Leadership Lessons from Lions

It’s not coming home. Not yet, anyway. There is a sense of disappointment, but with it, an overwhelming feeling of pride. Despite losing at the semi final, the England Team’s journey to and through the competition has lifted the nation and also shown us some useful lessons about forming and leading a team.

As a relatively young team (and the least experienced in the competition) they have learnt a lot. They have been much more successful than expected. Cynics will point to the opposition they faced and their route to the semi final but anyone who remembers the game against Iceland in 2016 will know that in the past England have been capable of losing to any opposition placed before them.

This time was different. Why were they successful? There are many reasons, but I have identified five key approaches which I believe can be adopted by professions beyond football.

Being well organised and led

The coach, Gareth Southgate, created an environment where the team worked well together. He arranged teambuilding activities with the Royal Marines that helped bond the team. Interestingly, these were conducted without access to mobile phones and social media!

Making good use of specialist coaches

Employing a sport psychologist is nothing new but, in this case, the team identified a key challenge and used the appropriate specialist resources to address it. England are a team who have been accused of not caring sufficiently about international football, especially in comparison with their well-paid club competitions. This was not evident in 2018 and the different ways of working as a team that were introduced delivered a pride and passion not seen for some time.

Creating a safe environment, without traditional rules

Unlike in previous tournaments, family time was encouraged and had the result of keeping the team relaxed and calm. There are many, many people for whom family is the ultimate motivation for work (whether making them proud, providing for them or both). Erecting barriers to work/life balance may seem like a way to encourage focus but can have adverse effects on a team’s performance.

Practicing basic skills

The team focused on set pieces such as free kicks in order to optimise their opportunities. This is invaluable advice for any profession – a successful start-up restaurant will have a small menu of winning dishes rather than pages and pages of choice. For an inexperienced team, focussing on the basics and a few areas where you can really deliver is far more important than variety.

The demise of the prima donnas

The focus of the team was the team rather than individual performance. It could be argued that Neymar’s theatrics cost the Brazilian team their place in the finals, causing annoyed referees to give the benefit of the doubt to the opposition. Off the pitch (and in the workplace) diva behaviour can be equally destructive and was weeded out of the England camp. As Peter Sullivan, the former captain of the Australian Rugby Team said “A champion team will always beat a team of champions”.

Could your team benefit from developing key skills rather than always learning something new? Are you (inadvertently or deliberately) creating a strained environment by limiting people’s family time? How do you deal with the company prima donna? There’s plenty of food for thought. If something here strikes a chord, please feel free to contact PRS and speak with one of our associate leadership coaches.

The England Team were much more successful than expected, but there is no doubt that they will keep working to improve, as all good teams do.

Time’s Up in 2018 – Making work place changes to deal with harassment and intimidation

The start of every New Year is an occasion to make changes – 2018 has some particular opportunities.

The wave of change for those who fear oppression or harassment in the work environment continues to gather pace. Hollywood made a major stand at the Golden Globe awards. As we wait to see whether fine words and matching black outfits can be translated into positive action and a genuine cultural shift, the world is hopeful that real change will follow – in the film industry and beyond.

Recognising there is a problem is a vital first step in solving that problem. It can be a very difficult step, but that doesn’t mean the steps that follow will feel easier. Having acknowledged that culture needs to change across all industries and sectors, we need to enable that change and ready ourselves for the new challenges this will bring.

It is expected that both women and men who experience harassment will be more emboldened to make complaints. So organisations need to be prepared to investigate these situations and deal with them head on. This passive approach of waiting for complaints alone will no longer suffice and organisations need to encourage their staff to step forward if they are treated badly.

Some of our political parties have shown us how not to do it. A lack of investigation and untested allegations have led to suicides by those accused. By mismanaging the situation, it is not just the victims who can suffer. With peoples’ lives and livelihoods at stake, it is not appropriate to wait until a situation arises and ‘learn as you go’ how to manage it.

We have seen the abuse of power in various guises revealed across society – not just in the headline grabbing spheres of showbusiness and politics. It is no longer realistic to think ‘it couldn’t happen where I am’ – all businesses need to be prepared.
2018 may present difficult challenges, we may have to deal with damaged trust and to help damaged people; but our response is the key to unlocking the positive. Each claim and case thoroughly investigated and satisfactorily resolved is a foundation stone for building a new, open and honest work environment. This New Year, real change is possible.

