Blitzkrieg – lessons for managers?

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 “You can’t outrun the future if you don’t see it coming. Individuals who get startled by the future weren’t paying attention”.

Gary Hamel – London Business School Professor

What is blitzkrieg?

Blitzkrieg roughly translated from German means “lightening war” and was a method of warfare used by Nazi Germany in successfully invading northern Europe in World War II (1). At the beginning of World War II, France had the largest army in Europe, and the most tanks and aircraft but was defeated comprehensibly by the Nazi war machine in a matter of weeks in 1940. To be successful, Nazi German did not fight France on their terms or in more traditional ways, instead they used ‘blitzkrieg’.

So how did the Germans successfully invade France in World War II?

Following World War I, the French built a series of defensive forts on their eastern frontier with Germany called the Maginot Line, to protect them against invasion.  Although outnumbered, the Germans used a combination of tanks, motorised infantry and aircraft in a combined offensive mobile approach using excellent radio communications. They bypassed the Maginot line and attacked France through the Ardennes which the French considered ‘tank proof’.

By comparison, the French relied on static forts and viewed tanks as a defensive weapon to support their infantry. Also, few of the heavy tanks had radios and furthermore they were unreliable.

What are the lessons from blitzkrieg that can be used in business?

In summary it was ‘old war’ v ‘new war’ and broke the ‘old thinking’.

The German approach meant challenging the traditional ways by doing things differently which required planning to get around a superior enemy, without fighting on the enemy’s terms, and by using:

  • speed and efficiency – mobile infantry and tanks supported by aircraft
  • new technology – extensive use of radios

There are many examples of companies who failed to change which resulted in their demise. For example, although Kodak invented the digital camera it failed to commercialise it. Nokia the leading mobile phone business at the time invented the smart phone, however its delay in commercialising it meant the company was overtaken by Apple and Samsung. I had a client whose business relied for the majority of its revenue on providing engineering services to a major vehicle manufacturer in Australia. The owner proudly told me that he could always rely on this company as he had dealt with them for over 30 years. Within 2 years of this statement, vehicle manufacturing ceased and his business folded.

As business owners and managers, we must always be thinking of new ways of doing things, embracing new technologies and seeking outside assistance where appropriate ……….

Here are three questions you can ask yourself:

  1. how can I get customers from my competitors but not compete on the same terms?
  2. where is my business vulnerable to new technologies?
  3. are any of my new or existing competitors competing differently in the market?

This is your challenge!

After all, ignoring emerging trends or becoming overly absorbed in the present is naïve or even reckless.

  1. Note: the use of Blitzkrieg as an example of a management technique and is not to be misinterpreted as support for the evil actions of Nazi Germany which resulted in over 30 million deaths in World War II.

 

Further lessons from the farm……………

“Farming looks mighty easy when your plough is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field”

Dwight D. Eisenhower – President USA

Each year I write a blog about ‘lessons from the farm’. In 2016 it was about  constant renewal and in 2017 it was about being careful in assessing opportunities and watching for hidden problems.  Growing up on a farm in country New South Wales, Australia provided me with a great grounding for life. It certainly gave me the experience and a sense of perspective to be successful, academically and in business and to handle difficult issues when they arose.

Being a farmer is more than a job, it’s a way of life. It is full of life lessons that you can use as a manager or business owner.  Farming is unpredictable – as a farmer you are at the mercy of the weather, whether it be droughts, storms or floods, as well as fluctuating commodity prices.

So what lessons can a farming life provide?

Here are 3 lessons from my childhood……

  1. Always be optimistic. As a farmer, you tend to always look on the bright side of life even when the problems seem insurmountable. Whether it’s a crippling drought or a flood, or a tractor that breaks down in the middle of the sowing season, there is always tomorrow, next week or next year. I witnessed my father struggling financially to hand-feed sheep during a drought believing that prices would improve. Later on, wool prices increased and this made his efforts worthwhile.
  2. Deal with disappointment. Often on the farm, despite giving your best effort, things don’t work out. The weather can be unpredictable, crops can be ruined and animals can be lost to drought, flood or fire. This taught me that life is not easy and you deal with disappointment by being resilient. You must keep continuing on. In a period of severe drought, with no farm income and four hungry boys to feed, as a family we dealt with this difficult period by my mother breeding Corgi pups for city people.
  3. You reap what you sow. Despite the unpredictability of mother nature, in farming generally you get out of it what you put in. Proper preparation of the land before sowing a crop will be more likely to produce a successful crop. The lesson is that when you dedicate your time to doing a job correctly, without cutting corners, you are more likely to get your desired results. In business and in life, the results you get are based directly on the efforts you put into it. Over 40 years ago, my father saw a gap in the market for low fat drought hardy beef cattle. He began breeding Limousin cattle from France, initially through artificial insemination using semen from the best French bulls. Within 10 years his cattle were winning national beef competitions in Australia.

