The Skills we Can’t Measure


Before I plunge into this week’s post, let me just take a moment to say ‘thank you’ for all the e-mails, text messages and calls over the last fortnight. Taking over TAB UK is a huge honour, privilege and challenge – but I couldn’t be setting out on the journey with any greater goodwill. So thank you all.

Back to the blog: and who remembers Moneyball?

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The old ways of recruitment in baseball were jettisoned. In came Billy Beane, his stats guru and a transformation in the fortunes of the Oakland Athletics.

The central premise of ‘Moneyball’ was simple: that the collective wisdom of baseball insiders – managers, coaches and scouts – was almost always subjective and was frequently flawed. But the key statistics for baseball – stolen bases, runs, batting averages – could be measured, were accurate and – used properly – could go a very long way to building a winning team.

Well, it worked for the Oakland A’s. As Billy Beane memorably says at the beginning of the film, ‘There’s rich teams, there’s poor teams, there’s fifty feet of $%&! and then there’s us.’ The ‘Moneyball’ approach changed all that, with the film chronicling their hugely successful 2002 season.

Small wonder that business has followed the ‘Moneyball’ approach for generations. “What we can measure we can manage” as my first sales manager incessantly chanted, drumming into me that I needed to make “Specific, measurable” goals.

And he was right. Business has to measure results: goals must be specific and measurable and, as anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis will know, I believe there’s only one long term result if you don’t keep a close watch on your Key Performance Indicators.

But does that tell the full story?

Of course we have to keep track of the numbers: of course salesmen must be able to sell, coders must be able to code and engineers must be able to do the basic maths that means the bridge doesn’t fall down.

But none of those things happen in isolation: all of us in business are part of a team. We have to work with other people and – if our job is to lead the team – we have to get the best out of the people we work with.

And for that we need a set of skills that can’t be measured. I’ve written before about the World Economic Forum and their document on the key workplace skills that we’ll all need by the year 2020. Their top ten list includes creativity, people management, co-ordinating with others, emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility.

Last time I checked, none of those could really be measured objectively.

So are we swinging back to the pre-Moneyball approach? To a time when ‘gut-feeling’ held sway.

No, we’re not. But I do believe we are in an era where what we’ve traditionally called ‘soft skills’ are at least as valuable as ‘hard,’ functional skills.

This has implications for those of us running businesses – and it especially has implications for the training programmes we introduce. In the years ahead, we’ll still need to train our salesmen and our coders, but we’ll need to give them skills that go well beyond selling and coding.

There are implications for hiring and firing as well: they can no longer be based purely on numbers. And yes, I appreciate that the second one is going to cause problems. As a TAB member said to me last month, “I can fire someone for under-performance, I can fire them for stealing from me. But try and fire them because they bring the whole team down with their negative attitude and I’m heading straight for an employment tribunal.”

We’ve all been there: been in a meeting where someone’s glass is determinedly half-empty and they’re equally determined that it will remain like that. There’s a collective sigh of relief when they go on holiday. You can’t let one person bring the team down: it’s up to us as leaders to use our soft skills to make sure that doesn’t happen.

It’s also up to us to make sure that everyone in the team has the chance to develop their own soft skills. Whether it’s negotiation, creativity, co-operation or flexibility – those are the skills our businesses are going to need over the coming years: those are the skills that will help us turn our visions into reality.

Why Being Ill is Good for You


I bumped into an old work colleague at the weekend.

I use the word ‘colleague’ in its loosest possible sense. Brian was a man whose success at office politics was exceeded only by his opinion of himself: whose survival skills were in directly inverse proportion to his business skills. And for whom the expression ‘pompous oaf’ (or stronger) might have been invented.

But Season of Goodwill and all that. I smiled my welcoming smile…

“Edward. How goes the world with you? Still doing just enough?”

My smile slipped a little. “I’m managing, Brian. And you…”

“Never better. Just been ill. Best thing that ever happened to me.”

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I made suitable sympathetic noises while wondering why your phone never rings when you need it to.

