Lessons on leadership and making a difference….

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
Mahatma Gandhi –  humanitarian

I have just completed reading a book called Toilet Warrior by my friend Mark Balla. The book details how a single person can ‘make a difference’ in the world by having an inspiring vision, energy and a plan. These are also the foundations of running a successful business.

In a chance meeting on a crowded suburban train in India in 2014, Mark was invited to visit Dharavi, a slum of 1 million people living in an area of 1 square mile in Mumbai. This visit changed his life, and more importantly the lives of thousands of others.

The visit to the slum opened his eyes to a major problem that is not often recognised. He noticed that there were very few teenage girls attending school.

Why?

Not because families had forbidden girls to attend school, but because the schools had no toilets. Very few schools in India have toilets or adequate and suitable toilets for the numbers of school children. The primary reason the girls did not go to school was that when they were having their periods they were unable to change their menstrual pads. This also applies to female teachers.

In India, the implications of over 30% of girls not attending school during their periods was that over 25% dropped out when they reach puberty. The follow-on effects of under educated females both socially, culturally and economically is profound.

Mark decided to do something and set up a charity to build toilets in India with the support of Rotary International, an international service organisation whose objective is to encourage and foster the ideals of service in the community and worldwide. However, this was not straight forward and required considerable management skills and perseverance.

Defecating in the open in India with all the related hygiene issues was considered ‘the norm’. Furthermore, if public or school toilets were available they would normally be in an unfit state. Behavioural change became an obstacle. There were also safety issues as girls would wait until dark to go to the toilet and this was when they were very likely to be attacked.

When undertaking the building of the first set of toilets for a school, it became apparent that the designs were not suitable and there were not enough toilets for girls. Biology, fashion and privacy issues had not been considered. Even after the first set of toilets were built a visit 2 years later found that they were not being maintained to an acceptable standard and required a corrective action plan.

What are three leadership lessons from this?

  1. Have a vision – Mark has a vision to remove a major barrier getting in the way of girls completing their education
  2. Management by walking around – the issues of design, maintenance and education were only identified by being on-site
  3. Have a Plan B – when the initial designs were not suitable, they were changed through collaborate and seeking expert advice

To date, well over 40,000 children in Indian schools have been given improved educational opportunities and access to proper sanitation facilities thanks to Mark’s vision and the amazing network that is Rotary International.

I would recommend that you buy and read Mark’s book. All proceeds go to Rotary International’s WASH (water and sanitation hygiene) program.

Here is the link: https://www.toiletwarrior.net/

The underlaying message is that individuals can make a difference with vision, planning and networking.

If you are interested in more details, here is a Tedx talk delivered by Mark:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3xr13xFfto

Visualising your goals…….

IMG_3092

“If I could have seen France, I would have made it”

Francis Chadwick: long distance swimmer

 Francis Chadwick was the first woman to swim English Channel in both directions. Her first attempt failed after spending 14 hours in the water. The attempt was made in thick fog and ironically she was only 3 miles from France when she abandoned her attempted crossing. Her comments on finding out how close she was to her goal was:

“If I could have seen France, I would have made it”

There are few better examples of the importance of setting goals and visualising those goals. Last month I was trekking in the McDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs in Central Australia. Not only was it an amazing visual experience but it was also a time to reflect and enjoy the company of interesting people, as well as the physical challenge. Each day we set out to walk the 18 to 20 kilometres in a harsh desert environment. This meant setting goals for the day.

On our second day we got up at 5.30 am and trekked 8 kilometres through a gorge over rocky and steep terrain onto open spinifex covered slopes to the summit of Mt Sonder. This mountain was the highest point on the Larapinta Trail with 180 degree views over 100 kilometres of the surrounding country.

https://usefultriptips.com/2013/11/10/mt-sonder-west-macdonnell-ranges-nt/

At times it was physically quite difficult however it was made easier as we had a goal. We could see the mountain in front of us. Unlike Francis Chadwick’s first attempt at swimming the English Channel we could see our goal and kept going. The magnificent views were one of the rewards for our efforts.

Everybody should have goals whether it’s to obtain a degree, be financially independent, buy your first house or start a business.

Without clear goals you are less likely to achieve your potential or anything else for that matter. Too few of us set goals in life or in our work. Importantly, by not having written goals we are even less likely to achieve our potential.

The alleged quote from Lewis Carroll’s book Alice in Wonderland explains the situation clearly:

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there”

However, I have found that although writing down goals is important it is critical that you also have a plan with milestones to help you meet your goals. In climbing Mt Sonder, we had various milestones to reach certain locations by set times to ensure we climbed it in the time planned and to complete our descent before the heat of the afternoon set in.

In concluding one often overlooked part of goal setting is to visualise your goal. I have found that visualising what the completed goal is a powerful motivator. In selling our business I visualised what it would be like to finally be rewarded for all that hard work

……….a bit like climbing Mt Sonder where we visualised the spectacular  views and enjoying a well-earned rest. To be able to see the mountain helped with the visualising the goal. Francis Chadwick in her second and successful attempt at swimming the English Channel, could see the English shore.

Can you visualise what the completion of your goals looks like?

What is the cost of safety to a business?

“The purpose is clear. It is safety with solvency. The country is entitled to both”

Dwight D Eisenhower, US President

Industrial safety, Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) and now Work Health and Safety (WHS) is becoming increasingly more prominent in the media and especially in state of Victoria where the government safety agency WorkSafe runs high profile media campaigns that tug at your emotions.

Many business owners see safety as an overhead cost that should be avoided where possible.

Is this good business practice?

Can poor safety be detrimental financially to your business?

Many business owners would see it as a risk worth taking. Is it?

Just recently a major transport company lost nearly $100m of business primarily due to their poor safety record, highlighted by a fatal accident that caused the death of two people in 2013. http://www.smh.com.au/business/fatal-crash-fallout-costs-cootes-transport-jobs-and-major-fuel-contracts-20140130-31plm.html

A major multi-national company would not allow them to tender on a major contract because of their substandard safety. Poor safety is often a symptom of poor systems and management. If safety is poor it is likely that there are other major issues with the business. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-02-03/cootes-accused-of-cutting-corners-on-truck-maintenance/5234052. The ramifications go further. The holding company in the past month has had $239m wiped off its value and now 540 jobs will be axed. Clearly poor safety does not pay! http://www.afr.com/p/futureforums/brakes_on_mcaleese_ipo_after_crash_gDAAZ3Yj6F9l7rCPJuInhK

By way of example, I managed a major interstate transport division for a public company where the managing director was passionate about safety. The evidence was clear; vehicle servicing schedules, management of driver hours, no speeding trucks, clean trucks (a good sign of a well-managed transport business), driver training and rigorous selection.

The evidence of success for the division I managed was emphatic. Low driver turnover, high truck utilisation, high profitability and no fatal accidents in the 6 years I managed the business. How was it done?

It was quite simple. A management system was implemented where drivers’ performance was reviewed weekly (over 120 drivers), drivers were involved in managing their own performance, driver selection criteria was rigorous and maintenance schedules were strictly adhered to. Supervisors and drivers were involved and a culture from senior management that safety was paramount.

As a business owner or manager, next time you wish to cut corners for safety keep in mind the consequences…………….and remember to ask the question: “is the business at risk?”

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?