Leadership

Ace Garp’s Guide to Good Leadership18 May

225px-Newgarplarge

I am indebted to the present Mrs Bizlike for her amazing discovery that her one-time favourite comic-book hero http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ace_Garp is a paragon of leadership.

Initial reaction to my unexpected Xmas gift of the collected misadventures of the space-alien trucker was muted. It was only subsequently as she began to incorporate a page or three into her bedtime reading that she formulated her hypothesis.

It happens that the illustrious Ace manifests three very useful character traits that Mrs B can relate to in her own ongoing task as Projects Director, running an office with a staff of ten and multiple products to get out the door, on time, to budget and of the requisite quality. Or – as the blurb on the ”Complete Ace Trucking Co Volume 1” puts it – trying to earn an honest living against insufferable odds.

One night as we lay reading in bed I noticed that the hardest-working woman in e-business had not fallen asleep during her usual first two pages and so I asked her if she was enjoying her reaquaintance with the pointy-headed one.

“Yes I am,” she said. “I never realised when I used to read this before, what a fine leader Ace is. He’s always positive, always has a plan and he’s not afraid to get stuck in when things get tricky.”

“Just like you Mrs B,” I observed. Always game for a conceptual laugh, we kicked the idea around a bit and this is the result: Ace Garp’s Guide to Good Leadership

Character trait one: always be positive

One of the most galling experiences for a newly failed follower is to be asked “What the hell did you do that for?!” Modern business principles have long espoused the benefits of “fast, efficient failures” (Tom Peters) but it’s a strong leader who clears up a real mess without any trace of recrimination.

Finding himself in dire financial straits, Ace rallies his crew. “Don’t gnaw the claw, good buddies. Leave the hot-seat truckin’ to the big A! I been in tight skids before. Something’ll turn up – it always does!” he exclaims in the CB-soundbite-speak he uses. Mrs Bizlike aspires to always be similarly upbeat and, since the introduction of the office swear-box, she chooses her words carefully to express her motivational thoughts.

So – like Ace and Mrs B – good leaders don’t waste time on recriminations and confidently await positive developments. After all you can’t change the past but the future’s up for grabs. In the meantime of course, there’s work to be done…

Character trait two: always have a plan

Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke is often quoted on his observation “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy” but when you consider that Mrs Bizlike is not employed to wage war on Denmark, this remark becomes less helpful to today’s typical business leader. However, the Field Marshal’s lesser-known assertion, that “War is a matter of expedients” has more direct relevance.

Moltke’s main thesis was that military strategy had to be understood as a system of options since only the beginning of a military operation was plannable. As a result, he considered the main task of military leaders to consist in the extensive preparation of all possible outcomes. If, like Mrs Bizlike, you’ve ever spent eight hours at one go on serial Microsoft Project plans you will relate to this concept of “extensive preparation.”

So, faced with the competing interests of his clients, the space authorities and his highly illegal cargo of vicious alien mercenaries tranquilised in the ship’s hold, the big A calmly carries out a series of astute actions that resolve the difficulty. Modern business leaders can be relied upon to take charge where necessary but should usually rely on their staff to cope, so long as the optimisation of time, budget and quality is a clear goal that they are flexible (and well-trained enough) to achieve. Where this objective is appropriate to the purpose (the first definition of “expedient”) then its hands-off leadership for Mrs B. But where the proverbial shit has hit the fan she is expected to find “something contrived or used to meet an urgent need” (a second definition of “expedient”.)

Putting themselves “in the line of fire”, requires modern business leaders to use Ace’s third character trait.

Character trait three: get stuck in when things get tricky

American football would define this as “running interference”. So whether its Ace Garp acting as a decoy to take pursuing space-cops away from his speeding convoy of fellow space-truckers or Mrs Bizlike burning the candle at both ends on some project forensics prior to a crunch-meeting with a client (or a profitability review with the boss), there’s an element of self-sacrifice here that followers can’t help but admire.