“Gastric flu. Wiped out. Five days. Never been so ill in my life. But now, marvellous. Cleared out my body and – ” Brian jabbed me to make sure I understood the next point was important – “Cleared out my life as well.”

I indicated that I was grateful to be drinking from the well of such wisdom. “Yes. Could have swanned off to Switzerland and paid thousands. Did it all myself. Even a man of my talents can take on too much. You won’t have heard the expression – some American or other – but they call it ‘the thick of thin things.’”

And mercifully, at that moment, my phone did ring. “Mis-sold PPI?” I said. “Thank you so much for calling…”

As most of you will know, if there are 30 people in a room there’s a better than even chance of two of them sharing a birthday. With the massed ranks of TAB York, there must be equally good odds that one of us will, like Brian, be ‘wiped out’ in the run up to Christmas.

And much as I disliked the man, I had to admit that he was right. Sometimes, being ill can be good for you.

If you’re running your own business – or you’re in any position of authority – switching off is one of the hardest things to do. At home with the children? Date night with the wife? Ordering lunch on the beach… Even then, there’s either a problem that won’t go away or – because you’ll always be an entrepreneur – an idea that pops into your head.

For me – with due apologies to my wife and hopes that she’s already bought my Christmas present – the most totally relaxing thing I do is play squash. I’m physically and mentally engaged. Work couldn’t enter my head if it tried.

But Brian – proving the ‘broken clock’ adage – was right for once. Being really ill for a few days is a superb way to detox your body and your life.

The last time it happened to me was six years ago. I couldn’t do anything. The ominous shivering: the slow crawl into bed. Extra blanket. Dressing gown on top of you. Nothing works. And you all know the rest…

When I emerged back into the world I was washed out. Body emptied: mind emptied. I’d drunk nothing but water for five days: I was totally detoxified. But I was also more focused: much more clear about what I needed to do – and completely astonished at the mental clutter I’d allowed to accumulate before I was ill.

The first thing I did was tidy my office: then I abandoned my notebook/planner/to-do list and started a new one. I was acutely conscious that I didn’t want to drift back, to let the same clutter build up again.

Ultimately those five days I spent shaking and sweating turned out to be five of the most productive days I had that year.

So if it’s your turn this year, see being ill as a positive experience – at least in the long term. It can refresh your brain, detox your body and help you break bad habits.

And as the font of all wisdom pointed out, look at the money you saved by not going to Switzerland

Five Key Questions you Need to Ask Yourself


“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.”

We’re all familiar with that saying. In fact, we’re so familiar with it that we don’t even register the words any more. ‘Oh yeah, it’s that fish one…’

But the saying is fundamentally true: whether you’re talking about food shortages in the third world or educating your own children, ‘teach a man to fish’ always applies.

It applies with my business as well – especially when I’m wearing my ‘business coach’ hat. I can dispense advice very easily: but it doesn’t always work in the long term.

Farmers, fishermen, children or entrepreneurs, people learn best when they discover things for themselves. So my job – either in a 1 to 1 or with the help of half a dozen successful people round a TAB boardroom table – is to help entrepreneurs ask themselves the right questions. Or to put it another way: “Give a man advice and he’ll follow it for a month. Help him discover the advice for himself and he’ll follow it for life.”

So what are the questions I want entrepreneurs to ask themselves?

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Obviously some vary with the entrepreneur and the nature of their business, but looking back over the last seven years of TAB York certain key questions crop up over and over again. They apply to every member of TAB York – and to every entrepreneur I’ve worked with:

What do I really want from my business?

“I want more time and more money, Ed.” That’s almost always the first thing someone says to me – but in itself it’s meaningless. It’s a lazy way of thinking. So I need to ask some direct questions. How much more time? What will you do it with? How much more money? Why? What difference will it make? No-one can motivate themselves with a mental image of an abstract ‘more time and more money.’ It’s much easier imagining your house in Portugal; Friday on the golf course or handing your daughter the keys to her first car.

