Friday, 9 October 2009

Stalin and the Stranglers

Two radio news items captured my attention today and the Stranglers sang “No More Heroes” as I started to type this, which seemed fitting.

The first news item was an interview with the UK managing director of Lego, who told us that the company name Lego was coined by Christiansen from the Danish phrase “leg godt”, which means "play well". The name could also be interpreted as Latin for "I put together", though this may be a somewhat forced application of the general sense "I collect; I gather; I learn"; the word is most used in the derived sense "I read". Close enough for me, deserves to be true! Lego is certainly a great toy for helping children to learn.

The second was an interview with Stalin’s grandson, who was stoutly defending his reputation and honour. This put me in mind of a theme I have explored in a number of training sessions, where I have asked people to identify major influences in their lives – both positive and negative, or “Heroes and Villains.” This can be useful when we analyse how much influence we take or allow from these people, and how valuable or limiting this can be to our personal development.

One personal example could be Dean Richards, who I admired hugely as a rugby player in the 1980’s, but who has recently been pilloried for his involvement in rugby’s “bloodgate” episode. I do not approve of what he has done, indeed I find it indefensible, but this does not mean that I have to rewrite my memories or re-evaluate my admiration for his leadership and skill on the rugby field. Other sporting heroes have been caught stretching the rules, including Neil Back, Michael Atherton and Maradonna.

How many people refused to believe scandals involving Michael Jackson, because they loved his music, performances and public persona?
This works equally well for those we dislike as well as those we admire. I always thought of David Beckham as a prima donna of the worst kind, but was genuinely impressed by his maturity and inspiration as England captain.

Sometimes we can take these influences even further. During my military career I met Paddy Ashdown, himself an ex-Royal Marine and then a Member of Parliament, but I felt snubbed by him, and developed a strong dislike of him. I then found myself dismissing all statements from the party he went on to lead, just because I identified them with him – not a very rational or useful attitude.

I also resent the way some people revisit the life stories of historical figures and unfairly re-assess their character against the morals, values and experience of our own times. That is not to condone or justify evil or selfish acts, but I feel we should recognise that things were different then. I am still awed by the bravery of the likes of Scott, Nelson and Lawrence – all possibly flawed in some way, but still deserving of their hero status. Similarly, Mao and Stalin surely deserve their reputations as despots, but had some good personal qualities.

I think it can be very inspiring to have heroes or role models, but it doesn’t have to mean we admire and try to emulate all their traits. We need to be selective and recognise that they may be admirable, but are not always perfect. We can then make intelligent choices about what behaviours to learn and which to avoid. These role models may not be celebrities or even well known, they may just be exemplars from our own life or work. Most people can identify their best boss and their worst. Are there traits from the best to avoid and even some from the worst, which could help make us better bosses?

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Don't Knock It Until You've tried It

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so. Douglas Adams, Last Chance to See

An article in the Guardian caught my eye and furrowed my brow this week, as it denigrated the benefits of positive thinking. In particular, it took to task “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill, the self-help book from the 1930s, and a bestseller ever since. This reminded me of so many instances where people, in print or in person denounce ideas and philosophies without fully understanding or testing them. It seems that too many people are looking for the easy way, the quick fix or the shortcut to health, wealth and happiness.
I have heard people ridicule and demonise all sorts of things, claiming that they don’t work or are a matter of luck. More often than not, the people who make the most noise about them have never read the book, never tried the technique or given the method chance to work. I am thinking of those who condemned the Atkins diet, when only following a small selection of the recommendations; or those who pour scorn on the Law of Attraction without following all of the steps in the formula. I even read a piece in a magazine declaring that brainstorming doesn’t work, but deep in the summary it admitted that it only didn’t work if the process was not followed correctly.

