Quick update

Leadership I am now in Dubai for a week of operational planning with Britam.  My job is to look at our crisis management plan and our current roles and responsibilities and ensure that they are fit for purpose.

I enjoy putting together these types of workshop because it allows us to think outside of the box.

I had a look at all of the practical tools one can use to refresh myself.

  • Generate new ideas
  • random input
  • Brainstroming
  • Reverse Brainstroming
  • Starbursting
  • Reframe Matrix
  • DO IT
  • TRIZ
lots of different options each of which bring a slightly different perspective and force us not to take the easy options of doing the same things over and over again.

I love various models but I like the simplicity of using the following quotes to assist me in developing a workshop model:

  • To make a better decision I first stop proceeding with a poor decision
  • Avoid indecision and half decisions based on half-truths
  • I use both parts of my brain, I ask practical questions and I consult my emotions. Then after I listen to others and myself I make a better decision and act on it.
  • What do I actually need, needs are necessities wants are wishes
  • Am I meeting the real need, informing myself of options and thinking it through
  • My poor decision were based on illusions I believed at the time, my better decision were based on the reality I saw in time.
The creative thinking begins tmw morning.

In 1955 IBM’s legendary CEO, Tom Watson Jr., gave Louis R. Mobley, a blank check and carte blanche to create The IBM Executive School. Fresh from successfully implementing IBM’s first supervisor and middle management training programs, Mobley confidently set about churning out executives as well.

The first thing he did, in conjunction with GE and DuPont, was hire the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the same company that still does the SATs, to identify the skills that make great leaders great. Once these intellectual skills were identified, Mobley and his colleagues at GE and DuPont assumed that spitting out executives would simply mean “training to the test.”

ETS dutifully rounded up a bunch of proven leaders and tested them every which way from Sunday looking for their common skills. The results were astounding and more than a little disturbing. As Mobley put it, “No matter what bell shaped curve we drew, successful leaders fell on the extreme edges. The only thing they seemed to have in common was having nothing in common. ETS was so frustrated that they offered us our money back.”

But failure wasn’t an option for Mobley, and after many a dark night of the soul he finally hit upon the answer. Unlike supervisors and middle managers, what successful executives shared were not skills and knowledge but values and attitudes. And over time Mobley identified the values and attitudes that great leaders share.

1) Great Leaders Thrive on Ambiguity. While most of us like black and white decisions, successful leaders are comfortable with what Mobley called, “shades of gray.” Great leaders are able to hold apparent contradictions in tension. They use the tension these paradoxes produce to come up with innovative ideas.

2)   Great Leaders Love Blank Sheets of Paper. Supervisors and middle managers use a framework of policies and procedures to guide them to the proper decision. They want a plan that reduces their job to filling in the blanks or what Mobley called “following the bouncing ball.” By contrast, leaders create the blanks that managers fill in. Like some business Einstein intent on reinventing the universe, every great leader relishes the opportunity to “think things through” from scratch.

3)   Great Leaders are Secure People. Successful executives thrive on differences of opinion. They surround themselves with the best people they can find: people strong enough to hold a contrary opinion and argue vociferously for it. Great leaders crave challenges, and this means hiring the most challenging people they can find with no regard for whether today’s challenger might be tomorrow’s rival.

4)   Great Leaders Want Options. Long before it became fashionable,Mobley was a huge proponent of diversity. However his definition meant a diversity of opinion rather than the kind we usually associate with political correctness. Mobley’s great leader constantly demands diverse options from his team, and uses these options to produce creative decisions.

5)   Great Leaders are Tough Enough to Face Facts. At heart Mobley was a spiritual man who valued the Truth for the Truth’s sake. Successful executives face facts, and this means being open to the truth even when it is not what we want to hear. One of the most successful executives I know offers cash rewards to anyone in his company who can prove him wrong. Great leaders have a nose for B.S and abhor it.

6)   Great Leaders Stick Their Necks Out. It is a natural human trait to fear being evaluated. We crave wiggle room so we can deflect blame and get off the hook when things go wrong. In business what is often passed off as a collaborative effort is actually just an attempt to avoid individual accountability. Great leaders want to be measured and evaluated. They continually look for ways to measure things that may seem immeasurable, and they cheerfully accept the blame when they are wrong or fail to deliver. The old adage that success has a 1000 fathers while failure is an orphan does not apply to great leadership.