The Weinstein Scandal – protecting against the abuse of power

photo from hollywoodsign.org

The Harvey Weinstein story raises the issue of senior manager bullying and psychopathic type behaviour. The allegations of misconduct and sexual harassment made against him are terrible but, sadly, not shocking. Described as an ‘open secret’, it is behaviour widely assumed to occur in casting couch scenarios but which has been allowed to pass due to a cultural tendency to disbelieve the victim. Only now are the reports, allegations and accusations being treated seriously.

What is shocking is that some reporting on this story would lead you to believe that this behavioural problem is confined to Hollywood. It is very visible in all businesses as well as the film industry. It is all about abusing power. The abuse may take different forms, but it is always bullying. Bullying occurs all through life from school onwards. Bullies need to be rooted out, named and shamed.

It is well documented that there are many sociopaths and psychopaths in business. Key features of these conditions – a lack of empathy, no guilt, no conscience, lack of emotional intelligence, and the manipulation of people – have traditionally aided bullies’ rise to positions of power, from where they are able to hurt more individuals and enjoy a greater degree of protection.

A strong HR function should aim to protect organisations from these types of people. Although successful in the short term, they cause a great deal of direct and collateral damage in the long-term. Firms harbouring them will eventually suffer expensive legal cases, loss of talent, and loss of clients. The greatest damage is that done to the individuals who have suffered at the hands of the bully. Personal damage can be irreparable and irreversible.

Hollywood’s ‘open secret’ – a culture in which people are prepared to look the other way in exchange for continued success – is not confined to Hollywood. Individuals exhibiting the characteristics of a bully are often excused if they are temporarily useful. Euphemistic epithets can sometimes hide serious behavioural issues – he’s ‘a character’, she’s ‘larger than life’. In Hollywood films, the villains arrive onscreen to ominous music. In real life there’s no tell-tale music but there are signs and HR must be vigilant.

A Brexit of sorts? Leadership lessons from Dunkirk

The United Kingdom is embattled, standing alone against all of Europe and trying to facilitate the best possible exit for its people. Is the 21st century Brexit the equivalent of 1940’s Dunkirk? There may be some comparisons to be made but it is perhaps not the most appropriate or tactful of analogies. However, what we can see in the events of Dunkirk that is of relevance today is truly effective leadership under extreme pressure.

Christopher Nolan’s film is currently retelling what is, to some, a familiar story. A new, younger audience may be learning about the dramatic escape of over 300,000 soldiers for the first time. All stand to learn something. Whether you’re conducting negotiations in Brussels or running your own business here in the UK, there are leadership lessons to be learned from the example of Captain Bill Tennant. As the Naval officer tasked with organising the beach evacuations at Dunkirk, he demonstrated the importance of:

1. Seizing opportunities
2. Innovating
3. Acting with grace and humility

Did the British get lucky at Dunkirk? Yes, to an extent. Hitler’s decision to halt his ground advance and allow Goering to finish off the trapped Allied forces from the air provided a window of opportunity. However, this opportunity could have amounted to very little had it not been fully seized. Up until this point, under 8000 soldiers per day were being evacuated. The opportunity of extra time alone would have only resulted in 45,000 men rescued (Vice-Admiral Ramsay’s initial estimate). Tennant recognised that they had been given a chance to lift many, many more.

Good luck might come your way or you might be given a great opportunity but remember this is just the beginning – what can you do to make the most of this chance?

To fully seize the opportunity of an extra few days, Tennant set about rethinking the evacuation strategy and repurposing the resources at his disposal. The East Mole breakwater – a structure never designed to be a jetty – was converted into a dock. Boats could moor alongside twenty-four hours a day, regardless of tide. Captains who had been waiting in the channel for troops to be ferried out to them could now directly rescue soldiers themselves. Nearly 18,000 men were evacuated the first day it was used; Over 47,000 the day after.

What could you do differently? Do you possess resources you could put to a new, more effective use or are there ways you could involve members of your team more directly?

