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.

 

What can Elvis teach us about business?

“I’m as helpless as can be
I become a puppet on a string”

From Elvis Presley’s Song “Puppet on a String”

Last month it was 40 years since the death of the “King of Rock-n-Roll” Elvis Presley.

What has this to do with business?

Elvis died of a heart attack at the relatively young age of 42. Exemplified by his estate at Graceland, Elvis became known for a life of excess and luxury, owning three pink Cadillacs to a private jet. This lifestyle finally caught up with him. Combined with years of substance abuse and poor dietary habits which resulted in multiple ailments including glaucoma, high blood pressure, liver damage, and an enlarged colon, he went from a 1950-1960s sex symbol to an overweight unhealthy man who died a premature death almost bankrupt.

It is a sad story of decline through excess and poor choices and could parallel a business failing for similar reasons. For example, Kodak grew fat on a film based processing business model and despite inventing the digital camera filed for bankruptcy in 2012. However, there is another more positive lesson from the Elvis Presley story.

When Elvis died in 1977 he had less than a million dollars in his bank account and probably would have been bankrupt within a few years had he lived. However, in 2016 his estate earnt more than $US27 million ($A34 million) with total record sales heading towards 1.5 billion!

Was what is the lesson or message here?

Businesses must be able to continue to prosper and grow without the owner or CEO having to be working in the business.  Like the words of the Elvis song “I became a puppet on a string’, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj3TrdM2ivQ) businesses should not be reliant only the owner or CEO.

The Elvis Presley business continued to grow significantly after his death.

What is the takeaway message of what I call the Elvis Business Model?

Have a business that can operate without you working in the business on a day to day basis. In other words, a business continuity plan.

https://5-dimensionz.com.au/2016/05/21/business-continuity-do-you-have-a-plan/

What are you, as a business owner doing about creating a business that can operate without you on a daily basis?

 

Another lesson from the farm……

“There’s nothing like putting your bare feet into fresh cow dung on a cold day. It’s great “
Makhaya Ntini – first ethnically black cricketer to play for South Africa

In a previous blog I wrote about lessons from the farm Constant Renewal – Lessons From The Farm and I now have another ‘farm story’ from my childhood.

One of my jobs was to ‘pen up the calf’ each evening. This was done so that when my father milked the calf’s mother in the morning it would have enough milk to collect for our growing family of four boys. Rounding up the calf each evening was often a challenge. Regularly the calf would be cunning and refuse to go through the gate to be penned up.

The cow paddock was also a world of excitement for young boys. A creek to cross, dive bombing plovers in mating season, the odd angry bull, a mob of kangaroos with joeys, snakes……….

What a challenge!

However, the paddock other dangers. Yes, it was full of ‘land mines’ (our nickname for cow manure) — ranging from the very fresh to the dry and dusty.

It was fun to trick my youngest brother. He sometimes followed me around on my afternoon chores. On one of his first adventures into the paddock with me to pen up the calf for the night I encouraged him to jump on a week-old cow pat. Not being entirely convinced, he tapped it with a stick. It sounded hard so he then, with my encouragement jumped on it.

Two things happened.

Firstly, he was shin deep in cow manure and secondly, I doubled up with laughter — apparently the look on my brother’s face said it all. What a mean older brother. I certainly had some explaining to do to my mother when we got home.

The cow paddock in many ways was a great learning ground for a life in business. It was a very practical lesson –

‘what you see is not always what you get’

Are you careful enough in assessing opportunities and problems which are your land mines?

Are they what they seem on the surface?

The Art of Leadership?

 

 

“Leadership is an action, not a position.”

Donald McGannon – USA television broadcasting pioneer

Last month there was a horrific fire that killed over 80 people in a high-rise building in London. The British Prime Minister Theresa May took 3 days for her to visit the survivors. Her handling of the situation drew a storm of criticism.

Why?

She could not have influenced the management of the crisis.

Surely visiting the site of the fire was an empty gesture as she could not influence the outcome. Perhaps she should be spending her valuable time running the country?

However, her actions or lack of action, depending on your view, raises the important question of leadership.
Should Mrs May have visited the site and met with the survivors earlier?

