I was taught by the woman who cleared my table

Travelling recently reminded me very much about my post on “Where you belong”.

It is an odd thing to be in a business lounge in Dubai which is bigger than Wellington’s entire airport.

It brings home “them and us” and illustrates how many there are of both; though what determines who sits in each camp is not always clear.

My first instinct with inequities like this is to struggle – that I should be a ‘have’ when many others, like the woman, with her ear missing and ‘half’ her jaw removed, clearing tables, have not.

Then without wishing to sound pious or arrogant, nor excesively “Ayn Rand”, I realise the best I can do is exactly that – to do the best I can do, be the best I can be, to honour those who cannot or will not, or won’t be given the opportunity.

If I squander the opportunties I have been given, then it is another matter.

Dan was part of my inspiration to do this blog. He is a great example of my point with this post. He cares deeply for others and honours everyone by putting himself out to the world and to his communities (blog, church and local); by leading, by being courageous.

Even great researchers can’t lead by keeping their work to themselves. They can only lead when they open themselves to criticism, to challenge, to the possibility of being wrong and having more to learn.

Ultimately any true form of leadership is the same. If you don’t reach out with authenticity and allow others to reach in are you truly leading?

The despots of the world past and present, are unfortunate examples of only reaching out to manipulate others and fuel their own egos, there was no reaching in.

Great leaders reach out and simultaneously reach in, and allow others to do the same, and their work is transformed when they do.

The thought of leaders emerging at any stage from anywhere, and in any number of ways, excites me. Reaching both out and in and sharing this with the world is not an exclusive domain. Anyone can achieve this.

There are some extraordinarily positive examples of ‘ordinary’ people providing outstanding leadership.

As has been commented upon by my readers – Swami/ Guru’s search within themselves for many many years before ’emerging’ as leaders.

Leadership can be quiet, subtle, loud, colourful, intense, effortless, sudden, short, prolonged, recognised, ignored, delivered by the young or old, etc.

I realise now how much leadership is about being open, putting you hand up, letting others see a little of what is inside you. It is not being right, being brilliant, being special or better than.

It is nothing more than being gifted and gifting.

And what really excites me is this personal insight not only improves my leadership but allows me to see far more leaders than ever before.

If this posts means there is one more leader ‘caught’ in the act by you, my readers (not excluding seeing yourself as a leader), it has been a success.

Today, look for the beauty in what many ordinary people do and support this as leadership.

It can be as simple as saying (with a smile):

“Thank you for clearing my table.”


And your prize is...
Many readers will be familiar with the theories of Maslow and Herzberg, the insights of Carnegie and the work of the likes of Goleman, Senge, and plenty of others.

I love all of it, even the stuff I don’t agree with is a learning experience.

I was reading a blog post the other day about Herzbergs Two Factor Theory which got me thinking of the other side of this coin.

There is plenty of literature on how to motivate, how to communicate, how to ‘read’ etc. but maybe the simplest thing of all is being overlooked?

    How often do we ask?

Or alternatively

    How often do we tell?

We know people can have a personal focus on anything:

    • Their cat/s
    • Their dog/s
    • Their exotic plant collection
    • Their child/ren
    • Their rally car/s
    • Their quality of work
    • Their quantity of work

But seldom do people readily express, nor does a manger ask, what ‘reward’ is, or means, for them.

I have a good friend who always said to me – “If you ask people it is amazing what they will tell you” (and it doesn’t matter what you ask). This is very true.

Certainly factors such as trust and authenticity enter into the equation and there is a fine line between prying and taking an interest, but I know as a motivational tool ‘asking’ works.

So there are two messages in this simple post about identifying what is ‘rewarding’ :

For others:

    Ask. Be authentic. Listen

For yourself:

    Tell. Be sincere. Communicate.

It’s probably the shortest route to reward for them and for you.

Thinking back over my own career – I did the first one well, while the second one would have saved a lot of grief for me and my employer.

Try it. You just might like it, and so might your employees.

Noticing the good things

One of my good things!
I thought this post would be easy. It hasn’t been.

Educational – yes. Easy – no.

The idea was a fun list of the really good things I have seen managers do over the years, excluding functional stuff like business plans, strategy development and budgets.

The problem was – I had to think long and hard.

The conclusion is a little sad.


    • I don’t recognise the good things or
    • There are not enough good things happening

I suspect the answer is a bit of both

However here are some of the good things which come to mind (in all cases without sufficient examples!):

    • Celebrating the success of others
    • Promoting a bright and promising future for everyone
    • Building and supporting talent
    • Recognising people issues and dealing with them immediately
    • Fighting for the right training for the right staff
    • Not defending the indefensible
    • Taking appropriate ownership of problems
    • Demonstrating a sense of humour
    • Demonstrating humility
    • Admitting wrongdoing
    • Allowing others to be wrong
    • Supporting ‘failures’
    • Advancing others
    • Employing people better than them
    • Promoting change not building fortresses
    • Talking with and being accessible to all employees
    • Being human
    • Growing leaders
    • Putting the big stick away
    • Being loyal to their employees
    • Delegating well
    • Putting themselves in the line of fire
    • Opening up new opportunities
    • Being visionary
    • Being patient
    • Being impatient

What great moments can you think of, or what attributes would you add to the list?

What good things or great things would your ideal leader do? (On that point it is amazing how few ‘leaders’ give stuff away free via blogs like this – though here is one I was directed to a few days ago Ask Brian Martin)

Laughable or not?

Time means nothing
I think a sense of humour is a great quality for a leader to possess.