The world remembers ‘the little ships’. Quite rightly, the civilians who risked everything to do their part and take their small vessels into a warzone and onto the beaches are the most recognisable image of the operation. However, of the 300,000 eventually rescued from Dunkirk, over 70% owed their escape to Tennant’s idea of using the mole. He was a Royal Navy officer though – he was doing his duty. The civilians were a small part of the operation but they were doing something extraordinary.

Your part in a great success may not always be obvious. Hopefully this doesn’t bother you – personal ambition shouldn’t come before the team’s result. Your initiative and innovation may be at the heart of a big win but if members of your team have performed exceptionally it is right that they receive the recognition.

The British see the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940 as a heroic success, in the face of potential disaster; the Germans viewed it as the final victory of its Continental European conquests; and today the Russian media has said that Dunkirk was in fact all about cowardice. It is all about perspective. I am in no doubt that those days were an incredible feat of human endeavour, and remind us in business today that, actually, anything is possible!

High Performing Cultures – Five lessons from the All Blacks

leadership culture

This week we have a guest blog on leadership culture by PRS associate Richard Watts. As the pundits consider what we have learned on the pitch from the Lions tour, Richard explores five business lessons we can learn from the Lions’ hosts – a team with a winning mentality and high expectations.

In rugby, we have just witnessed the British and Irish Lions draw a series with the All Blacks. What struck me was that the All Blacks captain after the final drawn match said, ‘we lost’. From a population of under 5 million they ‘lost’ to the Lions nations with a combined population of 69 million. However, over the last decade, the All Blacks rugby team have epitomised high performance, their win rate is around 95%, they are without a doubt the iconic market leader.

Much has been written about the All Blacks culture and how it might be applied to business. Sport teams only have to perform for short match periods, they have time to train and rehearse before they execute. In the commercial world, you are always on the pitch and there is not a bench of substitutes. So, what can we in business learn from the high performing culture that the All Blacks have built? Below are some key tenets of the All Blacks culture.

1.High Performance is the combination of Capability and Behaviours. You need to focus on creating and maintaining, under pressure, the right culture to allow winning behaviours. People can have the right skills but need to apply them in the right way.

2. People will rise to the challenge if they own the challenge. Everyone needs to take ownership. Pass the ball, as a leader pass responsibility on. Ask the right inclusive questions of your team and they will feel empowered to respond more positively.

3. No egos. No one is bigger than the organisation. Select, promote and retain people for their values not just experience. Disruptive influencers need to change or be changed.

4. Better people make better All Blacks. Yet again select carefully, you can develop specialist skills to meet your business needs, you can develop and train your people but you can’t fundamentally change a person’s character. Your values need to be more than words, you must bring them to life with genuine behaviours.

5. Leave the All Blacks jersey in a better place. Talking about leaving a legacy in your business is much easier if you are a shareholder, so it is crucial to effectively engage your employees with your brand through: a clear purpose, authentic values, a shared vision and a transparent strategy.

There are many more great examples of high performance, team and leadership behaviours to be learnt from the All Blacks. If you want to find out more about how we can help you create a high performing culture please contact us at People Risk Solutions.

Richard Watts is a leadership and strategy consultant. He has spent over a decade helping global businesses build high performing cultures with a focus on operational effectiveness. He honed his leadership skills as a senior operational leader in the Royal Marines, a high performing organisation which was based on liveable enduring values.

Leadership across different worlds: Post-truth, facts and feelings

leadership worlds
2017 has been a strange year so far. There is a disconnect between how things are and how things feel. Last month saw a leadership contest where the winner felt like they had lost and the loser felt as if they had won. This weekend a rugby team felt like they had lost even though they had travelled to the far side of the planet, beaten the odds, come from behind in a series and achieved parity with the best in the world.

Elsewhere in the world, the G20 summit took place. Taking part was the man who had won the US presidential election, even though he had lost the popular vote and is under a Federal investigation. It may not feel as though he is particularly presidential, yet it is he with whom leaders must meet. In the Middle East, Iraqi forces retook Mosul; but the video images of a bombed-out and shattered husk of a city do not convey the feel of a victory.

There are two versions of the world – the world that is and the world that appears to be. Where should we focus our attention? ‘On reality, of course’ would be a likely answer, ‘on facts and truth’. But in a post-truth world, is there still room for fact? The General Election and the EU Referendum were certainly fought on feelings rather than facts. The Alt-Right in the US and the Alt-Left in the UK dominate the social media news space with their ‘alternative facts’. The stock market has always been based on confidence not evidence.