Can I please everyone?

As I’ve written many times on the blog, human nature dictates that we like to say ‘yes’ – whether it’s to a new client or a new commitment outside the office. But all the successful people I know say ‘no’ on a regular basis. If you want to avoid what Stephen Covey famously termed being ‘in the thick of thin things;’ if you truly want more time, then you’ll need to ask yourself this question – and sooner rather than later.

Am I in my comfort zone?

Let’s trot out another old saying: ‘Ships are safe in the harbour, but that’s not what ships are built for.’ And being safe in your comfort zone isn’t what an entrepreneur is built for. Staying in your comfort zone limits your growth; it gives you a false sense of security. Stay too long in your comfort zone and there’s a real danger that – when you finally pop your head above the parapet – you won’t recognise the new world.

Am I prepared for criticism?

As I wrote last week, we’re now living in an age where everyone has an opinion – and it’s easier than it’s ever been to voice that opinion. You can’t please all the people all the time and today those that aren’t pleased will reach for their keyboards. So be it. Criticism – and its attendant handmaiden, jealousy – is an integral part of a successful entrepreneur’s life. Focus on your long term goals and let it wash over you.

Do I know everything I need to know?

As Mario Andretti famously said, “If everything seems under control you’re not going fast enough.” And if you think you know everything you need to know, you don’t. In fact, with the world changing so quickly it’s safe to safe that the more you think you have to learn the better. Right now, all I know for certain is that on December 3rd 2017 there’ll be more items in my ‘need to learn/need to read’ file than there are now…

Five very simple questions: but they apply to virtually every entrepreneur I’ve ever worked with. And successful entrepreneurs don’t just ask those questions once: they keep asking them. So sometime between now and locking the office on December 23rd take ten minutes and a piece of paper and ask yourself these five questions. It’ll be some of the best preparation you do for 2017…

A Conversation with my Wife


Last week I discussed ‘permission.’ That my job is very often about giving an entrepreneur ‘permission’ to grow: to open the door and see what it could be like, to see the potential for himself and his company. But as I wrote last week:

…Going through that door can be painful. Because you’ll need to have a couple of conversations: one with your team, admitting that maybe you don’t have all the answers. And one with your spouse or partner, saying that you have room to grow: that you’ve had a dream, and you’re going to pursue it…

It’s the second of those painful conversations I want to look at this week. There’s no doubt at all that setting up and building a business puts a strain on a relationship. If you Google ‘business success leads to divorce’ the number of results is terrifying.

But sometimes a regular blog needs to go into deep water. Besides, we’ve tackled loneliness and depression in previous blogs: why not marriage guidance?

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(A note on pronouns before I start. As around 75-80% of TAB members are men, and as I’m going to relate this to my own experience, I’ve used ‘he’ for the entrepreneur and ‘she’ for the partner. But swap them round and every point I make is at least equally valid.)

So let me share some of my own story…

When I pushed breakfast round my plate in Watford Gap services and made the decision to start my own business, it wasn’t just a decision about me: it was a decision about my family as well. And yes, it lead to a lengthy conversation with my wife. It also lead to a couple of years of being largely dependent on Dav’s income: years when I was building TAB York and Dav paid the price in going without a lot of life’s luxuries.

Dav’s income allowed me to pursue my dream. You might say that in the same way I give an entrepreneur permission to look through the door, my wife gave me that same permission. I’ll be eternally grateful for that.

Were there some tough times in the first two years? Was the cash flow – with two young children – strained at times? Did it get a little tense occasionally?

Yes to all three.

As I’ve already said, starting a business puts a strain on a relationship. But it’s not just the cash flow – and now we move into real Venus and Mars territory.

The entrepreneur starts a business: his thoughts go something like this:

I’m starting this business for the benefit of my family. Sure things are going to be tough for a while, but ultimately we’ll all benefit. She must be able to see that – and she must be able to see that I’ll go insane if I stay where I am.