Both Hill and Stephen Covey invoke natural law, calling it the law of gender or the law of the farm – some things, most things happen when they are ready. Seeds take time to germinate and grow, bread dough needs time to rise, successful farmers only harvest when the crop is ready, and many of these ideas will work, but only if we use them correctly and give them enough time to work.
Of course I am, on occasion as guilty as others. I scoff at fad diets, believing it better to change your diet rather than “go on a diet”. However, I know people who have found diets that have worked for them, so good luck to them. Six months of nothing but Guinness and bananas will not be to everyone’s taste, but it helped a rugby friend to lose a lot of weight! We all have different experiences, and all learn differently from them, but do avoid condemning new – or old – ideas until you have tried them, or at least read the book! I have read these books and have doubts about some of their claims, and am sure nobody can become thin, rich or famous just by wishing for it, but thinking positively about your goals and ambitions is an important step to success in any field.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Mixed Messages and Training in Hard Times

I recently volunteered to help someone deliver a short presentation to some colleagues from a trainers’ network I participate in. It seemed an easy way to fulfill the commitment to contribute that I, and everyone else made when we first met. It then transpired that I had misread the email and had inadvertently put my hand up to running the second session of the evening. Serves me right really, I was avoiding my agreed share of responsibility for keeping the group dynamic and participative.

This happened the day before I ran a workshop on effective communication, so was a useful reminder that I am far from perfect, even if I know a lot of the theory! Then in the last week or so I have read a bewildering amount of conflicting views about the current economic transition, the government’s plans and woes and about the current state of the learning and development market. A few headlines that caught my eye include:
  • According to an Institute of Directors survey, in a bid to fight recession 80% of directors say their organisations have maintained or increased their training budgets over the past six months.
  • Another survey announced that training is a casualty of the cutbacks and employee skills levels are suffering with almost a third of European workers in jobs they are not properly trained for because of recession cutbacks.
  • Yet another claims that employers are delivering less training with almost all posting a year-on-year decline despite employee enthusiasm for professional development.
  • Only 15% of employees totally trust their manager meaning 85% are in doubt about some information they receive from higher up the organisation.
  • Employees are being kept in the dark about their employers' business performance, with 28% being told nothing about business health and one in 20 discouraged from asking questions.
  • Oh and the ban in Glasgow on showing the Monty Python movie “Life of Brian” is ended after 30 years.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the stories, rather like my faux pas with volunteering, it serves as a useful reminder that communication is incredibly important and incredibly easy to mess up. It also illustrates that there are two sides to every story.

One of the best pieces of advice in communication I have ever found comes from Abe Wagner, who urges us to “Say It Straight Or You’ll Show It Crooked.”* How often do we try to dress something up or disguise our true intentions and yet people see through it. Honesty really is the best policy and the road to hell is paved with good intentions, so tell it how it is. Good advice for politicians, managers, trainers, parents and everybody else! I only hope that the IOD are right – but I would say that, wouldn’t I!

*Abe’s book of the same name explores the behaviours and concepts behind this simple rule and is highly recommended.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Life Lessons from Gandhi and Clint Eastwood

I have read a lot in the last week or so about people and blame. We have had political leaders apologising, refusing to apologise, blaming others or global forces for problems. We have even had Josef Fritzl blaming his mother for the abhorrent crimes against his family.

And then I was directed to an article in the Times, condemning all “management” theories as irrelevant and blaming them for organisations ills.

This all takes me back to a central tenet of my personal philosophy, which is best summed up as the first of Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which is to be proactive. Covey’s definition of this term takes it back to the fundamental premise of taking responsibility for yourself, your life and your actions, past, present and future – a strong theme from Transactional Analysis, which is another good old theory. This was well put by Abe Wagner, my favourite TA tutor, who advised us to “Be self determining and help others to do the same.”

I believe that if we do that, which frees our minds and our spirit. it then becomes much easier to be effective and successful. You are not hot tempered because you are Irish or have red hair or because your Dad was like that. Life and personality are based on choices - choices about acceptance and direction. No-one else is to blame, and certainly not a theory, which is only someone’s attempt to describe or explain their experience of how life has been for them. How you interpret and live that theory is your responsibility.

We can all learn from experience, whether it is our own or someone else’s, which is why we like to read or watch biographies and in a shorter version, peoples quotes.

As Mahatma Gandhi said: “Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”

Or as Clint Eastwood puts it: “Respect your efforts, respect yourself. Self-respect leads to self-discipline. When you have both firmly under your belt, that's real power.”

So I need to “make my day”, not wait for some punk to do it for me! We should all learn to learn from and through experience.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Which Words Are You Afraid Of?