The truth is, as Twenty-First Century leaders, we need to be aware of both worlds. Truth may be unpopular right now, but it won’t go away. No matter how successful you may feel your business is, if the company accounts are telling a different story you may need to take action or seek assistance. If a star employee decides to move on or retire, it may feel like a disaster, but rational thought will remind you that other exceptional performers are out there just waiting for an opportunity. You may feel as though you’ve been particularly diligent regarding regulations such as the Senior Managers Regime, but you are either compliant or you are not.

When it comes to people, we need to remember that feelings are not always telegraphed. We need to develop our emotional intelligence and empathise with how the world feels to others. The records may show that an individual has achieved a great series of results recently. However, you can’t assume that they’re feeling positive about this – the effort may be utterly draining them. An analysis of requirements and skills could indicate that someone is ideally suited to their role, whilst they may actually feel great frustration in their current position and be deeply unhappy.

Leaders need to be able to keep track of multiple worlds. The way the world is – the cold, hard world of facts, laws and reality cannot be ignored. However, the way the world feels is important too – judging trends and gauging direction is how you recognise opportunities. Last, and by no means least, is the need to remember the personal worlds that people inhabit. Clients, competitors, employees, and partners all see the world through their own lens and it is a reality to be mindful of. A work culture is a reflection of how a leader leads, and cultures of understanding can evolve where these worlds can co-exist without friction.

Bearing these things in mind might not help make any sense of a strange year on a strange planet, but it may help you to navigate the strangeness more easily.

Redundancy: From feeling anger to finding opportunities

redundancy counselling
The days of carriage clocks and gold watches as long service awards are fast disappearing. Not only because employers are discovering more varied gifts of recognition but because long service itself is increasingly rare. Most people currently working can expect to be employed across multiple companies, maybe even multiple industries, during the course of their career. There are likely to be several changes. Not all of them will be voluntary.

This can make people angry. But that is okay. No amount of articles you read about how redundancy is increasingly commonplace can diminish the fact that it can hurt. Ignoring that hurt and treating this particular transition as any other career stepping stone may not be good for your health. Career workshops full of strangers and online guidance do not do justice to the emotions in play. A more personal, human touch is often required.

Redundancy may be the ‘new normal’ but, as PRS’s Career Transition expert Peter Wilford explains, it can also represent ‘a psychological crisis’. For many people caught up in the process ‘redundancy can bring a sudden sense of loss in two areas; the practical loss of income and the psychological impact of loss of status, companionship and the mental well-being associated with being fully employed. It can also undermine our sense of self-esteem and bring about a fear of what’s to come in the future’*.

In a situation like this, there is likely to be sadness and fear – as well as anger. These are emotions that need to be recognised, accepted and worked through. Redundancy releases emotions similar to a bereavement or relationship breakdown. Emotions from events like these can be repressed or brushed under the rug but may continue to haunt you, could ultimately resurface and will certainly impede decision making when it comes to choosing the right career destination for the future.

So how do you deal with a potential psychological crisis, come to terms with change and effectively plan your next steps? Personalised redundancy counselling is the most complete solution. Due to the similarities with bereavement, the Kubler-Ross grief cycle is often used to understand reaction to redundancy: Denial, followed by anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance. Everyone’s timescale for moving through this will be different and everyone’s needs will vary accordingly, which is where ‘one size fits all’ group sessions can feel unhelpful and an e-learning programme devoid of empathy.

One to one counselling adapts according to the needs of the individual. For those who have completed the cycle and accepted their new situation, counselling takes the form of practical advice and support in finding a new position. Others who have experienced a significant setback as a result of being made redundant – such as a loss of confidence – can work on overcoming their specific challenges too. Services can also be tailored to support an individual when a broader change is required – if, for example, an entire sector of the economy was contracting.

Whether you need to provide genuinely effective outplacement services for your team members or require such a service yourself, the bespoke approach of redundancy counselling helps people feeling anger, feeling fear or feeling fine to seek out the most appropriate opportunities for the next stage in their careers.

