The Arrogance Trap

July 19th, 2019 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership

LuciferYesterday, while working out at the gym, I got into an interesting conversation with the owner who, as well as the gym, has a great practice as a personal trainer and as a health consultant to a lot of corporations.

Anthony has a degree in Physiology from Sydney University so is not your typical gym guy. He does magnificent work and is very successful. When he was just starting out with his corporate work back in the beginning of 2007, he got a good project from Nokia. One of the people he worked with was the Director of Marketing. A few months after he started, this marketing guy called him into the office and said to him, “Anthony, we are very happy with your work but if you want to continue  with us, we have to make a few changes. Having a 90 Billion dollar business like Nokia on your books is the best thing that ever happened to you. You’ll be able to get a lot of business just because you are working with us. So, if you want to continue with Nokia, you’ll have to do the work at cost price”.

This genius was great at screwing a small supplier just starting out, but absolutely clueless about what was happening in his market. Three months after that conversation Steve Jobs launched the iPhone and Nokia went from having more than 50% of all phones sold in the world to having its corporate value decline by 90% over the next six years. In 2013 it was bought by Microsoft.

The enemy of good Leadership

The failure of Nokia has become a case study analysed by MBA students right across the globe. One of the three reasons identified for that failure is the arrogance of its senior leaders. This self-satisfied attitude is as far removed from good leadership as one could imagine. In Jim Collin’s analysis of the leadership that existed in those companies that, over a long period, consistently outperformed their competitors, the second factor he identifies is the humility of those organisations’ leaders. The quote from Harry Truman that Collins uses to kick off his chapter on Level 5 leadership, captures this spirit perfectly:

“You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit”

Harry S Truman

Years before “Good to Great” was published, another great leadership thinker, Robert Greenleaf captured the same spirit in his book titled Servant Leadership. Greenleaf inverted the organisational pyramid moving the CEO form his position of Kingpin at the top of the pyramid to that as servant at the bottom of the pyramid. From the base he gave service to the organisation so that senior management, middle managers, workers and suppliers could operate creatively and without fear.

In Nokia back in 2007, middle managers were too scared to say what they really thought, to share what they were seeing and hearing out in the market. The arrogance of senior leadership will do that every time with the whole organisation being the loser.

Satan’s snare

At the end of that great movie “The Devil’s advocate” Al Pacino, who plays Satan, almost succeeds in tempting the young lawyer played by Keanu Reeves to renounce all his values in exchange for unimaginable power and success. At the end Reeves resists and the whole two years in which this young lawyer had risen to the summit, but at the cost of losing his soul, evaporates and the characters return to scene where it all began. Pacino, defeated, tries again to tempt Reeves who this time only half responds. Pacino thus succeeds in at least getting in the thin edge of the wedge. He looks into the camera, smiles and says, “Ah, vanity, my favourite sin”.

Don’t let Lucifer get you!

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What do you want?

July 12th, 2019 by Douglas McEncroe · Liderazgo, Organizational Culture

Genie LampOne of the hardest things in coaching, or indeed in consultancy, is getting people to the stuff that can really make a difference. So often a coachee, or even a senior management team, will beat around the bush with stories about their problems, about other people or about their competition.

As a coach you can indulge your client, lending a sympathetic ear to all of these stories, or you can do what you are being payed to do and push.

“If a man does not know what port he is steering for, no wind is favourable to him.”

This phrase that Seneca wrote two thousand years ago, like most of the observations made by the Stoics with regards to human beings, is as relevant today as it was then. Before my coachee and I can do any meaningful work he or she has to tell me what they want. Who do they want to be? What do they want? I often need to ask this questions up to ten times before I get a meaningful answer. What comes before is usually an endless barrage of problems they are presently facing, often blamed on others. Perhaps the reason for this is that so many executives are on a fast moving treadmill of urgent affairs that apparently need to be dealt with today, wether or not dealing with them will provide any real long term value.  This frenetic activity doesn’t allow them enough of those quiet moments to reflect on what they really want.

Frustration on the wrong track

Being on the wrong track is a constant source of frustration for people because deep down they know they are not doing what they really want to. This of course means that they are not being the person they want to be. This is also true of companies who have opened up new areas of business that don’t really go with who they are.

Answering this question truthfully can be the beginning of some very creative work that can lead to some amazing results.

So, what do you want?


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Getting to the important stuff

June 28th, 2019 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership

TimeKnowing how to manage your time seems like a skill that only junior managers would need to learn how to master. And yet, again and again I work with senior clients who are spending too much time on activities that are not creating long term value.

Important but not Urgent

Covey’s work back in the 1980s with his four quadrants classifying activities into Urgent and Important, Urgent but Not Important, Important but Not Urgent and Neither Important nor Urgent continues to be very useful. I still use it with a lot of my coachees and find it is quite amazing how much insight they get when they realise that they are not spending much time at all with activities that, although not urgent, are indeed very strategic. This, for the type of senior executives that I am working with, is a real problem.

