The idea was novel. It had promise. It was exciting. Yet part of me still baulked. “People won’t take me seriously.” “I will be ridiculed.” “It is too alien: no businessman would be interested.” Those were just some of the doubts that paralyzed me.
If you are supremely confident, you might respond quickly, “Of course!” If you are more modest or less confident you might say, “I think so.” Either way, the likelihood is, like most executives and senior leaders, you are accustomed to empirical performance measures and will therefore have a reasonable basis for your answer. Accustomed to being in control and, perhaps unwilling to come across as unsure, you would be unlikely to stall by asking, “What do you mean by good?”
Yet, ‘good’ is a subjective term, and you would be quite within your rights to seek further clarification, or even to pull out that old consulting chestnut by responding, “It depends.” The fact is, your answer might well depend on who is operating the lie-detector and what lies behind the question or where the emphasis lies. Hopefully, however, the pressure derives from the lie-detector and this is a question you regularly ask yourself anyway. (If it isn’t, you definitely have little right to answer positively. A good leader will always be questioning their performance and looking to do better.)
So let’s move on to take a look at what you are doing to assess your leadership, and perhaps identify pointers for improvement.
Change is an integral part of life. So much so that we are often completely unaware of it. We simply wake up one day to the realization that something familiar isn’t quite the same as we thought it was.
We experienced a good example of this over the Christmas holidays, visiting our young grandchildren for almost a month. As you would expect, the children we met on the first day were very different from the young children we had last seen. More surprising, however, was how much they changed during our time with them. It wasn’t only that, even after a couple of weeks, they were so proficient at things they couldn’t do when we arrived. Nor was it just the delicious festive food that made them feel heavier. We were sure that they also grew physically!
The fact is change is continuous. In the 21st Century, however, we are perhaps more aware of it than ever, and the fact that – due to the massive technological advances – the pace seems to be faster and the demands on us more urgent. So much so, that ‘change management’ has not only become part of the lexicon, but a recognized skill and much sought after competency. But are we being misguided?
You don’t have to be a leader to be aware of the pace of change and the challenges of competing and surviving in today’s global market. As a leader, however, you certainly face them every working hour; perhaps every waking hour and possibly even in your sleep. But then, no-one ever said survival was easy. On the contrary, you’ve always relished the fact it isn’t, and that is what has driven you.
Even so, there must be times when you feel like an early explorer and question why you ever embarked on your journey. If you do, there is no shame in admitting it. Those intrepid sailors must have had doubts in the face of severe storms miles away from anything familiar. And your situation is not dissimilar. You may not have left the shore, but you are just as much a pioneer, trying to map out routes for others to follow. No-one has ever before had to meet the challenges you do, on the scale you do, or with the consequences you face. Arguably, the risks are no less significant now than they were then.
If you haven’t ever considered yourself in this light, perhaps now is a good time to do so. And to question how you are performing in the role.
You probably know that, if you put a frog in cold water and slowly heat it, it will eventually boil to death. This fact was popularised by management guru Charles Handy in his 1989 book, “The Age of Unreason.” But, even though you know the parable, do you ever stop to think about it, its implications and its relevance? After all, Handy must have had a reason for telling it.
“Mine!” “No! Mine!” How often have you seen that scenario play out? I certainly found it a recurring theme over the holidays as I watched my two very young grandchildren play. And I would guess that 95 out of 100 initially happy games that ended up in tears, did so when such conflict arose. Even when it wasn’t about direct ownership, it was about perceived injustices over “turns” or temporary ownership of a particular activity. The concept of possession thus seems to be a deeply ingrained in our culture from a very early age.
Whether this is good or bad, is actually irrelevant. Less materialistic cultures, such as the San people of the Kalahari, suggest that it is possible to have a culture without ownership and consequently with considerably less conflict. This, arguably, makes ownership the Pandora’s Box that seems to be the price we pay for civilisation and something that is almost impossible to discard. Indeed, you could argue that ownership underpins capitalism, which, historically, has been responsible for the world’s major economic development.
Yet, even in commerce, ownership is a root of contention and conflict. You only have to watch “Dragon’s Den” or “Shark Tank”, with would be entrepreneurs pondering an investment offer to see this.
It seems to come around more quickly than ever, as if trying to catch you by surprise. Nevertheless, ready or not, it is once again the time of the year to take a break from business and the responsibilities of everyday life and focus on things that are just as - and possibly even more - important. No doubt you have earned the break and, however long yours is, as you take it, I wish you and yours everything you wish yourself for the festive season holidays and the coming New Year. May you see the fulfillment of every one, and even more. I look forward to your company again in the New Year.
If you like what you have read contact me today to discuss how my ‘Every Individual Matters’ Model could provide the catalyst to help you create a culture in which everyone cares and the business becomes our business, embedding improvement that transforms – and sustains – organic business performance.
Bay is the founder and director of Zealise, and the creator of the ‘Every Individual Matters’ organisational culture model that helps transform organisational performance and bottom-line results. Bay is also the author of several books, including “Lean Organisations Need FAT People” and “The 7 Deadly Toxins of Employee Engagement” and, more recently, The Democracy Delusion: How to Restore True Democracy and Stop Being Duped.
When will we learn, or, as Bob Dylan put it, “When will we ever learn?” That is the question I found myself pondering after reading two very different articles this week.
You couldn’t have made it up! In a world where the excesses of business have fuelled strong – sometimes violent – protests against capitalism and corporate malfeasance, Donald Trump won the US election because he was perceived as a businessman! Despite the onslaught of attacks on his personal character and his suitability for the role, he became the first man in history to become US President without any military or political experience whatsoever, because of his business credentials and the hope that this would enable him to bring about change.
This is like giving your most vociferous, disgruntled customer, who knows nothing about the ins and outs of your operations, control over your entire organisation, albeit on a far grander scale. You can imagine how concerned your other stakeholders would be if you were to do that. So it is hardly surprising that Trump’s election is causing consternation and creating a backlash. Inevitably people are taking stock of the implications and wondering how it is going to affect them.
Yet, in all the post-election reflection, there is one aspect that does not appear to have been considered in any great depth. And it is one that, perhaps, warrants the greatest thought: “What are the implications for business?” Without any doubt they are significant.
It is encouraging to know that employee ownership is becoming increasingly popular and more widespread. According to Chief Executive Magazine the number of worker-owned businesses in the US is growing around 6% per year and such businesses now account for 12% of the private sector workforce. Apparently, this is due to initiatives “to empower their workforce employees by selling their stock to an ESOP or similar worker-owned arrangement” and/or “from founders wishing to reward employees while cashing out of their business.”
Yet, notwithstanding such developments, difficulties remain. The article identifies 2 major dilemmas:
- Private companies lack the public trading capability that listed companies use to motivate employees;
- Governance “challenges” if subsequent owners are unwilling to continue running the business.
Then, presumably as solutions to these dilemmas, the article offers two case studies. The first describes the transformation effected by a shared compensation system at Johnsonville Sausages; and the second reveals how, over 30 years, Burns and McDonnell, grew from 600 to 5,500 employees (816%) and increased revenues from $40 million to $2.6 billion (6400%) as the result of an ESOP (Employee Share Ownership Plan.) Then, despite this example of extraordinary growth that most organisations can only dream about, the article simply concludes by identifying the upside and downside of ESOPs. So let me add to the subject.