Does your organisation suffer from Komodo Dragon Syndrome?

Does your organisation suffer from Komodo Dragon Syndrome?

“Dragons are creatures of legend, but in a world as fantastic as Indonesia, myths become reality. On a small, 22 mile long island among the thousands of Indonesian isles lives the planet’s only living dragon -the Komodo (Varanus komodoensis)”

Extract from Wild Indonesia

In 1910, in eastern Indonesia on the island of Flores a Dutch colonial administrator, Lieutenant J.K.T. van Steyn van Hensbroek received word of a “land crocodile” living on the nearby island of Komodo. Intrigued, he decided to visit Komodo to investigate. He returned with a photo and a skin. The reptile was not a crocodile, but a large monitor lizard. In 1912, it was recognised as new to science and the first formal description of the lizard was published. It became known as the Komodo Dragon, the world’s largest living lizard.

So, what is Komodo Dragon Syndrome?

Komodo dragons are endemic to eastern Indonesia. They are found only on the northern coast of Flores and on three nearby islands including the island of Komodo. The Komodo Dragon can grow to over 3 metres in length and weigh up to 130 kgs. They are territorial, can run at up to 20 kph, are carnivores and have very sensitive forked tongues that sense prey and food, such as rotting flesh kilometres away. With a powerful tail, large claws and serrated teeth they have a fearsome reputation. Their bite is toxic due to the bacteria in their salvia and glands in their mouth produce a venom that prevents blood clotting and leads to unconsciousness.  Known to occasionally eat humans, they predominantly eat deer and pigs, which they ambush and bite, and wait then for them to succumb to their toxic bite.

No, it’s not about a fierce venomous predatory reptile.

The Dutch had been in Indonesia as a colonial power since the early 17th Century with the establishment of the Dutch East India (VOC) Company in 1602. The VOC was one of the world’s first multi-national companies. By 1800 however, due to mismanagement, corruption and fierce competition from the English East India Company, the VOC was bankrupt and was nationalised by the Dutch state.

The Dutch had been in Indonesia for over 300 years and had not found the Komodo Dragon, the world’s largest and most dangerous lizard. Even Lt van Steyn van Hensbroek, the ‘discoverer’ of the Komodo Dragon who was living on the island of Flores where it also lived, went to the island of Komodo to find it.

This defies explanation.

How could such an animal remain ‘undiscovered’ for so long?

This is what I call Komodo Dragon Syndrome, where the management can be so inward looking that something so obvious can be missed.

Perhaps the Dutch colonial administrators were ostrich managers or were so blinded by their colonial superiority and preconceived ideas that they failed to see what was virtually right under their noses.

The message is, to avoid suffering from Komodo Dragon Syndrome, we as managers need to ask questions, be inquisitive and manage by walking around.

Are you being complacent?

Too comfortable in your position, inward looking and missing the obvious?

Perhaps you have Komodo Dragon Syndrome.


One small step…

One small step…

“I believe that this Nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”
John F Kennedy – USA President

Over 50 years ago on 20th July, 1969, the whole world watched as Neil Armstrong became the first human to step onto the surface of the moon. It was witnessed by a global audience of over an estimated 600 million people. This was an amazing one-fifth of the world’s population.

The importance of this event at the time was indescribable. At the time, our family did not own a TV. In 1969, TVs in Australia were expensive, costing well over one month’s average wage. My parents had decided to rent a TV to watch the moon landing. This was how important this event was. At the time I was in primary school. The school also hired a TV and we all watched the event live on a grainy screen, and importantly for me as a 10 year old, lessons were cancelled for the day. In those days there was no the audio-visual equipment or computers in schools. Everybody was talking about man landing on the moon.

What are the management lessons from this historic event?

President Kennedy’s 1961 speech is one of the best examples of a vision statement, as within the decade, man had landed on the moon and returned safely.  However, it is important to remember that the moon landing was the result of decades of work by hundreds of thousands of people working across the disciplines of science, technology, and engineering, peaking at a cost of 4.41% of the Federal US budget in 1966.

How important is it for an organisation to have a vision?