His wife takes a different view:

Our security’s gone out of the window. We might not be able to pay the mortgage this month. The kids need new clothes and I need a holiday. And all for what? So that he can spend his days trying to build “a better widget.” Like the world needs another widget…

Then there’s attention: or lack of it. As Dav would tell you, there were plenty of times in the early days of TAB York when I was ‘there but not there.’ All entrepreneurs are the same. Suddenly your head is full of staff who aren’t performing, suppliers who aren’t supplying, the inevitable cash flow problems. It’s all too easy to forget the things you used to do together: date nights, weekends away, the simple act of listening when your partner is talking to you…

Communication is vital in building your business. It’s vital when you come home as well – especially when you’re no longer the boss, but an equal partner.

I often write about the importance of communicating the vision you have for your business. There’s an exact parallel with a relationship. I don’t want to use the word ‘vision’ as it’s too impersonal: but you need to keep focused on the future; on what you want for the family, and for each other.

That’s what Dav and I had – and it’s what we still have. And more than anything, that helps you keep business in perspective.

So yes, there were tough times: some triumphs and some disasters. But as my pal Kipling would say, we tried to treat those two impostors just the same. And we met with pizza instead of steak and treated those two just the same as well…

A Glimpse of the Future


I love my job: the opportunity it gives me to say “this is how it could be” – to see someone recognise the possibilities in their life and their work – is immensely fulfilling.

That’s a quote from last week’s post – and the inspiration for those two lines came from the second episode of Westworld.

One scene really struck a chord with me: it went to the heart of everything I do, and I’d like to expand on it this week.

I’m aware some of you may not have seen Westworld, so I’ll tread carefully. In the scene the increasingly desperate writer, Sizemore, presents a scheme for Westworld’s ‘greatest narrative yet.’ There’ll be maidens to seduce, Indians to kill and unnamed horrors that I’m not going to mention in a Friday morning blog post.

“Above all,” claims Sizemore, “It’ll show the guests who they really are.”

He’s shot down by Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins), the owner of Westworld.

The guests aren’t looking for a story that tells them who they are. They already know who they are. They’re here because they want a glimpse of who they could be.

Sometimes you’re watching a film, reading a book or listening to a song and there’s a line that absolutely hits home. That’s how it was for me last Tuesday. Hopkins captured not only the essence of Westworld, but also the essence of what I do for a living.

The entrepreneurs I speak to aren’t looking to be told who they are, or where their business is now. They already know that. They want a glimpse of who they could be: of how far they could take their business – and how far the business could take them.

The first time I meet someone, that’s all I can offer – a glimpse.

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What do I want in return? First and foremost, I want an entrepreneur with courage. Someone who – to quote Bobby Kennedy – is willing “not to see things as they are and ask ‘why?’ But to see things as they could be and ask ‘why not?’”

So it’s not someone who wants to gamble on the future, or even someone who’s endlessly positive and always sees the glass as half-full. What I’m looking for is an open mind: a willingness to step outside their comfort zone and the realisation (even though they might not be acting on it then) that you cannot become the person you want to be by continuing to be the person you are.

My job is to say, ‘”This is how it could be, for you and the company.”

I’m giving the entrepreneur permission to think about the future: I’m saying, “There’s the door, it’s OK to walk through it.”

In one of his TED talks Simon Sinek makes a significant point: Martin Luther King didn’t say ‘I have a plan’ – much less, ‘I have a business plan’ – he said “I have a dream.”

Giving people permission to dream – and a setting in which they can dream – is what a great TAB board does. Make no mistake, sitting there at your desk, being the person you’ve always been, isn’t conducive to dreaming. In order to think differently – to see things as they could be – you need to move out of your everyday environment.

Good leaders spend their time encouraging others: giving them the means and the encouragement to grow. But someone needs to tell the leaders they can grow as well: that it’s OK for them to dream, that they don’t always need to be the detached pragmatist running the company. That they can be who they could be.

So when I say, “This is how it could be” I’m opening the door and offering a glimpse of what’s on the other side. Hopefully the entrepreneur will walk through the door, where she’ll find half a dozen like-minded people waiting for her.