7)   Great Leaders Believe in Themselves. While great leaders crave advice, options, and strong colleagues, they all share a profound belief in themselves and their judgment. Mobley described great leaders as “people stubbornly following their star who don’t know how to quit.” Holding this stubbornness in tension with a willingness to be wrong is perhaps the greatest trick that every great leader must perform.

8)   Great Leaders are Deep Thinkers. Managers get things done. Executives must decide on the things worth doing in the first place. Though very difficult to quantify, great leaders are deep thinkers. They constantly dive below surface “facts” searching for new ways to knit those facts together. Great leaders are generalists not specialists driven by an omnivorous curiosity. They know that the answers they are seeking will probably emerge from outside business and from disciplines that may seem utterly unrelated.

9)   Great Leaders are Ruthlessly Honest with Themselves. Self-knowledge is perhaps the most critical trait that all great leaders share. Leaders question assumptions and disrupt complacency by relentlessly asking the question: “What is the business of the business?” This exercise develops and refines the organization’s mission and purpose, and it is little more than the age old question “Who am I?” applied collectively. If you are not clear about the purpose of your own life how can you provide a sense of organizational purpose for others?

10) Great Leaders are Passionate. They may be loudly charismatic or quietly intense, but all great leaders care deeply about what they are doing and why they are doing it. Perhaps most importantly they care about people. Every business is a people business, and passionately caring about people whether they are employees, customers, vendors or stockholders is an essential leadership value.

My own leadership book is now moving forward at pace.  I am working with an excellent team to pull this together in order to make what is hopefully going to be an engaging journey on understanding leadership from my perspective.  I am constantly learning new things as I explore the academic and the realities of applying leadership skills across many different areas of life.  My work with international sports teams is also helping me to consolidate my findings.

I recently met a sporting icon who was part of one of the most successful teams in the World. It was wonderful to see someone who had a no compromise attitude even today and echo my own beliefs on what it takes to be an elite team/organization, and one that remains as such for decades.   He discussed the need to be surrounded by the most talented people and for each person to take individual responsibility and accountability for their actions.  To give feedback honestly even when it is uncomfortable to hear it.  He discussed his learning curve and how he had to mange his own emotions and learn to become a leader.  How he had to develop new skills as he grew from being a player to captaining the side to eventually leaving his chosen profession and then becoming a business leader.

The subject of leadership also came up in discussions with my children. My daughter and I were recently discussing her leaving speech at the School prize giving in June of this year.  We brainstormed the type of things/events she wanted to say/remind the pupils/teachers of before she leaves to study law.

She has been a pupil at the school since year 11.  We discussed the many things that she had learnt, the people she had grown up with and the skills that would take her into the next stage of her life.  We then touched on the things she would put in a time capsule to remind her of her time there or indeed what would the people in her year put in, things that would be common to all of them.  She pondered this for a while then asked me what would I put into my time capsule if I could only place 5 things in it.  It provoked a lot of thought about the key elements of my life, especially if there is a limit of 5.

The very first item in the box would be my very first savings account.  The reason for that would be that it symbolizes the development of a work ethic and patience.  At 12 yrs of age if I wanted to buy clothes or sports equipment I had to buy them myself, waiting until I had enough money.  I worked alongside my father in a tough environment and learnt the need to be patient if I wanted to achieve something.  I learnt how to work alongside people from all walks of life and also drag myself out of bed when I did not really want to get up.

The next item would be the Red Beret and a badge of the SAS (I am counting these as one item), I received both after passing the Selection phases necessary to obtain them – they encompass so many learning’s from doing the basics well to self discipline/leadership, to pushing myself to the edge mentally/physically and finding mental toughness strategies to make me stronger.  I learnt about four key areas (learning how to be technically proficient, tactically proficient, aware of my inner thoughts (mental toughness) and physically resilient).  I also learnt how important it is to be surrounded by more talented people than yourself. It was also a place to learn how to overcome doubts and fears. 

The next item would be my hour-glass, a symbol to assist me to manage my time and not procrastinate.  That time is precious, that you can’t buy it, give it away or save it.  650,000 hours per life-time. Do not waste it.

I would also put in the “Dragon of Excellence”, an award that I was given which symbolizes that  “excellence is not a single act” – this would be to remind me to never rest on my laurels and that there is a need to constantly evolve and learn new things. It would also remind me that I did not win this award without the support of a team around me.  That the award was actually for team work not just my individual performance.