A vision is a picture or an idea. It helps focus us on the future, provides inspiration and assists in overcoming the obstacles that inevitably appear along the way. A vision is a target. It should be aspirational, perhaps like the concept of a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) in Jim Collins’ book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, and be successfully communicated throughout the organisation.

Another example of the power of an aspirational vision is Rotary International’s End Polio Now program. In 1979 Clem Renouf, the Australian President of Rotary International read about in the Readers Digest how smallpox had been eradicated. After discussing this with a medical expert, he asked what other diseases could be eradicated. He was told that polio was one such disease. Renouf then proposed a vision where the world could be polio free. At the time, more than 350,000 people were infected by polio each year across 125 countries. Later that year Rotary’s Board of Directors passed a resolution for a program for “the eradication of poliomyelitis and the alleviation of its consequences” throughout the world.  Subsequently, in 1985 the End Polio Now program was adopted with the aim of eradicating polio worldwide. With so many countries where polio was still endemic, this was a challenging vision, a BHAG.

Rotary initiated the program and together with the support of UNICEF, WHO and other organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have now almost achieved Clem Renouf’s original vision. in 2018, only 33 cases of polio were reported in just two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan. At times there were difficulties in overcoming cultural suspicion, low levels of education, training staff to manage and administer the program, political insurgencies and geographical remoteness. However, despite these obstacles, the original vision ensured the program continued and it is now almost complete.

What other lessons are there for managers in man landing on the moon and the ending polio program?

Apart from an inspiring vision, it demonstrated the importance of having a plan behind the vision. Furthermore, the moon landing is a lesson in perseverance and determination. In less than 10 years from Kennedy’s vision speech, Apollo 11 landed on the moon and the astronauts returned safely to earth. Great strides were made in technological advances in rockets, computers and other space-age materials and innovations. The Apollo Program required integrated circuits which lead to the development of micro-electronics connecting the world. This gave us pocket calculators, home computers, mobile phones, iPads and other high-tech devices. An inspiring vision can lead to other remarkable and beneficial outcomes. Today we can see the positive impact of Apollo Program everywhere.

There are a number of websites and other sources that provide methodologies on how to create a vision statement for your organisation. As can be demonstrated from the above two examples, strong and clear visions are powerful tools and can provide a framework for the future. The future can be positively changed for the better. This is the case with any organisation.

Visions should be compiled into a vision statement in a suitable form to communicate to staff, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. Vision statements define goals and assist in creating a path for the future. Just look at the Apollo Program and End Polio Now.

Does your organisation have a vision statement?

If not, do you think that the organisation would benefit from having a vision statement followed by a well-constructed plan behind the vision?

What is a processionary caterpillar manager?

What is a processionary caterpillar manager?

“What matters in learning is not to be taught, but to wake up.”

 Jean-Henri Fabre – father of modern entomology

In the 19th Century, Jean-Henri Fabre the famous French naturalist, conducted an experiment with Pine Processionary caterpillars. He arranged the caterpillars in a continuous loop around the rim of a flower pot, where each caterpillar’s head touched the end of the caterpillar in front of it so that the procession formed a full circle. He then placed the favourite food of the caterpillars in the middle of the circle of caterpillars.

What happened?

The caterpillars went around and around in circles formed by the procession, blindly following the caterpillar in front. Despite the food being less than 3 centimetres away, they all died of hunger and exhaustion. All they needed to survive was to change direction to get the food.

The caterpillars were following instinct – habit – custom – tradition – past experience – precedent – opinions – ‘standard practice’ or whatever you may choose to call it..

What are the lessons for managers?

  1. Activity is not accomplishment. How often are you busy, but not accomplishing anything?
  2. Are you “caught in a rut” by following traditional routines, habit patterns, or schedules and not achieving the outcomes the organisation requires to be successful in the future?
  3. As managers, balancing tradition and implementing new strategies is difficult. Success is based on the willingness to plan, fail, learn, and move forward, so the existing strategies support a successful and productive future?

So, are you or your staff acting as processionary caterpillars and mistaking activity for outcomes?

If so, what new ideas and activities are required to ensure continued success?

What habits and activities do you need to stop doing?