These lessons from the farm serve as good examples of lessons for life. Life is often not easy, whether with family, business or your career. I found myself facing difficult issues in business, whether it was the loss of a major customers, slow paying customers or staff issues. In one year we lost our 2 largest customers in circumstances beyond our control. This threatened the viability of the business. It was similar to the farmer’s livelihood being threatened by mother nature. We knuckled down, believed that the future would improve, dealt with the disappointment and worked hard at marketing our services. Within 2 years our business had grown 50%.

Can you think of examples where you overcame adversity and grew?

Using lessons from the farm is a good reference point for action.

Are you a smart manager?

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“If you are the smartest person in the room then you’re in the wrong room”

Anonymous

Michael Dell founder of Dell Computers has a similar quote “Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people……..or find a different room”

As managers, what does this mean?

Logically the smartest person in the room should be the manager. After all, who will provide the direction and manage the organisation?

Quite clearly this is wrong. Why?

The people who think they are the smartest person in the room tend to have the last say and rarely listen to or acknowledge different ideas or opinions. Many show their distain or disinterest by interrupting others in mid-sentence or displaying negative non-verbal traits such as rolling their eyes, looking away or checking their phone. I can remember organising a leadership training program for our Rotary Club for local businesses and organisations. A local council put up several candidates and one refused to attend stating “I have an MBA so I don’t need leadership training”

It would have been a waste of time and money for them to attend, not because of their MBA but because of their attitude.

However, learning should continue throughout your life, both at work and outside work. Learning does not stop with finishing school or a degree. People only learn and grow when being challenged. Being the smartest person in the room often means that you will not be challenged. Great managers surround themselves with people who challenge them as they realise that to continue to be relevant and innovative, you must be open to new ideas and concepts. By valuing other’s opinions and accepting that you are not always the smartest person in the room, healthy, constructive and sometimes heated debates will help your organisation and help you.

A business owner I know, who would be very smart and is well qualified academically, has failed to grow his business as profitably and quickly as planned. While he is a pleasant, polite and intelligent, he is rarely challenged and appears to not listen to others.  He claims he has little time or interest to read books. It would seem that these circumstances had adversely affected his staff turnover and business. Staff initiatives and ideas appear to be stifled. Being in charge does not mean you have all the answers. I have found that some of the smartest people can be found anywhere in an organisation, you just need to find and develop them. Many years ago, while working for a transport business I found a driver who had the attributes and energy to become a qualified driver trainer. Despite initially being hostile to management. he turned his experience into a new position, where he greatly added to the business by training drivers, thereby reducing accidents, injuries and fuel consumption. Furthermore and probably more importantly this improved his motivation and morale, and his own self image.

As managers we probably all have the tendency to act as the smartest person in the room.

The challenge is to resist this temptation without of course, abdicating your responsibility as a manager.

Here are 3 suggested approaches:

  1. Ask more questions and listen for the answers. Questions are powerful leadership tools (Questions and Answers) Resist telling people what to do and respond to ideas with questions to help you and others better develop their ideas. Seek first to understand before offering your own perspective.
  2. Have the courage to remain silent and help others decide. This does not mean that you cannot veto an idea or approach. Through using open questioning techniques ideas can be modified or adapted in a constructive way to get the best outcome.
  3. View ideas as a ‘glass half full’ not ‘half empty’ as it is a positive approach. People respond to the positive rather than the negative. Negative discussions should only centre around risks.

As a manager can you resist the temptation and follow these approaches?

These approaches often challenge us as managers, although they highly likely to engage and motivate our subordinates, make them feel part of a team and allow new ideas and approaches to surface. You will be challenged.

Why don’t you ‘give it a go’?.………………….

What’s the difference between disruptive and unpredictable leadership?

Donald_Trump_2015_BigHead“We have to be unpredictable.”

