Tuesday, 20 September 2022

MYTHS ABOUT LEADERSHIP

 I’ve always been an agnostic about the importance of leadership. Too often an autocratic leader like Fred Goodwin or Bob Diamond (respectively one-time CEOs of the Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays) led their business close to destruction or ignominy. 

Fred the Shred wasn't all that bad, says RBS boss | Scotland | The Times

People have fallen in love with the idea of the “Leader” – the Mao, the Stalin. People who get things done. That was Boris Johnson’s claim – “Get Brexit done" except it’s getting undone messily unless the Irish Protocol is sorted out.

Actually I’m more than agnostic. I’m enraged by power seekers who muck up things steeped in their own self-worth. Putin does that, Xi Jinping does that, Trump does that. Yet the mythology continues. Last week buried under beautifully written royal tributes in the Times what they call “Raconteur” had a section on “The Future CEO”. 

Future CEO 2019 - Raconteur

It did not make riveting reading. Most of all I found it rather mechanistic MBA stuff when really what the leadership role is, as Jack Welch CEO  of GE said (the most sensible thing he ever said in fact):

“When you were made a leader you weren't given a crown, you were given the responsibility to bring out the best in others.”

If as a leader you were to do nothing else that’d be enough. It’s what we want from any manager of a sporting team. When they stop doing that they stop being a meaningful leader.

Emma Duncan recently wrote an interesting piece about the quiet leader. She reflected that Queen Elizabeth rarely put a foot wrong because she was very cautious about where she put her feet.

Diamond Jubilee: Queen takes Windsor walkabout - BBC News

She was often quite dull. “Have you come far?” became a joke but she was always there smiling and being available. In private she was witty, I believe, and a mischievous mimic. She did her job quietly but her presence now, suddenly removed, has led millions to understand what she meant to us. Emma then compared her style to that of Keir Starmer who whilst a calm, sometimes dull, performer in the House of Commons is good company in private and, I’m told by those who’ve met him, “is very impressive.” Maybe bringing the best out of a talented Shadow Front Bench is what we need from him. More Atlee; less Churchill.

Keir Starmer: Boris Johnson made promises about reopening schools and broke  them - Keir Starmer - Mirror Online

Yet I keep on hearing people talking about the need for charisma, presumably to wow the floating voters or, in business, the markets. I also hear people say the down to earth Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York, is more impressive than the supposedly charismatic Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. Equally after that wayward genius, Steve Jobs, we now have Tim Cook as CEO of Apple leading the biggest company in the world which is valued at around $2.4 trillion. The most low key leader you’ve ever seen… indeed he’s virtually invisible.

Apple boss Tim Cook faces backlash to £73m pay package - BBC News

If what you want is noise, excitement but not a clue how to do anything you choose Bolsonaro or Berlusconi (note – all the Bad Boys start with “B” – apart from Biden who is coping quietly.) They make great copy so the media loves them. They ride motorbikes, scantily clad girls or their luck.

But in the world today our leaders of business, governments or global institutions have a responsibility to others not just themselves. If nothing else the Queen has taught us keeping a low profile, being available for photoshoots (lovely clothes, lovely smile) but avoiding giving them a story is a profound legacy.

“When you were made a leader you weren't given a crown, you were given the responsibility to bring out the best in others.”

Yes. That’s it.

Monday, 12 September 2022

POTTER! I'LL STAND FOR CHEEK FROM NO ONE ...

This is what the scornful Alan Rickman as Snape said to Harry Potter in the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Severus Snape | Heroes, Villains and Antiheroes Wiki | Fandom

 

I recalled it, Potter, last week when the news broke of your departure as Brighton and Hove FC manager. You’ve been manager at the club for just over 3 years during which time the club struggled to avoid relegation in the first two years and last year did better finishing mid table. This year, despite losing three key players, it’s done exceptionally and after 6 games the team lies 4th two places above Chelsea which is where you and your coaching team have been lured.

