January 16, 2018

Are too many bosses “control freaks?”

Sir Brian SouterSir Brian Souter, highly successful co-founder of the Stagecoach bus group and always an entertaining speaker, made the front page of the Scottish broadsheet newspaper “The Herald” on Saturday with his conference comment that “too many large companies are run by ‘control freaks’ whose outlook affects long-term business growth.”

Absolutely right, in my view. Curious, almost, that it was news.

Except it is news that he said it because it’s not conventional wisdom.

These “emperors,” as he dubbed them, “lead to poor long-term growth as they are averse to risk and trying new ideas… Some people are terrified to do anything in case it affects their share price.”

Brian went on to suggest “the proliferation of emperors in senior roles will actually stunt the potential for faster economic growth.” (He was speaking in Scotland but clearly thinking more broadly.)

I agree. I experience the consequences of this virtually every day. The agility of larger organisations especially is a fraction of what it could be.

Control freaks shut down people. And that shuts down results. You can probably see that around you, if you look properly.

Yes, we need “governance” but we also need agility and energy and genuine, empowering leadership.

I think so anyway.

What about you? Is Sir Brian right?

The importance of a specific goal, and a small step towards it

Mark BeaumontHe travelled 18,297 miles round the world on a bicycle and beat his target of 195 days by 8 hours. His target was in reality an arbitrary estimate based on 100 miles per day with an allowance for unforeseen difficulties. In so doing, he smashed the previous world record of 276 days by 81 days.

As adventurer Mark Beaumont said himself, there’s something to learn about the importance of setting a specific goal.

We might also infer something about the merit of focusing on your outcome rather than the “competition.”

Mark had more to say about having the right mindset, specifically focusing on short-term goals every day, like finding the right food and a suitable place to camp. The words of Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching seem to fit…

Take on difficulties while they are still easy;
Do great things while they are still small
The sage does not attempt anything very big,
And thus achieves greatness.

Looking for some guiding principles? Try Jimmy Reid’s – ‘Clyde-built’ to travel the world.

In the West of Scotland yesterday was celebrated a life well-lived and an example to us all – Jimmy Reid (1932 – 2010).  To think of the former Clyde shipbuilder as speaking only to a left-wing audience would be to miss the point.

I was nine at the time of Jimmy Reid’s celebrated Rectorial Address at Glasgow University on Friday 28th April, 1972 and so too young to remember the coverage directly.  I had regarded Jimmy Reid since ‘as one of the good guys’ and a decent man, without really knowing the detail.  Only on his passing and the re-publication of the text of his speech, did I realise how universal his message is; how it speaks to all people and all places and all times, including our own.

To say the speech made the front pages would be an understatement: it was printed in full in the New York Times and described there as “the greatest speech since President Lincoln’s Gettysburg address”.  If you’re not familiar with the content, I commend it to you.

The full text of the speech is at http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_167194_en.pdf

The most celebrated theme rejects the inevitably of the ‘rat race’…

 “[The problem] is the widespread and implicit acceptance of the concept and term, ‘the rat race’.  … To the students I address this appeal – reject these attitudes – reject the values and false morality that underline these attitudes.  A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement.  It entails the loss of your dignity and human spirit.  This is how it starts, and, before you know where you are, you’re a fully paid-up member of the rat pack. The price is too high.  Or as Christ puts it:  ‘What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?’”

Jimmy Reid also believed in the great untapped potential of people…

“To measure social progress purely by material advance is not enough.  Our aim must be the enrichment of the whole quality of life.  It requires a social and cultural, or if you wish, a spiritual transformation of our country.

“To unleash the latent potential of our people requires that we give them responsibility.  The untapped resources of the North Sea are as nothing compared to the untapped resources of our people.  I am convinced that the great mass of our people go through life without even a glimmer of what they could have contributed to their fellow human beings.  This is a personal tragedy.  It’s a social crime.  The flowering of each individual’s personality and talents is the pre-condition for everyone’s development…

“The whole object [of education] must be to equip and educate people for life, not solely for work or a profession…

“My conclusion is to reaffirm what I hope and certainly intend to be the spirit permeating this address. It’s an affirmation of faith in humanity.  All that is good in man’s heritage involves recognition of our common humanity, an unashamed acknowledgement that man is good by nature.

These extracts barely convey the whole power of the address.

Commentators say that the speech has endured because ‘of the substance, because he put feeling and spirituality at the heart of it, and he meant it’.  Perhaps that’s key to more than the success of a speech.

Tremendous.  A great inspiration.