No-one works harder than Mrs Bizlike and usually its like the old Yellow Pages ad – she’s not just there for the nasty things in life. So the ability to handle anything (from 20 years experience of most of the key roles in the business) and the will to see it through means that only occasionally does she have to “take one for the team”.

Many of Ace’s misadventures arise from his insistence on answering distress calls that usually turn out to be some sort of trap. But, as he puts it: “No trucker worth his ticket ever skidoos a thirteen breaker! It just ain’t tucker!” One of Mrs Bizlike’s primary roles is dealing with those “thirteen breakers” and the risk of course, is that when she’s right no-one remembers and when she’s wrong no-one forgets.

So modern leaders stage a continual popularity contest amongst the various stakeholders in their business – hallo George Brown and Sir Fred Goodwin – there’s only so much you can take for any team…

Good Leadership – Any Space, Any Time

Ace Garp’s tagline reminds us of the need for simple but adaptable methods of being a good leader. These should be obvious to everyone involved. My Scottish friend and business associate of 20 years standing has many, many, many annoying qualities but it took me a while to fully appreciate his continued calm acceptance of my various cock-ups over the years and his associated ability to instantly reformulate plans, damage-limit or arse-cover as appropriate. After all this time he’s finally getting where he wants to be in business and yes, he still has to go into some tough meetings, well prepared and positive.

Mrs Bizlike and I would like to thank you all for your attention – we hope you recognise the leadership characteristic(s) that you have in abundance and the one(s) you need to develop further. We’ll leave the final words to Ace:

“We’re winning this mush-rush – an’ take it from the big A, that’s the way its gonna stay!

Leadership

His kingdom for a horse?25 Jan

Kingdom for a horse

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, it would require a heart of stone not to laugh at the (near) death of Manchester United.

Chief Executive David Gill’s successful pitch of a £500m bond secured on the club may have eased the pressure from the super-high interest loans for which the owners are personally liable, but selling off the family silver (Cristiano Ronaldo, price £81m) is something you can only do once.

With empty seats appearing at the “theatre of dreams”, an ignominious FA cup exit and other intimations of footballing mortality, England’s best-supported club is struggling to maintain its outward swagger as, like a premier-league Lehman Brothers, it is devoured within by a toxic combination of excessive debt and wildly irresponsible assumptions of future success.

What is sometimes forgotten however is the role Sir Alex Ferguson has played in all this. Against the backdrop of this Saturday’s “We love United. We hate the Glazers” protest, his programme notes appealed for unity whilst admitting: “I’m not slow to express disapproval myself – even in the boardroom.”

But wasn’t it Sir Alex’s expressing disapproval at the races, not the boardroom that caused all this? His acrimonious dispute with the Irish businessman John Magnier  over stud fees for their horse led to the sale of shares that resulted in the Glazer’s successful purchase of the club.

My kingdom for a horse? While the Glazers decide, financially, to be or not to be, the legions of Manchester United’s non-fans can only watch, wait, and like dear old Oscar, laugh.

Leadership

On the road again?22 Jan

on the road again

Last year, I pulled together some examples of the business strategy known as Lethal Generosity .

This week, Nokia unleashed a prime example when they made their satellite navigation software free to all current and future owners of their smartphones.

Those losing out most from Nokia’s “generosity” are Garmin and TomTom who charge up to £100 for in-car navigation systems and the various companies charging for downloadable apps to other phones. On my iPhone for example, Navigon AG charge £52.99 for a fully functioning satnav for the British Isles and NNG Global Services want £54.99 to guide me to “any address in Europe with the help of out outstanding graphics, clear visual cues and precise voice instructions.”

Anssi Vanjoki, Nokia’s Executive Vice President, denied that the decision is a defensive move against companies like Google who are encroaching on their turf. “It is a very offensive move if you will,” he said. “We are not talking one product for one country, we are talking map coverage in 183 countries, launching simultaneously globally in 76 countries with 46 languages and with millions of devices already out there, plus with all of our new products being equipped with this. So it does not sound too much like defence to me.”

