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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

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.


Go into any airport bookshop and you will see countless books on Leadership. I typed the word ‘Leadership’ in Amazon.co.uk 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.

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.

Well today is the day, all eyes are on London’s Docklands as 20 of the world’s leaders come together for a breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. Hopefully the nice food will spark off some inspiration and by the end of the day we will have an answer to the global economic crisis.

Yesterday the public felt they had the answer as a riot broke out in London’s financial district, more commonly known over here as “The City”, and crowds of angry people smashed their way into the RBS building in an attempt to take back what was rightly theirs – taxpayers money being used for bonuses.

So what is the answer? Is it to combine the might of 20 nations with a view to them supporting each other? Is independence for each and every country the only way to go? Should we be learning to stand on our own two feet again before helping others to stand up? Is it about leadership and who has the most power? The cavalcade of leaders cars coming to the G20 this morning would suggest this in part.

The fact is this G20 Summit is costing the UK around £19 million. The question I have is in a world of powerful communication technology where I don’t need to be in the same room as somebody to talk to them, let alone see them did we really need to bring all these world leaders together in the one place to make this happen? Does being in the same room instead of on a webcam or even, if you are feeling flush a satellite link make any difference to the outcome? Is the main benefit of all these leaders meeting up just a good show of face, a publicity stunt if you like?

Don’t get me wrong I’m not ranting against the G20, I’m just suggesting that there may be better, more economical ways to not only find an answer but also send a good message out to the public. After all if there was no central location for the G20, would there have been any riots?

1.  Create a clear and compelling vision
A compelling vision acts as a beacon of light that keeps your people focused on where you want to go.  Napoleon Bonaparte achieved great victories on the battlefield.  Part of his success was due to his decisiveness and the decisiveness of his field marshals in making decisions.  Napoleon made sure his field marshals knew what to do when they didn’t know what to do.  His standing order was: “In the absence of orders, march to the sounds of the guns.”

2.  Focus on the future; leave the past behind
A young monk and an old monk come to a river. There’s a beautiful lady standing there who needs to get across.  The old monk scoops the lady up in his arms and carries her across the river.  The lady kisses the old monk on the cheek and thanks him for his kindness.  The young monk raises an accusing eyebrow at the behaviour he has just witnesses; for the Order he and the old monk belong to, forbids any physical contact with women.  He decides not say anything. The two monks continue on their journey.  After a few miles, the young monk stops to confront the old monk.  “How can you live with yourself having broken our most sacred vow of never touching a woman?” The old monk shakes his head and says: “Brother, I left that woman by the river an hour ago.  It is you who are still carrying her around in your mind.”

3.  Be open and visible
Never mind email, get belly to belly with your people; let them see and feel your presence. Good leaders lead from the front and set the example for others to follow.  When I reported in to my first combat infantry battalion, my company commander showed me around the company area.  He eventually showed me to my new office:  “And here’s your office, but you’ll never see it, because if you’re doing your job properly as a leader, you’ll never be in it. Your place of duty is in front of your troops.”

4.  Listen with no agenda
Your people like to be heard and they like to know you’re listening.  Listen actively with no agenda other than to listen and understand.  Steven Covey tells us, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  In order to do that, you have to listen.  And it doesn’t to every now and then let your folks have a “moan” session.  They’ll feel better for it.  I once remarked to my Platoon Sergeant that our soldiers complained to much.  My Platoon Sergeant looked at me with a big old grin and said: “Sir, if they ain’t complaining; they ain’t training.”

5.  Accept mistakes as your own; take the praise for nothing
As the leader everything is your fault, no exceptions! You are responsible for everything your people do or fail to do.  If they fail to meet their targets, it’s because you failed to provide the proper guidance and support.  You can delegate tasks and authority, but you can never delegate responsibility.  If your team exceeds its targets, make sure it’s your people who get all the credit, and be sure to praise them openly and honestly.

Leadership and life guru Clay Lowe has just sent me an incredible email which challenges leadership (or lack thereof), within the business world.  So as the business week comes to an end I’ll leave you with Clay’s thoughts for the weekend.

