January 19, 2018

You can’t really assess your staff…

Four business people in a discussion… unless you’re sure you’ve provided effective leadership.

If you’re looking for the people who work for you to be self-motivated and highly productive, you can’t sensibly begin to assess whether they are or not, unless or until you’re sure you’ve provided good leadership.

Otherwise your actions (or inactions) are a bigger factor than their character.

And it’s probably not a question of just telling them what to do.

Yes, you may well need to be demanding, but the key point is, is the direction you are providing clear, or at least are any ambiguities clearly understood and balanced?

If not, the inertia caused by lack of direction will be the dominant factor.

And you won’t really know whether your people are any good or not.

And, of course, with the right leadership…

Ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things.

Humility and influence

Nelson MandelaThere are so many lessons to draw from Nelson Mandela’s life and example. Here’s three I have…

It is possible to change the world (or something less) if it matters enough and there are no limits to the sacrifices we are prepared to make. In other words, to quote Seth Godin, whatever it is, “We can.”

Simple things done well have great power, such as honouring everyone, not just the “important” people.

Without forgiveness, we cannot be free.

But perhaps the one to highlight here is…

Equality leads to influence.

Many remark on Mandela’s humility in spite of his global reach. Of course, it’s so obviously the other way round…

He had global reach because of his humility.

Worth pondering the implications.

With thanks for his example.

Giving yourself permission

Sonia ChoquetteAuthor and speaker Sonia Choquette give a fabulous demonstration of giving yourself permission to be yourself and do essentially anything on stage. The 700 or so people present respond wholeheartedly. In fact, the more Sonia is herself, the more the audience responds. It’s not that she’s does anything outlandish – just using her voice to the full and dancing around a bit – well a lot maybe.

Leaving afterwards, someone is overheard to say “I wish I had Sonia’s lack of inhibition.”

Think about it for a minute…

That’s kind of backwards. She already has her lack of inhibition, on the inside anyway. It’s a question of choosing to let it out. I suppose we get what she means though… it takes courage to be so exposed in front of so many people, or even perhaps just a few.

But here’s the thing…

The more Sonia is herself, the safer she is. The more she gives herself permission, the more we support her. And it’s the same with anyone else on that stage.

And it’s the same with people one-on-one…

The more we give ourselves permission to be ourselves, the safer we are.

Did Andy Murray struggle with tears because he lost or because we cared?

Andy MurrayWimbledon… Andy Murray is expected to speak on live TV to millions of people having just lost to Roger Federer in the final, and struggles to compose himself as you can see here if you missed it at the time.

Some commentators wrote that he was in tears because he lost.


Andy Murray struggled with tears because people cared. Probably a few key people caring would have been enough; in fact there were some tens of thousands immediately present and millions beyond.

Fascinating that some of the commentators completely missed the point of the human drama.

Turns out Roger Federer agrees the caring is the thing that tips you over, as he makes clear in this video.

The power of such a large scale emotional connection is enormous. Overwhelming for the athlete expected to speak and, in other contexts, the stuff of changing the world.

So much, so obvious, we might think, but apparently not. And that lack of understanding wherever it arises represents an opportunity.

The power of exploring what they like

Three senior managersHe says that type of equipment “doesn’t cut it.”

So we ask “what’s wrong with that type of equipment?” The open question prompts him to expand on the problems. (Notice we didn’t ask why. More on that key piece below.)

But we soon realize we can do better. We’re learning about what he doesn’t like—bit of a waste of time, much productive to get the other person talking about they do like.

So, we interrupt—yes, we interrupt—and say, ”Hold on, let’s change the focus: What is it you do like about the other type of equipment?”

Now he’s off. His energy increases. He’s animated and talking articulately about what he likes. A couple more open questions to develop the theme and he suddenly realizes a deeper reason for his preference—quite a profound one in fact. Now, he has something he didn’t have before.

And we all have the shared pleasure of something discovered. Our relationship is strengthened, and rapidly.