Do people work for you or the business?


Do people work for you or the business?

“People join companies. They leave managers.”

Vern Harnish– Management author

This is a great quote from Verne Harnish author of Scaling Up: How Few Companies Make it…..and Most Don’t. I was talking to a former work colleague who was lamenting on the number of experienced long-term employees leaving his current employer. The managing director said it was because they did not like the new business owners. However, my former work colleague thought it was due to poor management.

As managers of people, we need to be conscious how our behaviour and performance affects our subordinates. In my working life, I have never left a job because of the company; it was always because of my manager. Testament to this statement is that I got so sick of working for bad managers, that I eventually went into business for myself so I could have more control over my working life.

As a young graduate I was thrown into being a Personnel Officer in a Steelworks Department. I’d been forced onto the Mill Superintendent because of his poor record of industrial conflict and poor relationships with his subordinates. His first words to me were;

“I don’t want you here, I could spend your salary in better ways”

So, you can imagine the atmosphere in the department. His managers, supervisors and staff hated him as he was rude, uncommunicative, moody and difficult. I witnessed him causing a labour strike by abusing staff.

Another manager I worked for spent his time checking that his subordinates’ petty cash and phone bills were correct. This was more important than visiting customers, developing his managers or building the business. The final straw came when the business was in the process of attempting to purchase a competitor. As always, he was too busy to discuss the negotiation strategy and as a sign of complete incompetence he did not even bring a pen to the final negotiations. Years later he was dismissed; however I had long left the business.

So, what causes good employees to quit?

The problem is generally with managers. It is seldom the employee or the quality of the workforce that causes employees to quit.

Do managers deliberately set out to be poor people managers?

The answer in most cases is ‘no’.

Many managers have never been taught the art of developing people and being a leader. Often, they know no better and surviving in some organisations means mimicking your old boss or their superiors.

What are the warning signs?

Is your company experiencing high turnover?

Some labour turnover is healthy as it provides opportunities for other people and new ideas and skills to come to the organisation.

Perhaps you should examine how you interact with your team, and also determine whether there are disruptive or unproductive employees  in the team.

Here are what I consider the 3 main reasons why people leave organisations.

  1. An employee’s contributions are not recognised. As a manager you should never under-estimate the power of praise and recognising a job well done. In particular, top performers are normally self-motivated. Don’t take their drive for granted.
  2. A manager does not care about their subordinates, and this normally manifests itself in poor bosses. Research has shown that more than half of people who leave their jobs do so because of their relationship with their boss.
  3. A manager does not honour their commitments. This highlights two traits required by managers, honesty and integrity. If you say you will do something – do it. Keeping your word and your commitments tells the employee everything they need to know about you and the type of person you are and if they can trust you.

There are other reasons for leaving an organisation such as failing to develop employees, not challenging them and not acting on poor performance. Good employees know who the poor performers are, and when they leave morale improves.

Surprisingly, salaries and conditions are not top of the list.

If all else fails, simply remember this:

“People work for people – they do not work for businesses” – Donn Carr

The question is, do you have high or unacceptable levels of employee turnover?

Is so, could it be your management of your staff or other managers are the cause?

As managers, we need to recognise and act on this.

“Do as I say, not as I do”

“Do as I say, not as I do”

This is not a really a quote, but an expression. The derivation is believed to originally come from the Bible, Matthew 23 “For they preach, but do not practice” when Jesus highlighted the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in the Temple. Years later a book by Peter Schweize titled Do as I Say (Not as I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy sought to expose the public utterances and conflicting private actions of leading ‘progressive’ USA politicians.

What relevance does this have to being a good manager?


Let me give you an example. It was a condition of site entry in a business I was involved with that all staff had to either sign in or use an in/out who’s on site entry board. Two senior managers, including the CEO rarely did this, despite it being mentioned and noted in safety and management meetings. One day we had a fire evacuation drill which is mandated by law. This is where the building is evacuated and the site safety representative calls out the names of those on-site to ensure everybody is out of the building. After the names were called out you are asked to stand to one side. This is to ensure that the fire safety drill has worked successfully.

