How to get information like Roosevelt did

July 18th, 2013 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership

I have just finished reading a great book titled, Rendevous With Destiny, by Michael Fullilove. The book tells the story how Roosevelt thought out of the box in order to gain the knowledge he required to do what he needed to do.

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 who was left to fight the Axis powers alone. Could they survive? What was the leadership like? What did they need?

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 to direct involvement in the war.

An unorthodox approach

Roosevelt didn’t trust the 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 the picture first hand and to build the relationship with Churchill. He used, personal friends, 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. The Germans may never have been turned back without this assistance.

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Get the Gettysburg Effect

July 7th, 2013 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership

This week, one hundred and fifty years ago the battle of Gettysburg raged on in Pennsylvania. The battle was important, perhaps marking the turning point of the war, but of more lasting importance was the speech President Lincoln made five months after the battle ended.

What it was remarkable about the speech is how it redefined the meaning of the war. Basically, Lincoln identified two reasons for which so much sacrifice needed to be made, one was to defend the idea that all men were created equal. The second reason was to defend the very essence of democracy, making sure that  “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”.

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How to Avoid Politicking

June 30th, 2013 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership

The recent change of leadership of the Labour Party in Australia ends three years of internal politicking. In that time, two elected Prime Ministers have been wrenched from power and much of the energy within the Labour Party was been diverted away from the primary task of governing the country and looking out for the interests of the Australian people.

Even in the rough and tumble world of politics this has been a very destructive dynamic. And yet one does expect politicians to politick. What is less acceptable is that this practice is allowed rage out of control, like some demonic bush fire, destroying much of the primary task of business, which is to produce top quality products and services, which add value to their clients, contributes to society and gives meaning to the work of the people who populate those companies.

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Lead Like Roger Federer

July 16th, 2012 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership

A week ago I, like millions of others, celebrated Roger Federer’s latest achievement. What is it about this tennis player that makes him so popular? He has in fact won the ATP World Tour Fan’s favourite a record nine times straight between 2003 to 2011 and I have little doubt he will win this year’s as well.

Obviously success attracts and Roger’s success is phenomenal, Rod Laver goes so far as to say that he is the greatest player that ever lived, certainly no one has ever won 17 grand slams before, but it is more than that, for he is also popular with all the other professional tennis players as evidenced by winning the Stefen Edberg Sportsmanship Award, which is voted for by the players, a record seven times between 2004 and 2011. So how does he do it and what can people who want to exercise leadership learn from him?

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Courageous Leadershiip

July 4th, 2012 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership

I recently heard an interview on ABC radio with American author David Frum talking about his new book, “Patriots”. Frum was a speechwriter for George W Bush so you would expect his book to applaud recent Republican politics. Nothing could be further from the truth. His novel is a Satire on how the Republican Party has played politics these last eight years, its manner of doing things that, according to Frum, has little to do with the values his party has traditionally held dear.

Just as you might expect, criticism of his book, and of him personally from many of his ex-colleagues has been virulent, especially from Tea Party members who try to portray Frum as a traitor, ironically the opposite of the title of his book.

But just who is the real traitor and who is the real patriot? Is he a patriot who remains loyal to his country no matter what direction it takes or he who remains loyal to the values on which the country was founded?

Is loyalty a value in itself?

This question actually begs another. I often hear people applaud loyalty is if it were a value in itself. Many Germans remained loyal to Hitler even when it became clear just what an insane monster he was. Was this loyalty good? I personally believe that there are some ideals on which most democracies are built and some values that are based on a renaissance understanding of humanism. I believe these things to be good. I also believe that there are things that we just know are right and things we just know are wrong. If someone or some political party remains true to these, then I believe it is good to be loyal. If they betray these things than betraying them is good. On this basis someone like Willy Brandt who was sent to a concentration camp for his beliefs is a patriot and a hero while the SS Guards in Hitler’s Bunker who executed those that looked for a way out of Hitler’s disaster, were loyal traitors to everything that Germany had stood for.

Companies who betray their founding values

Following these ideas, how should a manager behave when he sees his company or his bank betray the original values or their long followed ethical practices? I believe that if they want to practice the type of leadership on which the world’s truly great companies were built, he needs to be critical even if it leads to his eventual exit from the company.

We need this type of leadership today more than ever for so many organizations seem to be losing their way. Bob Diamond’s defence of Barclays Bank’s fraudulent practise is a recent example, saying that they followed those practices because “they believed that other banks were doing the same”. I hear this type of phrase and I wonder if these guys even know the difference between right and wrong any more. This is not the way to build a company that deservedly makes good profits by creating products and services that add value to people’s lives. Going down the wrong track, as most of the “great” financial institutions seen to have done these last fifteen years, starts with a small but intentional lie, a ruthless act, a seemly insignificant betrayal. Good leadership blows the whistle on these types of action.

