Andy Falconer


Make the next 5 years, your best 5 years as a leader

1 Nov 2015 | Leave a Comment |

It doesn’t matter if you’re in the first year as a leader, or you’re Next-5-yearsMartin Gilbert (CEO of Aberdeen Asset Management since 1981), Martin Sorrell (CEO of WPP since 1986) or me (Head of St Olave’s School since 2005), as a leader you want to make the next 5 years, your best 5 years. I’ve been giving this some thought recently and the following are some of the things that I think will help those of us who are committed to making the next 5 our best 5.

I can’t hear what you say because what you do drowns out your words

You may not have heard of Cory Booker (@corybooker) but he will probably be the second black President of the United States of America, and is currently the Senator for New Jersey, having been Mayor of Newark. I heard him speak at a leadership conference in Chicago in 2011. coryHe told us how he deliberately chose to live in a very rough housing estate, & continued to do so even once elected Mayor. He had asked for the support of an elderly lady who had lived in this rough neighborhood all her life and who was the superintendent of the estate. He thought he had all the solutions and so asked her to help bring about the change he envisaged. She refused to help him, saying “Before you tell me what you teach and preach, show me how you live and give”.  If you want to earn the right to lead others in your organisation then you need to walk the talk. Another phrase of Cory’s is “I can’t hear what you say because what you do drowns out your words”. You see, when you are a leader people are always watching you, what you do, what you say, what you send/post/upload, how you spend your time, who you talk to in a room, how you dress, the way you walk around the place, the jokes you make. And they make a judgement. Do I trust this person enough to let them lead me? Trust them enough to follow their lead, to go out of my way to help them get things done, to put in the extra hours if necessary, to help make their vision a reality, and for their vision to become my vision?


Say something, everyday, to change someone’s day for the better

Jeff Haden (@jeff_haden) pulled together a list of things which he felt extraordinary people said each day, which had the power to dramatically change someone’s day, including your own. This isn’t a formula you can follow, a tick list to work down, because it’s about you being authentic to who you are, being your best self, all of the time. When we acknowledge our humanity it’s attractive, people want to be around us. However, there are some habits you can get into, things which you can try to say every day.

  1. “Here’s what I’m thinking” – you’re in charge but that doesn’t mean you’re smarter, savvier, or more insightful than everyone else. Back up your statements & decisions. Give reasons. Justify with logic not position or authority. Through taking the time to explain your decisions, opens those decisions up to discussion or criticism, but it also opens up your decisions to improvement.
  2. “I was wrong” – hopefully not one you’ll use every day. When you’re wrong, say you’re wrong. You won’t lose respect, you’ll gain it.
  3. “That was fantastic” – No one gets enough praise. No one. Pick someone – anyone – who does or did something well and tell them what a great job they did. And just like with the pupils in my school, make sure your praise is specific, so they know what you liked and so will do it again. This might be tied in to values you want to see lived out more, or a task well done, or a deadline kept. You might want to keep a record of it (but don’t tell anyone!) to make sure you don’t miss anyone. You can use cards, emails, post-it notes, books, small gifts, public affirmation. “The 5 languages of appreciation in the workplace” by Gary Chapman (@drgarychapman) and Paul White is a fantastic book in this regard. We don’t all respond in the same way to the 5 main languages (words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, tangible gifts, acts of service) so working out what your colleagues respond most to is important.
  4. “You’re welcome” – Think about a time when you gave a gift and the recipient seemed uncomfortable or awkward. Their reaction took away a little of the fun for you, right? The same can happen when you are thanked or complimented or praised. Don’t spoil the moment for the other person, just look them in the eye and say “thank you” or “you’re welcome, I was glad to do it”. I attended a talk on leadership given by General the Lord Dannatt, in the Tower of London. The vote of thanks was particularly gushing & for a brief moment you could tell he felt uncomfortable about it, but then he regained his composure, smiled & gave a genuine but simple “Thank You”.
  5. “Can you help me?” – When you need help, regardless of the type of help you need, or the person you need it from, just say sincerely & humbly, ‘Can you help me?’. I promise you’ll get help. And in the process you’ll show vulnerability, respect, & a willingness to listen – the qualities of a great leader and a great friend.
  6. “I’m sorry” – We all make mistakes, so we all have things we need to apologise for. Say you’re sorry. But never follow it with a disclaimer like ‘but I was really mad, because…’ or ‘but I did think you were..’. Say you’re sorry, say why you’re sorry, and take all the blame. Then you can both get to make the freshest of fresh starts.
  7. “Let me give you a hand” – Many people see asking for help as a weakness, and so hesitate to ask. Don’t just say “Is there anything I can help you with?” as most people will give you a version of the reflexive “No, I’m just looking” which we say when approached by a sales assistant in a shop. Be specific. Find something you can help with. Say “I’ve got a few minutes. Can I help you finish that?”. Model the behavior you want your colleagues to display. Then actually roll up your sleeves and help.
  8. “Nothing” – Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing. If you’re upset, frustrated, or angry, stay quiet. You may thinking venting will make you feel better, but it never does. You’ll never recover from the damage you inflict on a colleague’s self-esteem.


Dealing with challenging colleagues

Have you got any challenging colleagues in your team or organisation? I’m sure a face jumps right into your mind. You may be lucky and feel that you’ve got a great staff, or department, but to help you focus in on who maybe needs some development or support, try the imaginatively named “Line Exercise” which Bill Hybels (@billhybels) uses. List your top ten team members, from 1 to 10, left to right, based upon whatever criteria you want. I’ll warn you, you won’t enjoy this one. Now imagine a 50% drop in income. You have to make people redundant. Look at the list of your top people and decide which of these ten is completely indispensable. Excruciatingly difficult but who said leadership was easy. The names to the right are not necessarily bad people, they’re just at the end of your line. Please, don’t leave this piece of paper lying around! Like lots of data, all it does is prompt questions. Is this person carrying their weight? Are they doing the right tasks? Are they motivated? Underperforming? Your organisation’s future is dependent on the quality of the staff you can recruit and develop so it is vital that you identify those who are weaker in comparison to your stars and help them improve.