In this case, two people were left with their names not called out – the two senior managers. One made some excuses. The other was embarrassed.

How did this look to staff? Well you can only imagine.

Staff pick up hypocrisy quickly, word spreads and the authority of management and company policies are eroded. Also the moral authority or status of individual managers is severely weakened. In this case it seemed to demonstrate to the assembled staff that either safety was not important and/or that there were two sets of rules. I witnessed plenty of sniggering and hushed conversations at the time.

Another example is the wearing of safety vests in industrial environments such as warehouses and construction sites. In the business mentioned earlier, it was a requirement for all staff to wear safety vests and this was enforced by the supervisors. However some senior managers still continued to walk around the site without safety vests as required by company policy. Warehouses are potentially dangerous places, especially with fork lift trucks and other equipment on site. Even worse, this action unsettles operators who have to perform their duties with a heightened level of concern that, at any time, plain clothes staff can and will wander the warehouse, exposing all parties to risk. These actions undermined the authority of the supervisors and in discussions with them, reduced the respect for the managers who did not abide by company rules.

We are often bombarded by media coverage of politicians in safety vests, goggles and hard hats on the campaign trail. Whilst this may seem like overkill, it does send an important message. What would be the affect if the politicians did not wear the prescribed person protective equipment?

Management is about integrity and leading by example – you can’t expect staff to perform or conform to the required standards if you as a manager or supervisor don’t. Do the right thing at all times, and your staff will respect you for it. Don’t and you will pay the price, at the least in lost respect and poor compliance and at worst – an avoidable site injury or fatality.

As a manager your actions are important to the organisation, yourself and the staff…



“Having my priorities in order has really helped me look better, fresher and more relaxed”
Kim Cattrall

Maybe a quote from a TV star (Sex and the City) is not what you would expect to head a blog about priorities in work and business. However, it does highlight the fact that if you have your priorities in order, you can achieve great things and not be side-tracked by unimportant issues.

Let me give you an example. A friend of my daughters popped in recently for a quick catch up. I asked casually how things were going in first 12 months of her job. She started to complain that the new managing director (and this was a multinational company) had decreed that only white coffee cups were to be used and she wanted to use her Lord of the Rings coffee cup. Other people were complaining as well.

These types of decrees are not uncommon as shown by the linked article about the former managing director of BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company. He put out an edict about desk ‘etiquette’ that bordered on the neurotic, at a time when the company had both great opportunities and of course many problems. He subsequently left the company with very little to show for his tenure at the helm, in particular the missed opportunities.

Micro management is normally a red light that may indicate that management does not know how to prioritise; treats staff as unimportant, and is not up to the “real” job. I once worked for a manager who was obsessed with orderliness, where all prospective customers were placed in labelled manila folders and filed (and that’s where they stayed!) whilst he complained that I should not keep active files on the floor near my desk as it made my office untidy. Perhaps it did make my office untidy, it certainly did not stop my success in achieving sales. I can remember another good example from years ago. I was studying whilst working full time and thought it would be a good idea to give my then manager a draft of one of my one of my assignments (which was about the industry we work working in). He proceeded to mark the spelling and grammar (this was before Spellcheck)

…………..little wonder he was dismissed some years later.

So what would be your advice to my daughter’s friend?

Be defiant and show independence and continue to use her Lord of the Rings cup?

It’s all about priorities.

Is it important?

………possibly demotivating, irritating and annoying ‘yes’ but important ‘no’?

We asked her:

“Is this important to you doing your job to the best of your ability?”


“Then it’s not a high priority is it?”

As the link to blog below, the expression “when a dog is in the hunt, it has no time to search for fleas” has relevance.

Remember it is up to you get your priorities right………………..

If you do, life and work is far less complicated and you are more likely to be much happier and more successful.

Above the Line and Below the Line Thinking…

Above the Line and Below the Line Thinking…

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”
― Abraham Lincoln

Continuing on from a previous blog highlighting the difference between excuses and reasons and making sure you are not the road block, we have the concept of above and below the line thinking.

