Archives For Leadership

I was reading an article about LeBron James that I can highly recommend to all:

http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/9109245/how-lebron-james-transformed-game-become-highly-efficient-scoring-machine

It’s predominately about how James has continually and ruthlessly improved his performance over the last 4 or so years.

Already a prolific talent that just isn’t enough for James, he has the drive and discipline to be the best of all times. You could say, referencing my previous blog post, that he’s highly intrinsically motivated, I have a sneaking suspicion that even if he was a ditch digger, he’d be working out better and smarter ways to dig those ditches and be the best at it.

Anyway, there’s a quote in it that I love:

“It’s work,” James says. “It’s a lot of work. It’s being in workouts, and not accomplishing your goal, and paying for it. So, if I get to a spot in a workout and want to make eight out of 10, if I don’t make eight of 10, then I run. I push myself to the point of exhaustion until I make that goal”

What an impressive mindset for someone already at the absolute top of his game, surely the greatest current player in the NBA and likely to be one of the greatest of all time doesn’t NEED to train this hard, but he wants to – he wants to be the best.

There’s a lot you can learn from this and certainly a lot I’ve learnt over the years from different endeavours in both competitive sport and business – if you want to be the best there’s sacrifice, struggle, time and punishment involved. There is no-one that is the best at something the day they start at it, even if you’re genetically gifted – the very best are defined not by their natural talent but by their drive, will and desire to be better every single day.

Having just taken up playing AFL football at the age of 31 and never touched a AFL football before my team mates think it’s weird that on the weekends that after I’ve played an exhausting game I’m out kicking the football trying to get better, trying to pick up skills, wanting to play more, be involved more – but realistically, it’s just not enough for me to be OK at something, It’s one of the reasons why I can only have one sporting obsession at a time, it’s too overwhelming otherwise!

I work every day, almost obsessively on being a better leader, colleague, sportsman and human being because I know I have room to improve in all of those areas. I think companies should work every day on being better corporate citizens, partners with their clients and community leaders.

So how much do you (or your companies) punish yourself to be better at what you do? What do you give up to be great? Do you really want to be great? If so, do you have a cohesive vision of what would makes you great?

Interesting questions with interesting answers I venture..

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Rob’s DISC Profile

A little while ago I was reading the excellent book “Drive” by Dan Pink. If you’re a business leader or struggling to understand either yours or your staff’s motivation go out and buy it. Right. Now.

Motivation is something that has always struck me as something that isn’t well understood even about yourself personally, let alone those who you lead – it’s almost a black box and Dan Pink has done the best in bringing the principles behind it into an easily understandable format for all.

I think the most useful thing that I’ve learnt out of the book (and strategies I’ve employed subsequent to reading it) is that salary isn’t a primary motivation for the very vast majority of your staff as long as they feel they are earning enough to:

a) Meet all needs in their life adequately

b) Feel valued sufficiently salary wise in the organisation comparable to their peers

If you don’t take care of Points A and B in your salary packages for staff then realistically anything else you do culture or motivation wise just isn’t going to work.

But the main point of the book is that for most companies their setting of employee remuneration and motivation is fundamentally broken. To use Dan Pink’s 140 character twitter overview of his own book:

“Carrots & Sticks are so last Century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose.”

I think the really interesting part for me is that drawing on a blog post from a friend and mentor of mine – Mark Ilott – http://hummingblue.com.au/2012/03/commission-plans-vs-customer-service/ – Most incentive plans using traditional carrot and sticks approach are both easily gamed to an employees advantage and usually end in an individuals goals being not aligned with an organisations goals, a quite silly position to find ourselves in after hundreds of years of paying people for work!

So, what’s the solution?! What keeps staff engaged, employed (with you!), happy and productive? I can only speak for what I’ve read about and what I’ve seen inside of teams I’ve led.

Firstly, you have to pay a market competitive salary that ensures people can take care of their immediate life requirements. If your employees are working two jobs because they can’t make ends meet just working for you then it’s a fair bet that you aren’t getting the best out of your employees when they’re working at your job. The “working poor” is a reasonably new phenomenon, but is particularly prevalent in the USA where staff can actually be working 2 or 3 jobs just to make ends meet. It’s a very destructive way of living, but is forced upon people for whom a 40 hour job just doesn’t get them by due to a low wage not sufficient for living.

Second, monetary incentives are NOT the be all and end all – 99% of staff would prefer $2000 worth of training than an extra $2000 worth of salary.

BUT you don’t actually need to pay any more to get happy staff, as long as you remember the PAM principles.

