"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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The ‘P’ Word

A friend of mine was appointed Sales Promotion Manager for a finance company.

He reported to the Marketing Manager.

Just a few days into the role and another new face appeared in the department. My friend introduced himself and politely enquired what the new person’s role was.

“I’m the Marketing Manager,” he said.

Now put yourself in my friend’s shoes. He has just left a nine year career in another company. He has relocated to a different part of the country. And he has had three rounds of interviews and thinks he has fully understood the structure of his new department.

And now his line manager seems to have a clone. And he is unnerved.

Now his boss, the pukka Marketing Manager, reports to the Marketing Director. The Marketing Director has appointed the clone… so what’s going on?

Well, like so many situations like this, it’s all about the ‘p’ word.

Politics.

The Marketing Director is not so happy with the pukka Marketing Manager so the newly appointed clone, while having a quite different job as it turns out, has the same title. This is intended as a coded ‘warning’ to the pukka Marketing Manager that is intended to keep him on his toes.

All very well—and typical corporate leadership behavior, you say.

Except it’s not ‘very well’… and it’s not good leadership.

Good leadership would have seen the Marketing Director reviewing the genuine Marketing Manager’s performance through regular performance appraisals. Good leadership would involve nurturing and encouragement.

And good leadership would have considered my friend in the first few days of his new role—and the impact of any structural inconsistencies on his confidence.

People often say to me that good leaders know how to play the game and manage the politics to their advantage.

Well, that might be the case—
but it doesn’t get my tick in the ‘good leadership’ box.



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Please Press 1…


  • For sales, press ‘1′.
  • For marketing, press ‘2′.
  • If you have a problem with a previous purchase, press ‘3′.

And so on… and so on… and so on…

Just how accessible are your company’s products or services over the telephone? If you’re a good leader, then you probably pose as a mystery shopper from time to time and phone up you own company to see what the experience is like.

And if you’re a really good leader, then you’ll have made sure by now that the maze of options existing and potential customers previously encountered has been simplified… or even been replaced by human beings.

Now… I know that automated phone systems are there for a reason. They save money… and—rightly deployed—they can get your customer through to the right person quickly.

But everyone has experienced the downside: a seemingly endless diving down through layer upon layer of options until you finally get to where you wanted to be.

Or where you didn’t.

Enter one Nigel Clarke, a UK-based IT Manager, who has mapped out short-cuts to get you quickly through the complex menus of 120 leading companies.

Short-cuts? Let me give you an example. You have a water leak and you want to telephone a well-known bank’s home insurance department. Well, you would normally have to make your way through 78 phone menu options over seven levels to get through. Mr Clarke advises that simply dialling 1-3-2-1-1-5-4 will get you straight through—saving four minutes of your life!

You can also save four minutes and 35 seconds dialing 1-wait-1-3-2-2 to get through to the UK’s tax people and three minutes and 7 seconds by dialing 3-1-4-1-1-1 to get through to a supermarket’s incentive card department.

Now coming back to your role as leader. If you cannot do anything about your company’s elaborate phone menu options, how about publishing your company’s first ‘Shortcut Directory’?

That will give you an edge over competitor phone-contact systems and save your existing and potential customers a lot of life-eroding time.

And boredom.

See Nigel Clarke’s website for US as well as UK company short-cuts at
www.pleasepress1.com external.


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Leadership Or Not?

So how does a CEO spend his or her day?

A recent article in the UK’s Guardian newspaper interviewed seven organization heads, even asking the times they got up in the morning and went to bed.

Reading the article, I was struck by the number of similarities among the interviewees:
  • they all rose early
  • they all do very long days
  • they’re all on the Blackberry/i-Phone almost immediately and dealing with as many as 500 emails each day
  • their evenings and weekends are often compromised
  • they sometimes struggle to make time for exercise and family life.

I have not researched how successful or otherwise the companies these people run are… but I do wonder how much more these industry leaders might be if:
  • they got more sleep
  • they delegated more (including a way of filtering emails and other incoming information without compromising their clear need to seem accessible)
  • they had more ‘me’ time .. more space, more family life.

Or is it a case of, as a friend of mine said:

‘If that’s what it takes, then count me out’.

Leadership—or not?


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Henry Ford

A useful definition of intelligence is not, as you might expect, avoiding mistakes—we all make those—but the avoidance of repeating mistakes. I am sure a well-known American industrialist was thinking along these lines when he famously said:
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
Henry Ford (1863-1947)
American founder of the Ford Motor Company


So why, then, do we so often try something, find it ineffective and then repeat the experience? An example? Ok… I know of a Marketing Director who was quite convinced that traditional advertising was the way to reach his company’s audience. Yet the enquiries failed to come in despite an astronomical spend on newspaper and TV advertising. And the few leads that were generated failed to convert to sales.

After three years of this, our Marketing Director was finally persuaded to try the internet. Google Adwords advertisements and regular e-shots to a leased database later… and the enquiries and conversions started to happen (and very cost-effectively at that).