Chelsea fans will be able to buy tickets for UCL tie vs Real Madrid at  Stamford Bridge

This is a story about money and loyalty. You were, personally,  one off the bottom in the Premier Division in terms of remuneration earning just £2 million a year. At Chelsea you’ll earn annually over £10 million with a five-year contract and Brighton will pocket around £20 million from Chelsea in buying out your contact. 

In a world where star footballers earn £350,000 a week the numbers have become eyewatering, large enough to turn anyone’s head but that’s where the problem lies. When money becomes the only thing that counts, we enter the shady world of Dr Faustus who, in Christopher Marlowe’s play sold his soul to the devil in return for acquiring material wealth.

Mephistopheles tells Faustus what he faces from his own experience:

“Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it.
Think'st thou that I, who saw the face of God
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells
In being deprived of everlasting bliss?” 

How far do you agree that the play “Dr. Faustus” is a compelling drama of a  man whose mounting ambitions inevitably brings about his hellish fall as he  stubbornly rejects repeated advice

 

And so it is Potter. You had got Brighton playing a sublime possession game (you were in the top 4 in the Premier League for ball possession), you were a winner with the possibility of a top six finish or better, your magic would have grown and the esteem with which you were held would have grown.

Here’s what you said yourself, not the words of a greedy man, more those of the sort of person like Julian Richer of Richer Sounds who also wants to make the world a better place:

“People think that coaching is about winning football matches - which, of course, it is - but throughout my career it has also been about helping people become better, more able to deal with life and be more successful in their lives, on and off the football pitch.”

Chelsea set new expectations very much like old expectations for Graham  Potter - We Ain't Got No History

My anguish about what you’ve done is you’ve turned away from “helping people become better” and I’m not just talking about football here I’m talking about the influence and excellence you conferred on our city of 280,000. The Amex stadium had become a focal point even for those who didn’t much like football. “Our team” had been a factor in taking Brighton to a new level of respectability, style and self-esteem. Keith Waterhouse the playwright said:

“If Brighton were a person, it’s the sort who would be helping the police with their enquiries.”  

That’s no longer the case.

Brighton seeking record third consecutive away win

Never mind. We’ll muddle our way without you and your management team. But just reflect on the missed opportunity you had of turning Brighton into a powerhouse as opposed to trying to tame a bunch of overpaid, big egos.

Many people think you’ve made a shrewd career move. I’m afraid you may have sacrificed your own unique qualities, for money and what some call the big time. 

In time I think you’ll come to regret it as much as we do now.




QUEEN ELIZABETH THE GREAT

What Will Happen to the Queen's Corgis? - Queen Elizabeth Dogs

I thought it excessive for me to add to the reams of obituary the death of the Queen has elicited. But I’ve been struck by how thoughtful, elegant and measured what many others have said.

Briefly, she always put on a brilliant, smiling show, remaining quietly above the short-term troubles of her family. She was like a magnificent piece of architecture. A class act for 96 years.

And now - God Save the King

Monday, 5 September 2022

WELCOME TO FALL

It’s that exquisite time of year when blackberries are at their juiciest and leaves begin to think of falling (but not just yet) and we start to think of new beginnings. New School. University. New job. It’s the season of change. It started last Friday and ends on the last day of November. 

Why blackberries are bitter & how to fix it - Ask the Food Geek

It used to be called “harvest” when we were a fully rural economy. Then the Latin “autumnus” - which derived from augere “to increase.” This verb's perfect participle auctus means “rich” (as in a “rich season”). I really like the idea of Autumn as a rich reason in the sense of harvest and abundance. The alternative “fall” started in the UK and then more widely in the 17th century as a poetic counterpart to “Spring.”  The Americans sensibly took it and made it their norm as, being shrewdly literal, this is the season when leaves fall.  Maybe our continued use of “Autumn” reflects the difference between the literally minded Americans and our own enjoyment of long words. Yes that’s…incontrovertible.