Donald Trump – USA President

Often in the media we hear about disruptive technology changing our lives and the workplace. For example, Uber disrupting the cosy taxi industry in Australia, or Amazon shaking up the retail industry. Disruptive technology is not new. Motor cars and the railways disrupted horse drawn transport.

Recently I was speaking to a good friend about his current work situation. Having known him for over 20 years I was disturbed to hear his normally positive and enthusiastic voice very subdued and hesitant. It was not a pleasant conversation. However, my friend’s story was different. The disrupter was not technology, but his unpredictable boss.

Unpredictable managers are not organisational psychopaths.  They are more easily identified. Although they may engage in manipulative behaviour behind the scenes, a large proportion of their behaviour is clearly visible to their work colleagues and subordinates.

Whilst some companies need to have disruptive leaders to provide positive direction and leadership to break out of their inertia or poor performance, unpredictable leadership is a different story.

The boss’s behaviour was unpredictable and disruptive in a negative way. Meetings were arranged that had no planned agenda, team members were ridiculed in meetings and the goal posts were often unclear and seemed to keep changing. This unpredictability created a lot of “noise” in the workplace. None of this was helpful as much time was wasted by team members as they struggled to work out how to navigate his leadership, whilst trying to predict what he wanted. It became clear that this was a strategy to hide his lack of understanding of the business or industry, lack or emotional intelligence, empathy and maturity under the guise of ‘keeping people on their toes’.

He was quoted as saying: “I like to keep my subordinates on their toes because just when they think they have got me figured out they realise they haven’t.”

Time was wasted as the team spent unnecessary hours dealing with the fallout of working in an unstable and unpredictable environment. The environment was one of uncertainty, fear and mistrust. This created a culture of unhelpful and destructive game playing. The best staff began leaving the company, profitability dropped and customer service suffered. His behaviour was both unpredictable and disruptive in a negative way. The opposite to this behaviour is having a consistent style and track record which people can learn to trust. In other words being authentic. This blog is worth reading. Authentic Leadership

The current US President, although a political disrupter to the established order, displays the characteristics of an unpredictable leader. His tweets and outbursts are unpredictable and often abusive whilst appearing to play games and gamble with the fates of others.

Dealing with an unpredictable manager is certainly a challenge as its exhausting both physically and mentally. This was how my friend was feeling. The previous feelings of safety and being part of a team under the previous management were now lost.

So how do you deal with unpredictable managers?

Here are some suggestions.

  1. Try and ignite empathy

This is a challenge when being faced daily with unreasonable behaviours. However, if you try to think about why the person is acting this way, it can be beneficial for you both. People bring all sorts of baggage from their past.  Whilst having empathy does not condone unreasonable behaviour, it can help in trying to manage the situation. I can remember being confronted with unacceptable behaviour from a manager. However, when I took into account that the person had suffered a recent family tragedy, it helped me deal with situation better by depersonalising the behaviour.

  1. Making a decision

The decision is whether you are able to remain in, or continue to tolerate the difficult situation.  Ask yourself some questions to clarify your options:

  1. Is it impacting adversely on my life?
  2. If so, how much?
  3. What can I control and what is outside of my control?
  4. Is there someone I can ask to help me?

For example, if the situation is affecting your health or personal relationships and you cannot control the situation you may decide to leave the organisation and/or seek professional assistance.

  1. What are your professional or personal boundaries?

Good employees and managers have clear boundaries, both personally and professionally. The recent issue regarding sexual harassment in the entertainment industry is a good example. Certain behaviour is unacceptable and if your professional and personal boundaries are breached then you probably should consider a plan to exit.

  1. Seek perspective

Often, we get emotionally involved in such situations so seeking an outside perspective can be an important step. When I was faced with unacceptable behaviour I sought out an outside advisor or mentor to try and take the emotion out of the situation. It however, took me some time to undertake this course of action. This was after much emotional anguish which was impacting on my family. I eventually left the organisation. It was liberating.

In concluding, it is essential that you seek out some clear thinking time.

Some suggestions include, take a walk around the block, visit the gym or make notes in a journal so you can reflect. Such actions help you from becoming overwhelmed and you can go through the suggested steps in dealing with your unpredictable and therefore disruptive manager.

As leaders, we all have all witnessed disruptive behaviour by others in managing people and organisations. The challenge is to recognise such behaviour and use them for positive outcomes that benefit others, rather through being unpredictable and derailing and decimating people and the organisation.