This is a very powerful concept – “The Line” is the parallel that divides our character and represents responsibility. Responsibility is a very important word. It is a powerful life skill that puts into practice the act of ownership; taking responsibility and being accountable for your actions.

Acting below the line our lives become circumstance-driven and include the characteristics of laying blame; denial and making excuses.

Are you a victor or victim?

Laying blame is far too common in organisations and businesses; whether it is the CEO or others. It shows that they are not willing to be accountable or responsible for their actions. Excuses don’t solve the issues either, nor promote responsibility. They usually cause frustration.

With denial we are committing yet another below the line action “I didn’t do it.” This obviously ineffective response can create certain frustration in others and make us appear unreliable and dishonest.

Yes, victims let things happen to them; do not take control; are pessimistic; find reasons why not and always appear tired and stressed.

By choosing to act above the line  we are using response-ability (that is taking responsibility for your performance and showing you have the ability to be responsible). It is a powerful skill. This can be defined as having the ability to respond (that is be pro-active). With response-ability comes increasing choices and freedoms that we may have never had before.

By living above the line, you take responsibility for your own life, business or career. You begin to have greater control because you stop blaming things outside yourself for your current situation. I can remember being in a business where a manager always came up with excuses about poor business performance whilst continuing to deny there was a problem. This was extremely frustrating for me. It began to affect my work performance and emotional state. I was blaming him rather than taking ownership for my performance. I decided to take responsibility for my performance and the business performance and this filtered down the organisation to others, making them take responsibility for their sections……..and unsurprising performance improved and so did workplace morale.

Responsibility is the ability to respond to the events that happen in our lives. When you sit back and accept things that happen to you, you are allowing the circumstances of life to control you rather than taking control of what circumstances come in and out of your life. When you take action, you make life happen for you…………not to you!

Lessons for managers from Nelson Mandela

Lessons for managers from Nelson Mandela

“It always seems impossible until it’s done”

Nelson Mandela

What can Nelson Mandela teach us about being a good manager?

During December, I was planning to write a blog about what businesses should do over the Festive Season in preparation for the new calendar year. However, with the death of former South African president Nelson Mandela provided an opportunity to reflect on what Mandela could teach us in our roles as business owners, managers and supervisors. Mandela was an international hero and was universally revered around the world as a vital force in the fight for human rights and racial equality against great odds.

Despite over 25 years in gaol, Mandela came out of prison not seeking revenge. Instead he oversaw the relatively peaceful transfer of power in South Africa.

As Archbishop Tutu, stated:

“Could you imagine if he had come out of gaol a different man, very angry and baying for the blood of his former oppressors? We would not have made it to first base.”

Whilst I am tempted to list dozens of things Mandela could teach us as managers about leadership, it is always best to keep it simple – so here are my three top picks:

1. Integrity

Despite often being called a ‘living saint’ Mandela steadfastly refused to be recognised as such. In his books and speeches, Mandela went out of his way to point out the dangers of deifying him. He admitted to having many flaws, to having made many mistakes and to having had his integrity tested many times.

In 1985, Mandela was offered a conditional release from by President Botha if he renounced violence and obeyed the law (just racial laws). Mandela did not fall for this very transparent gesture. Whilst he desired freedom after decades in prison, he did not betray his principles, and his long struggle for democracy. Mandela replied as follows:

“What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people remains banned?  What freedom am I being offered if I must ask permission to live in an urban area?  Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts.”

It was almost 5 more years before he was unconditionally released from prison. In the end, history showed that Mandela’s integrity overcame all obstacles when he  became the first democratically elected leader in South Africa. Integrity was combined with another important leadership trait…

2. Perseverance

Despite the seemingly impossible task of obtaining democratic rule in South Africa, Mandela managed to achieve what seemed impossible

 “Perseverance always overcomes resistance”.

How many times in our business life has this occurred? I can remember feeling that a business in which I was a significant shareholder would never sell after 2 failed attempts over 2 years. There were times I was told to ‘give up’, however, when least expected, an overseas buyer which exceeded expectations.

Opportunities often come when least expected, however this takes time, energy, and focus and perseverance.