But this year “fall” may seem more descriptive than usual. It’s not likely to be  a bumper harvest of anything  after that drought nor is the economy looking too rosy. The next quarter doesn’t look like being a rich season at all.

Is Britain in drought yet? | The Times

Meanwhile I’m fascinated to see how resourceful people are being. Ghastly thick knit sweaters are emerging from cupboards. Sales of foil are rising ready to be stuck behind radiators. Jamie Oliver is digging out money-saving family menus in his own inimitable cheerful way “oh my Lord – that’s gorgeous” style. We are entering a season of draught proof curtains, a season of mists and thermal underwear. 

What are warm banks and why are they opening? | The Independent

 

Warm banks,” we’re told are to be set up in art galleries, museums and libraries to help people unable to heat their homes as energy prices soar. The Guardian reports that pensioners in Swansea are buying books from charity shops for just a few pence each and taking them home for fuel. With temperatures plummeting and energy costs rising , thick books like encyclopaedias are particularly sought after.

A certain, not entirely surprising, mood of hysteria has swept through  the British media as we await a new Prime Minister and cabinet. This is beginning to feel not like the fall of leaves but the fall of something more important. Like the fall of the Roman Empire. 

The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) Poster #1 - Trailer Addict

The fall of assumptions that this good life we’ve been enjoying for so long is a given. Or the fall in a more biblical sense. There’s a song by The Little River Band (1978) with the lines

“I tried to explain our fall from paradise was meant to be

 it's written down for all to hear, there's not much time, the time is near “

 

Yes….something like that. We all probably feel that maybe it was all too good to last. Like a bull market. But we have those pragmatic series of energy saving and money saving strategies and one other thing. Optimism. Not the media who are predictably downbeat. Walk the streets of Brighton on Saturday and it’s a cheerful place. I remain astonished by how resilient and good humoured people are.

 

Finally a personal fall, spectacularly, from a ladder in our garden two weeks ago. I ended up with possibly cracked ribs and general aches and pains but, do you know, I really see the funny side, the Chaplinesque absurdity of my doing something really stupid and avoidable.

Safety Guidelines for Working with Ladders – SafeStart

 

So welcome to fall. We shall survive. And we’ll help those less fortunate than us as we always do. Happy soft landings.

 

 


Monday, 29 August 2022

ARE WE A NATION OF IDLERS?

This question is in Britannia Unchained in 2012, written by, amongst others, Liz Truss. 

Britannia Unchained : Global Lessons for Growth and Prosperity

More fully it said: 

Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor…. Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music.

Oh dear. This is an ill researched cartoon. We work longer hours than nearly every country in Europe and retire later. “Worst idlers” is such an old-fashioned term. Successful people I know are idle but smart – they get other people to do the work for them. What’s more current thinking by a Silicon Valley consultant, amongst others, suggests that productivity would be improved by lower, not higher hours.

Shorter: How smart companies work less, embrace flexibility and boost  productivity: Amazon.co.uk: Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim: 9780241406786: Books


Britannia Unchained feels so out of touch with the reality of today’s world. Had the writer been to China where at 12.30 every day the lights are turned low for an hour and everyone goes to sleep? Had they watched Chinese at work? 

China Factory Workers Encouraged to Sleep on the Job

The same applies to India where workmen often work in slow motion. Of course, there are showcase examples of speed of construction in China – a multi-storey hotel being erected in a few weeks but health-and-safety doesn’t seem to figure high on their agenda. “996”, the so called Chinese work ethic – 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week  - which the authors of “Britannia Unchained” might presumably have espoused -  was put unfavourably under the spotlight in February this year when a 25-year-old content moderator for short-video streaming site Bilibili died of brain haemorrhage after working extreme hours. The company called it a “wake-up call.”

A friend of mine who’s a corporate lawyer working possibly 70 hours a week on average has worked in Japan and China and thinks it is not that the British are idle, not at all, it is they are a bit “soft”, a softness engendered from us having had it rather easier than the previous generations (up to now). 