The decision is as always, how can I manage the current unsatisfactory situation to make it positive?

 

A title does not mean you are a leader!

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“Power is like being a lady. If you tell people you are, you aren’t.”

Margaret Thatcher: British Prime Minister

What makes a leader, how do they act and how do you recognise a leader?

Leadership is always a topical subject. Not everyone in a leadership position is a ‘natural’ leader.

Here are some questions that are often asked:

  1. Can we improve our image by managing perceptions?

Perceptions can become reality if managed well.

Few people could argue that Margaret Thatcher was not a leader. You may not agree with her, however there was no doubt that she was in charge. She never used her gender as a prop, although she was the only female in her first cabinet. Unfortunately, today we too often see managers use their title to impress and claim that they are in charge, yet intuitively you know, that in reality, they are poor and ineffective leaders.

  1. Is the use of titles an excuse to tell people who they are or who they think they are thereby hiding their personal inadequacies?

Maybe they are intellectually dishonest, or living in a fantasy world or are not authentic leaders? Inauthentic Leadership

  1. Who are they reassuring?

Politicians are notorious for using props to explain away their failings. They are just excuses for poor performance.

We have all had experiences where we have witnessed or worked for managers who are protected by a title. I can remember working with a person who always let slip in the first two sentences of a conversation that he was the managing director. Whilst there may be good reasons for mentioning the fact that you are the managing director early in the conversation, most people will probably identify it as a prop and not a sign of ‘being in charge’. Interestingly in this example, he was considered by staff and many customers as ‘a bit of a joke’ with little or no self-awareness. Props such as your position, background, perceived social position, or using race or gender as excuses can be signals that tell others that you are inauthentic and not really in charge.

How often to you go into an organisation and recognise that the real leader in charge is not the one protected by their title?

Whether it is in a meeting or simply walking the floor of a warehouse it is often quite easy to spot who is really in charge. The clues are normally in how they conduct themselves, whether it is how they walk, their demeanour, their gestures and postures or just quite confidence. They appear in control and look the part. On the other extreme, I know a business owner who is often dressed in jeans, scruffy track shoes and a t-shirt. He does not look the part. This is the first step in managing perception. I know he has failed to obtain business through his appearance. Perception became reality.

Genuine leaders can manage perception and do not need to use a title as a prop.  There is a significant business risk if the person with the managerial title is not seen as really being the leader in charge.

As leaders within or in an organisation, it is critical that this be recognised. Initially ask yourself some questions:

  1. Do I look and act the part?
  2. If not, how do I give the perception of being in charge and a leader?

The ball is in your court………..

A humorous example of poor leadership and using titles as a prop is found in the BBC TV series episode of Faulty Towers “A Touch of Class”. It’s worth watching. Basil Fawlty the hotel proprietor, who is in reality, not in charge of the hotel fawns over a guest with a title only to find that the titled guest is actually a fraudster wanted by the police. A Touch of Class

Can you recognise an organisational psychopath?

“There’s an absolute lack of conscience, lack of remorse, and lack of guilt. They’re manipulative, superficially charming, and pathological liars. They like conning people and there’s a grandiose sense of self-importance.”

Dr John Clarke – expert on work psychopaths

For the past 6 months, the news media has been full of stories of inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour by men in powerful positions, whether its sexual abuse allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein or Australian TV presenter and producer Don Burke’s alleged sleazy and bullying behaviour, toxic workers are certainly topical.

Toxic employees can have a detrimental effect on an organisation. I wrote about this issue in a previous blog (Disruptive Employees) Furthermore, the failure to take action can be costly in terms of morale and profits. It also takes away the positive energy required for managing an organisation.

One form of toxic employee is the ‘organisational psychopath’ (Forbes Article)

The term psychopath conjures up images of evil murderers from a Hollywood movie such as Hannibal Lector in the Silence of the Lambs. However, they generally don’t murder people instead they destroy work colleagues and their subordinates as well as seriously damaging the organisations they work for.

Have you ever worked with or for an organisational psychopath?

How do you recognise one?

They are not normally the overbearing, rude and unreasonable boss. They far too clever for that and often remain undetected for years in organisations.

I can remember working for one many years ago. He was superficially charming, had excellent oral communication skills, was outwardly extremely confident and ‘managed up’ exceptionally well.