But going through that door can be painful. Because you’ll need to have a couple of conversations: one with your team, admitting that maybe you don’t have all the answers. And one – which I’ll tackle next week – with your spouse or partner, saying that you have room to grow: that you’ve had a dream, and you’re going to pursue it…

It’ll Never be Time for the Pipe and Slippers…


Friday September 23rd. And after today, only 11 weeks of the year left. So yes, any minute now I’m going to start looking round the TAB boardroom table and suggest you start making plans for next year.

The time of year for looking ahead is approaching – but for some TAB members, ‘looking ahead’ is starting to take on a slightly different meaning. And it’s no surprise…

It’s more than six years since I started TAB York. As I check the boardroom tables, I see plenty of people who’ve become lifelong friends – but I also see rather more grey hair: or – in some cases – significantly less hair…

Yes, the thoughts of some members are turning towards exit strategies, what they’ll do when they’re not building a business and – ultimately – their legacy.

Well, maybe we should take a leaf out of Charles Eugster’s book…

Charles is 97, and holds the indoor and outdoor 200m and 400m world records for men over 95. He worked as a dentist until he was 75 and – despite a small pause in his 80s – has never stopped working. He still goes to the office in Zurich every day, before training in the afternoon. And Charles comfortably wins my ‘Positive Thinker of the Year’ award:

Even at 87 I wanted an Adonis body, in order to turn the heads of the sexy, young 70-year-old girls on the beach.

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Dr Charles Eugster (87) who has become one of the worlds oldest wakeboarders today when he was given his first lesson at the Ten-80 Wakeboarding School in Tamworth, Staffordshire. Credit: Shaun Fellows / newsteam.co.uk 25/5/2007

More seriously Charles Eugster says that he is “not chasing youthfulness. I’m chasing health.” Retirement, he says, “is a financial disaster and a health catastrophe.”

In many ways this was one of the most interesting articles I’d read all year – and I’d add ‘psychological’ to ‘financial’ and ‘health.’

The sentiments chime with what so many of my friends and clients are saying, and echo an underlying theme from the TAB Conference in Denver.

“I’m not intending to retire any time soon, Ed, if at all,” is a phrase I hear over and over again. No-one, it seems, is thinking of their pipe, slippers and Bake Off.

“I’m going to do a lot less in the business and a lot of other things,” is the consensus – with ‘other things’ covering charitable work, non-executive directorships, and mentoring students and start-ups.

I’ve just finished reading Finish Big by Bo Burlingham: ‘how great entrepreneurs exit their companies on top.’

Burlingham talks about entrepreneurs being defined by their place in the world: specifically by how they see themselves in the community. Unsurprisingly, 66% of entrepreneurs who exit their business “experience profound regret afterwards” – and a large part of that is the feeling that they’re no longer making a contribution.

Back to Charles Eugster and his Adonis body. He’s not ashamed to admit that he’s using his vanity as a motivating factor. And why not? Feeling that you’re valued and appreciated is an integral part of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

It’s no wonder that 66% of entrepreneurs experience profound regret. They’ve built a business, they’ve a wealth of wisdom, experience and knowledge and now suddenly – unless they plan for it – nobody wants to talk to them. Despite all they’ve achieved, they’re no longer defined by their business, they no longer feel valued.

So TAB York is not only about you and your business, or your work/life balance as you’re building the business. It’s not just about immediate problems and next year’s plans – it’s about what comes afterwards as well. It’s about leaving a legacy – for yourself and for the community.

PS I’m sorry, I had to check. Charles Eugster’s time for the 200m is 55.48 seconds. That’s three times longer than Usain Bolt’s time – but it’s roughly 8 minute mile pace. Well, well, there’s a challenge and an interesting ice-breaker for a few TAB meetings. Bring your shorts, ladies and gentlemen; let’s see who’s slower than a 97 year old…

Looking into Your Future


Here’s a question I sometimes ask myself: am I helping? Or am I changing someone’s life?