Purpose: Your staff need to believe in a vision and buy into it, if you can’t inspire them with a cohesive vision that encompasses not just them, but their customers, community and other stakeholders you’re going to lose out to people that can. I liken it to Army soldiers, in World War 2 the vision was the ‘protection’ of the way of life and men worldwide went, placed themselves in terrible danger and fought for next to no pay, in a country where they knew no one and hundreds of thousands had died before them in the same place – they did that for the vision, they bought into the purpose. Alternatively, you could hire mercenaries who would go there but at what price? And would they stick out the journey? Or would they collect their cash and go? Are they interested in protecting the way of life (or the culture of your company) or simply collecting cash on their way to somewhere else where they’ll be paid more cash?

Mastery: There are very few people who don’t want to be better at what they do every day they do it. Improving yourself is one of the great things you can do for yourself that brings immense joy as you improve at a task (or a sport!). As someone who has never picked up an AFL ball until 4 weeks ago, I threw myself into joining a team to learn how to play and subsequently have spent hours improving my kicking game and practicing in preparation for my first game – it’s a very rewarding process getting better at something and giving your staff the opportunity and investment (both time and money) to do so is immensely valuable to them. Praise effort – not talent.

Autonomy: People want and need to choose their own destiny and to be supported in that process. Generally you’ll find that the people that are given the freedom to excel will do so, those that are constrained will never find their full potential. This is the crux of the 20% time that Google has – give people the ability to have some self determination and great things happen.

For myself personally, I’m very intrinsically motivated out of the box, whether I’m working for a lot of money, or none at all, I want to excel and believe I can make a difference, I also need to have the ability to self determine and I think most of the leaders I know feel the same way – it’s generally why you’re a leader in the first place – so why wouldn’t you give your staff the opportunity to have the same sort of intrinsic motivation? What’s the worst that could happen?

 

 

 

Partnership

February 28, 2013 — Leave a comment

The most important aspect in any MSPs business is establishing partnerships – there’s absolutely nothing more important if you wish to be successful than understanding the reasons why you should partner and then deciding who you’ll partner with.

There’s a number of people MSPs should look to partner with and I’d like to make a suggestion on who they might be and why:

  • Customers: This is obviously a no brainer, but a lot of people overlook this and simply become service providers to their customer base. That isn’t enough if you want a mutually fulfilling relationship – you need to be partners in every sense. Your success should be tied to the success of the customers business; if you can provide them with the technology underpinnings to outperform their competitors, price becomes irrelevant and you start to deliver true value to customers. In saying that, customers need to WANT to partner, some are more than content with a service provider relationship and never want you to do anything else than deliver a good service – there’s nothing wrong with this, but demonstrating value to customers in this scenario is very difficult and you could quite easily be replaced by someone else who is doing it cheaper, or promising better service (whether or not that is true, is another story).
  • Industry Groups: There’s a number of industry groups for MSPs which are great environments for networking and for improving every aspect of your business – some examples would be HTG, Service Leadership, local business chambers etc. There’s a difference though between ‘attending’ these groups and ‘partnering’ with these groups and I’d suggest the difference is intent – if you’re going there with the intent to share, participate, learn, give back and grow together then you’re partnering with them – if you’re there to just improve yourself and be passive, I’d suggest that you’re not partnering – both are valid approaches and there’s no judgement here but I truly believe that one has tremendous payback associated to it
  • Vendors: This is a tricky one and can be fraught with difficulties – some vendors understand partnership and want not just for you to sell their products, but to do better business and offer you the support and guidance to do so but in return they may expect more from you than a traditional vendor – a greater share of your business, a case study, assistance on steering committees or advisory boards etc – but if you’re not prepared to give, how can you expect a vendor to do so?. Other vendors just don’t get (or value) partnership and want nothing other than for you to buy/sell more of their stuff – again, both valid and common approaches but their value differs greatly. At Anittel we try to not go as wide but go much deeper with the vendors that we work with and try greatly to partner with each organisation that wants to partner with us and can see the value in doing so – we’re very fortunate to have great partners in industry as a result of this open approach and look forward to those relationships being long lasting and mutually beneficial
  • Your staff: another one that sounds pretty self explanatory but is overlooked regularly. Your employees are the front line of your business, they’re who your customers see every day and who they form relationships with. Partnering with your employees is not as simple as offering them a job and some occasional training or a perk here and there – it’s about understanding what they want out of their career and supporting and developing them to get there, whether that’s inside of your business or elsewhere. I’ve been very fortunate to have some great people supporting my career inside of Anittel and they’ve chosen to partner with me to increase my skills and leadership ability not just by offering courses, or career opportunities, but by sharing their wisdom and being patient with me lack of wisdom. Should I ever choose to leave Anittel I believe that it will be with the full support of those people who have nurtured me – my friend Tim Brewer says it as “It’s not being cast off, it’s being launched out and having those people tell everyone how great you are” or something like that, I may be paraphrasing and he probably used more words!