The full cost to Nokia of this act of lethal generosity will include the £5.6 billion they spent in 2007 when they bought map firm Navteq. How much value they derive in market share remains to be seen and how long will the handheld satnav remain an app of choice for smartphone users?

When I was a kid, our family stopped taking our transistor radio (google it if you’re under 50!) in the car when the motor manufacturers fitted car-radios as standard. In a world where every carmaker needs the sustainable-green-low-carbon-footprint-save-the-fossil market, how long before they swallow the costs of fitting them to every vehicle as standard? Fuel economy goes out the window if you get lost on the way…

In the complex interlocking system of companies making maps, apps, phones and cars, it’s a brave man who bets the thin end of seven billion Euros for an indeterminate gain.

Brave leadership or desperation? On the road again, or on the road to ruin?

We’ll see.

Inspiration,Leadership

The Civilising Influence of the Digital Bohemian15 Nov

Hustle

Some nights I wonder: How did I become a D-Bo?

Twenty years ago, I would have been sat at my desk in a big corporation, dictating memos. (Do you use your Dictaphone much? No, I use my finger – this was a joke of the time.) Dictating copy for the marketing department to spend a small fortune on printing it somewhere on a dead tree and wonder who the hell would read it. I come from a time where we had someone to do our typing for us. In Tapscott terms this makes me a digital immigrant – I moved on-line in my lifetime. I wasn’t (like my children for example) born here.

Now, in fact, I’m a digital nomad – I work where I sleep and several times a month, I sleep where I work. When the big corporation was swallowed by a mega-corporation, they might have let me go because my function was a duplicate of an existing one. Actually, I had already left of my own volition. Now I type my own copy to be turned into electronic pulses by Twitter and transmitted to whomever of my followers can be curious enough to tap a key and see them. Fortunately, because I still oil some communication wheels at mega-corp (in fact several mega-corps) I can afford to dick around like this. I guess there’s a lot of us out there and if we can handle the uncertainty we should appreciate the freedom.

Anyway, that’s enough about me – let’s talk about you. What kind of “work” do you do? Whether you work for a corporation, a small-to-medium enterprise or you operate as a sole-trader (or “bed-ender” as they used to be known, after their bedroom office) your work might fall into one or two of these categories:

• You develop content-free IT and attend the care and maintenance of the information superhighway (remember that one?) You are like Wallace & Gromit in “The Wrong Trousers”, laying the train-track as we run on it
• You trade in knowledge, products or services. This might be straight on-line commerce (like e-bay, Amazon etc), e-learning (web-enabled training) or face-to-face events marketed and/or disseminated on the web (conferences, workshops, webinars and the like). Your design skills might be the best. You make games. You may be charismatic in a commercial way (or vice-versa)
• You work creatively in the areas of autobiography, photography, music, poetry, writing and similar artistic endeavours. You are a digital bohemian (D-Bo!)

Wherever you sit or stand on this Science – Commerce – Art continuum, you can choose to use some of the resulting time and money from the first or second category to fund your activities in the third. To a greater or lesser extent this simply defines you as being civilised – “having instincts other than survival.” So bit by bit, byte by byte, you might say that we are all becoming more “civilised” through our activities as digital bohemians. It’s 2.0, it’s unmediated (and might benefit from some editing), but it’s all about our lives and loves in the 21st Century.

Wikipedia defines Bohemianism as the “practice of an unconventional lifestyle”. Compared to what went before, swopping a suit and a tie and a desk 9 to 5 in exchange for pyjamas and a laptop all hours of the day and night. “…Often in the company of like-minded people, involving musical, artistic or literary pursuits”. Hello Tweeps! “…With few permanent ties. Bohemians can be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds.” Or just a bit random, eh?