“Treat people right.  Show them that you care.  And they will do anything for you.”    

In the army, I have had the privilege of working for some great inspirational leaders; leaders whom I had no qualms about following into combat, not just because it was my job, but because I trusted and respected these officers and believed in their ability to keep a clear head and make sound judgements and decisions that would get us home safely once the smoke had cleared from the battlefield. 

I have looked for this calibre of leader in the companies I have worked for since I left the army.  I have had the privilege of working for some great managers, but sadly I have not found many leaders in the corporate world.  In the 11 years I have been working in the civilian sector, I can think of only two individuals that I have worked for who were great leaders; leaders whom I would do anything for, not because they were paying me, but because I trusted and respected them and believed in their ability to lead and would have happily worked for them for free.

Why are there so few exceptional leaders in the corporate world?  I think it is because there is a lack of effective leadership development.  Yes there are leadership workshops out there and managers get sent on these workshops for a day or two and then they go right back to managing and not leading.  My theory is that it is easier to measure management, and managers don’t have to engage with people at the same emotional depth, as a true leader is required to do.   

The U.S. Army spends 4 years training its future leaders before they ever step in front of troops to lead them.  How does that compare to a 2-day workshop on leadership that is so common among leadership training in industry?  Some might say that military leadership is different.  I would argue that difference is only in degree, not in kind.  The fundamentals of leadership are the same.  How a leader applies those fundamental is the same regardless of industry or sector, or whether it is military, political, religious, or commercial leadership.

Major General John Hendrix flew down to Fort Bening, Georgia to speak to new group of new captains.  I was among them.  He gave us a big pep talk on how important the role we were about to assume was to the army and to the nation.  He reminded us that America was entrusting the lives of its sons and daughters to us as future company commanders.  And God forbid if we should fail them or betray that trust.  He ended his speech by saying:  “Treat soldiers with dignity and respect and show them that you care, and they will do anything for you.”

I wrote these words of his in my journal and have carried them around in my heart ever since and every time I find myself leading a group of people in whatever capacity, I unfold these words and reflect on them. 

My first day on the job at General Electric, an old-timer pulled me aside and said:  “General Electric might sign these peoples’ pay-check, but they work for you.  Treat them right and they will do anything for you.”

The common theme these two leaders shared was not lost on me.  

Treat people right.  Show them that you care.  And they will do anything for you.

Just recently Seth Godin released his latest marketing book called Tribes. This time though marketing is actually a byproduct of what the book is truly about – leadership.

This fact remains however; How do you lead without followers? Even more vitally how do you create interest in something in the first place?

There’s a great quote in the free Triibes e-book, which came from a group which Seth began in order to prove a point really. The quote comes from Dr. Saleh AlShebil, speaking about an iPhone hackers group.

“Get a group of people from anywhere, driven by a passion for something, target a single goal, challenge them and let them do “magic.” “

Is it really that simple?  

Can you actually make yourself the single hub of a common interest for the many?

Does it have to be a non-product related spin?  

Absolutely not, just look at Apple and its loyal bunch of followers, they make nice simple shiny things and the followers spread the word and create more followers.

Does it have to be computer related?

Nope.  Just look at the success of the Mini over the years.  Originally a small, quirky car which created a large number of followers by being different and more importantly friendly.  Now with the new Mini it has a new owner, BMW but they have taken everything great about the ethos of the Mini and used it as a central part of the campaigns.  When you buy a Mini you even get a handbook on how to interact with and attract other Mini drivers.

Can a faked tribe become a real tribe?

Yes.  Kellogg’s have been running an advertising campaign for Crunchy Nut Cornflakes for years around a mythical group called the “Crunchy Nutters”.  Now there is a Facebook group dedicated to people who love Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.

If you want to see more evidence of this kind of thing in action check out the Triibes e-book.  It makes a fascinating insight into not only leadership and the following of leaders but also why groups or tribes suddenly appear.

Get it here.

 

 

Image from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Maasai_tribe.jpg

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