Make no mistake, I love helping. I love using my experience and solving problems. I love being able to say, “OK. I understand. Another client had a really similar problem and this worked for her.”

And I love it when someone comes to me and says, “Thanks, Ed. That worked. Problem solved.”

But it goes a long way beyond ‘loving it’ when someone says: “Thank you, Ed. Working with you has made a fundamental difference to my business and my life.”

That doesn’t happen often, but when it does it makes me sing and dance. I’m a little too old to skip down the street, but it conveys the emotion. Outside my wife and my children, it’s the best feeling there is.

And when it happens, I realise something important: solving problems is work that’s rooted in the present. Transforming someone’s life or business is very firmly rooted in the future. It doesn’t come from answering the question: ‘what’s the problem?’ It comes from much deeper questions: ‘What sort of person do you want to be?’ ‘What direction do you want to take your business in?’

As I read recently, it’s the difference between running on a treadmill and running to a destination.

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We all have things that we want to be – or that we want to achieve – in the future. Achieving those goals is going to make a fundamental difference to how we see ourselves five, ten, twenty years down the line.

These goals may or may not be business related: that doesn’t matter to me, because TAB is about getting what you want from your business and your life. What does matter to me is that you make a start on achieving those goals. Right now.

Yes, I know that your to-do list is thirty items long and getting longer. I know you have immediate problems that you need to solve.

But the simple fact is that your to-do list will always have thirty jobs on it. There’ll always be things you need to do right now.

I also know that it’s ridiculous to spend time on something that’s five years away – something on which there’s no immediate return – when you could be working productively on something that’s important today. But if you don’t make a start on those things now, you’ll never make a start.

We all know how fast time goes – and that it goes faster as you get older. My eldest son is nearly 14. It’s around three weeks since I held his hand and took him to nursery. In another couple of weeks he’ll be graduating from university.

So if you don’t make a start on what you want to achieve in 2021 it will be here. And ‘significantly improve my photography,’ ‘write a novel,’ or ‘get myself seriously fit again’ will still be nothing more than entries on your mental bucket list.

That’s my key point: if you want to be truly productive in the long term, you need to spend some time being unproductive in the short term.

Your future self needs to be selfish.

You need to sign up to that photography course, start writing, or take advantage of the light nights and get on your bike. And yes, doing those things may feel totally unproductive now – but in five years’ time they’ll be among the best decisions you ever made.

Football, Philosophy and Fulfilling your Potential


No-one who’s ever read a motivational quote can be unaware of Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers. But now we have someone new jogging onto the field: Bill Walsh, former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

The similarities between sport and business are legion – whether it’s building a winning team or dealing with your own emotions as owner, coach and head cheerleader.

Those similarities seem to be much more readily translated into books in the US (as a Newcastle fan, I await Steve McClaren’s book with interest…) and in The Score Takes Care of Itself, Walsh sets out his philosophy of leadership.

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If you’d like to read a shortened summary of his views, there’s a precis here on www.thought-management.com

There were two points in particular that struck me:

  • Deal appropriately with victory and defeat, adulation and humiliation. You can’t get crazy with victory: a loss cannot make you dysfunctional. That is, of course, an echo of Rudyard Kipling’s famous lines in If – and it applies to business every bit as much as it applies to sport. As Walsh says, “victory is not always within your control.” Business or sport, sometimes you’ll fail. But how you win or lose is within your control.
  • Secondly “promote internal communication that is both open and substantive.” In more simple terms, be open and talk to people: business, sport, or dealing with your children, that is a cardinal rule. It’s especially important when things aren’t going well: tough times are exactly the wrong time to pull the drawbridge up and retreat into yourself.

So much for Bill Walsh. But what the article really made me ask was, ‘What’s my philosophy?’

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this as I’ve driven round North Yorkshire over the last few days. I finally boiled it down to three key points:

  1. I want to set out a clear vision, and ensure that people buy into it. A key part of that is the ‘Why?’ In Simon Sinek’s words, “what’s the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you to do what you do?” (If you haven’t seen Sinek’s Ted talk on this, it’s excellent. Here’s the link.)