3. Vision

Mandela had an over-riding vision of a multi-racial South Africa with a strong focus on the future, not the past. He never lost sight of this vision and did not compromise his goals. Whilst suffering in prison he was offered numerous inducements to compromise his position and be released early. He declined.

His actions and words left no doubt as to his vision. Leaders with vision have passionate and dedicated followers.

I can remember asking a managing director what his vision was for the company and the reply was ‘for me to be here next year’. Can you imagine being inspired by such a person?

Integrity, perseverance and vision are all are leadership traits that Mandela can teach us as successful managers. The outpouring of emotions at his funeral from ordinary people (not the dignitaries) is testament to these qualities.

Are these traits important in your job too?

Leadership v Management

Leadership v Management

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

Peter Drucker

Management is the act of exerting influence on individuals, therefore wielding control over a business or organisation. Good management achieves this in such a way that a positive outcome is achieved. Bad management is the opposite!

Competent managers organise, summarise, administer and communicate with other people, departments and organisations. However, management is not a substitute for leadership. People cannot be managed into responsibility or competence, however they can be lead there. A competent leader may also be a good manager, but a good manager may lack the inspirational or creative traits to be a ‘real leader’.

Leadership is ‘the ability to influence the opinions, attitudes and behaviour of others’. Note the difference between control (management) and influence (leadership). An effective manager normally displays leadership qualities. Think of Winston Churchill as the Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War II. He worked in the War Rooms beneath Whitehall with the War Cabinet (management-control) whilst the bombs rained down on London. He also provided inspiration and leadership (leadership – influence) to the British people through his speeches and walking and talking to Londoners during the ‘Blitz providing hope and vision for overcoming the Nazi threat. He was both an effective manager and leader.

Here are some of the characteristics of managers and leaders :



Rely on control of the situation Inspire trust in their followers
Have a short range view Have long range perspectives
Generally accept the status quo Usually challenge the status quo
Administers and maintains the organisation Motivate and develop the organisation

Having compared the two, most managers develop leadership qualities over time, given circumstances, training, support and ability.

There are 6 main characteristics of being an effective leader:

  1. Having – clear sense of direction (vision and goal setting)
  2. Communicating – the vision to others
  3. Being – innovative and searching for opportunities (taking risks)
  4. Empowering – by building and encouraging strong teams
  5. Leading – by example, having clear views and being consistent (moral authority)
  6. Knowing – your own and followers strength and weaknesses

As leaders, whether at the local sports club, charity, department, organisation or business we need to develop our leadership skills and understand the main characteristics of being an effective leader?

How can you become a more effective as a leader?

Life Cycle

Life Cycle

“All product categories have a specific life span called the product life cycle. Brands or products typically go through five stages of growth: development, introduction, growth, maturity and decline”

Yes, we all know about a product life cycles, just look at what car manufacturers do by redesigning car styles. Business leaders and business owners have a life cycle too! The issue is to know where you are in your career or business life cycle and to then plan and act accordingly.

CEOs of family businesses often have great difficulty in “letting go”. The issue is often an emotional one. Many business owners have invested so much time and money working long hours that they see stepping down as being “put out to pasture”. Ego, loss of self-worth, so called RDS (relevance deprivation syndrome – which retiring politicians claim they suffer from!) and perceived lifestyle all play a part.

Great leaders know when it’s time to pass the baton. We saw how John Howard, the former Prime Minister refused to hand over the leadership to Peter Costello. The result was a lost election in 2007, Costello leaving politics, Howard losing his seat (only the second prime minister to do so) and the Liberal party having 3 leaders in 3 years.

All businesses must have a succession plan. There are two types of succession plans; short term or emergency succession plans (the “what happens if you are hit by a bus?” scenario) and long term succession plans which protect your company’s culture, value and future. If you are a family owned business you owe it to your family, employees and customers to have a well planned and executed succession plan.

There is no greater satisfaction than mentoring and training a replacement successfully. If you do not plan for your succession then you have failed as a leader and have failed your business.

So know where you are in your career and business life cycle and start succession planning. It is not a sign of weakness but of strength and you will be recognised for it. I have seen too many companies suffer because there was not a well planned and executed succession plan.

Start planning now…