To Err is Human to Arrr is Pirate!

On a weekend away with some friends, lots of kids and lots of adults, we decided to have a pirate theme. It was mandatory for young and old all to wear a pirate outfit and to talk like a pirate or they would be forced to walk the plank.

It’s amazing how dressing up and talking like a pirate seems to cheer everybody up, and not just the people in the outfits.

Everybody it seems has the ability to talk “pirate”.

All day complete strangers were more than happy to offer their own pirate impressions, “Ahoy me hearties!”, “Shiver me timbers”, “Arr Jim Lad” and “Pieces of eight” were offered up wherever we went.

We should probably thank Captain Pugwash, Captain Feathersword and Captain Jack Sparrow for making Pirating so popular.

So you can all enjoy the experience put 19th September in your diary, it’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day !

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Please stop talking about leadership and show me what it looks like

To lead, you need followers. This means Leadership is not a spectator sport, or a navel gazing exercise. It requires you to have a sense of purpose, to take action, and to demonstrate what you are capable of to deliver on your commitments.

If you are in a leadership position then you need to be clear about:

  1. Why you are in a leadership position in the first place? (Just to earn more money is not a good answer)
  2. What leadership means to you?
  3. How you go about leading your people and others around you?

Can you answer these questions concisely and with conviction? If not then are you a “Tofu Leader”?

Tofu Leadership

A very seasoned campaigner in a large corporation used the phrase to describe the series of leaders that he had worked for. He likened them to tofu, an ingredient that has very little flavour or smell of its own but takes on the flavour of the environment around it. These leaders would quite easily absorb the latest company-wide management initiatives and leadership jargon. On the surface they would say the right things and it would look and feel as though they are committed to the cause. It was not what the said,  it was their actions or lack of them, that really exposed them. They were Tofu Leaders, bland and lacking any real substance (you can see I am personally not a great fan of tofu).

The Antidote

I have just facilitated a high potential leadership program. At the conclusion of the 4 month program I asked the participants to present to their senior leadership team on what they had learnt about leadership and what they had been able to achieve.

This type of activity can easily turn into a theoretical, jargon ridden, love fest that has no connection to what takes place in the real world as people aim to impress and say the right things.  An afternoon of tofu discussions!

This group did not fall into this trap. They spoke candidly and directly about their own learnings and what they had been able to achieve. Their insights were not radically new, what made an impact was how comfortable they were to be themselves, to talk openly and unguarded about their thoughts and feelings and to draw heavily on their own experiences to explain what they had learnt.

Here is my summary of what they recommend leaders need to do:

1. Make strategy meaningful

  • There are not many people who get inspired by a smart graphic outlining the companies Values, Mission and Strategies. To make the Values, Mission and Strategy meaningful you need to help people identify how this relates to what they do, what is in it for them and how they can contribute.
  • Leaders need to work this out for themselves first of all and then  create a dialogue with their people to allow them to engage.
  • Rather than download, upload! Ask your people why they come to work , what are they looking for and then get them to see if the business  is going to give them what they want. Ask them to make the link. If they can make the link they will want to come to work, if they can’t, then maybe they should think about doing something else.
  • Communicate the “corporate speak” in a way that your people will understand. One of the aspirations for this company is Process Excellence. One of the participants knew his team would struggle to relate to the words so he tied 4 pieces of rope to a table and set them the goal of moving the table. The only condition was they had to pull in different directions. Obviously the table remained where it was. He then invited them to work out a different approach to move the table. Naturally they all pulled in the same direction, that he explained was Process Excellence  He then tasked them to work together to move the table. So naturally they all pulled in the same direction, that he explained in process excellence.

2. Stop talking and start doing

  • What you do and how you go about it will have more of an impact than what you say.
  • It does not matter if you sit at the top of the leadership tree, in the middle, or at the bottom, you are under close scrutiny from your people (Admittedly if you are at the top you are under more scrutiny, which is why you get paid the big bucks).
  • Invest the time to understand what makes your people tick, be accessible, communicate in a way that they will respond to and find opportunities to proactively make their lives easier.
  • If Leadership does not come naturally to you, then challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone and give it a try, or maybe you are in the wrong job.

