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Blame Culture

My last blog entry prompted me to reflect, once again, on different types of organization culture.

In particular, I have to say that in my experience, no matter how positive and forward thinking an organization’s culture might be, there is often an unfortunately rich seam of ‘blame culture’ to be found.

And, believe me, blame culture is really bad news.

A blame culture leads to fear in even the most robust members of staff. Fear that if they get something wrong they will be subject to at best, humiliation, and at worst some kind of disciplinary process which might cost them their job.

This fear is incredibly inhibiting. Organizations need to have individuals who are prepared to take risks and to explore new ideas and areas. If people aren’t doing this then the companies they work for will stagnate. Those companies will also suffer because staff will be spending an inordinate amount of time and energy documenting what they are doing or even covering their tracks rather than getting on with their roles.

And in a worse-case scenario, people won’t speak out where they feel that things aren’t being done right for fear of blame. This has cost lives in care homes and hospitals.

So, dear leader, is a blame culture or sub-culture stifling the operation of your business? Ask your senior managers what they think.

If they seem reluctant to talk, by the way, then you already have your answer!


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What Happened?

I am not a great fan of workplace motivational ’sayings’ and quotations but I quite like the following which I spotted on the club noticeboard at a local swimming pool.
The notice said that there are:
  • those who make things happen
  • those who watch what happens, and:
  • those who wonder what happened.

I have traced the quote to the late Mary Kay Ash, an American businesswoman and founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics.

The quotation is particularly apt when considering leadership styles, of course, and it goes without saying that a very necessary leadership quality will be to make things happen rather than be passive. I also suspect those leaders who watch what happens all too quickly find themselves in the ‘wonder what happened’ category.

I would like to add a fourth bullet point to Mary Kay Ash’s three. In my experience, there are those at all levels in an organization but all too often in middle and senior management positions who criticize what happens as others strive to act or implement change.

Not acting yourself but expending all your energy criticizing those who do. Now that really is a serious fault. Don’t do it!


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Undercover Boss

I have reflected in this blog before about the lessons one might learn from watching an episode or two of ‘Undercover Boss’.

I recall writing …

‘Armed with this first-hand experience, the CEO was able to return to her management team fully versed in the key issues facing their business …and quickly set about making the necessary changes.’

…and encouraged all leaders to diarize time on the front line.

I caught up with this series again the other day. On this occasion I was struck not so much by what the boss learned about his business – but what he learned about his staff.

He learned about the people working for his organization who were taking personal safety risks to clear jams on conveyor belts. He learned that people were working hard for his organization then going home in the evening and looking after their children and trying to put themselves through college. He learned that people on the front line were brave enough to take difficult decisions (he was ’sacked’ by one of his staff when trying out for a job!).

And while he was learning all this, I learned that his organization lacked a proper process for recognition and rewarding people appropriately.

This is not the first time I have thought this watching ‘Undercover Boss’. When, at the end, each employee is called in to see the CEO you get the shock of realizing that this is a man who they had been working with ‘on the shop floor’. And then you get those who impressed being rewarded in some way.

But what about a leader’s several thousand other hard-working and dedicated individuals?

All leaders need to reflect on the hard working dedicated members of front line staff they never meet and whether more needs to be done to recognize their commitment.


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Which Are You?

Two blogs ago I was talking about information overload, how destructive this can be and, oddly, how addictive ‘apparent multitasking’ can get.

Re-reading that blog entry I am struck by the absence of the word ‘overwhelmed’.

‘Overwhelmed’ staff certainly won’t be efficient. But worse than that, if they continue to be overwhelmed they might soon be on long-term sick leave.

How can this be prevented?

Well, as their leader, you can do a lot to make sure this does not happen. From reducing the number of emails you’re pinging them through to the number of objectives you’re setting them through to a sympathetic leadership style, you can help them a lot.

But even more than these initiatives, you can help them by allowing them to set boundaries.

Look …if I was a member of your staff and said to you that I:
  • was going to look at my emails between 10.00 and 10.45 each day and at no other time
  • would like to review my objectives with you to be smarter and a more manageable number
  • intend, going forward, to stick to my core hours and break the habit of staying ’til late each night
  • will be reducing my weekly meeting attendance time by a third.

…how would you react?

A poor leader might react badly, perhaps even aggressively.

A good leader will agree to explore my suggestions—although perhaps diarizing a review of how the new approach is going and what lessons have been learned.

Which are you?


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An extract from a new book by award winning scientist, musician, author and record producer Daniel J Levitin caught my eye. His new book, ‘The Organized Mind’, talks among other things about a subject dear to my heart—the modern world’s increasing tendency to overload us with information and the impact this has on us, our physical and mental health and (of particular note to leaders), our efficiency.

Discussing information overload with Fortune 500 leaders, top scientists, writers, students, and small business owners formed an important part of Daniel Levitin’s research for ‘The Organized Mind’. Unsurprisingly, he says that email was repeatedly reported as a problem. People mistakenly think that their apparent multitasking… handling a huge volume of emails as well as the other modern technology associated stimuli we are constantly bombarded with… is a good thing.

Turns out it’s not. As Daniel Levitin says:
‘Even though we think we’re getting a lot done, ironically multitasking makes us demonstrably less efficient. Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation.’

This is phenomenon that leaders really need to get a handle on if their leadership is to be effective. Show me a leader with hundreds of people unable to concentrate on key tasks and driven nuts by email volume, endless meetings, open plan office noise, countless new initiatives and the unending addition of other tasks previously done by now defunct functions like HR and Finance…

… and I’ll show you an inefficient organization unable to achieve its core objectives.

Daniel J. Levitin’s book is called ‘The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload’.


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