The answer is ‘YES” because that’s what prime ministers do. Gestures are important and her responsibility as a leader is to convey to the country her appreciation of the gravity of the event, how the nation feels and how everyone respects the sorrow the survivors and those who have lost loved ones.

Leaders are not bureaucrats. Mrs May is not the head bureaucrat. She is a political leader and is expected to display leadership in both the good times and times of adversity. Policy is easy, but leadership is hard. It requires judgement.

By comparison one of her predecessors, Sir Winston Churchill was a leader. During World War II, against what seemed insurmountable odds, he gave strength and purpose to the stand against the evils of Nazi Germany. He painted a picture. This evil had to be destroyed and despite the odds, Britain survived. Furthermore, this was reinforced by his actions in visiting bombed sites in London, speaking to survivors, and visiting troops as far away as North Africa.

Remember the BP Horizon Deepwater oil spill in 2010 where 11 workers were killed in a horrific explosion?

The spill was the worst oil spill in USA history, disrupting commerce, peoples’ livelihoods as well as causing massive environmental damage. The CEO of BP, Tony Haywood stated during the disaster “we’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused to their lives. There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do, I’d like my life back.” He even participated in a boat race in a boat he co-owned whilst the oil spill continued. Haywood was replaced as CEO within 6 months of the tragedy. This would seem to be punishment for his appalling judgement and leadership.

The former Victorian Chief Police Commissioner, Christine Nixon who in Black Saturday Bushfires where 173 people died, left the operations centre and went to dinner with friends after she was told of the likelihood of bushfire deaths.

She stated “Whether or not me being there or not would have made any difference to the fires is a whole other issue.”

This statement, like Tony Hayward’s misses the essence of being a good leader.

A leader understands what is necessary. Churchill was seen to be leading. May, Hayward and Nixon’s leadership showed through their actions they did not understand “what is necessary”. Leadership is an art and although many gestures politicians make may be insincere, gestures such as being seen at disasters are what is expected. This is no different to leaders at work or in community organisations.

Gestures are as important as the leadership characteristics of leading by example (https://5-dimensionz.com.au/2013/05/28/leadership-v-management/), communicating your vision to others and having a sense of direction. The wrong gestures can destroy the standing of a leader in the eyes of their team or the public.

As a leader, do you understand that gestures and to be seen doing the right thing is a vital trait of being a successful leader?Meerkat Manager

Are you an ostrich or meerkat manager?

“What makes us human may not be uniquely human after all”

David Attenborough – naturalist and TV compare

What kind of manager are you? An ostrich or a meerkat?

Last year I travelled to Southern Africa and experienced viewing the amazing African wildlife from a canoe and a 4WD safari vehicle. African wildlife is best viewed quietly, early in the morning or in the evening. I love watching David Attenborough’s nature series. The most recent series I watched was about meerkats. Unfortunately, I did not see an meerkats on my trip. However, I did see some elephants, hippos, lions, wild dogs, jackals, crocodiles, various species of antelopes, buffalos, hyenas, monkeys and ostriches.

This got me thinking about management styles and the animal kingdom. On safari you have plenty of time to think and reflect. Watching the sun rise, lying under a tree during the heat of the day or drifting in a canoe. Some animals remind me of some of the managers and business owners I have met over the past 30 years.

Think of the ostrich. What do they do? They run, hide and avoid a problem. An ostrich does not actually bury its head in the sand when confronted by danger. However, they flop to the ground and remain motionless. This passive behaviour only exacerbates the danger and it becomes an easy target for a predator. Not much good if a lion or hyena is hungry and chasing you.

Ostrich managers refuse to recognise reality, do not listen, are often loaners, refuse to seek advice, don’t act on facts and resist change. They do things the same way they have always done and fail to adapt.

On the opposite side of the African animal kingdom, are meerkats. Meerkats are a species of mongoose. They live in colonies of up 40 animals in desert or semi-arid areas of Southern Africa. What are the traits of a meerkat? A meerkat sits up, scans the horizon to watch for danger, is constantly alert and addresses the risks and adapts. Meerkats also display altruistic behaviour and watch out for others in the colony and work as a team. This includes lactating to feed others babies. They nurture, mentor and teach young meerkats to hunt. For example, adults pull the tail of scorpions, a favourite food so young ones can safely learn to hunt.