I hope you can see the value in partnership and choose to pursue that with all around you, the personal and professional value is inestimable – I also hope that when you come across vendors or people that don’t value partnership that you choose to attempt to persuade them and if not, find an alternative because you are forgoing a lot of value and rewarding poor behaviour by working with people or organisations that don’t understand partnership.

There’s been a lot of press lately on people abdicating leadership following on from Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to hand over the reigns of the Catholic Church.

It got me thinking a lot on the abdication of leadership and when it is acceptable to abdicate leadership, what prerequisites should be met before one chooses to leave a role of leadership and what is an acceptable reason to do so?

The Pope left for ill health, Edward VII abdicated for love, Beatrix of the Netherlands abdicated for family – all I’d suggest are good and valid reasons to give up leadership – particularly the demanding leadership of church or country.

But I’d venture to say there’s another solid reason for abdicating leadership and one which more leaders could potentially consider – the abdication of leadership when remaining in leadership could cause significant damage to those that you lead.

A prime example of this is the current Australian Prime Minister – polls are showing a disaster for the Labor party but PM Gillard appears bent on staying even if it means the literal destruction of the Labor party brand in Australia. Is this an example of where ‘taking one for the team’ is the right thing to do?

I can’t say either way but on a personal note, this is something that I’ve actually had to live through myself, although certainly not on the scale of a Pope, or royalty, or a Prime Minister!

There has been and will be a number of changes at Anittel over the coming weeks and I have found it incredibly difficult to be supportive of some of them as I previously diametrically opposed the objectives they were aimed at. Staying in my current role while holding those opinions would have been detrimental to the people who I lead and invariably to the success of Anittel. I have however, come around to the opinion that it is the right and proper thing for the business to do should they want to be successful in their chosen approach and so it’s appropriate as a senior leader of the business that to our staffing group we are uniform in our support for the proposed approach.

This has taken a lot of personal growth and I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve learnt a lot out of the process – but what I think I’ve learnt the most is that sometimes, the best thing to do for the team you lead is to get out of the way and allow the future – future challenges, future leaders – to happen, even if that future is without you in their direct management structure.

With that – I’d like to announce that I am starting a new role as the Director of Consulting for Anittel – primarily that role will comprise of executive level engagement with our Tier 1 vendors, speaking at industry and supplier events, being Anittel’s brand ambassador and working with our customer base as a “CTO for hire” discussing specific technology trends which will help our customers outperform their market competitors.

I’m really excited about this new opportunity and thankful that Anittel has the scope and scale to allow this high profile role in the industry.

I’d also like to thank the hundreds of those who I’ve had the privilege to lead over the last 3 years – I’m confident that you’ve taught me much more than I’ve taught you and I’ll be forever grateful for the support and friends that I’ve made along the way. I’m excited for this next stage of my journey and I hope that those who I have led before will enjoy the transition to a new style of management and a new organisational structure.

Leadership

January 31, 2013 — 7 Comments

Well.. I guess my initial post was on something I’m pretty familiar with, my next one is on something that I’m familiar with through the harsh fire of experience, but consider myself far from an expert on.

Leadership – such a big and often misused word – what is it to me? what is it that I can bring to deliver leadership? what does it mean to the people I’m to be ‘leading’? 

I’ve been managing staff for quite a few years now in some reasonably difficult scenarios, managing staff for whom English isn’t their first language, managing staff who are located in entirely different countries than where you are with entirely different cultures and practices, managing staff through a significant amount of change, managing staff in the reasonably harsh glaring light of a listed and reasonably famous locally company, managing a large staff across several geographic regions, managing staff in the transition from other companies as part of M&As – and I honestly believe that I’ve learnt more from them that I have been able to impart from my side.

So – basically, I’ve made a TON of mistakes along the way, hundreds and hundreds of mistakes that have sometimes caused people significant pain and myself a lot of anguish. I’m not someone who can turn off their emotional feelings and manage like a robot, nor am I someone who doesn’t feel a great amount of injustice on behalf of people that I’ve actually made poor leadership decisions for.