So simple and yet so powerful…

Ask open questions, get people talking about what they like or want, and dig deep until something new emerges.

Is that a practiced part of your skill-set? I’d suggest it is.

The trouble with “why?”

The trouble with a question beginning with why is (1) it can sound judgemental and (2) it’s vague about what we are looking for. We give away control of the conversation by asking it.

We can always ask a better question than one beginning with “why” such as “what’s the reason for…?” or “what is you like about…?” That way we keep control.

That one piece of learning alone makes a big difference—another good one to practice.

Does personal mastery make a leader inspirational?

Admiral Horatio NelsonI lately set up a new discussion group on LinkedIn called “Personal Mastery for the Inspirational Leader.” You can join the group here.

Well, that’s not the while truth. The group began as “Personal Mastery for the Resourceful Leader” then I thought… Should the word be “resourceful” or “inspirational”?

A key part of personal mastery is having the courage and strength of belief to follow an inner sense of direction, to be “in spirit.” With that in mind, the key question around the name is…

Does personal mastery make a leader inspirational?

For me the answer to that is emphatically “yes.” In fact, I notice it chokes me up to think of it like that – a sure sign of being on the right track, in my experience.

“Inspirational” does literally mean to be “in spirit.”

So I changed the title to…

“Personal Mastery for the Inspirational Leader”

But what about you…

Which word speaks to you the most and why – “resourceful” or “inspirational”?

What I took away from the Gerard Kelly tribute

Gerard KellyTotal commitment was key to his success. Glaswegian actor Gerard Kelly put everything into what he did. He was versatile too, playing a great range of roles. Gone too soon.

What can we learn from Aung San Suu Kyi’s continuing appeal?

Picture of Aung San Suu KyiAung San Suu Kyi’s continues to attract great affection, support and interest both within and beyond Burma.

What The Economist (Nov 20th, 2010) describes “as the abiding affection and respect Miss Suu Kyi commands” is due not least to “her grace, courage and good humour” and, I would add, “integrity”. The lesson for us all, I submit, is the power of these qualities, including in everyday life and the workplace.

“Flexibility and weakness are completely different” – Aung San Suu Kyi

“A steel wire is strong because it is flexible; a glass rod is rigid but may shatter.” Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticised alternately for being too flexible and too rigid, but her continuing appeal and influence suggests she has the balance right.

She has not achieved her objective, you may protest. What is her objective though? If it is peaceful change without bloodshed and saving the people of Burma from great violence, perhaps she is succeeding. Meanwhile, note the Burmese general’s fear in the face of a slight 65-year old woman of integrity.

What is the source of Aung San Suu Kyi’s peaceful power?

Picture of Aung San Suu KyiHow is it that the Burmese generals with access to so much military might fear Aung San Suu Kyi – a slight 65-year woman? OK, so their fear has diminished enough for her to be released, for the moment anyway, but still she enjoys tremendous popular support at home and abroad. Why?

And how is this relevant to the more mundane?

Joseph Jaworski has something to say about this in his book Synchronicity, where he quotes Francisco Varela (coauthor of The Tree of Knowledge and The Embodied Mind) in talking of “a commitment that can only come from someone who has changed his (or her) stance from resignation to possibility. We need to learn how to internalize that capacity.” Varela went on: “When we are in touch with our ‘open nature’, our emptiness, we exert an enormous attraction to other human beings. There is great magnetism in that state of being which has been called ‘authentic presence’.”

Jaworski adds that Varela warned “There is great danger if we consider these people to be exceptional. They are not. This state is available to us all.”

We frequently think of commitment as being to do with level of effort, about how much we do. Jaworski makes clear that he learned commitment is more about being – a choice of state.

So Aung San Suu Kyi’s authentic presence is as potent as the Burmese generals’ military might – a principle as relevant to the everyday as to the achievement of democracy in a benighted country.

As the comittee chairman for the Nobel Peace Prize said “an outstanding example of the power of the powerless” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-11685977.