Within 3 months unbeknown to me, he was wanting to dismiss me. There were no conversations about performance and he certainly gave me no assistance in my role. I later found out that he had previously forced the departure of several other employees. What alerted me was him undermining and subtly criticising the staff under my control. He was known as the ‘the smiling assassin’ and was displaying the psychopathic characteristics of lack of conscience.

My wife came to work to pick me up one afternoon with our 6 month old baby. He was dismissive and rude. This should have rung alarm bells, as one of the characteristics of a psychopath is a lack of empathy.

He was described as a hero by the business owner, as under his division, the business had grown significantly in terms of profit and revenue using new technology. I found out later that another executive was instrumental in advising and assisting him in implementing the new technology and opened the doors with existing customers. This shows three other characteristics of psychopaths, claiming credit for others work, being manipulative by managing up and using excellent oral communication skills.

Like all good organisational psychopaths, he left the organisation before he was found out. Upon leaving, the final confirmation fell into place. I was to complete a project he had commenced and found out that much of what he had claimed had been completed had not. Yes, the final characteristic was being a pathological liar.

The experience of working for this organisational psychopath left me somewhat scarred, losing my confidence and feeling demoralised. However, I learnt how to recognise organisational pathological behaviour and made a pact with myself never to work with or for one again and help others to manage who had been affected by their behaviour.

The following link provides a good summary of how to deal with them ( Dealing with an Organisational Psychopath )

Read it and refer to it when needed…………………

New Year’s Resolutions for 2018 for you and our business…..

“We adopted a strategy that required our being smart and not too smart at that, only a very few times. Indeed, we now settle for one good idea a year”

Warren Buffett – business magnate, investor, and philanthropist.

It’s the new year and the festive season is over.

The start of the calendar year is a time for reflection, recharging your batteries and planing for the year ahead.

Was 2017 a challenging year for you?

Did you achieve your professional or business goals?

If not, why not?

Many of us make long lists of New Year’s resolutions that are unfortunately never fulfilled. Maybe we had too many resolutions, or they were too difficult or we were just plain lazy. One study found that less than 10% of New Year’s resolutions are never completed or considered successful.

However, as business owners or managers we are obliged do better and are expected to do better!

For example, as a manager or business owner, you will probably have a couple of new year’s resolutions about being more productive, expanding or improving your business.

Are they the right goals?

Will they make a REAL difference and become habits and a mindset so that you succeed now, and not just for the next 365 days?

As Warren Buffet suggests in the quote above, making a few significant right decisions will make a real difference. With New Year’s resolutions, set the right resolutions, limit the number and keep them simple – the KISS principle: keep it simple stupid. Using this principle, they are more likely to be effective and result in changing your habits.

Here are three resolutions you could consider for 2018 with three aims of being positive and habit forming, changing your mindset and having a positive impact on you, your business and your team.

Resolution 1: Ask More Questions

How often do you meet people and find they rarely ask questions?

Asking questions is not a sign of weakness. Questions are a tool to drastically improve your knowledge, resources, and even your network. Put your ego aside and ask questions. You will be surprised at what you will learn. I recently attended a training course and met some new professional consultants. By asking questions I found some surprising links with people we knew and experiences they had that could be useful in the future.

Asking questions is one of the most valuable skills a manager can have, whether it’s asking for advice, asking for feedback, or simply asking for help. It also demonstrates empathy and builds understanding. Great leaders do not have all the answers, however they usually ask the right questions.

Resolution 2: Work On My Business, Not Just In It

Most businesses start with a technician wanting to work for themselves because they have technical skills. (refer to blog on The E-Myth ) However, as the business grows there is a tendency to work on the activities you know and enjoy doing, that is working in the business not on the business.

To build a successful team or business, you need to learn how to create an entity that can exist without you. Leading rather than doing. Simply working harder, or working longer hours is unlikely to improve your business as significantly as required or desired. Whilst you may know your business better than anyone else, or are the most efficient person in the business, the time you spend doing jobs that other people could be doing is time not spent running and improving your business.

I learnt this the hard way in my former logistics business. I was spending too much time calculating the productivity of the different sections of the business by employee and customer – working in the business. It dawned on me that someone else could prepare the productivity reports for me. With the completed reports, I could then concentrate on the areas that needed action plus of course highlight and praise good performance – working on the business.

So, force yourself to look at your organisation objectively and determine what needs to occur so you can achieve your goals.