Meerkat managers build strong cohesive teams, are always looking out for others in their team, mentor staff members, look out and adjust for risk, collaborate with others and continue professional education and………

So, some questions you may wish to ask yourself….

Are you an ostrich manager or a meerkat manager?

What are you DOING to become a meerkat manager?

What should you STOP doing to become a meerkat manager?

Is there a thief or fraudster in your business?

employee-dishonesty

“I take full responsibility for what happened at Enron. But saying that, I know in my mind that I did nothing criminal”

Kenneth Lay – disgraced criminal former CEO of Enron

Normally my blog is released every month on 21st day except for Christmas and when I am away overseas. This is one of those blogs. It was prompted by a conversation with a friend whose business did not get paid because their IT system was hacked, diverting the payment to a fictitious bank account. Their customer did not have the checks and balances in their accounts payable department. However, most fraud is internal.

Is there a fraudster or thief in your business?

In the media headlines, we regularly hear about business fraud from chief executives defrauding the company to cover gambling debts, to public servants giving contracts to family friends and associates, and to senior managers being appointed on false resumes.

However, fraud and theft in organisations are more widespread than the media portrays and are often hidden as it is embarrassing to the organisation and its management. Most theft and fraud occurs within an organisation and not outside the organisation. In Australia, theft in retail by employees is far higher than theft from shop lifting.

Every organisation needs to be vigilant where ever possible against theft and fraud and have the appropriate systems in place to prevent it occurring. I once worked for a company where it was rumoured several of the senior managers were perpetuating fraud. The clue was that they were living beyond their means. An alert CFO decided to engage forensic accountants. The subsequent investigation found fraud extended back over a decade and involved millions of dollars. The culprits were sacked and it was never reported to shareholders.

For fraud or theft to occur there needs to be three conditions. This is often called the fraud triangle.

  • Motivation – this is often related to personal financial situation and living beyond their means. For example, gambling debts. When I was in business we had a customer who was defrauded for over $1m by a ‘trusted’ employee who had gambling debts
  • Opportunity – access to cash or goods and understanding of the company’s systems. For example, truck drivers and dispatch staff in a warehouse colluding to steal stock
  • Rationalisation – where employees often feel justified in their actions. For example, an employee who feels aggrieved by their salary or envious of the business or owner making a profit.

Most fraud or theft is result of a lack of segregation of duties, inadequate check and balance systems and inadequate supervision.

In reducing the opportunity to steal or defraud where do you start?

Like most things in an organisation it starts at the top. The first step is the culture.

  • set the right ethical tone from the top of the organisation
  • communicate no tolerance of unethical behavior
  • walk the talk and set the right example

As a business owner or manager…………….

“You own the business; you own the risk. Identify it and manage it.”

The second step is to ensure internal accounting controls are in place. Identify the areas of the business most at risk of fraud and focus your attention in improving controls in those areas, especially the ones relating to how money is moved around the business. For example, when paying suppliers and wages separate out who can raise an invoice and who can pay it. Create a system where a second person is responsible for authorising payments that have been approved before the money leaves the organisation’s bank account.

The final step is to have a system that will uncover fraud and theft. Two examples are:

  • whistle blower policy that protects the whistle blower. For example, it may be a phone number an employee can call such as the Chief Financial Officer. Most fraud is uncovered by employees
  • regularly and systematically analyse the data in high risk areas such as payroll and procurement and investigate transactions that do not look right

As well as being a management distraction when discovered, serious fraud and theft can destroy a company and jobs (http://www.dolmanbateman.com.au/604/internet-banking-fraud-clive-peters-case/)

Unfortunately, in over 30 years of life in business I have witnessed too many acts of theft and fraud. In most cases, they continued until discovered and were the result of poor systems and supervisory management. Generally, theft and fraud starts small and then as the perpetrators become more bold and greedy they become careless. Often it’s a small indiscretion that tips a manager off and often it is the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

In my work experience two examples spring to mind. Personal items from motor vehicles were being stolen in transit. When the employees were caught the police found an ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ of stolen items. In another example, a supplier was randomly checked and it was found to be owned by two managers who were directing non-existent services and collecting the money.

