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!

MT 2

“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

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?

 

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?

Reading is not just for Christmas…..

gates

“not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers”
Harry S Truman – US President

Several years ago I was assisting with managing a 3 day residential leadership program called “The Challenge to Lead” for my Rotary Club. The program was run by professional facilitators who had donated their time to conduct the program. One of the facilitators asked the question:

“Who here has read a management or leadership book in the last 12 months?”

Of the 28 people in the room only 2 put up their hands. I was horrified. I personally try to read a book a month on leadership and management, whether they are biographies on famous people or management books. I also read novels and books on history.

The facilitator’s comment was:

“Readers are leaders”

It was interesting that people attending a leadership course had not seen the need to increase their knowledge and seek out new ideas by reading. Warren Buffett the billionaire investor reads 500 pages a day, Bill Gates reads 50 books per year and Mark Zuckerburg reads 2 books per month. Successful people do not just read anything, they are selective preferring to be educated rather than entertained.

Why is reading books, particularly management and leadership books important?

Here are some suggestions as to why:

• We can learn from the experience of smart people – Management by Peter Drucker
• It opens up your mind to new ideas – Good to Great by Jim Collins
• It can be inspirational, particularly biographies – Not for Turning. The Life of Margaret Thatcher by Robin Harris
• Show you how to do things – The One Minute Manager, by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
• Stimulate the mind and get you thinking – How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
• Provide a framework for leadership – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

Reading is not just for Christmas…..

“not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers”
Harry S Truman – US President

Furthermore, reading elevates you above the daily grind of work and can inspire you and give you new ideas. Reading is a form of learning and can stimulate your thinking processes, providing ideas from a different viewpoint.

If you do not have time for reading than another alternative is listening to audio books. I listen to audio books whilst driving. Instead of listening to trivial talkback radio shows I use the time to increase my knowledge.

In 2016 the 5 best selling management books for Dymocks an Australian national book retailer were:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.
Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath.
The One Minute Manager, by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson.
Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.

Good to Great by Jim Collins.

With the traditional holiday period coming up in the southern hemisphere it is now an opportunity to think about how can you enjoy the period and start reading. Reading is not just for Christmas, however it is a good time to begin. Take the time to select some books to read and make a start. The 5 books mentioned above are a good reads.

With some planning it can become a life time habit and make you a better leader.

Wishing you and your families a Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2017 and thank you for following my blog in 2016.

What is NOT Leadership?

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Too often we spend time on creating ‘To Do Lists’. Would we be more effective managers if we created ‘Stop Doing Lists’? Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great (http://www.jimcollins.com) certainly thinks so.

We often hear or read about definitions or examples of great leadership. So is it important to recognise the opposite of good leadership in either ourselves or others?

John Cleese the famous comedian and Antony Jay one of the authors of TV show “Yes Minister” made a fortune from training videos (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_Arts) that emphasised what not to do as a manager. So maybe this approach works!

The recent drugs saga in the Australian Football League (AFL) surrounding the Essendon Football Club which began in 2011 (and is still ‘unresolved’ at the time of writing) provides some good examples of ‘how not’ to be a leader.  In summary, a biochemist began a Club sanctioned supplements program with the aim of improving player and team performance. The team members were injected with unknown substances with the knowledge of the coaching staff and Club executives. While the drugs  may have been illegal (no records were kept so the drugs remain unidentified) there were further unanswered questions about possible long term health effects on the players. A lack of duty of care.

The club was fined, some board members resigned and players were provisionally suspended for the pre-season Cup pending further hearings. The head coach, the person responsible for the players went on ‘study leave’ to Europe for a season whilst still collecting his substantial salary taking no responsibility for the supplements taking regime that occurred under his management. On 1 October 2014, the club announced that they would not appeal the Federal Court’s ruling, stating that to do so would act against the interests of the players. However, the head coach appealed the Federal Court decision acting in an individual capacity and “on a matter of principle”.

This brief summary highlights some three clear examples of poor leadership and like the John Cleese training films tell us, what not to do as leaders.

  1. You don’t take responsibility when something goes wrong

It’s OK while things are going well however when something goes wrong you start to look for someone or something else to blame. Leaders take responsibility whether it’s good or bad. Taking responsibility makes you a leader. That is why people follow you. Clearly the head coach did not take responsibility for what was occurring.

  1. You put yourself first and not your team.

While the Club refused to appeal the Court decision as they deemed it would “not act against the interests of the players”, the head coach did appeal on a ‘matter of principle’ effectively putting his interests ahead of the team. It could also be argued also that the subjecting those whom you are responsible for to unknown dangers (i.e. unknown drugs in this case) is poor leadership.

3. Complacency or failure to ask questions

As the team coach, complacency or just plain incompetence for allowing an unregulated sports supplements program to be undertaken when you were ultimately responsible. As a leader you have very important responsibilities, one of which is to ask questions whether it is to ensure the safety of those you are responsible for, get the best from suppliers or seek answers to improve performance.

So as a leader, the people you are leading whether they are subordinates or people who choose to follow you, expect you to take responsibility, put the team first, actively lead the team, ask the right questions and look after their welfare……………failure to do so is NOT leadership.

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?

Problems

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Albert Einstein

Many of us in business are confronted with problems;  whether it is the business failing, parts of the business not performing or relationships at work deteriorating. I suspect that you have agonised about the reasons for the problem.  These reasons are likely to be complex and there are probably no simple solutions.

However, the first step is to admit there is problem.  I have seen many leaders in business refusing to admit that there they have a problem, even though it is obvious to everybody around them (and often to themselves although they refuse to confront it). This problem can be due to ego, ignorance, incompetence or an unwillingness to face reality. It is highly unlikely to go away and is probably only going to get worse and become more complicated as staff and customers begin questioning your judgement and leadership.

Admitting that you have a problem either to yourself, your family or your staff is essential. The second step is critical.  This is where you either become a success or continue to fail to resolve the problem. The failing business person tries to justify the failure – it’s the market, it’s the internet and so on.

As a manager or business owner it is only a problem or a failure if it continues. Like the Albert Einstein quote above which implies we must change something to get the desired result, the status quo is not an option. Do not identify an external reason for the problem as this is a ‘cop out’. You are disowning the problem – ‘it’s the economy’, ‘it’s the high exchange rate’, ‘it’s poor staff’.

The key to success is to take a few steps that will not allow you to justify the problem. The first step is to take action, even if it is just one small step. Using personal fitness as an example, the hardest step in improving your fitness is putting on your gym gear. By taking the first step you are on the way to solving the problem. Momentum has now commenced and this will help solve other problems, both now and in the future.

There is no shame in recognising a problem or failure, providing you do something about it. Learning from mistakes is only common sense. That’s what good leaders do !