Opening up to different views

February 21st, 2018 by Douglas McEncroe · Organizational Culture

Facebook ManipulationI must admit to being disillusioned with the press today. The difficulty to be financially viable has made the newspapers abandon the rigor they once honoured. So often, what you read is not based on fact, nor reflects a writer who values truth. It seems that few journalists invest the time to check the veracity of their sources. Social media is, of course, even worse.

The manipulation of information

And so my search to be informed and to understand, as best I can, the reality in which we live, has led me to pursue other sources. The study of history is always useful as good historians still practise their craft with dedication and rigor basing their interpretation on original documents and being open to participate in debate with other historians who often have a different interpretation of what happened.

Another source is interviews with a very diverse set of people who share their real life experiences. I confess to being a fan of Richard Fidler’s “Conversations” which gives you access to people who you would probably never get to meet. At the end of last year, he talked to futurist Mark Pesce who is one of the pioneers of virtual reality on the web. The conversation centred on how social media, particularly Facebook, is using algorithms to manipulate the information people read in their news feed and the advertisements they are targeted with. The net result is a grouping of people who share common views thus amplifying their biases. These algorithms assure that all the news and all the opinion pieces that they read come from people who think like them. This is great for business because people love reading things that make them feel they are right. However, far from a debate between two learned historians who explore different interpretations of real events based on historical facts and original documents, people on Internet are grouped together with like minded individuals and fed news that often has little connection to the facts.

I find this an extremely worrying trend, for the hope of Internet was to have people well informed so that they could form their own opinions independently of the manipulation of the media. In contrast, what is happening is the creation of tribes who are ever less open to exploring other points of view or even investigating what actually happened in any given situation. And the worse thing is that they are not even aware of it.

Tribalism in organisations

Also in organisations, like minded people get together and amplify their biases. It can be people at the same hierarchical level, it can be departments or business units or it can be people from different companies that came together in a merger. The point is that if people only exchange views with people from their own group, then they don’t get together and listen to other people with different perspectives, different information and different interpretations. It is precisely this interaction between people with diverse experiences that a more robust thinking can prosper.  The pursuit of truth and the search for new ways forward are fundamental for an organisation’s well being.

JFK said it rather eloquently some fifty-six years ago at the Commencement Address at Yale University:

“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought”.

 

Tips for leaders to battle group-think

Leaders need to encourage the discomfort of thought, both at an individual, group and even corporate level.

Far from using algorithms like Facebook that indulge peoples’ desire to communicate with people who think like them, leaders need to bring people with diverse perspectives together and facilitate a process in which different groups can share information and interpretations in pursuit of a more complete picture that reflects the complexity of reality.

When forming an opinion, ask yourself:

  • Where did my information come from?
  • How do I know if it is true?
  • What facts is it based on?
  • What motivations lie behind it?

Explore other peoples’ worlds, be curious to know about their challenges, interests and their perspectives.

 

A healthy organisation values different inputs and understands that reality today is enormously complex.

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Lead like Roosevelt

April 22nd, 2016 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership

RooseveltMany people rate Roosevelt the greatest leader of the 20th Century. What made him so great. There are many answers to this questions but let me tell you about just one of them.

In Michael Fullilove’s great book, Rendezvous With Destiny, he tells the story how Roosevelt thought out of the box in order to gain the quality of knowledge he required to take the best decisions.

In 1940 with the fall of France, Roosevelt knew that the survival of Western Civilization was at stake. He needed to know first hand the true situation of Britain left as they were, to fight the Axis powers alone. Could they survive? What was the leadership like? What did they need? What could Roosevelt do.

Public opinion in United States was still against entering the war, so Roosevelt had to find a way to help Britain and to edge the United States slowly towards direct involvement in the war.

An unorthodox approach

Roosevelt didn’t trust his ambassadors or the State Department to get him the information he needed, so he took the very unorthodox route of sending personal envoys in order to get a first hand picture of the situation and to build the relationship with Churchill. He used a personal friend, a businessman, a first world war hero and a political rival to do the job. This drove the State Department and his ambassadors crazy, but Roosevelt did what he had to do to get the results he needed. These envoys never had official titles, and the press never knew the exact nature of their mission, but they got the information Roosevelt needed, helped him build a trusting relationship with Churchill and assisted in getting the Lend Lease legislation through Congress and manage the logistics of getting the material to the British and indeed later on to the Russians. The Germans may never have been turned back without this assistance.

The number one problem of today’s business leaders

I have worked with many CEO’s and hundreds of members of Senior Management Teams. Their main problem is that they never get feedback on their own behaviour, are often not capable of communicating their thoughts to the rank and file and often don’t really know what is really happening in the day to day management of their companies. They are also often unaware of what their people think.

