You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘leadership’ category.

My family will tell you of a time, many years ago, when I spent an hour trying to choose between one pair of Nike trainers and another. An hour. I have no idea how they allowed me to go on that long but in the end I was very pleased with the ones that I chose. I suspect I would have been just as pleased had I chosen the other pair.

Since then I have got better (and faster) at making decisions, whether I am buying shoes or leading a team, which is good because making decisions is the fourth cornerstone of leadership. This is where the rubber hits the road (forgive the shoe-related pun), or as Clay Lowe says, “This is where leaders earn their money.”

We all know leaders need to make decisions but here are the challenges that Clay Lowe mentions:

Make decisions that are fair, based on evidence and not your own agenda. This is difficult because we are human. We will naturally make decisions that further our careers or that are based on what we thought was the best way forward. Sometimes, as in the case of ‘The Apprentice’, we make decisions that leave us with the option of blaming someone else if everything goes wrong. People need to know that we are making decisions that are for the good of the team or the organisation.

Weigh up the needs of the task, team and individuals. When these are in conflict, it will mean you need to make a tough decision to the benefit of one at the expense of the other. If the task is not urgent and an individual needs a holiday then allow them to have a day with their family. If on the other hand an individual isn’t pulling their weight then the needs of the team need to be made priority. And if you’ve been given a tight deadline by a major client then of course the completion of the task takes priority.

Be creative in your decisions. Clay doesn’t mean be an unpredictable decision-maker because that will make for a very confused and frustrated team. Outstanding leaders, like General Grant at Vicksburg make decisions that are creative (read:risky). They are not shy of doing it differently, which will challenge them and their team and lead them on to greater things.

This is a real challenge to great leadership, but having the other three cornerstones in place will allow you to make decisions that lead to great successes for you, your team, company or family.

I’m not one to watch too many cooking programs although I’ve caught a few of Hell’s Kitchen and the like. It seems to me that all the wannabe chef’s ever do is 1. Look confused, 2.. look scared and 3. shout ‘YES CHEF’. Although you might not think of Gordon Ramsay as being the best example of humility, what Chef’s do well is have the humility to realise that they can’t do every single thing for every single meal that the 40 customers in the restaurant are waiting for. Hence they rely on others to help them achieve their vision using certain standards.

Clay Lowe suggests that the third cornerstone of leadership is that leaders have humility. This is actually a very liberating factor in leadership.

It means you don’t have to know all the answers. You and I know that we don’t know all the answers but sometimes we like to pretend we do because we think that people wont respect us if we say ‘I don’t know’. This is not true. Of course if you are always saying ‘I don’t know’ particularly when someone asks ‘What shall we do?’ then yes, your leadership is going to suffer.

Instead, the answer is to surround yourself with a good team. This is true even if they are better than you, or especially if they are better than you. Gordon Ramsay is unlikely to be the best person in his team to make pastry. That doesn’t trouble him. Rather he hires the best pastry chef knowing his quality combined with the quality of the rest of the team and the vision and standards of Ramsay will make amazing food.

Finally, muck in when necessary. Being a leader isn’t about sitting in a giant office with an amazing view of Manhattan. As we looked at in an earlier post, it is about leading by example. You wont often see Gordon Ramsay getting his hands dirty by chopping vegetables or washing dishes but he wont be shy to do so when he needs to. Of course, it’s often because he’s furious with someone who messed up (which is not a leadership style I am advocating!).

So there you go. Bet you never thought you would learn about humility from Gordon Ramsay. It may be a tenuous link but regardless of who the example is, having humility is definitely an important aspect of being a great leader. Humility is a very attractive quality, while arrogance… well how many arrogant people do you like?

If you have young children and you’ve just asked them to wash the dishes you will have heard the phrase ‘But daddy doesn’t do that… why should I?’ My son is 8 months old and even now I know that whatever I expect of him, I need to set the example. If I want him to be hard working, loving, active, disciplined etc then I need to be those things.

And the same is true when leading in the corporate setting. As a leader, Clay Lowe would suggest, that the second cornerstone of leader is that you Set Standards. For example you might set a standard for dealing with conflict e.g. ‘We do not back-bite’ (or whatever the appropriate terminology is).  People are clear that if they have a problem with someone they don’t just talk badly about them to the rest of the team, but rather an appropriate open forum is encouraged.

