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’?.………………….

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

Using visual symbols to communicate…..

82 Overcrowded Bus.

“The best leaders… almost without exception and at every level, are master users of stories and symbols”

Tom Peters – Business Author

I have just arrived back today from travelling in Africa so my blog is late this month…..

We often hear business leaders and politicians trying to communicate messages unsuccessfully. Why?

Are they using too many words, the wrong words or just words? Communication is not just verbal. It is estimated that over 65% of all communication is non-verbal. Eye contact, facial expressions, appearance and gestures influence how you interpret the message.

This is where the use of symbols become important in communicating. This can be used in the workplace.

Recently I was confronted with trying to express the importance and urgency of cultural change to an organisation that was underperforming. Presenting to the Board I realised that the use of symbols or visual imagery would help communicate the issues and how to manage the change.

The visual imagery I decided to use was taken directly out of Jim Collins’ management book, “From Good to Great – why some companies make the leap and others don’t” (http://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/good-to-great.html)

I used the symbol of a bus. The symbolism was very easy to understand and is very clear.

From a PowerPoint slide showing a red bus presented to the Board, the concept developed to using a model of a toy bus. The bus had the company’s logos on the side, and on the roof was an arrow pointing forwards indicating progress and moving ahead with the Jim Collin’s quote:

“Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats”

The toy bus sat on the meeting room table for all to see. Later we added Lego people getting on and off the bus – normal people getting on, and pirates, wizards and clowns getting off the bus. The toy bus was regularly referred to when explaining a person’s performance or suitability and became a clear way of communicating.

Staff were often asked: “Are you on the bus?” and ‘Are they on the bus?”

It became a powerful visual symbol. When management spoke about what needed to happen it was described in terms of being on the bus. It was a clear message and was understood from the managing director to the staff on the shop floor.

We implemented daily ‘toolbox’ meetings with staff. We called the location ‘the bus stop’ further reinforcing the message.

Using symbols in business as a tool is a very important part of communicating, both with your current and prospective customers and staff. If the symbol is compelling enough it will become part of the organisation’s culture.

Can you think of a symbol used by an organisation that is easily recognisable and understood?

What about your organisation?Communicate using symbols

Business Storytelling

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“Storytelling is about two things; it’s about character and plot”

George Lucas

I apologise for the lateness of my monthly blog. I aim to release my monthly blog on 21st of the month. I have just been trekking in the McDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs in Central Australia. A bit hard releasing your blog in the great Australian Outback! What an amazing scenery ranging from spinifex and mulga covered hills to gorges of ferns and white river gums…..

Well might you ask what has a quote from a famous movie director got to do with business story telling?

Using stories in business as a communication tool is a very important part of communicating with your current and prospective customers. If the story is compelling enough or inspiring enough it will become part of the culture of the business demonstrating your values and where the company came from. More importantly it helps sell your products and services.

Everybody likes a good story and like what George Lucas says the plot and character are vital. I find stories about how businesses start as the most compelling and fascinating. Hewlett-Packard was started in a garage (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HP_Garage) by Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett in 1938 and the garage is now part of company culture. What an inspiring story!

I once worked for a company where the owner in his mid-50s lost his business his father and uncle had established after fleeing the Nazis in Europe. He and his daughter commenced a new business in their rented flat on their kitchen table – it later became the largest supplier of sleeping bags in Australia. What a compelling story for staff and customers…..

People whether staff or customers warm to stories of success from hardship – a plot and character just as George Lucas suggests. It’s emotional and uplifting. However the story must be authentic – if you are not authentic it damages you and your business or brand.

I visited Nepal just over 2 years ago with an Associate to assist a locally owned and managed travel company to improve their business. It was a both an exciting and rewarding experience and hearing how the business commenced was inspiring and a great story.

As a young boy, the founder watched groups trekking through his village in northern Nepal. He had a vision and decided to create his own future. Whilst in his early teens he went to Kathmandu to high school without his family (in Nepal high schools are only in the largest cities). From there he worked in a hotel as a porter, before moving into hotel reception. To gain practical experience in trekking he became a guide, completed his university studies before establishing his own tour company. All this was less than 15 years ago. It is now one of the largest trekking companies in Nepal. As well as offering employment and training in a comparatively poor country, he also has a mission to give back something to the people of Nepal. He instigated school building projects in poor and remote areas as well as making significant financial donations are to schools in these areas.

Both are good examples of stories that can inspire staff because they explain where they came from and help embody the values and provide the foundation of the culture and vision for the company.

Do you have some great stories you can tell your customers and staff?

……………it will help give colour to your communication.