* You can find out more about our associate Peter Wilford here and, if you would like to explore this theme in more detail, you can read his full article here.

For a conversation about career transition and outplacement services, you can contact PRS here.

A Leadership Tale

May Corbyn Nuttall
Once upon a time there were three leaders trying to gain control of their country. One was a confident leader who was so determined to be strong and stable that she told everyone. Unfortunately she did not display other authentic leadership qualities such as some humility, a willingness to engage with her people and believed everything that her advisers told her.

Another leader focused a lot of his energies towards the younger voters. He promised lots of things that would appeal to them like minimum pay, scrapping of university fees and making the environment much more youth friendly. He also came across as authentic and relaxed when talking to voters. He also made good use of social media and communicated effectively.

Finally there was the leader who inherited a political party that was in complete disarray. He also had to try and sell an old set of policies that had already been achieved and there did not seem to be anything new to offer. He definitely came across to voters as someone who had been given a “hospital pass”.

So what was the result. Bizarrely, the person who won the election actually felt that they had lost – mainly because they were expected to win by a massive landslide and did not. The person who came second felt that they had won because they had not been wiped out. Finally, the leader is disarray remained In disarray and not only did not get voted in, but also resigned as leader.

So what is the key leadership lesson? It is all about trust – If all the other factors had remained the same, different levels of trust could have altered the fortunes of all three.

If the first leader had established a strong trust with people beforehand, they may have supported her decision not to engage with the process, maybe even seen it as a sign of superiority. But not enough trust was there. The second leader’s ideas were considered by critics to be too fanciful and optimistic. But many people ignored the negativity because they trusted him. The third leader had to rely on trust. Having been dealt an empty hand, he had to create belief for his followers in a new relevance and purpose. But the trust wasn’t there.

The moral of the tale? If you can persuade your people to put their trust in you then success is much more likely.

When People Risk Costs £150m

People Risk BA IT
If you want to understand People Risk, take a look at the recent case of British Airways’ £150,000,000 system failure. People Risk is the potential cost and harm that can befall a business when its people make poor decisions. It’s not always obvious how the actions of individuals within a company affect the business as a whole. However, every so often, an example like BA comes along which makes People Risk starkly clear.

The £150m outage is believed to be the result of a single operator’s error. The event is classed as a system failure and, indeed, the IT system did fail. We underestimate systems. It is easy to blame unfortunate events on faulty systems, malfunctioning technology or flawed processes. However, what causes systems to fail? Quite often the root cause is people – in BA’s case, a person.

Security experts maintain that the human element is always the weakest link in the systems they design. High level data security and encryption is most easily undermined by the executive who leaves their laptop on the train or who sets their password to ‘123456789’ or ‘password01’. The BA IT system had its own backup to switch to in case of failure. A likely cause posited for the total shutdown is that someone manually interrupted this automatic switchover sequence, flooding the servers with double the normal voltage.

The BA story is an extreme example. Flights grounded worldwide and thousands of stranded passengers are big news stories. Such large scale errors may not be common, but they do bring questions about People Risk to the fore. How many smaller, unreported People Risk events are taking place on a daily basis? What preventable costs are businesses unknowingly incurring from individual errors and decisions? What is the level of People Risk within your own business?

People may often be the weakest link but that does not mean that they’re inherently flawed. People need to be invested in to the same extent as systems they operate or are a part of. BA had invested in Uninterruptible Power Supplies which have the capability to maintain the current after a mains failure with battery power whilst backup generators automatically spool up and take over. What was potentially missing was an engineer with the competence and confidence to know this, to remain calm and not to manually intervene during the spooling up period.

Reducing your People Risk involves making the most out of your people. People don’t have a backup setting that can spool up in the event of a failure; they need to get things right in the moment. Training, development or coaching your people enables them to make the right decisions at the right time and ensures that your business is as cost effective as possible. As the systems around people grow ever more complex and the stakes of failure rise, reducing your People Risk is more important than ever.

If you would like to have a conversation about People Risk, you can contact PRS here

Or, take a look at our HR Healthcheck:
You probably already make a substantial investment in your people. The People Risk Solutions HR Healthcheck has been designed to help you protect that investment and give you a fixed cost, highly professional, rigorous and independent overview of your people risks. Read more here…