However, the deeper question is the more interesting one. Why are they doing this? Almost all of these executives intuitively know that they are not spending enough time on the most important things and yet they don’t seem able to change things. All too easily they blame external factors:

  • It’s the organisational culture!
  • It’s my boss!
  • The clients are so demanding!
  • It’s the people from Head Office who keep on asking for things that we don’t really need!

Although the there are elements of truth in all of these utterances, they don’t represent the main reason why executives don’t get to the important stuff. Very often, more assertiveness or a good dose of courage to push back would go a long way in changing their situation.

What lies behind the inability to change?

Even more importantly, I have found that the reason people don’t change their habits is that deep down, they don’t really want to. Harvard University’s Robert Keegan has shed light on why this happens. In his work on immunity to change he has found that although the commitment to change that certain executives make is real, they have an unconscious commitment to a conflicting goal which is stronger. Kegan’s process to identify these opposing goals requires real work, but it is effective. It involves identifying what these opposing commitments are and analysing the assumptions that underly them. Very often these assumptions, under the hard light of logical analysis, prove to be false thus making it easier to reinforce the commitment to change. The very fact of making all of this conscious is, in itself, something that makes change easier.

All of this, of course, requires work and this brings us to the big question. Are you really prepared to do what it takes to change the way you do things?

That is the question I ask all my clients.

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Connecting with your stakeholders

June 14th, 2019 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership

StakeholdersIn today’s organisations most of leadership is not exercised through hierarchical structures but rather through a complex network of relationships. Results are obtained by getting a diverse group of people to collaborate with you.

I am constantly surprised by the number of my clients who don’t really understand this and who have therefore not developed nor the strategy nor the skills to manage those relationships.

Barry Oshry’s work on organisational dynamics has highlighted just how easy it is for people in organisations to misinterpret the behaviours of other people who work in different parts of the organisations, and then react accordingly. Too often we let our faulty perceptions determine the manner in which we approach people whose collaboration we need.

Sincerely, what’s it like in your world?

The key to building constructive relationships lies in questioning your interpretation of reality and finding out what is really happening. The best way to do this is developing a sincere curiosity about the lives and work of the people you deal with. It is really helpful finding out the answers to questions like these:

  • When you wake up at 3.00am in the morning, what is worrying you?
  • What is the main thing you are trying to achieve?
  • What organisational pressures are you under?
  • What is the most important thing for you?
  • How are the organisational dynamics playing out in your part of the organisation?
  • What motivates you?
  • What is happening in your life outside of work?

Obviously, you just don’t go up to your nearest stakeholder and hit them with questions, you find the answers to these, and other relevant questions, over time. Almost all people react well to someone who is sincerely interested in them. They tend to become more relaxed and more open, and this is fertile ground for achieving collaboration.

Me Too

Relationships are a two-way street. It is therefore important that your stakeholders also understand what it is like to be in your world. You therefore need to communicate the answers to all the above questions so that the other person also understands your context.

Nothing like a good coffee

There is an art to these types of conversations and good leaders work on developing their ability to manage them. Always look for ways to have a more relaxed conversation, over a coffee or a lunch. These conversations are the oil that makes relationships go well.

Being clear on who your stakeholders are, dedicating time to building relationships with them and improving your skills in these types of conversations, are key aspects of leadership in today’s complex organisations.

How are you doing in this?

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Question Like Socrates

June 5th, 2019 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership

SocratesTwo weeks ago, the Labor Party lost the Australian elections. The polls got it wrong, as did many of the Labor politicians and their voters who expected a clear victory. No doubt the party had been brave in the clear transmission of their policies, but it would seem that they misjudged the nature of the Australian electorate at this point in time.

Facing Socrates

My interest here is not in the politics of this situation, I could find plenty to criticise in all the political parties. What interests me is how some of the Labor politicians and many of the people who supported them, are reacting to this loss. Much like Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, many of them blame the electorate for having gotten it wrong. As it is the voters who have the absolute power when it comes to putting in governments, it would seem an exercise in futility to blame them for getting it wrong. Mature leaders would want to start with questioning themselves, what did they misinterpret, what part of the reality in which they operate did they not see? Do they need to revisit some of their values, their interpretations and their assumptions? Could they face Socrates in the market place of Ancient Athens and answer his questions in a sincere pursuit of the truth, or would they answer with some clever sophist response that avoided all personal responsibility?

No doubt, Social Media, with its algorithms that group like-minded people together into comfortable gangs in which everybody agrees with each other, helps people avoid the discomfort of a virtual conversation with Socrates. Reading the same papers whose journalists have the same views as you, likewise does not prepare you for questioning yourself after an unexpected failure. True learning only comes from engaging with people who have different perspectives, and truly listening to what they have to say.

All organisations need to question like Socrates

In business too, there is a lack of critical thinking. In too many senior management teams the arrogance of some leaders, based on past successes, make it difficult to question their analysis of the current situation or entertain the merits of other peoples’ ideas. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • When was the last time you questioned your values?
  • When did you last actively engage with people who see things differently to you?
  • Do you listen to others with an open heart?
  • How would you fare in a face to face with Socrates?

Organisations need to actively practice critical thinking, seek out different interpretations and protect people who have the courage to question the Status Quo.

How does your organisation fare in this?

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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


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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