In turn, my vision – my ‘purpose, cause or belief’ – breaks down into three:

  • I want every business owner I work with to build a business that delivers what they want from life – for themselves, and for the people they care about
  • I want the business owners to reach their full potential – in business and in life. Marlon Brando once said: “I could’ve been a contender. I could’ve been somebody.” Whatever the business equivalent is, I don’t ever intend to hear it from one of my clients
  • Lastly, I want to be a force for good in the local business community and, more simply, in the local community itself

If I can deliver on those three then I know I’m going to be valued by clients and colleagues as someone who delivers real results and – just as importantly – as someone who’s enjoyable to work with.

Back to my wider philosophy…

  1. Surround yourself with great people. If I look around the TAB boardroom tables, the members who’ve been really successful over the past 12 months are the ones who’ve hired 9/10 talent, not 7/10 talent. That’s the one key reason I’d identify for their success. As one of my members said to me: “She’s changed my life, Ed. I worried about whether I could afford her salary. Now I see it as the best investment I ever made. She’s not only improved my business, she’s given me so much more free time. She’s improved my life.”
  2. Lastly – have fun. Yes, we all deliver serious benefits to our clients – but that doesn’t mean we can’t smile. Interestingly, I never believed the ‘have fun’ advice back in my corporate days – maybe I was having doubts about ‘corporate’ long before I admitted it to myself. But I absolutely do believe it now. As Robert Townsend so famously said: “If you’re not in business for profit or fun why are you here?”

That’s it for this week. Next week I’ll be publishing the blog by Wednesday: I know ‘read Ed’s blog’ has no hope of competing with ‘buy Easter eggs’ and ‘visit garden centre…’

 

 

 

 

Are You Selling Sugared Water?


Last week I was reflecting on the American Presidential race and the nature of leadership:

The title doesn’t make you a leader: neither does the biggest office or the reserved parking space. What makes a leader is the ability to bring your ideas to life – to paint a picture of the future your team can see and believe.

Let me continue that theme this week – and take a more detailed look at the one quality all great leaders have in common. Vision.

We live at a time when the future is more uncertain than ever, whether it’s economically (slowdown in China, Brexit), politically (US election, tension everywhere you can think of), socially (refugee crisis) – or the constant and ever-faster pace of change in technology.

Predicting the future is almost impossible.

And yet there are some astonishing success stories in business. The famous quote from Robert Kennedy is more relevant than ever:

There are those that look at things the way they are and ask why? I dream of things that never were and ask ‘why not?’

So did Mark Zuckerberg when he wondered if his Harvard dating app couldn’t go a step or two further.

So did Pierre Omidyar when he wondered if there wasn’t a better way of buying and selling and founded eBay.

So did Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp when they wondered if the traditional taxi business might be due for a shake-up and founded Uber.

Jonathan Swift – taking a break from Gulliver’s Travels – famously wrote that ‘vision is the art of seeing things invisible.’ That’s what Zuckerberg & Co did: they saw things that were invisible to everyone else.

And that’s what Steve Jobs did in 1983 when he asked John Sculley, then the President of Pepsi-Cola, his famous question: Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?

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Let me pause, and look at the other side of the coin for a moment. Let’s take one example of leaders without vision. I’m prepared to wager that the vast majority of people reading this blog have owned a Nokia mobile phone. How many of us own Nokias now?

Ten years ago the word Nokia was synonymous with the mobile phone. Does anyone know what the company does today? Did the company’s leaders have a vision of the future? I seriously doubt it. As the Harvard Business Review said, “they were acting like leaders – reassuring, calm, confident, giving fine speeches – [but they] were not being leaders.” And they woke up one morning to find everyone holding an iPhone or the latest Samsung.