Are D-Bo’s creating the cave paintings of the Digilithic era – made in the dark winters by people using stone tools and berries? Maybe it’s potentially something as long-lasting as that. Will you be remembered for the last few elegant lines of code you wrote in ASP or PHP? No. Or the instructional design you did on that Health & Safety training? Not likely. Did I write history with that teambuild I ran for 60 senior managers in Manchester last week? No, but maybe that blog you wrote, that picture I took, that clip she stuck on YouTube (35 million views and rising…) – it’s a long shot but any one of our little digital boho-doodles might just go global, or failing that, simply show what it means to be human in the 21st Century. Civilised, despite what goes on all around us.

Maybe in the future everyone will be famous for 15 million bits. Maybe not. Either way – immigrants, natives, nomads – all hail the civilising influence of the D-Bo.

Leadership

Five cool things the Bizlike Organisation can help you to do12 Oct

Smiley Trampoline2

1.    Talk like a Premiership Football Manager

2.    Introduce competitor-devastating strategies into your business

3.    Write a British situation-comedy with loads of irony

4.    Foretell the future

5.    Achieve Inner Peace

Leadership

School’s In!11 Oct

writing

In my recent piece on BackNoise and related matters, I explored some personal and professional dilemmas relating to public speaking and (probably) coined the phrase Prez 2.0. This is the possible phenomenon whereby the simultaneous social-media backchat (e.g. Texts, MSN, Skype, Twitter and recently, BackNoise) becomes integral to the speech, making in effect an audience-created presentation.

Support for this more avant-garde approach to any situation where the many gather to be addressed by the few comes from an unexpected quarter in today’s Observer .

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers says: “Schools should be harnessing the fantastic educational opportunity children carry round in their pockets, instead of banning the phones with their cameras, voice recorders and internet access.”

Picture the scene: poor dress sense, recent bad haircut and spinach-on-the-teeth episodes captured and ridiculed, leaving a little time for last night’s escapades and the usual brief this-subject-is-boring exchange… all with the Heads’ blessing!

But you’d be wrong.

In schools where children were provided with phone and internet access to use in lessons, teachers have reported very little misuse if the evidence of Learning2Go is anything to go by. They have run a scheme for the last five years in 18 primary and secondary schools in Wolverhampton.

But, apart from fact-checking (“if children want the date of the Battle of Hastings, they will Google it”) what exactly have the Black Country boys and girls been up to with their high-quality smart-phones? They have, in fact, been using them in lessons and for homework and see them as a tool for learning!

How often have you been to a conference and behaved like the imaginary naughty kids – smirking, bitching, texting and dissin’ the corporates? The Wolverhampton wonderers set us a good example – if only we knew what it was.

The questions we need to answer are: How 2.0 is Wolves? Do they learn through self-generated content? And what does their experience tell us about the future of Prez 2.0? Of Conf 2.0? Even of Class 2.0?

Face(book) up to the facts – the Skype’s the limit. Watch this (My)space.

Leadership

Suspect Plot Devices, Chris Brogan and Prez 2.010 Oct

taps

As keen students of film and TV drama, Mrs Bizlike and I have identified a concept we call the suspect plot device. This is an initially irrelevant, but ultimately critical detail in a story.

A good example can be found in Carol Reed’s film “The Third Man”. In one scene, Holly Martins, the hero played by Joseph Cotton, is at the apartment of Anna, his love interest. He dangles a piece of string in front of her cat, in a vain attempt to encourage it to play. The cat is unimpressed and leaves, prompting him to remark on its lack of sociability. Anna replies that the cat only liked Harry – her boyfriend, the eponymous third man supposedly killed in mysterious circumstances. Shortly after, we see the cat nestling at the feet of a shadowy figure across the street – the first confirmation that, as Holly has begun to suspect, Harry is still alive.