The huge salaries some earn are generally the result of working extraordinarily hard (read the story of Bill Gates’ youth). Often at the top of the wage pyramid great wealth, poor health, long hours, burn-out.

Note to CEOs: Don't Let Depression Get in the Way of Your Success |  IndustryWeek

Generally at the bottom of that pyramid, terrible wages, poor health, maybe doing several jobs to pay the bills and very long hours. These poor people are not idlers, they’re exploited and have got by so far through being work machines.

But I’m like anyone writing on this subject liable to lapse into generalisations so let me take a step back. Our world is unrecognisable from that of just 10 years ago. We are just beginning to grasp the opportunities of technology like AI and are struggling to grapple with the problems and challenges it will create. The current strikes across the public sector are caused as much by a realisation that a radical change of working practices is imminent as they are about rates of pay.

No ASLEF rail strike set for 29th July 2022 as fight for pay rises continues

I believe most people prefer working hard than having too little to do. I believe most people want to do a good job. I believe most people want a decent job.

We need to spend time working on a strategy for the future of work and remove the word redundancy from our lexicon. Work is changing. We need to explain why and how that can benefit us rather than enforce people to be unemployed or unemployable.

We need to work, not just for money but to feel we are relevant and to give us self-respect.


Monday, 22 August 2022

IT SERVES US RIGHT

 It Serves Us Right

Two things on my agenda are productivity and customer service. Often the two are linked. The quicker a purchasing transaction happens the greater the productivity but speed carries a cost. And that’s the absence of taking time to cement a relationship. 

hurry up and don't waste time Poster | adnan | Keep Calm-o-Matic

A friend of mine briefly worked at the call centre for a global brand of amongst other things baby products. She was berated for taking too long talking to customers and, when she thought necessary, cheering them up (“that’s not necessary.” She was told). The most successful people in that call centre (by their standards) were foreign with limited, transactional vocabulary. Productivity trumped building a meaningful brand relationship.

We’re building business models in which increasing short- term profit is more important than investing in building trusted brands with whom customers can have a conversation. So it serves us right.

Companies don't give job security. Only satisfied customers do.

Whilst Jack Welch, one-time, legendary CEO of General Electric, said technology would eventually replace the need for people to be involved in a purchasing transaction, he still fervently believed in consumer satisfaction. Figure that one!

Recently I bought my wife some cosmetics but the delivery address the “system” picked up was a previous one we’d lived at 7 years ago. Try as I might there was no mechanism to phone and say “I goofed, please put it right”. Try as I might there was nothing in the list of pre-selected issues that corresponded with “I’m an idiot. I chose the wrong address” option. And so cheerful emails thudded in saying “we’re delivering to…WRONG ADDRESS… in 48 hours.” I solved it eventually. But I’d wanted a human being saying cheerfully “Don’t worry. Could happen to anyone. There. All sorted.”  What actually  happened was a standoff between human frailty and faultless technology. Man versus Machine with man helplessly losing. 

Now this isn’t the futile lament of a senior about how much better things were before self-service and shopping online.  Because they weren’t. Despite the current “crisis” our world is better, richer in choice and cheaper than it was. We now have “Influencers” rather than “Brand Champions” – not an improvement in my view. But the one thing beginning to disappear is someone on the end of a phone who calmly helps you. 

Exception: NatWest have introduced a direct line for over-60s where you get through straightaway and the person who answers has time and the inclination to do whatever is required. 

NatWest - Maritime London

More exceptions: Serious Readers. Victoria Health. Richer Sounds. And Waitrose who once turned me from a gibbering wreck to a normal human being in seconds. Everyone tells me Apple is the best in quantity and quality of Customer service. A friend said they’d sorted out a tricky issue regarding the validity of insurance on an Apple product bought in Germany pre-Brexit with aplomb. 

So, yes, great personal, customer service exists but I fear the finance people often see it as  an expense they’d like to eliminate. Its shaky existence reflects many businesses’ attitude to brand building and customers.