What are the implications of all this for our businesses in North Yorkshire? That in our changing world leadership and vision is more important than ever. That while you may well make money selling sugared water, real and lasting success comes from seeing – and realising – your vision. To quote the Business Review again, “a leader’s fundamental role isn’t merely to perform the same tasks as yesterday, just more efficiently: it is to re-define the idea of performance entirely.”

The role of the leaders isn’t to take power, it’s to give power. It’s to create a vision, a purpose, that’s so exciting that your team can’t help but buy into it – then you give them the power to achieve. And suddenly you’re no longer selling sugared water – you’re changing part of the world. As the old cliché goes, you’re not predicting your future, you’re creating it.

…And as another old cliché goes, ‘All work and no play makes Ed a dull boy.’ So with the half-term holidays looming the blog will be taking a break next week as we head for the ski slopes. I’ll be back on Friday 26th looking at a darker facet of leadership – coping emotionally when the ship is heading for the rocks…

The Great Communicator


You may have noticed a little excitement on the other side of the pond, specifically in Iowa. The starting gun’s been fired and the 2016 Presidential race is officially under way.

So a quick quiz question. Name the three Republican front runners and the two leading Democrats. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. That’s easy. That old guy – Bernie something? The young one from Florida. And Ted something? Didn’t he win in Iowa?

Yes he did. Ted Cruz is the one you’re trying to think of. He beat The Donald and Marco Rubio. And Hillary beat Bernie Sanders. Just. 701 precincts to 697.

You’ll soon know everything there is to know about them – because on November 8th, one of them will become arguably the most powerful person in the world (subject to a small discussion with Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping). Barack Obama will voluntarily give up power and one of the five mentioned will find him or herself sitting behind the desk where the buck most emphatically stops. POTUS 45 will be in office.

I’m fascinated by American politics for two reasons. First of all I now go to Denver every year – and thanks to The Alternative Board I think of a great many Americans as friends. The second reason is simple: how can such an energetic, vibrant, enterprising country produce such consistently underwhelming candidates?

I was born in 1973 – more or less a year before Woodward, Bernstein and Deep Throat finally put paid to Tricky Dicky. He was followed by Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Then came ‘the Great Communicator’ – to be followed by the Bush/Clinton years and the current incumbent.

How many of them have impressed me? Probably only one: Ronald Reagan.

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Was he the brightest President of my lifetime? Absolutely not.

Did he have the best grasp of policy and foreign affairs? No way.

But was Reagan the best leader? Without question.

As I’ve written many times on this blog, leadership isn’t being the best, the smartest or the one with the most knowledge. Leadership is about leading. It’s about saying ‘that’s where we’re going’ and getting your team – or the American people – to follow you.

I’m always struck by the sharp Democrat/Republican divide when I visit the States. Changing allegiance seems a much more difficult step to take than in this country. And yet Reagan’s folksy style – and his ability to capture the spirit of the US – easily bridged the divide.

Reagan gave the impression that he wanted to be President because he believed; because – like Margaret Thatcher – he’d had a moment when he’d realised, ‘No-one else is going to do this: it has to be me.’

Too many politicians since – on both sides of the Atlantic – have sought to lead for all the wrong reasons. To mis-quote JFK, for what leadership will bring to them, not what they can bring to the people they seek to lead.

The parallels with business are obvious. Everyone running their own business has had their own ‘it has to be me’ moment: the moment when they knew they had to act. And as we all know – and as Reagan said after the Challenger disaster: “the future doesn’t belong to the faint-hearted: it belongs to the brave.”

As this week’s title suggests, Reagan’s effectiveness as a speaker lead to him being known as ‘The Great Communicator.’ As Ken Khachigian, one of his former speechwriters says, what brought him the name was “his ability to educate his audience, to bring his ideas to life, by using illustrations and word pictures to make his arguments vivid.”

And that’s an exact parallel with business leadership. The title doesn’t make you a leader: neither does the biggest office or the reserved parking space. What makes a leader is the ability to bring your ideas to life – to paint a picture of the future your team can see and believe. And then they’ll follow you anywhere…