I had cause to remember our concept of the suspect plot device recently, when running a presentations workshop at the offices of a client. My host and I had been discussing the problem of the ubiquitous “Crackberry” – the communication device to which so many business people are addicted. We agreed how difficult it was to retain anyone’s full attention these days and my host recounted how recently, another trainer at their premises had terminated his own course, mid-way through the day, on noticing that the entire group were e-mailing away and not listening to him.

I expressed my admiration at the nerve of this principled stand. Privately, I wondered whether the trainer would ever work for the organisation again… Simultaneously, I began to ask myself if our conversation was a suspect plot device of my own. Was I about to find myself in the position of having to force such an issue? Whilst the surreptitious thumbing of such devices was an ever present backdrop to my workshop, and indeed any other occasion where the many gather to be addressed by the few, might I be obliged to invoke the house rule (universally ignored) that “Blackberries be switched off during the session as adequate breaks will be provided for that purpose”?

As it turned out, my concerns were only partially but entertainingly justified when, part way through my first input, my own phone began to ring in my pocket! It’s always the person you least suspect, I mused as the delegates laughed and tut-tutted at my breach of the last remaining mobile-phone-at-work taboo.

Gaining and maintaining people’s attention is a continual challenge for us all, not simply limited to the dull and inept if Chris Brogan’s recent experience is anything to go by. Watch his entire presentation take place against a full screen stage display of the continuously updated Backnoise conversation that his speech is stimulating. Observe, as his live audience did, the incredible interplay between what he said and what the screen showed. Watch fascinated as he ignores some comments (those not worth a mention) but deigns to use others to reinforce key points in his talk. Social Media heckling brought out into the spotlight and dealt with!

Now this is a suspect plot device that we should all take careful note of. How exactly will this strange new version of the conversation (Prez 2.0) manifest itself? Stayed tuned (or don’t) and find out next week…

Leadership

Unpopularity Contest30 Jul

Unpopular

photo courtesy of catdesigns@yahoo.com

The other day I posted a piece on “Lethal Generosity” – a business strategy to achieve thought-leader status by giving stuff away and making life difficult for your competitors. I suggested that the parties involved are impacted by an act of lethal generosity thus:

* Positive for company or individual being generous especially if they can take the “moral high-ground”
* Positive for the clients – the beneficiaries of this generosity
* Negative for the competitors who are the recipients of the “lethal” effects.

Microsoft did it when they saw off Netscape as they gave away their own browser bundled with their Windows package.

A cynic would argue that most politicians use this strategy already but because they are lethally generous with our own money, promising to spend big and tax small, it’s a hard one to sustain competitively.

But the UK Shadow Chancellor recently changed all that in a rather bizarre way by offering to save us all with Tory economic “tough love” and promising to become the most disliked man in Britain. Applying the formula gives us:

* Positive for the Tories who aren’t even being generous and can take the “moral high-ground” for just that reason
* Negative for us, the electorate – the “beneficiaries” of these stringent measures
* Negative for the Labour Party who will be the recipients of the hoped-for “lethal” voting effects.

How about that for a neat inversion of Focus-group-Blair’s New Labour project? The more you loathe us, the better the job we’re doing!

John Major said of his economic reign: “If it isn’t hurting, it isn’t working” but either he was talking to Edwina Currie or he was way ahead of his time. Or both. No moral high ground there but this time round the strategy may prove more lethal to Labour.

Depends on how us voters perceive the reverse psychology…

Leadership

Factors to consider in the use of Lethal Generosity in your business28 Jul

Slip-Air

photo courtesy of catdesigns@yahoo.com

A search on Google combined with an example from my own experience suggests that several versions of Lethal Generosity are currently in operation. Regardless of where it is used, it is a strategy intended to show thought-leadership and gain commercial advantage. In this article I will look at some examples and analyze the ways in which each act of generosity may be more or less “lethal” to the parties concerned.