 3. Collaborate across the business

  • As businesses grow in size, how we collaborate across them, to meet customers’ needs and who is responsible for what can become confusing.
  • We can easily retreat into our silos or stove pipes and focus on our own areas of responsibility.
  • The  easy path is to play the victim, blaming other parts of the business for their downfalls and inefficiencies rather than being accountable for doing something about it.
  • The more we can rise above this and facilitate working across departments and with stakeholders the more empowering it is and the more we can contribute.
  • Think about the rest of the business the way you think about your customers. What can you do to help the other departments in your business? What would make their lives easier?.

The afternoon was nicely summarised by a couple of simple observation:

  • There is no one right approach to leadership, it’s about personalities and individuality, and you have to find what is going to work for you.  
  • The leaders we want to work for don’t just talk a good game they hold themselves accountable and lead by example.

Getting Older

The family and I went on a rail and sail excursion from Sydney to Wollongong.  Nothing remarkable about that except it was on a 1928 steam train and, given my excitement and how much enjoyment it afforded me, I can only conclude that I have in fact turned into my father.

I discovered that this process was irreversible a few years back and made a conscious decision not to fight it but to just let it happen. My metamorphosis was nearly complete at Christmas when we spent some time together. It was very unnerving to find myself sitting around the table and becoming conscious of the fact that I was expertly demonstrating many of the old man’s mannerisms. In fact we have become so similar our conversations about maps, kites and the merit of B roads were enjoyable and proactively sought out.

This weekend’s trip has finally completed my transformation.   If any further evidence is really required then the great conversation I had with a fellow passenger in our carriage about the Albion Park Air show and the assortment of WWII flying aircraft really draws the case for the prosecution to a close.

I know I am not alone in undergoing this change, for those of you who are still in denial, stop fighting the inevitable.

“Nature or Nurture?” it doesn’t matter, either way it is your parents fault.

I am now going to buy myself a shed and retire to the garden. Deep Joy!

Career Opportunities

“If you were not being paid would you still turn up to work?”

For many of us the answer is a resounding No! Getting paid is what gets us out of bed.  If anybody tells you that money is not important they probably have enough, or too much. But if it’s all about the money then why aren’t we all focused on getting the job that pays us the most at the expense of everything else?

If I was to pay you 25 % more than you currently earn and ask you to stand in the corner all day and not do anything else how long do you think you would last?

Many other considerations come into play that shape why we do the jobs that we do. The more that a job satisfies our own personal needs the easier it is to feel engaged, motivated and passionate about what we do.

The individuals who understand this and invest time and effort to find jobs that offer them more than just an income are more fulfilled, they are more engaged, and generally are more interesting and to be around.

Today’s business environment offers us more choices and opportunities than ever before, even after the Global Financial Crisis. It does mean there are no longer the structured career paths available as in previous generations, this in itself presents us with a wealth of opportunity if we are prepared to do something about it.

Manage Your Own Career

If you haven’t spent much time thinking about your career, today’s businesses will always provide opportunities for good talented people. If you don’t want to leave this to chance and want to take a little more control here are a few things to get you thinking.

  1. Think about how you have ended up in your current role, what decision have you made that bought you here and is this how you want to spend your working life?
  2. Work out what you like doing and what you don’t like doing. Think about the best day you have had at work recently and then think about your worst day, this will tell you what you like and don’t like.
  3. Just because you like to do something doesn’t mean that you are naturally good at it. Identify what you think your strengths are and what skills and capabilities you have.
  4. Get an objective view of yourself – It is myth that feedback is a good thing and we all like getting it. Getting constructive feedback from people you respect is good; anything else is a waste of time. So find somebody you respect and who will give it to you straight and ask them what you do well and what you could do differently.
  5. Think about the opportunities in the future that may interest you. Do not just confine this to specific roles, look at the things you like to do and the capabilities you have and then start to think about the roles that may utalise these attributes.
  6. Identify any additional skills and capabilities that you may need for your future roles, work out how you can acquire these in your current position.
  7. Talk to people that can help you and let them know the type of opportunities you may be interested in for the future.
  8. Ensure that you continue to deliver in your current role. It is a lot easier for people to support and help you out if you are delivering and have the reputation of a good performer.