Lastly I would place a photo of all my family/friends close and extended – because in the end they will be one of the most important elements of my life.

 Yes I did want to place more items in but I was only allowed 5, what would your five be?

 Old age

I read an article last week on discarding football players of a certain age in the premiership.  A typical example of this is Arsenal who have an age limit which means that they discard players of a certain age more readily than other teams.

The article by Gary Neville highlighted the progression of a typical player who in their early years are in an out of the team, from 21-30 you are one of a core group of players that is selected week in, week out, and then after 32 they have to be more careful with their body as  injuries and age takes it toll.  However if you are carefully managed the older players still have a significant part to play in any team. They can give guidance, discipline, tactical awareness etc.

The most important element is for the player and team to recognize this and act accordingly.  It is fascinating that most of the people I have worked with do not reach there best until they are at least 35 yrs of age and to pass UKSF selection the average age is 29.  Do not put yourself in an old age category too soon.

The week ahead sees me work at one of my favorite clubs in the World. Leander it is an inspirational location and it means my training session that day will be hard.  Later in the week I go to the Middle East for a week.

Have a lovely week.


2 thoughts on “Quick update

  1. Hi Floyd, thanks for the blog. I particularly liked the list from Mobley. Leading during an incident is a fascinating area which I appreciate only a few people including yourself can be considered highly proficient in. My only insight is when I supported delivery of a training programme to Gold and Silver Commanders in a non-military UK-based organisation. My contribution was in relation to leadership qualities of effective incident commanders and I drew on a number of eminent researchers and writers who had researched incident leadership in military, nuclear, oil & gas, airline, medical, emergency services scenarios. I suspect this is familiar work to you but worth a mention is a particularly impressive piece of work resulting in a framework of incident commander leadership skills from Rhona Flin, Paul O’Connor and Margaret Crichton’s in their book ‘Safety at the sharp end: A guide to non-technical skills’ written in 2008 and probably a classic by now, as is Rhona Flin and Kevin Arbuthnot’s book from 2002 ‘Incident Command: Tales from the hot seat’. My own review of literature at the time on Incident Commanders (ICs) suggests effective ICs:
    o Understand that decisions made in the first minutes, and hours, are crucial to the successful mitigation and the overall conclusion of the incident
    o Creatively imagine and anticipate future developments; mentally simulate how situations could deteriorate based on changing environment, inadequate handling by individuals and teams, failures/flaws in equipment, Command & Control systems etc. and then generate contingencies
    o Consider worst case scenarios, but also strive towards best case scenarios
    o Put in place strategies for dealing with worst case outcomes by preparing for a worst case scenario early e.g. taking precautions and calling for additional resources
    o Identify and make calls on trade-offs between multiple conflicting goals before they start to negatively impact on the response
    o Monitor to detect if any anticipated developments/scenarios start to act out and instigate alternative plans
    o Are aware when ‘the point of no return’ is reached and what decisions need to be taken at that point
    o When time permits and outcomes are crucial, will deliberate before acting (importantly, this behaviour is one of critically reflecting on one’s intuition and not calculative problem-solving)
    o Under time pressure, does not generate and compare alternative options (as there is no time to optimise) – choosing instead to go with the first solution they know will cope with the (urgent) situation
    o Under time pressure, prioritises attention on areas likely to cause most stress (in order to gather more high value information)
    o Understand and counter-balance their own personal strengths and weakness (knowing that under stress, their behaviour is more determined by core personality than role identity)
    o Understand their own limitations, technical expertise or situational experience, and involves appropriate others
    o Stay focused on the task and do not get side-tracked by senior managers, media etc. e.g. as a result of feeling insecure
    o Control their own emotional reactions in order to maintain authority
    o Question unclear or inappropriate orders from senior officers
    o Gives immediate feedback/information to team members pertaining to their task performance
    o Maintains own stress levels during an incident to avoid symptoms such as reduced mental working capacity, narrowing of perceptual scan i.e. failing to notice unusual/important detail, having ‘mental blocks’, feelings of not being able to cope, fixating on inappropriate solutions, focusing on meaningless tasks, or tiredness
    o Creates a positive ‘we’ll make it!’ frame of mind within their team prior to tasking
    o Assign meaningful secondary tasks to team members when required to cushion their anxiety

    Hope of interest and if you haven’t come across the Flin et al framework then please drop me an email.

    Best wishes for now,

    Kevin Edwards

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