Sometimes one just has to blog, particularly when something just phases or amazes you enough to put fingers to keys. I’ve just telephoned one of my former clients, to be told by reception that “he doesn’t take calls”. Now, I’ll call his mobile and reach him there, so no drama. So here’s the rub.
Reception didn’t even know who I was. They didn’t even bother to ask, and just offered to give me my client’s email address. I could have been anyone, from the hard-nosed pushy salesperson to the boss of one of the divisions who just happened not to have this guy’s internal or direct number. OK, so most people we’d like to speak to already have our contact details, but not always. You could be turning away someone important, or making it difficult for them to get hold of you.
So why my horror, disgust and shock? It’s because this person was the HR Director, running a (supposedly) people-centric function, that’s also gaining a worrying reputation for being difficult to engage and offering limited #value. Now HR Directors can’t take many and all of the calls. But if they (and, by association, their function) want to be seen as approachable, they should at least find out what someone wants before they shut them down or close them off. Wait before they build a protective wall, or dig a moat around them. And don’t give reception the message that they don’t take any calls. It makes them seem aloof and arrogant. Maybe they are, but they sure as hell don’t want that reputation to stick. Rant finished. I’m over it now!
Good afternoon. Great afternoon actually. I’m about to go for a walk in the Henley hills, and make the most of the glorious weather – I swear we have a micro-climate here. It always seems to be sunny by the river.
But like a dam, something interrupted my flow. I’ve just received a LinkedIn invitation. No surprise there, as I have fast-approaching a thousand connections. But this invitation is from someone I haven’t yet met. Now, hang on a minute! We’re scheduled to meet but, until we do, how would I know you’re going to be valuable (and me to you)? Shouldn’t we establish that first, before we become bosom business buddies?
This might be my shortest-ever blog, because I just have one piece of crisp and clear advice. Don’t assume you’re going to be of #value to someone. Focus on proving you add #value to them. And only then should you try to move your business relationship to the next level. Sometimes the “too fast, too soon” thing turns into a great relationship. But more often it fizzles out before it really gets going, or ends in a messy divorce.
Now there’s a cheery thought for a sunny day. Maybe I do need that walk…
Like everyone else, I feel like sometimes I do a brilliant job, mostly I’m pretty good, and occasionally I’m plain lousy. But it never ceases to amaze me how, when I’m in control/in the zone/in the moment, how easily I can improve my own performance. And how I can get the best out of other people. Here’s an example.
I run the member services and learning event division of Henley Business School. We are always looking for new speakers to lead our events. And this week I met a really interesting one but, if I’d judged him on the first few minutes of our conversation, we wouldn’t be working together. First impressions were OK, but I was struggling to see how he would fit with what I do. It took quite a while before we made a connection and found an event angle he’s gone away to turn into a programme. And it’s going to be #distinctive and different, and I’m excited already!
Here were my learnings from this example. They are all about “finding the fabulous”.
- Accept that it’s your job to get the best from people. You’ve failed if you don’t, and life is so much more rewarding when you do.
- Ignore your first impressions, at least sometimes. Test whether you are right, by giving people the time to show their #value.
- Suspend disbelief (meaning putting aside your doubt or skepticism) for long enough to hear out someone’s story. Because eventually you’ll find a connection. And connected people create great ideas.
Maybe I’m smugly saying I did a great job with this guy. Or maybe he worked on me, until we found that great idea. I don’t know. And I don’t care. Either way we’re on to something. And it’s so motivating when you end up finding the fabulous. You wake up smiling at 05.00, and have to blog about it. And, for me, that’s a wonderful start to the day.
Here’s my #thoughtfortheday. Waking very early (insomnia, or an active brain, I’m never quite sure) I dimmed the ipad light and started looking for new books about #value and #success. You won’t be surprised to hear that there are definitely hundreds, and probably thousands. Even when I search for only those rated 4.5 stars and above (on Kindle), there are loads. Given that you’re not in a position to read as many business books as me ((big assumption, but it’s kind-of my job), let me tell you what I found.
Whilst the majority of authors are advocating some lifestyle changes, clever ways to generate ideas, and learning techniques for standing out, much of their work seems pretty complicated. Probably more importantly, each of the “best-rated” books seems to have at least one “golden nugget”; an idea that made me concentrate and really take notice. But there isn’t one place that curates all this brilliant knowledge, and maybe that’s a book for me to write.
But here’s what really stuck in my mind. Many of the books are of the “buy at the airport”, self-help variety. They focus on making you the best in the world. Maybe that’s what sells books, but I’m not much interested. Meritology’s approach is more earthy and gritty – we’re interested in how people #standout in their context, alongside their peers and against their competitors. And it’s all relative. Everything in life is relative, because we all look at things from different perspectives. Perspectives depend on background, experience, intentions and objectives.
In the world of being #standout, your #value and #success is measured against what’s around you. For example, if you’re a star in a team of average players then you’ll #standout. If you’re brilliant in an industry sector that doesn’t attract the best talent, your clients will love you (some personal experience coming out there). And if you’re the best on a given day, and at a significant time, then you’ll get the gig or the deal.
So don’t obsess about being the best. Focus on being the best you can be. If life is an athletics race, remember you only have to be a vest-breadth ahead of the other runners. It’s not always about breaking a world record.
OK, so a very simple point for today. I was just reflecting on a strange situation, where a colleague did something really daft. Stupid actually. After I’d recovered the situation, and apologised to the aggrieved party (she was wonderfully understanding), I pondered what to do next.
I decided to keep the matter private and within my team. To my mind, problems are best dealt with quietly. Discipline is best applied in-house. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. It’s the way Alex Ferguson handled player-issues when manager of Manchester United. And there’s no doubt it worked wonderfully for him.
But I’ve seen lots of examples where people copy their boss into emails, tell the story to their peers, or tittle-tattle at the coffee machine. It’s motivated by naming, blaming and shaming the culprit. Or just having a laugh at somebody else’s expense. And it’s juvenile. The grown-up, adult way to respond is simply and without fuss. Tidy up the mess and move on. Remember that the way you handle tough situations defines whether you #standout for the right or wrong reasons. Be a low-grade gossip if you like. Or be a high-grade leader instead. You decide.
I have a strange routine on my daily commute to work. It’s a proper yin and yang – listening to The Today Programme @BBCr4today in the morning, and choosing from my pretty big collection of pop music CDs for the winding and country drive home in the evening (yes, I still listen to CDs. It’s not because I’m low-tech. They sound better than MP3s!)
So I spend some time singing pop songs at the top of my voice, and then the rest reflecting on really powerful journalism and thoughtful business stories. And something on Radio 4 made me think, and then apply the principles to my day job. It’s about the rise of “soft power”.
Joseph S. Nye (diplomat, political scientist and Professor at Harvard) coined the phrase ‘soft power’ in 1990. Broadly it means promoting positive perceptions of a country’s interests and identity overseas. It’s used to describe the way a country like China is changing the way it influences the world in general. For example, helping the world see a nation’s point of view makes the media king. China is allowing more radio and TV channels (e.g. China Radio International and including those transmitting in foreign-languages) to broadcast regionally and nationally.
If some of the most dominant nations in the world are seeing that a different approach is needed, then we all need to take note. This is about a recognition that:
- the past allowed CONTROL over people and companies, but
- the future requires the INFLUENCE of society and business.
And that takes me nicely to the point about leadership and leaders. The #value of a leader used to be derived from their ability to control. In today’s much more complex world, leaders can’t even hope to control everything. So the future #value of a leader will come from something very different – their ability to influence the behaviour of others.
If anyone else is feeling a bit skeptical, thinking that this kind of influence is just an “iron fist in a velvet glove” (meaning it is still control, but disguised as influence) then you’d have a point. But I do think it’s more subtle than that. I’m not going to do justice, in one blog, to the theme of influencing others. But what I do know is that influence requires conscious or unconscious understanding of neuroscience, communication, gravitas, empathy, engagement, coaching and change – and the list goes on.
So if you want to be that #standout leader, take any opportunity you can to practice and perfect your skills in this area. Or just make everything you do become focused on influencing the behaviours of others. The rise of soft power is inevitable, and you’d better start developing yours 🙂