These senior managers often depend on Human Resources to help them learn all of the above, but the problem is that Human Resources, just like Roosevelt’s State Department back in 1940, have their own agenda and their own problems and therefore are not always the best channel for getting the senior managers the information they need.

Think like Roosevelt to get the information you need.

You need to think out of the box, look for other ways of getting the information, here are some ideas:

Understand what you don’t know.
Be clear about what you need to know.
Find out what your people think about you and about your company.
Identify people who you could use to get information and give information.
Think of every possible source for finding your envoys, friends, retired managers, clients, consultants, suppliers, union representatives and popular opinion leaders.
Give your envoys direct access to you.
Empower them to get to the people they need to talk with.
Control the communication channels between them and you.
Be cautious with who you tell about what you are doing.
Leaders need to know what’s going on, they need to build the relationships that will help them get their business strategy executed and, they need to be creative in the way they do this.

Roosevelt and his envoys helped save western civilization. What could you achieve with the right information?

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How to live in reality

April 12th, 2016 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership

ImmigrationThe recent terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris and the disturbances on New Year’s Eve in Cologne show that there are real problems in Europe around the integration of their immigrants. Many Europeans have a romantic view of their past in which they long for a time in which everyone in their countries lived together in peace and harmony in a perfectly integrated Utopia. However serious historians know that this perfect past never really existed. As Kenan Malik points out, if we look just at France, at the time of the French revolution only half the population actually spoke French and only 12% spoke it correctly. No doubt the ruling classes looked at that 88% who did not have the same level of “Frenchness” as them with disdain and wished they would not cause problems or perhaps even go away, much the same way as the people who support the National Front today look at France’s Muslim minority today.

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What is the best attitude for Coaching?

March 21st, 2016 by Douglas McEncroe · Liderazgo

FortressA little while ago I had one of those coaching sessions in which I felt that I was trying to breach a fortress with a battering ram, and I can tell you three hours shoving the battering ram is pretty tiring.

Some people, no matter how many times you tell them that you are not here to judge them, that you are on their side, still keep up the defences. This produces a monumental waste of time with the coachee losing a great opportunity to get some clarity and move ahead.

 

It doesn’t have to be like this

Usually, this defensiveness comes from the coachee having received some negative feedback, either directly or through a formal 360 degree feedback process. It is understandable that any type of criticism can trigger a certain amount of defensiveness, even from the most mature coachee, the question is however, does this attitude serve the coachee in any way? The answer has to be, no.

I’ve always thought that feedback needs to be assimilated in two readings. One to allow yourself the emotions that criticism will justifiably give rise to, and then a second reading to distance yourself from the feedback and dissect it, like a skilful surgeon, taking out those elements that can in some way serve you.

Part of this process should also be to dissect all of the good parts of the feedback. People are usually obsessed with all of the negative elements of the feedback when it is often more effective to also take out the positive elements and ask yourself, are you getting all of the benefits that these positive assets can give you. There is of course a whole movement built on this called strength based development, who champion people developing to the maximum their strengths. However, you do also need to focus on those elements that are in some way hindering your effectiveness.

 

Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn

 

The defensive coachee doesn’t however get to this stage as he is too busy trying to convince his coach that these the people who gave this feedback are wrong, or are not objective, or don’t have all of the information or simply have it in for him. What he fails to understand is that the coach doesn’t really care. If he is a good coach he will try during the session, in many ways, to breach the defences so that the coachee can identify which element of this feedback might actually be true and, more importantly, stand in the way of getting what the coachee wants. But, at the end of the day, it isn’t the coach’s problem, he will go home that night and sleep pretty well because he knows he did his best. It is the coachee who lost the opportunity to move ahead.

 

What is the best attitude for a Coachee to have?

 

Know what you really want, what is important for you.

Be curious about knowing all those things about you that could help you or hinder you in getting what you want.

Remember that you are human and that it is human to err.

Don’t worry about who said what about you, just be interested in knowing if it is true or not.

Remember that you can change behaviours, especially when you are motivated to do so.

Understand that your coach is your ally. If he is good, he is not there to judge you, all he is interested in doing is helping you advance.

Remember that your coach too is human and that he too makes mistakes and has some negative behaviours, which is part of the reason that he doesn’t judge you.

Face your challenges with courage. I have seen coaches who are open, move mountains.

 

So don’t force your coach to use the battering ram, open the door and let the sunshine in.

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How to be consistent when defending your company’s values

March 8th, 2016 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership

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At the moment I am reading Antony Beevor’s great book about the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. One of the things I like about Beevor’s books is that not only does he research official government and army records
but also uses letters from the front line soldiers so that the reader experiences what the average foot soldier lived in the day to day of this horrific war.