JKR “celebrates simple greatness” with masterbrand refresh of Heinz -  Design Week

I recall a marketer at Heinz, that once-great company which marketing professionals adored, saying they thought of their consumers as two housewives having a cheerful conversation with each other over the garden fence. 

 It’s a romantic concept no doubt but you cannot build a brand that’s loved by technology alone.

Anyway I love romantic concepts but it takes two to tango and when I said “it serves us right” I was also thinking that the behaviour of many customers has deteriorated. We’ve got worse at saying thank you and smiling.

Try it. It’ll change the customer service that you get. 


Monday, 15 August 2022

OUR DOG ATE MY HOMEWORK

I have always been impressed by the inventiveness of the young when lying. Our 8 year old granddaughter demonstrated a surprising sophistication when slightly late in returning home. I suggested excuses: 

“we could say there was a sinkhole in the road which was vast and several cars had already fallen down it – the screams of the people down there were blood curdling”. She shook her head. “too much stuff grandpa let’s just say there was a big hole in the road that meant we had to take a long way back…” She has all the makings of a Tory politician, that girl.

I remember one chap who realised that dog had had its day and said “our parrot shredded my homework…” He was shredded himself for that.

Angry Parrot - Openclipart

But nowadays we are protecting our young from books that might cause them stress. A number of Universities have triggered “beware” notices on or banned several books and plays. Amongst others “A Midsummer night’s Dream” – for classism; Strindberg’s most famous play “Miss Julie”contains discussions on suicide; works of Jane Austen, Chaucer, Charles Dickens and several others.

Introduction to A Midsummer Night's Dream | SkyMinds.Net

To return to our inventive young, we are handing them the ammunition to avoid work.

“I couldn’t read King Lear…ageist,  violent and sad” 

“I’m not doing any more maths as a professor in New York said ‘the equation 2+2=4 reeks of white supremacist patriarchy’.”

“I can’t do history as I’ve read the old historians we’re asked to read were narrow-minded white men who delighted to write about other white men”

“The Fairie Queen is potentially homophobic – I can’t read that.”

“Oliver Twist is about pederasty, criminality and violence towards women – why was it published?”

Why aren't students choosing to study English and the arts at A-Level?:  Part one - FFT Education Datalab

The continued decline this year in the number of young people taking English Literature ’A’ Level and the removal of it from some University syllabuses should allay concerns we have about the stress-inducing literature.

I read English at Oxford and if I’d had access to this branch of stress-sourcing I’d have slammed the ghastly Beowulf straight on to that list of “banned texts”. Why? Animal abuse, misogyny, classism and more. Indeed I’d have led a crusade against anything Anglo Saxon on the basis that this was a beastly, cruel period study of which should be avoided. Like Covid it should be locked down.

Beowulf Anglo-Saxon Poem || Origin, Summary and Analysis

Yet those providing the reference points for such censorship of literature and other subjects like Latin (“Latin is a dead language – studying it equates to necrophilia”) come from a bunch of radical thinking post-graduate Tutors who have created the anti-establishment wokeism that can infuriate or divert.

For me increasingly it is diverting but it suggests the study of the humanities at University may be becoming increasingly controversial and expendable. The very idea of a University education being essential has been contradicted by the legacy of punitive debts such an education creates.

Yet, as you’ll previously have gathered, my view about today’s youth or indeed youth at any point of history is that they were/are in general optimistic, good humoured and enterprising.

Cool loos you can use: Top 10 public toilets worth talking about -  Cheapflights

Three tiny lavatorial examples of this:

Years ago before Oxford Colleges were unisex a woman’s college installed a urinal for visiting men. Above it a woman had written. 

“Who is Armitage and what is shanking?” 

In an American college someone had inscribed over a washbasin “Think.” Sometime later someone added an arrow from “think” to where soap was dispensed and it said “Thoap.” 

Finally In a pub urinal the immortal “The penis mightier than the sword”

So long as we encourage such laughter, irreverence and freedom of speech all will be OK.