By setting standards, people are clear on what is expected of them.

It also means you have to lead by example. You need to live whatever it is you expect from your team, company or family. If you expect your team to be on-time, then don’t make a habit of being late for meetings. If you expect honesty, don’t make it a practice to lie to clients about why you weren’t able to meet the deadline.

Simply put, a good leader will be trustworthy. If people can trust you they will happily follow, particularly through the tough times. If they see a hypocrite, they won’t row hard and will jump-ship at the earliest opportunity.

So if you don’t want to hear ‘He doesn’t do it… why should I?’, it might be time you started washing the dishes ;p

And yes, I like to use alliterations where I can. By vitality I mean broadly ‘quality of life’. Don’t get so caught up with the vision that you forget to have fun and worse still, stop others from having fun and enjoying life. You might have a strong vision for your company, but don’t forget about your family. Don’t get so caught up in achieving best ever global sales that your team members feel you see them as tools to achieve a task, rather than people who add value.

In order to help prevent falling into vision vice, I would strongly suggest making sure you have written a vision down for your personal and family life as well.

You and I can only ‘live the vision’ if we know what that vision is.

If you are anything like me, you have a general vision of how you think life, work etc should turn out but you haven’t articulated it clearly to yourself.

Recently my mentor got me to write down my vision and the practical implications of achieving it. He suggested a four-layered approach.

1. 5-years from now. For most of us, 5 years is far enough away that we can dream bigger dreams. Let it be idealistic. Don’t start with saying ‘Ican’t do that’ but rather by saying ‘I would love to…..’  I included ideals about work, family, church, personal and friendship.

2. The next 2-3 years. We find it easier to see 2-3 years ahead. This layer allows us to think more realistically about how we achieve the 5 years vision. What are some of the things that you will need to accomplish in the next 2-3 years that will help take you closer to your 5-year ideal. So for example, if in 5 years time you wanted to be a rock star then the 2-3 year plan would be to have done x-number of gigs in x-number of places.

3. This years objectives. The third layer is then fine-tuning the 2-3 year plan into some SMART objectives. So if you want to be able to gig somewhere, you might start with 1. Learn how to play 6 chords by the end of May. 2. Learn how to sing in tune by the end of June. You may be slightly more advanced than that (I like to think I am), in which case you would have objectives such as 1. Write 5 songs in the next 5 months. 2. Contact 5 local gig venues and agree dates to play.

4. Break it down! The final layer is breaking down your objectives so that you are setting aside time in your diary to ensure you accomplish those objectives. So if you need to write 5 songs in 5 months you need to decide how much time you set aside for that. In my case, my objective for the year is to be able to play more than one song from memory. In order to achieve that I think I can realistically learn one song a week. This, I think, will only require me to practice the chosen song every evening for 10 minutes.

These 4 layers of vision have really helped me to think big and live that vision in a practical day-to-day manner. Hope you find them helpful too.

A few years ago, my wife and I went to Barcelona for a long weekend. We decided that we would go on one of the bicycle tours . Although it knocked us out for the next three days (we’re super-fit like that), we thoroughly enjoyed it. The tour guide was funny, knew where he was going, the safest way to get there and had lots of interesting facts to tell us.

Now consider if I landed in Barcelona, decided to set up a bicycle tour company that afternoon, found a few unsuspecting tourists and away we go. I would’ve been a leader for all of about 3 minutes until they realised that I actually had no vision i.e. I didn’t know where I was taking them or how to get there.

When I consider the word ‘vision’ it sounds so much like 90’s management speak. And yes, it has been thrown around to the point of being cliché and almost meaningless.

But hopefully that delightful bicycle tour story shows that vision is just as important today as when someone first caught onto the idea and wrote a book about it.

Clay Lowe suggests Live the Vision is the first cornerstone of good leadership.

Firstly, you need to have a clear and compelling vision. This can be applied in your corporate and personal life. What is the vision that you have for your team, department, company, charity, family? Where are you headed? How will you know when you get there? Consider La Sagrada Familia on the left. If Gaudi wasn’t clear as to what he was trying to achieve, that incredible church would probably not be there, or look very confused.

Tomorrow we will look at three steps to help you develop a clear and compelling vision and to live the vision.

Many thanks to those on LinkedIn who contributed your suggestions to what you think the cornerstones of leadership might be. You can read the excellent and interesting answers here.