As I was reading the account of the last ditch offensive from the Germans on the Western front, I was particularly struck by the behaviour of two American generals. Firstly, General J.C. Lee who was head of supplies for the U.S. army in Western Europe and who Beevor describes as pompous and megalomaniac (even Eisenhower compared him to Oliver Cromwell and playing on the first two initials of his name, referred him as Jesus Christ). On arriving in Paris Lee took over almost the entire George V Hotel as his personal residence and commandeered another 315 prestigious Parisian hotels to accommodate his senior offices. This became known by the U.S. troops fighting quite heroically to push back the German offensive in bellow freezing conditions in the Ardennes without winter uniforms, thanks to the incompetence of Lee and his staff.

Another senior officer, General Courtney Hodges, only weeks before the Arden’s offensive, decided to push through to the Rhine using the shortest route even though this meant fighting the campaign in the Hürtgen Forest. This dense and eerily dark pine forest were crisscrossed diagonally by deep ravines and made up of hundreds of steep slopes impossible for tanks to operate on and exhausting for heavily laden troops. Conversely they were perfect for the defending Wehrmacht to lay booby traps, set ambushes and gave their highly skilled snippers plenty of cover to conceal themselves.

Instead of listening to his staff advising him to go around the woods so that he could take advantage of the Americans’ vast superiority in artillery, tanks and their near total control of the air, insisted of forcing his troops to advance through these eerily deadly woods. This decision led to 33,000 American casualties out of 120,000 troops deployed and a further 8,000 cases of physiological collapse.

What really amazed me is that neither of these generals were sanctioned in any real way and continued in their positions representing a low ebb in the otherwise good leadership of General Eisenhower. When one thinks of the impact of the behaviour of these two prima donnas on the common soldiers who were making incredible sacrifices every day you question what type of messages the high command thought that their soldiers were receiving.

In companies today I have also seen CEOs indulge megalomaniac behaviour from some of their senior executives. Although these executives often achieve their objectives, the messages that the employees receive as they observe the behaviour of these executives almost always undermine the values that these companies claim to hold dear.

 

Ideas for controlling prima donnas

Be aware how your senior executives are behaving in the day to day.

Ask yourself what message does this send to your employees and how does it impact on them.

Ask yourself what is the cost of tolerating this type of behaviour.

Take action.

 

The actions of Lee and Hodges sixty years ago in the last year of the war not only left a terrible mark on the lives of countless American soldiers, it badly impacted on Franco / American relations for many years to come. It didn’t have to be that way.

Do you have some examples of this type of behaviour in your organisations? What impact has it produced?

 

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Nothing lasts forever, and what to do about it

March 19th, 2015 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership

IMG_0088A few days ago I went to visit my favourite café in Madrid where I had lived for twenty-five years. I returned to live in Sydney three years ago but I still miss those great “tostadas” and “Cafés con leche”. As I approached the café I was surprised to see that it was all dark inside, I felt a terrible tension rise in my stomach as I got closer until I got to the door and my worst fears were confirmed, Café Río Frío, a virtual institution in Madrid, had closed its doors forever.

 

I had brought my iPad with me to show three of the waiters a short video of my five-year old twin girls. I knew it would bring them joy. I met these guys when I first arrived in Madrid and they had been my companions throughout the different stages of my life there, witnesses to the highs and the lows of my Spanish life from the loneliness of the early years, to my attempts to get local girlfriends, to the creation of a group of true friends, to the beginnings of my company and to the different stages it went through, to visits from my family and international friends, to my first tentative outings with my future wife and the blossoming of our love and finally to the miracle that was the birth of our two little girls and their first visits to Río Frío where they caused much havoc. It was the disappointment of not being able to share the latest news of my life with these waiters who had become my friends and the realization that I would never see them again that left me absolutely gutted as I stood outside the closed doors on that cold Saturday morning.

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How to frame the problem to achieve the result

March 12th, 2015 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership

The fedshutterstock_92710537eral government in Australia has been unable to get their budget passed. Opposition in the Senate, ridicule from the opposition and general dismay by the Australian people has meant that there has not been the necessary support to execute the changes that the budget tried to achieve.

 

Carrying out true reform is never easy; people in all countries resist change especially when then change means making sacrifices. In this case the government said there was a problem but never really explained it, then they designed a budget that did seem to hit the less fortunate more than the well off and therefore it was very easy for those who opposed it to see it as unfair.

In Australia, the problem is real enough, the forecast for the next three decades show budget deficits year after year which basically means that we are spending every year more than we are making and the ones who are going to have to pay the bill are our children.

 

The same thing happens in business

 

I see similar problems in business. So many organisations that I have worked with require profound change in order to survive. Changing markets, globalisation and more sophisticated clients mean that the old organisational culture, the old management style, the old way of doing things just won’t work any more. Things have to change, but, change means sacrifice and the first thing people think about is what they are going to lose.