Are these the Five Scariest Words?

Yes, I Can and I Will: These can be the scariest words in the English language because once said they define your commitment. For example, “I will attend the meeting,” or “I can commit to coming to rugby training every week,” or “Yes, I will help you on Saturday’s project.”

They are the “I’ll Make It Happen” words. These five words say you are willing to take responsibility and be held accountable for the successful completion of a task. For example, when you say "Yes, I’ll have the report done by Friday” you have stepped forward and made a commitment.
Commitments can be scary to many people, but they don’t have to be. At first, make commitments to accomplish tasks that you are confident you will succeed in. Then build on those successes with commitments that stretch your capabilities. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed. The skills you learn from your accomplishments will help you throughout your life.

Suggestions for implementation:
1.Count the number of times in a week that you use the “I’ll Make It Happen” words: Yes, I can or I will.
2.Have fun seeing who in the team (or family) can use these five words the most during a week.
3.Once a team member has made a commitment to do something by using the yes, I can or I will words, help him or her to be successful with the project.
4.Reinforce the importance of these words to your team.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Zen Teachings for the 21st Century?

OK, this is one I've seen versions of before and was sent to me by a very good friend, (Thanks, Tim) intending to be funny and politically incorrect. However, there are many truths in these and some that fit the blog title and aims very well - you can decide which they are.

1. Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me for the path is narrow. In fact, just **** off and leave me alone.

2. Sex is like air. It's not important unless you aren't getting any.

3. No one is listening until you fart.

4. Always remember you're unique. Just like everyone else.

5. Never test the depth of the water with both feet.

6. If you think nobody cares whether you're alive or dead, try missing a couple of mortgage payments.

7. Before you criticise someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticise them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes.

8. If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you.

9. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.

10. If you lend someone £20 and never see that person again, it was probably well worth it.

11. If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.

12. Some days you are the bug; some days you are the wind screen.

13. Don't worry; it only seems kinky the first time.

14. Good judgment comes from bad experience, and most of that comes from bad judgment.

15. A closed mouth gathers no foot.

16. There are two theories to arguing with women. Neither one works.

17. Generally speaking, you aren't learning much when your lips are moving.

18. Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it.

19. We are born naked, wet and hungry, and get slapped on our ass ...then things just get worse.

20. Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Coaching Tips from the Rugby pitch

Those who know me will be aware that my great passion away from work is rugby. In this posting I want to cross fertilise from rugby to management development. (It probably went the other way first, to be honest.) I picked up the following from a rugby coaching website. I had intended to rewrite it, but it needs little translation - just substitute learners for players etc.:

* The Magnificent Seven *

How great questioning can lead to great learning

By Peter Tann, qualified rugby coach and sports psychologist

By getting your players to answer key questions, you will help them to learn from training sessions. You may also find willing and able sources of help and innovative ideas.

1. Plan
Plan meaningful questions for the training session ahead. You should:
  • Consider the nature of the task and the players' willingness to contribute to it.
  • Write your questions down.
  • Make sure your questions are appropriate for your players' levels of knowledge and understanding

2. Don't Give the Answer

Avoid giving your players the answer. This takes ownership of the problem-solving and decision-making process away from them.
There will be times when you have to intervene - but that's why you are the coach!
In which case, try to quickly revert back to encouraging the players to come to their own conclusions.

3. Draw-out a Response

Give your players time to think about a problem. You will find they will tend to respond more frequently and with more meaningful and valid responses.
This can be a difficult technique for coaches to learn, however. To give the players time to answer a question, you can:
Listen to a response without repeating it.
Give players time to think in silence.
Avoid demanding an answer from a specific player immediately after asking a question. Note that once you've identified a player to answer, the others may tend to "relax" and stop thinking.
Avoid "Yes, but..." reactions to a player's answer. These can indicate a rejection of the player's ideas and may make them less likely to contribute in the future.

4. Use Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is far more likely to motivate players to respond enthusiastically and appropriately to future questions.
So praise players for their contributions, even if you think they still have a long way to go.
To effectively reinforce an answer you can: Praise the answer. For instance, "That's a really interesting idea. Well done! Can you tell us how you came up with it?"
Be honest and sincere with praise.
Also use non-verbal praise, such as smiles, eye contact, thumbs up, etc.
Avoid lots of "Uh-huh", "Yep/Yeah" or "Okay" comments. These can indicate disinterest in the answer being given.