There isn’t a any hard-and-fast rule of what the cornerstones of good leadership are and one could easily include more than four! 

The 4 cornerstones of leadership that we will look at over the next few days are described by Clay Lowe. He’s had a wealth of experience from leadership in the US Army, to now taking people on leadership development courses up Snowdon.

When I first heard these I was inspired by their simplicity in terms of remembering them but also in applying them. They are:

1. Live the Vision

2. Set Standards

3. Have Humility (!)

4. Make Decisions

We will look at each one of those briefly over the next few posts.

Go into any airport bookshop and you will see countless books on Leadership. I typed the word ‘Leadership’ in and restricted the results to the ‘Books’ section and got 166,474 results! Like me you’ve read a few of those and we spend the rest of our lifetime reading nothing but leadership books and still not be done!

I’ve picked up some things from the various books on leadership I’ve read but I wouldn’t be able to recite the 21 irrefutable laws of leadership to you.

If you don’t want to read YET another book on leadership then the next few posts will be helpful. We’re going to look at 4 cornerstones of leadership. Yes. Just 4. I can cope with 4 and probably remember them and therefore put them into practice.

But before we do that, will leave this a few days for you comment on what you would consider the 4 cornerstones of leadership.

Now that the person has moved past the initial Shock, and the Anger they will start to Reject the impending change.

Rejection is different from anger because it is characterised by objections based on logic and reasoning. They might start to query the decision makers’ poor information, one-sided perspectives or even unfair motivations.

They will  create complex arguments as to why the change should not happen, often citing how badly it will effect other people. They may even put forward their own ‘helpful’ solutions based on ‘research’ (usually around the water cooler, of course).

At this stage it is important that you, as a team leader, have the facts. Often you will be implementing change that has not been your decision. But if you are implementing it, you need to

  • know the facts well
  • be clear on the rationale and
  • stress that the decision is unchangeable.

Now is not the time to say ‘my hands are tied’ or ‘it’s them up there’ and so on. Now is the time to put faith in the decision your leaders have made, and stand strong. If you’re team think that you are weak and simply ‘giving in’ to pressure from above, you will lose credibility and respect. Not only will they reject the change, but they will reject you as their leader and that is a lot harder to overcome.

I was lucky enough to be at a lecture the other day being given by Joe Simpson.  For those of you who don’t know Joe, he is famous for his attempt to climb the Peruvian mountain Siula Grande with his climbing partner Simon Yates in 1985.  They succeeded where many had failed but an unfortunate accident on the way down led to Joe breaking his leg.  Simon attempted to get him back down the mountain but during a bad storm and poor visibility he lowered Joe over a ledge on a rope, the rope got caught and after 1.5 hours of holding the rope Simon knew he had to cut it to survive.  Joe fell but somehow managed to survive the fall and the rest of the story, as detailed in the book and film  “Touching the Void”, is about Joe’s struggle to drag himself down the mountain.  Against all the odds both climbers lived to tell the tale.

I’d already seen the film a number of times, and we’re all big fans of the story here at Marton House so I was particularly pleased to discover I was going to hear Joe give a motivational speech.  I wasn’t disappointed either.  Joe spoke for over an hour and recounted the tale with little emotion, a difficult thing considering what he went through and it was a truly enlightening experience.

This post isn’t about what a great motivational speaker Joe is, though I’d highly recommend seeing him if you can, this post is about one tiny little thing he said about his experience.

As motivational speakers we quite often use a mountain as a metaphor, in fact one of our friends Clay Lowe uses it in situ as he takes his students up the side of Mount Snowdon.  However is reaching the top all it’s cracked up to be?

When Joe and Simon reached the top of Siula Grande they had a brief moment of elation, they reveled in the views and then they suddenly realised there was nowhere else to go – apart from down.  This was the only point during his presentation he looked slightly emotional and he claimed this realisation was a crushing blow for both of them. On the way back down hardly a word was uttered until the fateful accident happened.

Is it lonely at the top?  Does part of us die when we get there?  How can we eliminate these feelings?

Always having a goal is part of the answer, something that is difficult in mountaineering as every journey has a beginning and an end. When we went up the mountain with Clay we didn’t make it to the top, a crushing blow for us but did the experience bring us closer and make us stronger as a team because of the failure?

You can read more about Joe and Simon’s story here and here.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 21 other followers


%d bloggers like this: