When It’s Hard To Be Humble

Earlier in the week I met with John Peters @Johnpeters1531. John is famous for being a prisoner in the Gulf War. Remember him? He was the guy whose battered and bruised face appeared in photos across the quality and popular press. It turns out he was kept in captivity for seven weeks, and became a symbol of a war that divided opinion across the UK.

Yet he doesn’t rush to tell the story (despite having met royalty, chatted to Princess Diana, followed Nelson Mandela on stage, and being a major celebrity). Instead he’s a humble human being, who talks about “being bombed etc” as if that was just part of his job. He’s gone way past the bravado I might have expected from a military hero. And I loved him for it. It demonstrated a warm and likeable style that’s important for anyone speaking at The Henley Partnership @Henley_HP.

And this told me something new about value. His humility impressed me, intrigued me and interested me. It made me look for his real value; what he offers in terms of life and work experience to the business professionals we bring into our events. It made me believe that he’ll make sense, and be valuable, to the people listening. In the Gulf it was about survival, which taught John lots about leadership. And he’s turned his experiences into a relaxed yet robust framework to help leaders thrive in an environment of uncertainty. That’s not just valuable. It’s critical to the success of anyone in a leadership role.

So back to that humility. When it comes to value, showing humility “shines and amplifies” but arrogance “dulls and deadens”. I’ve seen arrogance too much lately – from junior players in cricket to senior figures in business. It makes me focus too much on the person’s style, and not enough on their substance. And if I don’t like the style, maybe I’ll ignore the substance.

So here’s my advice. Be brilliant. Be confident. Be assured. But show that humility. Even when you’re so talented that it’s hard to be humble. Your value will be obvious to everyone, and that will really make you #standout.

P.S. Meritology’s The MERIT Method℠ includes a clear focus on how value is affected by the emotional reaction of the person receiving. This blog is just one example. Please get in touch if you’d like to know more.


When Relaxation Kills Rapport

Yikes! Apologies for the slightly aggressive sounding blog today, but it helps me make the point. I’m just off the phone to a big motor dealer. I was enquiring about a vehicle they’ve just reduced in price.

Two things. Firstly, I got the usual “we’re getting loads of interest in this car, so I’d better see if it still available” line (we all want something more, if it’s high in demand or scarce, right?). I’m OK with that, mainly because it could actually be true. It’s a great car, at a good price. Secondly, I was asked if I’d been to the garage before, and spoken to any of their salespeople (because I guess each salesperson “owns” their own clients, or has to share commission if the customer has dealt with someone else previously).

Now, I seem to have a decent ability to make people feel relaxed when we’re chatting over the phone. And here’s what happened next. I said I’d only been before to wander around, and hadn’t spoken in detail to anyone. So he decided to laugh, and say that I’m “fair game then”. Ouch. I have visions of a small guy with a big gun. Slightly too aggressive. Unlikely to care about me as his customer.

Unfortunately, he killed our rapport stone dead. Like the animal his mind is hunting. And I don’t like being hunted. I might just turn and bare my teeth. Or at least be more stubborn about the deal we make.

OK, so we were relaxed, he was excited by a possible sale, and it’s just small talk. My point is simple. When involved in sales and service, be careful how much you relax. When relaxed, and without inhibitions, it’s amazing the daft things people say. And you don’t want to #standout for the wrong reasons.


But I Still Hate Algebra

Ok, so I like maths. But I hate algebra. When I was eleven it gave me a mental block, and I needed some additional coaching. It’s a positive story, because I went on to win the school maths prize at thirteen. Yet even now algebra leaves me cold – but strangely I have an odd fascination with equations…

When I was creating Meritology, that fascination had me looking for an equation to calculate value. By “value,”, I mean the specific value people and companies add to their customers, colleagues and communities. Bigger brains than mine have created some brilliant ways to define value. For example, Henley Business School’s own Andrew Kakabadse (Twitter: @Kakabadse) has developed an evidence-based way of defining whether a senior executive is a “value-delivery” leader. His worldwide research, of almost 15,000 boards and top teams, produces a defined success formula. This shows that a senior executive’s value is driven by:

  1. how much employees are engaged, and
  2. to what extent the organisation is aligned

with the strategy that executive creates for the business. I’ll leave Andrew to explain the formula in more detail, and my take is simple – it means that senior directors can create the best business strategy around, but it will fail if there is poor engagement and alignment. By implication, even a reasonable strategy will produce great results, if there is near-perfect engagement and alignment. To prove the point, think of successes like Apple and Amazon, and failures like Phones4U (where suppliers and and stakeholders were very apparently not aligned with strategy).

But is there a more universal equation that can be used to calculate value? Can we develop something simple and straightforward that we can apply to all situations? Research and experience tells me there is definitely a method. And so we have developed a new methodology to define, describe and discuss personal and organisational value. It recognises that calculating value is a science and an art.  It’s part equation, and part perception. There are hard factors and soft factors.  We call it The MERIT Method, and the five factors are:

  • Memory (how people remember you, and what drives their perceptions)
  • Emotion (why they connect to you, and their reaction to what you say and do)
  • Results (what you deliver, and the methods you use)
  • Innovation (where you have increased your value, or solved individual and specific problems)
  • Time (when value is recognised, and how that changes – including the “right time, right place” principle)

It’s a working framework, rather than a static model. And we know that every situation is different, making each factor more, or less, important. The fun comes from thinking about each factor, and what you should be doing to increase your today and tomorrow value – making you and your company #standout.

So that fascination with equations helped me create this new method. But I still hate algebra. Someone I know confesses that she has “a little place in my heart just for simultaneous equations”. Thank goodness for that.  When my son is struggling with his algebra homework, I know who he’s asking for help!