Calmly Excited

Today’s the day Stop Doing Dumb Things rolls into town. Well it is if you live in London, and if you have a ticket 😉

I’ve lost count of the number of live events I’ve run and helped to run over the years. They’re great fun, and energising, powerful and experimental, so I suppose that makes them a little dangerous too?

Everyone involved in our event today is an experimenter. I congratulate you all for your willingness to try something different. And quite apart from lots of format tweaks and new ideas, there will be a couple of things I personally will choose to do differently. It’s no secret, because I choose it not to be, that these events, these gatherings, make me nervous. Will I give of my best? Will you be happy? And if you’re not happy will you be comfortable enough to tell me? And if you do, can I help put that right?

I choose  not to bring a musical instrument with me this time. I need a break, and so do you. And as it happens, I’m playing a 1970’s disco set in the New Forest this weekend. I’m happy to give you a sneak peak, and I figure one scary music day in a week is enough 😛

Disco Doug

I choose to take a more participatory role this time. I’m lucky to be working with Jonathan Wilson and Peter Massey again and we’ve taken the time to make sure we all get time and space to play today, as well as facilitate.

If you can’t join us in real life through today, follow our experiment on Twitter using the hashtag #sddt. That way you’ll get a sense of the useful fun we’re having. Sorry though – unless you’re in the room, you won’t get any home made cake. We haven’t figured out how to get that through cyberspace, and to be honest, I hope we never do.

Thanks in advance to Neil, Neil, Peter, Ben, Martin, Tim and his team, and all our guests 😉

Whatever you’re doing, have a great day folks.

photo credit

Leadership is Like Hairspray. Is She or Isn’t She?

There used to be a TV ad for Harmony Hairspray. The strapline was “Is She – Or Isn’t She?” The idea being the hairspray was so subtle (and remember folks we’re talking back when hairspray was made out of Superglue – true fact) that you couldn’t tell if the lady was wearing it or not.

It’s a bit like that moment when you meet someone who in a leadership sense has “got it”. You know they’ve got it, and you don’t know why.

We can learn lessons in leadership from well known figures such as Richard Branson, Freddie Laker and Greg Dyke. My friend Peter Massey read these articles recently and asked this question:

I was struck by a senior director I met this week – his personal behaviours instantly meant I knew he “got it” – as in people and customers. It was such an instant reaction that I couldn’t articulate it. Can you help identify what the personal behaviours are that give a leader away within the first few seconds?

I think it’s a great question. Maybe the give away is something to do with presence? So in those first few seconds the person you meet makes you feel like they are right there with you. Focussed on you.

To which Shereen Qutob added:

I’d add genuine interest in what the other person has to say; really listening and thinking about what that person is sharing and then asking really good inquisitive questions that shows they’re engaged. Also, not checking their Blackberry every 2 seconds when you’re addressing them is a plus!

Love the Blackberry point. The immediacy of technology tools has delivered a level of rudeness into the humble meeting which we simply wouldn’t have tolerated pre-mobile.

Cue Jonathan Wilson. One of the best thinkers I know. Here’s what he had to say on the matter.

I rather think that there could be several books written about those first few seconds. I agree with Shereen and I’d like to look at how you can tell people show interest that you value. Here are some summary thoughts based on my own experience and research. I use ‘he’ for convenience, but it is not gender specific.

The first thing the observer sees is a physical body. One factor, by no means decisive (but no single factor is decisive), is height. Tall people tend to be seen as more powerful (on average, they earn higher salaries, occupy more senior roles and tend to receive shorter sentences when convicted (more rarely than shorter people).

The next things that the observer sees are proportionality and symmetry. Proportionality begins with genes and is maintained by behaviour. Because it takes time to change and maintain body shape, it is a good indicator of self-awareness, self-esteem and sustained personal discipline. Most of us have a ‘better side”. Some are better than others. Symmetry is mostly genetic and is a strong indicator of genetic health and integrity. I don’t approve that physical qualities affect how people assess ‘leaders’, but research show that it does. What matters more is what the leader actually does to lead.

Having seen and judged the body in milliseconds, before consciousness has had chance to kick in, the observer sees posture. Leaders tend towards typical postures. Leaders tend to hold themselves quite straight and tilt their head very slightly backwards, e.g. Barack Obama, Maggie Thatcher, (feminine seducers tend to dip their head and look from underneath, e.g. Princess Di). Looking (slightly) down one’s nose is a leadership behaviour that people accept in context and detest as arrogance in other contexts or if overdone. Engaging conversationalists also tilt their head very slightly to one side.

The next thing that the observer sees is the leader’s gaze. Leaders tend to hold relatively sustained gaze that still scans almost constantly, pausing to focus on the subject of interest, especially people of interest. The ability to sustain gaze that shows continuing, real interest, despite competing forces inspires a belief in those being listened to that they have something important to say to someone whom they believe is important.

Humans have evolved to look at eyes and gaze and to read minute details as part of their ability to form community. Most of this is done quite unconsciously. Much of a leader’s power to influence comes from their ability to use their eye movements appropriately. Some of that is genetic, innate and automatic (pupil dilation). Some is unconsciously learned – and this feels intuitive and innate even though it is not.

Then the observer notices the leader’s movements, occupation of space and the management of space between themselves and those in their physical presence. The leader enjoys more personal freedom of space than his followers and takes more liberty entering other people’s space, which they allow him to do.

They will then hear the leader expressing himself clearly and demonstrating a clear grasp of the issues facing the group he leads. He will frequently do this by asking questions that show his understanding and direct his followers’ attention to significant matters. It is the role of the leader to express, direct and extend his group.

Most of all the observer will notice that the leader’s posture, gaze, behaviour, tone, pace and intonation are consonant with each other, with the group and their common context. They are thus mutually self-reinforcing. They demonstrate the leader’s awareness of himself and of the situation and self-confidence that he and the group can handle the situation well. It is this confluence that inspires people and that enables you to see in a few seconds that he has “got it”.

Wow. And lest we forget, a leader ain’t much good without a few followers. John Schonegevel reminds us:

Fascinating stuff. But before we get too carried away by first impressions, let’s remind ourselves that it takes at least two people; every leader needs at least one follower! So there is much more to the dynamic. And every subsequent interaction also has an impact. I suggest that too often we miss out on the importance of ‘consistency’ as a key leadership quality.

Some interesting answers to the question. And as always we’d love to hear from you. How do you know that someone’s got it – in the first few seconds? Is She or Isn’t She?

photo c/o Auntie P

Courtesy at Work…Works!

A recent article on HRzone about rudeness at work sparked a big debate over at the Bad Behaviour LinkedIn group. We were drawn to a piece by Philip Broughton in last October’s (2009) Management Today called “Manners Maketh Management”, also drawing on Christine Pearson and Christine Porath’s research, “The Cost of Bad Behaviour”. Here are a few key findings.

After a single incident of incivility, 48% said they reduced their effort at work; 80% spent time worrying about it; 78% said their commitment declined; 66% felt their performance declined; 38% intentionally reduced their effort and 12% quit because of uncivil treatment.

Over 60% blame bad behaviour on an excessive workload. 4% say they do it because they like it.

83% of customers who witness incivility tell a friend, 55% take a less favourable attitude and 50% were less willing to use the company’s products or services.

Pretty powerful stuff eh?

And then a ray of light from Jonathan Wilson who suggested “The article suggests some of the least civil managers include Michael Leary, Gordon Ramsay, and Alan Sugar. Unfortunately, viewers seem to enjoy TV programmes featuring these people. I wonder how much these programmes encourage people to think that this behaviour is a part of leading high performance, or even worse, necessary?

I have had the pleasure of working for some very successful businessmen who were always courteous, including Michael Bishop, Richard Branson, Peter Drew and Frank Hope. Can others names leaders with whom they have worked who have paired politeness and profit successfully, please? I’m sure you can! I look forward to reading what made them special.”

Well I can’t claim the level of “brand” awareness Jonathan does with his leaders. But – I will always remember Mark Brinicombe. In 1994/5 I spent a whirlwind two years carrying out a number of interesting roles with Dixons Stores Group. I was fortunate to be part of the leadership team which set up, opened and ran the Guildford branch of PC World. Mark was the boss. He was quite a round guy, and was full of energy, good humour, enthusiasm and a desire to succeed. And he knew very well he couldn’t achieve that success alone.

I worked very closely with Mark as we recruited all the staff for the opening and began their training. We got involved with fitting the place out, stocking it, all kinds of things. Mark participated and led. We had to let people go in the induction period and he was always, and I mean always, polite, gentle and supportive when doing this. He would often as a member of the management team to sit in and observe so I witnessed this process first hand a few times.

Mark was able to motivate all the staff, everyone knew what they had to do to make the place buzz. He did this mostly through basic kindness. And enthusiasm and encouragement. I never saw him tell anyone off, and that was a unique experience in my time with this retailer.

There’s lots more I could say about Mark but what was the icing on the cake? Whilst busy at work one day I got a call from my Dad telling me my Grandpa had died. I wasn’t getting on well with my Dad at the time and he was calling me from Scotland on the day of the funeral. Gran had been too upset to call – I found out later. And Dad had just headed off without thinking to contact anyone. I was very upset at missing the chance to pay my last respects to someone I’d been very close to. The next couple of minutes were a little blurry but Mark spotted me and saw immediately something was not right. I was spoken to calmly by him as he guided me outside and we walked along for a little while. Mark was gentle and reassuring as we strolled around, and when back at the car park he walked me to my car and just said; see you when you’re ready. The store was busy at the time and he was needed by many more people than me. Yet he trusted his team, left them to it and gave me some focussed attention. I took the following day off then returned to work. He welcomed me back and we got back to the business of enjoying working together.

Best boss I ever had. One of, if not the very best leader I have worked for.

Thanks Mark.