In conclusion, in your organisation are you vigilant about theft and fraud?

Do you have the necessary systems in place that discourage it?

More importantly do you set the moral tone and walk the talk and set the standard that theft and fraud at any level is unacceptable and will be dealt with accordingly?

Remember, a fish goes rotten from the head first.

The lessons from railway tracks

“Most managers were trained to be the thing they most despise – bureaucrats”

Alvin Toffler: author and futurist

The state of New South Wales (NSW) railways has a railway gauge (distance between the rails) called the standard gauge. It is 4 feet, 8.5 inches or 1.435 metres and is also the gauge used in Great Britain and USA. As an aside, there are 2 other railway gauges used in Australia. How they came about is a story for another blog.

The standard gauge is an exceedingly odd number.

Why was that gauge used?

Because that’s the railway gauge used in England, and NSW was formally a British colony.

Why did the British select this gauge?

Because the first railway lines were built by the same people who built the pre-rail tramways. This was the gauge they used.

Why was this gauge used?

Because the engineers who built the tramways used the same jigs that were used for building wagons using the same wheel spacing.

Why did the wagons have this wheel spacing?

Because the wagon wheels were the spacing of the old wheel ruts. Outside these spacing they would break through the old, long distance roads in England.

So who built the old rutted roads in England?

Imperial Rome over 2,000 years ago. Many of these old Roman roads have been used ever since.

And what formed the initial ruts in the roads?

Roman war chariots.

So the NSW standard railway gauge were derived from the original specifications of an Imperial Roman war chariot.

What a great example of the power and life of bureaucracy. Bureaucracies can live forever.

When you are handed a specification, procedure or process and fail to understand the ‘logic’ or ‘reason’ you can make the statement:

‘What horse’s arse came up with this?’

And you may be right. Imperial Roman army chariots were made wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses.

The moral of the story is to “aware of the power and intransigence of

bureaucracies”. This can be outside your organisation or within your organisation itself.

You need to keep asking the question ‘why’ to get the best outcome (https://5-dimensionz.com.au/2014/04/28/the-5-whys/)

Lessons from a master Rugby Coach

Eddie jones

“There are people who lead and lead inspirationally, and those who don’t”
Eddie Jones – English Rugby Coach

At the time of writing, the English Rugby team had won 18 Test Rugby Matches without a loss, having won the 2016 Six Nations Championship and a 3 nil win against the Wallabies on last year’s tour of Australia. Previously England had only won 3 Tests in 100 years. (Post Script: England lost to Ireland last weekend 13-9 denying them a world record).

What has brought about this amazing run of wins?

The English team is coached by a former coach of the Wallabies, Eddie Jones. In 2015 as the coach of the Japanese side he orchestrated one of the greatest upsets in the history of the sport with Japan defeating the mighty South African Springboks in the Rugby World Cup.  The Japanese culture is very different to that of England. Jones has been able to adjust his style of coaching to match the culture. In Japan as head coach everyone does as you say.  With the old ‘command and control’ style of management there was no room for initiative and self-reliance.

It however was different when Jones took up the position of English Rugby coach. Described by former Wallaby coach, Bob Dwyer:

“He calls a spade a shovel, Eddie. I consider myself a very direct Australian, but Eddie is more so than I am. He takes no prisoners at all.”

Whilst being a strict disciplinarian and setting clear expectations of performance, he adopted a different approach to the one he used when coaching Japan. He created an environment where players were allowed to make decisions.

“You can’t develop leadership qualities if you don’t allow players to make decisions. You can’t develop leadership qualities if you don’t allow people to make mistakes. It is a very difficult balance, but you have to allow it,” says Jones

“You need players who have leadership qualities to make decisions for themselves”

Jones is a former teacher and head master. Perhaps his experience here helped in his coaching.

Jones has demonstrated some of the real characteristics of a leader – developing people, generating enthusiasm, inspiring trust, motivating, challenging the status quo ( https://5-dimensionz.com.au/2013/05/28/leadership-v-management/) and modifying your leadership approach to match the circumstances.

Can you think of circumstances where you have developed as a leader or developed others while allowing or being allowed to make decisions thereby becoming better leaders?Rugby and leadership