What are those mistakes I hear the big wide internet saying (or at least that’s what I imagine you’re all saying) – well, let me count the ways I’ve messed up or things I think I still need to think about every day:

  • Not understanding that things that aren’t important to you, really mean a lot to those you lead – This one took me a LONG time to work out, you’re busy doing all the stuff you do and snowed under as most people managers are so when staff come to you with things that you think are quite petty that issue they are raising can literally be the biggest thing in that persons life right now and if you treat it like it’s petty you are essentially invalidating their existence and being a poor leader. Yep – I’ve done this one plenty – someone comes and complains about an interaction they had with a sales guy that they didn’t like, sounds like work politics and you ignore it, or even really fail to listen and hear that person – this can make the difference between that staff member being a happy, productive worker, or basically despising you. This is a hard lesson to learn, so I’d counsel anyone who is taking on a management position to keep this in the front of your mind.
  • Leading Up – Oh man, this one took me FOREVER to work out and I’m still not great at it. When I first started out as a naïve farm boy, I just assumed that hard work, dedication and loyalty would be rewarded with money, fame and an endless supply of hot women (kidding!) but your ability to lead up directly influences your ability to lead, full stop. If you can’t clearly manage the people who manage you and understand their motivations, expectations and vision, how will you ever convince the people you’re leading to follow you? I’m terrible at this, I’m blunt and plain speaking which doesn’t help me finesse my way through this landmine area but I’m working really hard on it. Getting across what you want, how you want to your leaders is the only way you’ll be a truly effective leader yourself. Understand the politics and use them to you and your teams advantage, don’t damage your team (or yourself!) through political tone deafness.
  • Not taking counsel from those who know better – Another one I’m terrible at but I’m working on – I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by some very great leaders (shout out to Mark, Per and Tim!) and if I’d just removed my head from my butt and stopped assuming I knew everything I’d have learnt a lot more from those leaders who’d taken the time to work with me even if I hadn’t always been receptive to their comments or direction. I know now I’m difficult to manage and lead, but it’s taken me a long time to come to that conclusion. I think what I’m trying to say is that when you’re leading understand that others are trying to lead you – at the bare minimum respect their time and knowledge, take the advice under consideration and act accordingly.
  • Communicate – Wow Rob, you’re so brilliant, telling me I should communicate with those I lead – so insightful /endsarcasm – but in all seriousness, HOW you communicate has more to do with the effectiveness of your leading than WHAT you communicate. Given the geographical, time difference and pure busyness that I face on any given day, I unfortunately do the majority of my managing and communicating via email, which, take it from me, is a TERRIBLE way to lead. Seriously – pick the phone up if you want to get something across, fly and see someone, send a carrier pigeon, but don’t expect that your finessed email as much as you read and re-read it will get across exactly what you’re saying and how you’re trying to say it. Email is read through the eyes of that person, NOT through your eyes, so is subject to their preconceptions, their mood, their biases and feelings so cannot possibly hope to get across the nuances of what you’re trying to say. Further, email is kind of a one sided – “I’m talking, you listen” medium – a phone call is collaborative, you can judge someones reaction as you deliver whatever communication you need to deliver and it’s just flat out more personal. If you’re solely managing by email – you’re just not leading – I’ve tried to move away from this by at a minimum scheduling fortnightly 15 minute catch up phone calls with my staff where we shoot the breeze and talk about what they (and I) need to discuss but I could get a LOT better at this with just one step – when you’re angry, or frustrated or someone has ticked you off with an email DO NOT reply (and especially don’t reply all!!), pick up the phone and call – this should maybe be higher in the list, it’s very important and I’m still learning this.
  • Be real, authentic and credible – Another one that’s straight out of a management text book, I’ve never really had a problem with this, I’m a say what I mean kind of guy, but the issue that I’ve had is that you can be a say what you mean kind of leader but you have to consider the above points (particularly around leading up) before you communicate your thoughts and visions to your staff – the thing that will destroy credibility is communicating something that you believe to be the case but potentially not understanding that those above you aren’t on the same page and therefore being unable to deliver on your promises. You’re only as good as your LAST WORD – so if your last word wasn’t credible even if everything else previous was, don’t expect anyone to think you’ll be credible for your NEXT word – credibility can be destroyed in seconds and take a lifetime to rebuild, if ever.

My friend Tim (www.timbrewer.com.au) has a view around servant leadership, that is to say that the pyramid of leadership (where the boss is on top) should really be flipped around the other way and essentially you’re a servant of those that you lead – I’ll be honest, I don’t much go in for those thoughts but he did lead me to a epiphany the other day and actually what prompted me to start this blog – basically, imagine an upside down pyramid where you’re on the bottom – got it? – now, you’re essentially the foundation and also carrying the entire load on a very small point (essentially your set of shoulders) – you’ll need to be strong, stable, measured, hold up those below you until you can bring others up to share the load and spread out the base of the pyramid – until you’re no longer the person carrying the pyramid but everyone around you is sharing the load (and the fresh air!), then if you remove one person, the pyramid doesn’t fall over. I’m committed to growing my pyramid – how about you?

I’m committed to continuing my journey to be better at what I do every day, whether that be as a leader, a technologist or a business manager – but the above is just a small list of all of the mistakes I’ve made, so hopefully you won’t have to!