5. Prompts

Use prompts to remind players about previous learning. For example, a coach might ask a player a question about their mental coping strategies, whilst asking them about how they have been dealing with errors.
You might say, "How did you react after you gave away that penalty for hands in the ruck? Think about the mental skills we discussed last week."

6. Question Evenly

Consciously direct questions so all your players have the opportunity to contribute.
Even if a player is initially reluctant, considerate questioning by the coach can enable them to grow in confidence and participate.

7. Independent Observation

Ask someone to observe and evaluate your use of questions.

That last one takes some courage, but is a useful tip.

Good Advice from High Flying Leaders

Reading this morning's papers I came across some good advice from two high flyers from the aviation industry.

Firstly a wonderful piece from Barbara Cassani, former head of Go Fly budget airline, where she shared some tips on success, para-phrased here:

It’s people that make a business fly....

  • Break down the hierarchy
  • Avoid double talk - Be open with staff.
  • Encourage people to try things. Everyone makes mistakes but we reacted quickly and didn’t spend a lot of time pointing fingers or blaming people.
  • Pick a good team of people and “not people who were like me”
  • Recognise your own weaknesses and limitations and account for that.
  • Make the time to visit employees, factories, shops or offices, schedule into diaries three months ahead.
  • Say thanks to staff. It’s easy, cheap and makes a massive difference.

The other was my old shipmate and everybody's favourite business character, Richard Branson who said "Almost everything I've learned, I've learned by doing" - More support for experiential learning!

And Just for Fun ..... You may have seen the TV advert, but do visit:

Sunday, 4 January 2009

New Year Resolutions - Goal Setting

  • Happy New Year,

    At this time of year, it is common for people to make resolutions about the future. The mental health charity, Mind warns against this, saying that resolutions which focus on issues such as the need to lose weight or job worries create a negative self-image and if the plans fail to materialise, that could trigger feelings of failure and inadequacy. Rather they advocate thinking positively about the year to come and what you can achieve.

    The tradition of New Year's Resolutions goes all the way back to 153 B.C.. Janus, a mythical king of early Rome was placed at the head of the calendar. With two faces, Janus could look back on past events and forward to the future. Janus became the ancient symbol for resolutions and many Romans looked for forgiveness from their enemies and also exchanged gifts before the beginning of each year.

    According to one website the most popular resolutions are:

    1. Spend More Time with Family & Friends
    2. Fit in Fitness
    3. Tame the Bulge
    4. Quit Smoking
    5. Enjoy Life More
    6. Quit Drinking
    7. Get Out of Debt
    8. Learn Something New
    9. Help Others
    10. Get Organized

    For those following a learning journey, we should all recognise that this is not something we should do just at new year and certainly not during a moment of madness fuelled by champagne or sambuca! Rather our goals need to be considered carefully and reviewed regularly to be effective. With that in mind here is a list of Do’s and Don’ts of goal setting:

    Do Visualise your desired outcome. (What will success look like)
    Don't Start with a defeatist attitude
    Do Write down your course of action in an easy step-by-step format that can be checked off with each accomplishment
    Don't Try to memorise all of the steps as most will be forgotten
    Do Think positive all the time
    Don't Let yourself be overcome with the negatives or set backs
    Do Surround yourself in motivating factors and keep them in easy to spot locations
    Don't Forget the reason you set your goal in the first place
    Do Set your plan of action as soon as you know what you want and start right away
    Don't Put off beginning your course of action
    Do Be realistic in your setting your goals
    Don't Set your goals too high to achieve them
    Do Be specific in the goals you choose
    Don't Set goals that are too vague
    Do Learn to be organised in your thinking patterns
    Don't Let anything stand in the way of achieving your goals
    Do Make an effort to keep track of all of your achievements
    Don't Downplay your achievements, you are keeping yourself motivated
    Do Share your achievements with those around you
    Don't Let yourself get off track, stay focused on your goals!

    Best Regards,