Monday, December 06, 2010

Trophy vs Tournament

So we didn’t get the World Cup and, instead of the England bid, which FIFA admitted was technically, financially and security-wise the best, the 2018 World Cup was awarded to Russia, where it is difficult to grow grass and where corruption is rife!

But this is not sour grapes; I simply wanted to point out that there is always a problem when one culture meets another.  It reminded me of many years ago when a large IT company was selling computers to slightly dodgy countries.  At one point, so it was rumoured, it accepted payment for a mainframe computer with a container ship loaded with grain.  Eventually it stopped selling to those countries as the things it needed to do to secure the business did not sit well with its “whiter than white” corporate image.  So the result was that other companies sold to those countries instead.  But at least the company could hold its head high – or at least it could until it got done for passing bribes to US officials!

The reality is that corruption exists everywhere.  In our own country we have just had the MPs expenses scandal and before that the cash for honours debacle.  We may have a “free press” but that does not prevent it from being biased, opinionated and harmful in other ways.

So instead of moaning about how unfair and corrupt it all is, let’s get over the fact that we haven’t won the tournament and instead concentrate on winning the trophy.

Check Your Filters

Ever struggled to get the results you want?   Isn’t it frustrating?  I have been thinking recently that it must be a common complaint for members of the UK’s coalition government.

Good leadership of people requires an acceptance that they will respond to how they perceive your behaviours and not necessarily to your original intention. This is particularly true with communication. If the perceived message does not match the intended outgoing message then the point gets lost or is misinterpreted.

We all carry in our head pre-suppositions about how things should be, what certain behaviours mean, how people should behave and what's the right way to do things.

These pre-suppositions are like filters - and everyone’s filters are different. Being able to consciously recognise your own and others’ for what they are is a pre-requisite to good communication.  It helps to stop you assuming too quickly that you understand someone else’s intention – or they yours!

Accepting that different people carry different filters allows you to appreciate that if you want to “treat someone well” then your actions must be consistent with their filters about what “being treated well” looks like. For example, assume you want to thank and acknowledge someone for making a special effort. Your own preference might be to get a public thank you in front of an audience. But another person’s might be a private thank you and a small personal token, like a meal out with their partner. To make the right connection you need to understand others’ filters and preferences.

When I meet effective leaders I am often struck by their ability to read other people and then adjust their own behaviour to get the results they want. In doing this, they all display two vital ingredients: a desire to connect and curiosity.

Connecting people make the effort to determine the other person's perspective and respond to it. They think through the other person’s likely issues, concerns and hot buttons. They ask questions, listen carefully and probe for insights. This makes for increased understanding, better communications and better outcomes. 

Coalition politics are often fraught with problems because one person sees and hears things through a different filter to the person who originates an action.  Layer on top of that different objectives to start with and it just gets harder and harder!

Reading and responding to people more effectively is one way to get better results. I have seen many successful leaders reap the rewards of investing time in doing this better.

How well do you check your filters and seek fresh perspectives?

The Ghost of Work-Life Balance

I’ve always loved “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. It’s a salutary tale with a timeless relevance.

The Victorians never had the term work-life balance of course, but it’s clear from the story that Ebenezer Scrooge didn’t have much of a life – so consumed had he become by his business and the hoarding of wealth, that he had little time or inclination for anything else.

You may not consider yourself to be a “scrooge”, but in a prevalent culture of overwork, overstress and over-demand, it’s all too easy to be so consumed by what you have to do, that other importances, including family, relationships and community can unwittingly take second place.  Excess pressure and demand, can often have the effect of rendering important things unimportant, and unimportant things important. People virtually always say that family and relationships are more important than work, but in terms of where people devote their best energy and time, the reverse is often the case. 

Ebenezer was fortunate to be visited by the ghost of his former business partner, and by the three Christmas ghosts.  The Ghost of Christmas past reminded him of the vitality, innocence and goodwill of his youth. The Ghost of Christmas present prised his focus away from his self-obsessed concerns to the wider needs of the community. The piece de resistance was the Ghost of Christmas yet to come, where he was forced to confront the consequences of what he had become.  It was enough to cause an instant transformation and he went on to become the embodiment of generosity, compassion and kindness.

None of us will likely have the benefit or uncomfortability of such ghostly visitations, but it well worth taking the time to reflect.  Scrooge never set out in life to be a miser, it was circumstance that led him there.  We are all shaped by what we do, and the question is - are there unintended consequences?  Does the pressure of work cause you neglect things that are more important? Has the cut and thrust of how you have to be in business, affected your humanity and human values?