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How to manage your ego

February 10th, 2014 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership

MacAthurI just finished reading Antony Beevor’s excellent global account of the Second World War. Unlike his other books this one gives you a global picture of the whole war giving you a real feeling of the breadth and depth of the human suffering caused by the ambitions of a handful of all too human men. It should be compulsory reading for anyone who exercises power.

One of the things that stuck me most about the book was how the out of control egos of a few generals, American, British, Russian, but surprisingly not German, worked against achieving the common goal or executing the agreed strategy. It was nearly always about them, rarely about doing what was needed to defeat the enemy, and often at great cost to others.

The clearest example comes from the American General Mark Clark who, during the Italian campaign, was determined to be crowned conqueror of Rome.  In May 1944 he disobeyed General Alexander’s direct order to attack North East to Valmontone where his divisions could have cut off the whole German 10th army thereby shortening the Italian campaign by months and saving thousands of lives. Instead he turned his army North West towards Rome purely for the purpose of being remembered as the general who liberated Rome.

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How to manage your Judgements

February 5th, 2014 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership

I couldn’t help being a little taken aback Judgmentwith the crowds booing of Rafael Nadal during the final of the Australian Tennis Open in Melbourne. It is true that a lot of people were a little annoyed with Nadal during the semi-final with Federer because of his continuous infringement on the time allowed to take to serve and because of this time absent from the court. Even the temperate Federer complained.

Being that as it may, it does not explain the rather extreme act of booing a player who is actually pretty popular in Australia. Clearly what happened was that certain members of the crowd, with limited information, made a rather harsh judgement, gave way to negative feelings that come from that judgment and allowed themselves to get carried away by those feelings, to the point of booing. Later when the extent of the injury suffered by Nadal became clear those people who had booed must have felt pretty sheepish, I even bet they would have loved to have taken it back, but unfortunately, it was too late. Once it is out there, it is out there.

It is true that part of the blame must be assigned to the match referee who did not share the information either with Nadal’s opponent nor with the spectators. That however doesn’t change much, for it was clear that nobody besides the referee and the people in Nadal’s change room had the information and people still made a judgement knowing that they didn’t really know what was going on.

Managers who make quick value judgements often pay the consequences

This happens every day in business, managers with limited information jump to conclusions, allow these judgements to create negative feelings and then act on them. Sometimes it is in regard to what senior management is doing, or the performance of a collaborator or the reaction of a client, in almost all cases those managers later regret what that consequently did or said.

Leaders have the responsibility to get the information

Anyone who exercises leadership cannot afford themselves the luxury of making these quick types of judgments. Here are some things that you can do to avoid judging and reacting too quickly:

Recognize that you don’t have all the information.
Invest energy and time in finding out more.
Generate some alternative interpretations and look for data to support those.
If you do have to say something, start by recognising that you don’t have all the facts.
Actively try to distinguish between verifiable facts and interpretations of those facts.
Think of the consequences of saying or doing something and then finding out later that you completely misread the situation.

It is human to judge

I remember back in 1980 getting sucked in by the police, rushing to get a quick conviction and by the press, experts of condemning without the facts, whipping up public sentiment against Lindy Chamberlain whose baby was taken by a dingo.

I remember celebrating along with most other Australians Lindy Chamberlain’s murder conviction. Thirty-two years later the Northern territory Coroner Elizabeth Morris found that the baby Azaria had actually been taken by a dingo and that Chamberlain’s conviction was based on faulty forensic work. Years before, in 1988, Lindy Chamberlain was released from jail as it was clear that she had not murdered her daughter. When that happened I, along with many others felt ashamed of the lack of rigor and generosity of spirit in making such a quick and harsh judgment. I said to myself that I will never let that happen again. To this day I have tried to honour that decision, but it is not easy for it is human to judge.

If you want to avoid feeling that, think twice, get the information and use one of the most important qualities in leadership, generosity.

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Know Thyself

August 29th, 2013 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership

Last weekend I attended our 4Oth year class reunion. Having been away from Sydney these last thirty years it was for me an especially pleasant occasion as I had not seen the great majority of my old school mates in over three decades.

Sitting with one of my best friends towards the end of the evening after having mingled energetically to catch up with as many of my old classmates as I could, we commented on what a great group of people they were. The great majority had enjoyed loving relationships with their wives, had seemed to have been committed and warm fathers, had worked hard and above all were open and friendly people. My friend and I commented that the Jesuits who educated us would have been pleased with their work for here was a group of men who they could be proud of, a group of men who shared a solid set of values and who had made a contribution to the societies they had lived in. These men knew who they were and what they believed in.

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