David Frum remains a conservative, he does not share the Democratic Party’s philosophy of how to run a country and improve the life of its people. In fact I personally don’t agree with his politics, and yet I respect his opinions and could probably even find some common ground, for he is an honest man practising honest leadership. By criticising his party for turning their back on the great majority of Americans and by practising politics that spread fear rather than hope he his is doing his party and his country a great service. He is being loyal to its original values. He is for me a patriot.

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How Leaders can be objective

June 22nd, 2012 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership

I am often rather disoriented when reading some of the comments about the future of the Euro. Firstly because a lot of people seem to want the Euro to collapse or even disappear, and secondly for the lack of objectivity. This lack of objectivity is dangerous for anyone who has to lead people, particularly so, if they are not aware of it.

To explore our example of the Euro, I am not sure how many people understand just how central the Euro is to the whole architecture of the European Union. If the Euro disappeared then the whole European Union project could collapse. How this could possibly be good for anyone I find difficult to understand. Having myself been born only ten years after the end of the Second World War my world-view has logically been shaped by that momentous global struggle. Steven Spielberg goes so far to say that World War II was essentially a war for the survival of Western Civilization. I myself often stop every now and then to quietly give thanks to all those soldiers who gave their lives so that the rest of us could have peace.

And what a peace it has been. Western Europe after two thousand years of constantly tearing itself apart has enjoyed 60 years of uninterrupted peace and prosperity. The cornerstone of this prosperity is the European Union, a union that has helped the values that lie behind Western Civilization continue to influence the world.  Not a bad thing, if you ask me. The EU’s most solid pillar is the Euro. Seen in this light one has to ask; who does it serve to have it collapse?

The discomfort of thought

What is behind this I believe is a lack of objectivity and behind that lie emotional reactions that are not recognized for what they are and therefore not thought through. These emotional reactions are often handed down from generation to generation and become automatic, and therefore escape the rigor of rational analysis. As JFK said, “For 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.”

This is precisely what anyone who exercises leadership cannot afford to do. Returning to our example of the European Union, so much criticism of it, especially from English people, for whom I must say I feel a deep affection, is dressed in rational language but is, I believe, mostly emotional in origin, perhaps coming from understandable sense of loss of Empire. The point is these opiones don’t often seem to be not subjected to “the discomfort of thought”. The first step to being objective is sincerely recognizing that you are not being objective. And it is fine not always being objective,  however it is important be aware of when your are being objective and when you are not.

Anyone who manages other people would be well served constantly working on their objectivity. The people who you manage will recognize your efforts, will perceive you as being fairer and open to dialogue and the quality of your decisions will exponentially improve.

Some tips to help being objective when exercising leadership

  • Be in touch with your feelings, they are the clues to your thoughts.
  • Once you recognize the thought, ask if it is really true? What evidence supports it?
  • Know your values, what assumptions lie behind them? Are they still valid?
  • Know what your “red button” topics are. Work even harder on being objective when you are dealing with these.
  • Do all of the above often. Understand that it does not come naturally and is therefore an effort. It is like mental yoga for leaders.

This is a struggle for anyone, I for one find it difficult. But it is an important endeavour and one that will reward you in many different ways.

What ideas do you have for improving objectivity?

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What’s really important about telling stories

June 11th, 2012 by Douglas McEncroe · Liderazgo

A few years ago I attended a great two-week course at Harvard called “The Art and Practice of Leadership Development”. One of the sessions I remember best was given by a woman called Nancy Houfek, who, amongst other activities, had spent various years working in the theatre. Her session was on story telling, and as long as I live, I will never forget it.

What Nancy did was to take a volunteer from among our group who had a story to tell. It was just a normal story about how he had escaped from the course one night to return home to see his sister who lived in England and had come home to visit her brother. The participant lived with his wife and two small children who were understandably missing the daddy. The story consisted of the children’s reaction with the surprise visit, bath time and the conversation between them and their father.

What Nancy did was to get the participant to re-work the story, over and over again, each time adding new elements, sounds, colours, textures, an imitation of  his children’s voices, the exact language that they used, and above all, the emotions felt by the participant.

We must have heard the same story some 12 times but we were never bored as each telling revealed more secrets, touched us on more levels and I can tell you, when he finally told the last version of his story, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

I have sometimes related this experience to various people who have had the rather predictable and impoverished reaction of, “typical American corn” and yet in that group of about a hundred people there was something like thirty different nationalities and I can tell you that the last telling of our colleague’s story brought tears to everyone’s eyes. And so, there is something more powerful at play hear, more universal.