But what if Fantastic Fred has lost his joy, his bad attitude is spreading like the flu. How much time will you give him to spread his poison? A week/month/year? One person said 60 minutes ‘your first bad day is your last bad day in this organization!’. Another said “a year – otherwise I wouldn’t have any staff!’. Set your own timescale but stick to it. Begin the conversation as soon as you see the bad attitude. Fred, what’s up? Is everything OK at home? Why are you taking a ‘nasty pill’ before you come to work? We want to help, is it something we’re doing? But Fred, you need to know that this will be resolved in 30/60/90 days. If someone is underperforming it is also worth asking yourself if they are getting the motivation and stimulation from those around them that they need. Are they having to peddle too much on their own, therefore losing momentum? Are they perceived in some way by their colleagues in a way that is demotivating them? What is making them unhappy/uninspired?


Having courageous conversations

You need to develop a culture of holding Courageous Conversations – speaking the kind truth – in your organisation. Be up front with your colleagues and explain the difference between speaking the truth and speaking the kind truth. Let them know that you’ll be having courageous conversations with individuals to help them become more effective and to help move your business or department forward. If they know it’s in your organisation’s DNA then they’re more receptive when it happens. The poet David White said that ‘True authentic leaders are great at having courageous conversations”. courageousPeople are actually desperate for the kind truth. There’s a technical term for leaders who don’t like to tell people the kind truth – cowards. Nobody wants to eat a live frog. But the longer you put it off, the larger and larger it looms. Sir John Jones (@sirjohnfjones) says, eat the frog at the start of the day. Don’t put off holding courageous conversations, as it only gets more difficult. A great opening line he uses is, “I don’t want to have the following conversation on a personal level, but professionally we have to have it”. You’ll find it much easier to then speak the kind truth. It’s also much better than saying, “I don’t know how we’re going to manage without you, but from Monday we’re going to give it a go!”

Look for opportunities to have “How do you feel about….” conversations with colleagues, rather than just chewing the fat with them. “How do you feel about the idea for the new branding?” “How do you feel about what I said this morning?” “How do you feel about the new system for logging enquiries?” It’s a great way to get them to open up and perhaps give you some kind truth as well.


Authentic Leadership

As you’re well aware, leadership isn’t something you do to other people. authenticRather you do it with other people. Which means it gets messy and authenticity alone isn’t enough. Goffee and Jones in their fantastic book “Why should anyone be led by you?” say you need to provide your followers with:

  1. Community – we are hard wired for sociability & want to feel part of something bigger. How are you going to do that in your organisation?
  2. Authenticity – we choose to be led by humans so identify & deploy your personal differences, your foibles & strengths, to remind people you’re human and not a Peter Perfect.
  3. Significance – we want to believe that our efforts matter. Recognise roles & contributions in a meaningful way, with highly personalized feedback.
  4. Excitement – we need to be inspired to higher levels of effort & achievement. Articulate your personal passion, values & vision to provide the energy & enthusiasm your colleagues are hungry for.

They feel some leadership practices are more important than others so concentrate on:

  1. Becoming a situational sensor – listen, observe, pick up non-verbals. Adapt effectively to the context without losing your sense of self. I’m not strong in this area & have to continually work at being an active listener.
  2. Know & show yourself – enough. What is special about you that works with others? What core values fuel you? What strengths differentiate you? Determine which parts of yourself to disclose in order to strengthen your relationships & inspire others to action. But the key is ‘enough’, you don’t need to show them everything.
  3. Get close but keep your distance – this is leadership not friendship, which is difficult in a small organisation or if you’re just a nice person. It’s not quite as black and white as this in reality. Manage relationships by knowing when to empathise or get personal and when to step back to keep people focused on the organisation’s goals.
  4. Communicate with care – this requires an appreciation of the message, the context, your followers and your personal strengths & weaknesses as a communicator. This is an area where I have to force myself to slow down and think it through, rather than trying to get the message out and move on to the next thing.


Looking after yourself

Brian Dyson, former COO of Coca-Cola, touched on this when he said to imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends, and spirit – and you are keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. By the other four balls – family, health, friends, and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.

Do you have 2-3 people who are your A team, with whom you can be completely vulnerable? Have you got a switch off point on the way home, when you pass it you switch off from work? Maybe it’s a road junction, or a street lamp, or a particular rock or tree. Do you have boundaries established that means when you are with your wife or your kids, you are actually with them, not just in body? Are you able to carry out the act of living slowly when you need to? Just try singing some of Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” and not find your heart rate and blood pressure starting to drop!

We rarely learn something new without getting our leadership bell rung. Sometimes this happens out of a challenging situation. More often we need to proactively seek out opportunities to learn new things – blogs, TED talks, time with other leaders, conferences, 360 appraisal, psychometric testing, books. The challenge is to ensure that the next 5 years are going to be your best 5 years as a leader. What will you have to do differently to make the next 5 your best 5? How will it fit in with the strategic plan for your organisation or team? What input will you need from others to make the next 5 your best 5? What resources will you need to make the next 5 your best 5? Do you have a person who can act as a mentor in this regard?

What advice have you got to help other leaders make the next 5 their best 5?