Moreso if they can share this humour throughout the organisation in an appropriate way then humour becomes a culture setting strength

However there are also ways to get this horribly wrong – and it is no laughing matter.

I think the landscape around this area has changed significantly in the last 20 years.

Bawdy and poor taste jokes thankfully have diminished significantly in most organisations.

At the same time I wonder – has the ability for the organisation to have a happy and healthy sense of humour, to be able to laugh at and with itself, gone as well?

Perhaps the nexus of the internet’s killing of the personally delivered ‘joke’ and the shift in standards of behaviour to much more appropriate norms has taken with it the art of great humour?

Further I wonder if there will be a backlash, and of what nature and to what extent?

I often think my posts are too serious- I have this little guy running round in the back of my head saying – “Lighten up, lighten up!”. It illustrates well the challenge of leading with serious intent while demonstrating a sense of humour.

Why is humour important?:

    It lifts our spirits
    Executed well there is more than an ounce of truth an insight in many good jokes
    Humour can be used to deliver important messages very softly
    Executed well it appropriately reduces stress and negative emotion around errors/mistakes/omissions.
    Surely a client seeing a happy smiling workforce is better than them seeing a humourless and dour one?

Here are some do’s and don’ts

    • Don’t mock
    • Beware – wit is either the lowest or highest form of humour, it depends on how and when it is used.
    • Sarcasm is just not funny in any way
    • Laugh with others but only if appropriate
    • Laugh at yourself (or never at all)
    • Laugh with people not at them
    • Set the standard for good and positive humour by what you say and what you listen too
    • Sexist, racist, bawdy jokes are seldom if ever funny, steer well clear.

How much humour in your work? In your workplace? At home?

My favourite punch line:

“To a pig, time means nothing.”

When we meet I’ll happily tell you what precedes it.

Jargon and Inclusion

Anthropomorphic provable truth.

Anybody know what this means?

Good, I’m very pleased there is only a small group of you out there.

I came across this term on an open forum based on healthy lifestyles. It was thrown in like: “nice weather today and the anthropomorphic provable truth is that unless it changes it will stay that way.”

I’ll give you the meaning later.

It raised in me an ire which is aroused whenever jargon is used to exclude others or flex subject specific knowledge/muscle.

In effect it is the epitome of poor communication (unless talking to those who you know absolutely understand the meaning of terms like these – and then I would ask – are you sure they do?).

I was recently in a social group of 5 men, 3 of them were trying to subtly one-up each other. Within 10 minutes I heard the use of at least 25 industry specific terms of no relevance to the other 2 of us, though absolutely meant for our ears as well. [pullquote]I never had a chance to feel excluded, I was ‘embraced’ by his humility and care.[/pullquote]

I can’t remember any of the actual discussion.

Inclusion is about meeting, caring, considering, sharing and giving up your own self importance.

The best example of inclusion I ever had was when I was late arriving to a large meeting of people and Sir Paul Reeves, who didn’t know me from a bar of soap, excused himself from the group he was holding court to and stepped out to introduce himself to me!

I was the minnow, he the master.

Yet he tipped the usual model on its head.

I felt included because of his selflessness. I never had a chance to feel excluded, I was ‘embraced’ by his humility and care.

Because of that experience I now practice two things in meeting people.

    1. If I am the ‘senior’, or a ‘senior’, in a room it is my responsibility to lead introductions and too embrace those present, particularly the new.
    2. If I am in a discussion with people I hardly know, all jargon is parked, and the conversation is kept pure and simple.

As a result I feel more secure in myself and I know ‘they’ do as well.

…And that is the Anthropomorphic provable truth.

Which is: “A Truth that we as humans have come to and can prove by our own means; i.e. scientific conclusions”

Actually I’m not sure now that it is an APT.

I (don't) hear you.

Ever caught yourself in the company of someone who is talking to you and suddenly realised you haven’t heard, much less understood anything they have said to you?

I developed this unwanted art as a teenager in the company of my grandparents who I visited regularly. All I can say now is I did only 5% of the job I could, I tuned out to 90% of the conversation.

When you have a communication disconnect you are either wasting their time or they are wasting yours. You have two basic choices:

  • Wake up and engage with sincerity or
  • Exit.

In both cases you should also apologise for your disinterest.

I can hear squeals of horror (from those of you still listening) at the last suggestion – apologising, eek.! As a more constructive and more easily applied solution let’s look at some of the things you can do to avoid getting in this situation in the first place:

Keep good company. Avoid people or situations that bore you, people who just say the same thing over and over, negative people, and people guilty of too many “I” statements.

Give them time.
Ensure you have time for the conversations you have. If someone wants to talk to you about something ‘important’ make the time you spend important as well – even if it means setting a later date or time to hold the discussion.

Don’t anticipate a reply. We all know this trap – your mind whirrs with the answer when you haven’t even heard out the problem or the proposal. Well stop it now. No now. Stop it!! This is so unproductive, unless the conversation really is going over old ground. Are you in this conversation or not?

Create empty space.
Strong conversation actually has gaps – spaces where each party is considering what has just been delivered. If the dialogue sounds more like a machine gun then someone ain’t listening properly, it’s an argument not a discussion.

As a final word for those delivering a message – always make sure you have the other person’s attention:

  • Is this a good time to talk?
  • Can you spare me 5 minutes of your time for me to outline my proposal?
  • Can we make a time to discuss this new project?

Would be typical entree’s for focussed and constructive discussion.

Thanks for listening.