Resolution 3: Do more Networking

Networking is one of the most valuable tools you can have in your manager’s tool box. Knowing the right person provides opportunities to grow your business, from new markets or products to finding yourself a mentor.  Those managers or business owners who surround themselves with a diverse, dynamic, long standing and large network increase their likelihood of success.

I was able to successfully find a prospective buyer for our logistics business through a networking contact (Networking) that went back over 25 years. However, networking needs to be approached with the mindset of maintaining a relationship and helping others. You are likely to have contacts, skills and experience that can assist others and in turn, they are more likely to help you. Remember, people do not like being used.

You are far more likely to develop relationships when you are not selling or asking for something. Networks are support systems. You are more likely to gain assistance through your network when you require assistance.

So, force yourself to make phone calls, catch up for coffee or join an organisation, whether professional or a service club. You will be surprised how rewarding it will be.

It’s not long to the New Year…………

Have you started thinking about your New Year’s resolutions?

Will these New Year’s resolutions meet the KISS principle?

Will they be habit forming, change your mindset and have a positive impact on your team or business?

………….and finally good planning and action for the coming year.

As managers, what can we learn from the downfall of Robert Gabriel Mugabe?

 “Only God who appointed me will remove me”

Robert Mugabe – President of Zimbabwe

Ironically, it was not God who removed Mugabe but his own army.

Normally I send my monthly blog on 21st of the month – this forces me to have the blog ready. A self-imposed discipline that now has become a habit. However, each December I send it out early so it does not get lost in the clutter and busyness before Christmas.

With the fall of the despotic dictator Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe last month, it would be a pity to waste the opportunity to discuss issues of leadership.

Dictators, even when putting their humanitarian and moral crimes aside, are usually poor managers. Most dictators run their countries in such a way, that if they were companies, they would have failed long ago. Despite the lessons of history, it does not stop many managers today from doing their best to emulate the world’s worst management techniques. Most of us have worked for such people during our working life.

Mugabe is a great example. In 37 years of corrupt, bloody, incompetent and chaotic rule, Mugabe managed to reduce the size of the economy to a third of its size in 1980, turning the country from a net food exporter to a country where three quarters of the population now rely on food aid to survive.

Successfully leading a team isn’t easy, however it takes a special skill to lead as incompetently as Mugabe. Without trivialising the effects of brutal regimes on citizens where many “national shareholders” pay with their lives, there are some undesirable management characteristics that managers and leaders frequently exhibit that are displayed by dictators such as Mugabe.

What three lessons can we learn from Mugabe’s leadership?

  1. Inauthentic leadership is not sustainable. Whilst it might appear that 37 years in power implies sustainable leadership, Mugabe’s leadership was only sustained by military force, violence and vote rigging. Even his own political party, ZANU-PF turned on him very quickly indicating that his leadership was inauthentic. Without military support his leadership ceased to exist. His departure brought the population out dancing in the streets.

I can remember working for a general manager who people did not trust, always managed upwards and ignored his subordinates and peers. When he eventually headed the company, there was a rush to the exits of senior managers. The business struggled and was taken over 2 years later.

  1. Surround yourself by people who are not afraid to say ‘YES’. Mugabe ensured that any potential leadership rivals and political rivals were silenced, often in suspicious vehicle accidents and mysterious house fires, thereby surrounding himself with sycophants who would play to his ego (Egos Destroy Businesses) and enrich themselves through his corrupt patronage. Promoting his wife to Vice President, and firing Vice President was probably the last straw. Ironically the ‘fired’ Vice President has since replaced Mugabe as president.

The downfall of many great organisations can be traced to the hubris and arrogance of its leaders. Mugabe fits this picture. Having a fixed mindset, he closed himself off from feedback, and saw himself as the smartest person in the room, was unwilling to listen to others whilst surrounding himself with sycophants who praised him as a ‘revolutionary hero’.

Surrounding yourself with “yes” people may make life easier in the short-term, however it does not create long-term, sustainable outcomes, whether in business or politics.

I once witnessed a senior manager surround himself with ‘yes men’ who were sycophantic to his requirements, while he failed to develop them as professional managers. It was a smokescreen so that he could corruptly enrich himself through the business. Like most dictators he kept his team weak and did not plan for succession. His corrupt activities were eventually found out, was dismissed and left his division in a perilously unprofitable state.

  1. Blame others to divert attention from your own failings whilst never admitting that you make mistakes. Mugabe was a past master at this strategy, whether it was blaming the British government for his own incompetent economic management, the white commercial farmers for not wanting to support his government or his political opposition for civil unrest, he always diverted the blame.