People have been telling stories since mankind sat around the campfire, and yet we have somehow lost the art of telling them well. But, when someone does tell a story well, it connects with our most inner being and is, therefore a powerful tool for getting messages across.

Elements that give life to a story

Today, more than ever, we need to be inspired, we need to be moved and we need to find values that we can share with other people with whom we are trying to carry out a project. Converting your daily experiences like an artisan into images that when people close their eyes can see, that make them feel is the best way to give meaning to people’s work and transmit values that give a team a purpose and gives the team an identity. To do that you need to do the following:

  • Know what the key message is that you want to get across.
  • Leave all other information that doesn’t have anything to do with your message.
  • Talk about the sounds, even imitating them.
  • Describe the textures.
  • Describe the colours.
  • Talk about what you felt, wether it was fear, anxiety, joy or happiness. Feelings are what connect people to people.
  • Use the exact same language that the people in your story used.
  • Use pauses.
  • Speak slowly.
  • Use a variety of tones and pitch.
  • Look at the people in the eyes.

Doing these things will bring your story to life and give it power. Doing these things you will connect with people on an emotional level, and this is the only way to truly mobilise them.

The most important thing about telling stories

But the most important thing is not all of the above, but rather your how you observe and reflect on your own experiences. For example, in the future I would like to write my second book and thought about how what being a father has taught me about leadership. But, in order to tell that story I am going to need to observe very well, to take a lot of photos and videos, to write down how different experiences made me feel and above all what I learnt from them. I am going to need to be really present during my experiences with my children so that I can tell a story that later has meaning and usefulness for others.

It is a lot of work, but it’s worth the effort.

So many lost opportunities

So many managers who lead people have the opportunity to perfect the art of storytelling and transmit values in a way that their people can relate to them, to get their messages across with so much more force. So many managers miss that opportunity.

How could you use your life experiences to craft stories that get your people moving?

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How many people can you be close to?

November 3rd, 2011 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership

A while ago I read an interesting book by Robin Dunbar in which he postulates a maximum number of people with whom one can maintain a stable relationship. Dunbar’s number put’s that figure at around 150.

According to Dunbar human beings are physiologically limited to this amount of relationships, no matter if we are talking about people living in New York City or some mining town in Western Australia.

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How to make teams really work

October 25th, 2011 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership

I recently delivered a leadership programme in Stockholm in which we had people from fourteen different countries. Almost all of them had to manage what we call “Remote Teams” in which the members are spread all over the globe. We did an activity that required the participants to analyse deeply what really worked for them when it came to building these teams. The results were interesting.

Managers do manager things

Again and again the participants shared stories about how projects went off track even though they had spent time on getting clarity around the aspects that they believed were essential to making these teams work, like for example:

  • Clear objectives
  • Well-defined roles
  • Solid processes
  • Clear lines of communications
  • Easy ways to measure progress
  • Clear KPIs

And yet, the teams didn’t seem to function well and, as a result, the work suffered. The fact that the teams were remote teams, meaning that people weren’t with each other every day, plus the fact team members also had to serve on other teams, didn’t help, but these two factors were not the main cause of problems. The one thing that again and again managers had failed to invest enough time on was on building trust. Three important things to do if you want to build trust are:

  • Clear up why everyone is on this team
  • Get to know each other
  • Openly talk about what is important to each team member

Managers and Leaders

There are tools available to help managers work with their teams on these three things and yet most managers underestimate their importance and thus pay the price. Perhaps this is one of the differences between managers and leaders, leaders intrinsically understand the importance of building trust, they know that trust is the oil that makes the team engine work. It may not feel comfortable for managers to put these things on the table, to generate meaningful conversations between team members around these themes, it is not as concrete or as rational as, for example, setting objectives, but it is what builds trust, and teams that have trust go far.

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How to work across cultures

October 17th, 2011 by Douglas McEncroe · Culture, Leadership

I recently worked in Singapore making it the 20th country in which I have delivered Leadership development programmes. But you don’t have to go to another country in order to manage cultural differences for in some of the courses for Electrolux that we have delivered in Stockholm, we have groups of 24 participants that were made up of some 16 different nationalities.

There are those that say that in certain cultures you can’t deliver a leadership programme that requires people to open up and work with the emotional aspects of leadership. If this were true then we have a real problem because I don’t believe that you can build true commitment to a project, a team or indeed to a whole organization unless you touch people emotionally. This is because that commitment is partly build on trust and trust is partly built on emotions. Fortunately I have found that you can put emotions on the table, right across all cultures, however the way you do so may be different.

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