Monday, 28 December 2015

Leadership Tips From The Real World

I had a very happy childhood.  My family were very poor, in London's East End in West Ham, but my parents gave me love and I grew up in a loving family.  We had hardly any money, but we were happy.  We weren't dirt poor, but we were dusty ;-)

We had a toilet at the bottom of the garden and a tin bath that hung on the wall outside until it was time to fill it up and put it in front of the fire.

My parents pulled us out of that situation by hard work.
The rear of the Houses I grew up in

My father worked his way up a corporate ladder through the late 60's right up until he retired in 1990.  He started with Woolworths on the shop floor stacking shelves and gradually got promotion after promotion until he was in charge of south east England.  He made his way through a few supermarkets, like Fine Fare, finally becoming a senior manager for the south east of England for Bejam/ Iceland.

He was always sought out at dinner dances and corporate events by up and coming managers and assistants who would sit and talk to him and listen to his advice.

Sadly, my Father passed away on November 3rd 2002.  My Father was a LEADER!

I remember hearing about a school of parenting that was all about 'children being seen and not heard' and parents telling their kids to do something 'because I say so!'

My parents were not like that.  My friends parents were not like that.

Isn't it amazing how many bosses ARE like that?

Being 'bossy' is not an attribute that I have ever admired.

The term, the Boss, has always conjured up images of a corner office with a secretary sitting outside who you have to either sidetrack, confuse, occupy, kill or marry to get past to the Boss.

I started as a Saturday boy at HMV records. 18 months later I was the youngest store manager at 18 years old.  I continued climbing corporate ladders and one day I was the Sales and Marketing Director in the Cable TV industry for Cable London and I was also the national sales trainer for Telewest.

TIP 1: Get out of your office
When I was given an office on the third floor of a massive building off of Tottenham Court Road in London I knew I had to do something about it.

The LAST thing I wanted to do was fall into the trap of corporate culture and lose sight of what the public needed, and lose the ear of the man and woman in the street, Our customers, and listen to Marketing people instead.  My Father was always out and talking to people, staff, working a room or networking long before it was called networking.  He taught me.

We had a great Marketing team but they had never cold called, sold anything, walked the streets in the snow and rain, knocked on a door and spoken to complete strangers to sell our product.

I was hardly ever in my office. I had a computer, and a phone.

I would walk into one of our offices that were dotted around London and just pitch up there for the day, grab an empty desk and work.

It was a nightmare for my P.A. Alexa, but she was brilliant at knowing what calls to put through and what to divert or take a message for.  She was my right arm and I still keep in touch with her today.

The thing is, if you are not out there, visible, talking to your people, out in the field and leading them you cannot stay in touch with the ever changing realities faced by your business.

I cannot impress upon people the importance of remaining 'In Touch' with the public.

Tip 2: Meetings
Sitting in the boardroom listening to complex and detailed analysis and reports that have been collated by people who get their feedback from the front line is not the same, and cannot ever compare with the experience of being there to see and hear it first hand.

I HATED boardroom meetings. I soon discovered that BOREDroom meetings were what they should be called.  People would get too comfortable in a boardroom.  Those relaxing chairs, the air conditioning...Zzzzzzzzz
Two weeks later I had all the chairs removed from the boardroom and the boardroom table raised by two feet so that you had to stand at it, like standing at a bar.  It was amazing!  The meetings went from one hour minimum to 15 minutes maximum.  Productivity soared and endless banter stopped.

Tip 3: Your people have ideas too.
By listening to people, I got a very good insight into what they thought about the company and what issues they had and in fact, that started me off on one major radical communication shift with the employees.  It was simple and very effective.  Each office had a suggestion box.  I had installed another box.  It was for salespeople to anonymously raise a concern, be it a business process or an issue with the product.  BUT, there was a major difference.  NONE of these concerns would be read unless the person filled out the back of the slip of paper.  They had to come up with a solution too.  One of the best ways to make your people think and grow is to ask them to come up with a solution to the problem they bring you.

Tip 4: Don't be a boss.
I now work mainly from home, or from the hammock in the garden.  I travel around and run presentations and seminars all over Europe.  I don't ask people to do things I wouldn't do myself.  It is rare that I speak to salespeople who have a challenge I haven't overcome or work in an industry that I have not had experience of.

I saw a movie on TV the other day of a battle and the generals were miles behind the front line and sending messages to the troops, sending them into battle.   This is very similar to the way companies are run today.  Bosses sit far removed from the front line and send memos or emails to the troops.

A Leader is a very different animal to a Boss.
A bad Boss is no better than a bad schoolteacher, pouring his opinions into children's heads in a 'my way or no way' style.

Tip 5: Don't hold a meeting if you can GO to the meeting
Whenever I had a meeting with people during my Corporate years I always went to THEIR office rather than invite them to mine.  It wasn't that I was anti-social, far from it.  The reason was simple.  I could never get people to leave my office.  They always wanted to talk about this, about that, all manner of stuff.  I was very busy, and I was sure they should have been too.  I always went to their office and spoke with them.  That way, I could leave at any time I wanted to.  As soon as I had said what I needed to, when a point had been discussed and dealt with, I was off.  Meetings have a tendency to drag on if not controlled.
My mentor, Hal Stamford, told me that he always arrived 5 minutes late for meetings.  If it could start without him, he needn't be there.
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I am not an educator.  I am a teacher.
Educators take something simple and make it difficult.  Teachers take anything and make it simple so that EVERYONE understands.  Teachers put stuff on the bottom shelf.

Great Leaders, like Great Teachers, do the opposite to Bosses.  They draw opinions and ideas out of their students or associates.  In doing so, you make people think for themselves and when they see you take their ideas on board they feel included, part of the team, they grow and they feel their opinions count sometimes.

You see, soon, someone will say, 'OK, you're the boss'.

Just reply, 'Hey, we are a team. I may be in a leadership position, but I want you to tell me what YOU would do if you were in my place?'

It makes them feel that they are part of change, part of the company and part of the future.  It makes them feel included.  It makes them feel that their ideas and opinions count.  It makes them feel valued by you.

And that's what Leadership is all about.
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