Any lessons from all of this? Loads! Be prepared to abandon what isn’t working. It may be comforting to pursue the familiar but not at the expense of results. And be prepared to take a risk and embrace something new. And in the case of this Marketing Director, be prepared to overcome a fear of the unknown. He was unused to and therefore apprehensive of the internet…

… now, unsurprisingly… he loves it!


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Bankers - Still or Again?

I am getting more and more ticked off with what I read about senior bankers and recent news that Barclays paid 428 of its staff more than £1m each in 2012 has done nothing to change my views.

This happened in a year when Chairman Marcus Agius and Chief Executive Bob Diamond were forced to resign after the £290m fine imposed on Barclays for rigging LIBOR interest rates… and in a year where the bank had to set aside £2.5bn to cover miss-selling claims.

The bit that really gets me? While more than 400 workers were taking over £1m in salary, bonuses and the value of long-term share awards, 71,500 Barclays staff received less than £25k as their 2013 remuneration.

On the positive side, the release of information about Barclays pay bands is a part of a greater transparency commitment made by new Chairman David Walker. And the head of Barclays bank’s remuneration committee has said that there will be a continuing focus on overhauling pay and bonus practices.

Look… I’m not arguing for bosses to be paid the same as general staff. Leadership involves a lot of responsibility and associated risks and there should be rewards for that.

But sometime the difference between the fat cats and the mice isn’t just a pay gap but an enormous chasm.

And that’s not right.


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Go Home And Work

While some of my blogs have been quite critical of the quality of modern leadership in corporate and other walks of life, my general view is that leadership is a generally improving skill. In other words, people are largely as well if not better led now than they have ever been.

That said, my confidence still gets dented from time to time… and most recently by the new Chief Executive of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer.

Now Ms. Mayer is a former Google Executive… so let’s start with Google and a quote from their Chief Financial Officer Patrick Pichette. Mr Pichette has said that the answer to anyone asking how many Google staff telecommute (telework, remote work, work from home, call it what you will) was ‘as few as possible’. He went on to say that, “There is something magical about spending the time together, about noodling on ideas, about asking at the computer ‘What do you think of this?’”.

Now that’s got to be one for the sick-bucket… but back to Marissa Mayer. She has issued a memo banning Yahoo staff from working from home. An extract from the memo reads, “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.” Another says… “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

Given all that I have said on the subject of modern life’s pressure on working people and the effect this has on families and society, I am disappointed by these attitudes. I am particularly disappointed that they are present in ‘Tech’ companies given theirs is an industry that has shouted the advantages of modern technology from the rooftops… ease of communication, virtual office environments, more efficient use of time, lower carbon emissions and so on.

People don’t need to be permanently together to be a team. Nor does your team need to be together and visible to be led.

Unless you’re lacking in leadership confidence, that is.


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Whistleblowers

‘Whistleblower’ reports often catch my eye. I often read these tales of life within organizations with a mixture of fascination (they reflect what the organization is really like rather than how it appears on the outside) and horror (what is revealed invariably takes your breath away).
And so it is with the comments being made by a constable (a police officer of the lowest rank in the UK). He has said that:
  • every single reported theft of a mobile phone is recorded as lost property
  • attempted burglaries get reported as criminal damage
  • figures are manipulated. For example, a good month’s detection rates are ‘carried over’ into a poorer month to smooth out the numbers
  • shoplifting is an ‘easy detection’ so that gets priority treatment
  • there are not enough people so crime isn’t properly investigated.

Four thoughts strike me:
  1. organizations that operate on behalf of the Government will have the usually negative effect of politics acting on them. I pity the leaders, caught as they are between a rock and a hard place
  2. companies should be more transparent. It should not have to take a whistleblower to reveal true performance
  3. once again, here’s the effect within organizations of poorly constructed targets adversely influencing behavior
  4. and… once again, folks… lies, damned lies and statistics.

A final sobering thought for leaders. What practices might an employee or former employee blow the whistle on in your business?


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Break or No Break

Sorry… I can’t quite get off my soapbox yet regarding the poor impact of modern corporate and working life culture on health and quality of life.

I say this having just read online in a UK newspaper that UK workers now take just 29 minutes for lunch on average. This is four minutes less than it was 12 months ago.

60% of workers don’t even have a break for lunch but eat it at their desks.

When asked why they were doing this two thirds said they had too much work to do to leave their work stations and 14% (I thought it would be more) said they did it to impress their boss.

The survey has drawn both medical and political comment.

Ron Cutler, a micro-biologist at Queen Mary University of London, is concerned about the crumbs left on desks and keyboards. Diarrhea and vomiting causing bacteria find these crumbs a great place to breed and do so readily at the 20°C temperature maintained in most offices.

And Health Minister Anna Soubry says workers should take a proper lunch break and enjoy their food. She says that workers eating lunch at their desk is disgusting.

These comments are fair enough. But I wonder whether Dr Cutler or Minister Soubry have ever been inadvertently impressed by the commitment of their short-lunch break staff over and above those who take a whole hour.

I say that because I believe few leaders fail to fall into the trap of preferring staff who ‘work through’ or work late over those who stick to their hours.

There’s a deeply embedded cultural issue at play here. It will take a lot to shift it.


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