On a visit to Zimbabwe several years ago, a local friend, who was not born when Mugabe came to power privately expressed cynicism about the government by stating:

“Why does the government blame the previous rulers when they have been in power for over 35 years? The Vietnamese are still not blaming the Americans for the war they have just got on with it”

We see this behavior by many managers today. They blame the market, their employees, the government or even their customers for their own management failings. I think we have all worked for managers who have displayed this characteristic.  Instead of being accountable for the performance of the organisation, they blame external factors and ignore the cause of the problems. For example, a good employee who leaves under a dictatorial manager is never given an exit interview and their performance or contribution is normally denigrated.

As a boss are you displaying dictatorial management behavior?

In recognising dictatorial management behavioral traits such as those displayed by Mugabe, it allows us to ensure firstly, that we do not act in this manner and secondly to take action if we see it in others. This is the role of a good leader.

Good team leaders display authentic leadership because it is sustainable and best for the team. They surround themselves with competent people, often brighter than themselves and are inclusive of all team members. Furthermore, they develop a succession plan and focus on the issues that drive the business and hold themselves accountable for both successes and failures.

If you would like to test your knowledge of dictators, try this quiz – I got 50/60.

Goodluck (Dictator Quiz)

What can a Sherlock Holmes story teach us about management?

‘My name is Sherlock Holmes.  It is my business to know what other people don’t know.’

Sherlock Holmes – fictional English detective

As business owners and managers, we are often concentrating on ‘the business noise’ and daily work activities rather than what is not happening in the business. The Sherlock Holmes mystery The Adventure of Silver Blaze, involving the apparent murder of a champion race horse’s trainer and the disappearance of the race horse illustrates this point.

On the night of the alleged crime, the residents in the house near the stables heard no sound.

The dialogue from the book makes interesting reading:

Inspector Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?

Sherlock Holmes: ‘To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.

Inspector Gregory: ‘The dog did nothing in the night-time’.

Sherlock Holmes: ‘That was the curious incident.

What was Holmes’ conclusion?

As dogs often bark at strangers and the dog did not bark perhaps the offender lived in the house near the stables. This important clue where the ‘dog didn’t bark’ helped Sherlock Holmes to solve the mystery.

What did we learn from Holmes’ actions in The Adventure of Silver Blaze?

We normally think that important clues involve events that did happen, however we often forget that events that did not happen can be more important. Using customer service as an example, we concentrate on replying to customer’s phone calls and emails, whereas instead we should also be concentrating on those customers we do not hear from?

The equivalent of the dog that did not bark.

The customer could be very satisfied or extremely unhappy with our products and services? Reconnecting with the customer presents us with a great opportunity to reconnect and reinforce the positive experience they are having with our service or products or save their business from going to competitors because of a poor experience.

Remember, like Sherlock Holmes perhaps we should as managers and business owners also allocate time away from the daily ‘business noise’.

Are you looking at what is not happening in regard to staff and customers, especially those we do not hear from?

This may give us valuable clues on where to improve our products, services, staff relations, or our management style.

Don’t judge a person until you have walked a mile in his shoes……….

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

 From the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee (1926-2016)

This quote is a derivation of an old Cherokee proverb which states:

“Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes”

What does this old Native North American proverb mean to managers?

Have you ever worked for a manager that tells you to do something but does not understand the situation because they have “never been or done that” before and this annoys you?

As managers of people we must be careful not to fall into this trap. Our staff will think we lack empathy, are incompetent or a poor manager. Certainly, in recent times many politicians on both sides of the political divide in Australia have entered politics as political advisers, staffers and trade union officials and have never run a business or worked in the private sector. Other examples are consultants advising on a course of action even though they have no practical experience in the area.

This situation was illustrated recently when I took an elderly friend who uses a walking frame to our local multi-level shopping centre. He was unable to use the stairs and required an elevator. We found out that the elevators were at the opposite ends of the shopping centre. This meant walking further than more able- bodied people. I would never have realised this issue existed if I had not experienced it for myself. I now realise why he was reluctant to visit this particular shopping centre.

As this example shows you should try and understand someone before criticising them, or make them do something that is unreasonable or very difficult unless you understand their experiences and challenges.

Can you remember the last time you did this?

As managers we are all guilty of this at times. The challenge is to limit this behavior as much as possible.