Shel Israel’s “Global Neighbourhoods” is the best-known source of the term lethal generosity and tells of Jeremiah Owyang’s “Hitachi Wiki” that unified the client and supplier Data Storage community behind his site’s thought leadership. Shel reasons thus: “This is about as far away from the ageing command and control philosophy as you can get. In today’s competitive environment, you need to understand that the customer is in control. If you want to win, give the customer what the customer wants. If you do this often enough and credibly enough it will be brutal to your competitors – unless the competitor rises to the occasion and tries to “out-generous” you back”.

Let us say that the parties most impacted by any act of lethal generosity are:
* The company or individual being generous
* The clients – the beneficiaries of this generosity
* The competitors – recipients of the “lethal” effects.
We can now look at some examples from these three perspectives.

This month (July ’09) Shel Israel’s Global Neighbourhood blog reported on the case of Rackspace, a hosting service that had recently experienced a brief downtime which incapacitated a significant number of their service users. The company immediately used all the social media channels available to them to apologise and explain what happened and what they were doing about it. The interesting thing here is the reactions of their competitors. One, an old-style traditional, attempted to hijack Rackspace customers with the offer of an “easy transition plan” whilst another used their blog to stand behind their competitor as “communicative, forthright and responsive to its customers” and suggesting that Rackspace’s customers stood by them too.

The impact on all concerned is as follows:
* Rackspace is viewed more positively for its responsiveness
* Their clients will feel marginally more positive through the perceived additional trust in their supplier
* The supportive competitor will be viewed positively for their stance as “thought-leaders” whilst everyone will have a very negative view of the old-style traditional opportunist “hijackers.”

In summary, some moral high-ground is taken and the good-guys win.

A less well-known manifestation of Lethal Generosity occurs in the legal profession. Mark Bennet is a criminal defense trial lawyer who makes all his motions to court freely available to anyone, including other criminal lawyers. He says: “I don’t believe I have competition among the criminal defense bar. Colleagues, yes: competition, no. We happen to be fishing in the same hole, but there are plenty of fish for all of us.” Debate following his generous manifesto sees two predictable positions – the cautious, approving “open-source” philosophers versus the “enabling incompetency is still enabling” alliance.

The debate is swung convincingly in the pro direction by Michael Schaffer: “The repeating of work is one of the worst hazards and biggest costs of any proprietary activity – it drains resources by forcing everyone to solve the same problems over and over, and it causes repeaters – even competent ones – to make the same mistakes of invention over and over. In criminal defense that lost time and those mistakes do not just lead to lost profits – they break lives.”

Applying the formula to the lawyer gives us:
* Positive impact for him as a thought-leader in criminal law
* All clients are positively impacted through the availability of tried and tested motions to court
* The competition all benefit, be they expert or “incompetent”

So the lethally generous sometimes need to balance commercial advantage with “the common good” and it helps to have a thought-leader role and an environment in which to debate these issues.

In a final example, I know of an award-winning thought-leader company which gives away free “flatpack” software to clients and non-clients alike that enables them to dispense with the cost of engaging other competing suppliers in the provision of compulsory compliance-related services. The CEO is proud of this act of lethal generosity and in a very active online environment seems unperturbed by the possibility of adverse reaction in the industry. Applying the formula, we see why:

* The company is positively impacted as any slight loss of revenue from gifting, not selling, the “flatpacks” is offset by massive gratitude of clients, both actual and potential
* The clients experience a big positive in cost savings
* Competitors are neutrally impacted if they are other similar high-end suppliers, but the impact is very negative for other competitors lower down the “food chain”.

In this case the CEO could argue that the low-end providers in the market are a drain on resources that prevent the community at large from solving much more mission-critical performance problems for their clients. This simply reinforces his whole thought-leader strategic advantage for his lethally generous company. Unlike the previous example only the low-end competitors are the ones who lose!

In our increasingly connected world, where social media brings greater transparency and sharing of ideas, we as individuals and companies must expect to see more and more of our actions reported on and questioned. The world is a free-market economy although some markets, it would appear, are more free and more lethal than others.

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