Categories
Change Leadership Learning New

Paths, Patterns & Choices

There is just enough space on the bench for one more. Well almost enough if they all shuffle along a little. Christine hauls her rucksack off, feeling lighter already as she dumps her bag on the floor. She stretches, her back cracks with relief as she rolls her shoulders, life coming back into the muscles.

‘Hi, mind if I take a seat’. Three faces look up at her, a mixture of welcome, curiosity and one with what seems like down right hostility. ‘I won’t stay long but could you shove up a bit, I think the seat is meant to take four’. Bottoms shuffle on the wooden bench and she squeezes in at the end. 

‘Phew I needed this’ and as the others settle and readjust, she pulls out her water bottle and takes a deep slurp before looking around. It’s been a long walk to this point, interesting though, lots to see, a real adventure and her fitness levels have improved over time. 

‘Well this seems a good spot to put this seat’ she says quietly looking around. The four of them are sat on a junction, a multi junction. The path she came up, the one they all came up she assumes is almost behind the bench, you can just see it out of the corner of your eye. Ahead the track splits and there are a number of choices. Immediately, directly ahead, is a wide reassuring asphalt path which arcs straight and disappears into the distance. To their right and left are a number of paths which split away in different directions. Some have clearly been walked by others, some are barely noticeable, maybe a single set of steps have gone that way.

‘Any idea which way to go from here?’ she asks enthusiastically looking around, her eyes sweeping over her three new companions. Right next to her is a man alternating between opening and shutting a book and lifting a pair of large black binoculars to his face. He takes one more sweep of the vista ahead, his head swivelling through one hundred and eighty degrees.

‘What would you do?’ he says turning towards her. ‘Oh sorry forgot my manners, I’m Bill’. He shuffles book and binoculars around so he can shake her hand. ‘It’s just that it’s says here ‘Look for the long term, build for future success, not just the immediate’. He seems to be reading from a particular page. ‘Here, take a look’. He passes her the glasses which she has to adjust to get into focus, then everything springs up large and bright in front of her. ‘Can you see all the good things just down the main path there and some more just a bit further on, then beyond that it all begins to peter out’? Christine is not sure what she is looking at, maybe they are trees, she’s not sure. The closest seem to have a lot of fruit on if that’s what they are. Further on they have less fruit and in the mid distance the trees look bent, broken and the soil underneath arid. 

‘Now look a bit to your left’ and he guides her hand, nudging the glasses across. For a short while it is all distorted then coming into focus is a very large patch of land with saplings growing, spreading right and left across the span of her vision. The soil looks fertile ‘The problem is I can’t see a path to get there, possibly a sheep or cattle track, but not much more’. He’s right, the tarmac path clearly  leads straight through the closest trees and on until it disappears into the arid landscape she first looked at. That route is clear. Swinging the binoculars back, he’s right, no path seems to go to where the rich soil seems to glow red in the distance.

“I think I have a decision to make, go for the short term, straight in front of me, or look for a way to a better long term future’. He pulls out a pristine white handkerchief from his pocket and polishes the lenses, flicks through the book one last time, then snaps it shut. With a purposeful nod to them all he starts off down the tarmac road, stepping  out in a regular stride. Then after a hundred metres and with a wave back at Christine, he plunges off the path heading towards the fertile field.

‘Good  for him, I admire that determination’. A woman pushes herself along the bench filling the space left by Bill. ‘I hate decisions though don’t you. She looks directly at Christine unafraid of eye contact. ‘It means having to make a choice, it’s so hard isn’t it’? She’s waving a piece of paper in front of her. ‘A friend sent me this poem, said it might help me’. Her face crinkles. ‘Help me! Well it did get me started I suppose, it made me move, but now I’m in a right muddle. It says here’ she pauses to find the right sentence ‘Choose the most interesting path, the least travelled path. Which one though I say to myself, Jane which one, they didn’t say there would be loads of choices’. She sighs deeply. In frustration, she screws the sheet into a ball crushing her hands together, then quickly unwraps the crinkled sheet to study the words once again.

‘I love this poem, I love all this inspirational type stuff’. Her face opens up and she beams at Christine. ‘Here you keep this love’ and the worn creased paper changes hands between them and Jane stands up. She ponders all the paths arrayed out in front of her, looking around, seeming to do some sort of metal equation. Then she starts off down a well marked grass path before coming back, pointing at another, shrugging her shoulders and setting off down a less well marked but interesting track which bends  away through the fields and towards the woods ahead.  Occasionally she stops, looks back, stares at the other paths leading in other directions and then moves on until she disappears from view.

The last person on the bench ignores Christine completely. He’s crunched up in a dark raincoat, even though the day is quite warm, he’s staring at his shoes which are highly polished.  Christine considers moving along the bench but senses he needs space. 

‘Nice day hey’. Christine leans back looking at the wide spread of countryside ahead of them. Bill, a tiny spec in the distance, seems to be walking back and forth through the saplings. Occasionally the glass in his binoculars flashes in the sunlight. Jane has disappeared into the trees. High in the blue sky above, a Red Kite circles seeking a thermal in the warm air. 

‘Choices, choices, there is no choice whatsoever, they’re both talking nonsense’ the voice mumbles out of the folds of the coat. ‘Idiots the pair of them, believing you can take a different path’. He turns and glares at her, his eyes are red rimmed with dark shadows below. ‘See that’. A slender hand is pulled out of a pocket and points at the path behind and one in front of where he is sitting. It seems to run directly under the bench. ‘You’ve got your life patterns, you can move a bit but mostly you go along your tram lines following the stuff your parents or grandparents gave you. I know I’ve trained in this stuff. That woman should have tried a different poem, something more realistic, maybe that one by Philip Larkin ‘They fuc……’. He is cut short as Christine interrupts him.

‘Yes, I know that poem, a bit depressing actually, I prefer optimism and hope myself’. He looks at her, ponders on the comment, before a broad smile breaks out across his tired face. 

‘Maybe you’re right’. He takes a moment to reflect. ‘Perhaps a bit of both ideas makes more sense. So, accepting there are patterns, but choice and experience makes a difference. Our patterns are just patterns wherever they come from. Some are good, some are bad, but they help us manage our complex lives. We need them. I was just thinking about my old dad, he had good intentions I think. He worked hard, was never at home, that was probably a family pattern, but he made some good choices too.  I think I’m a bit better, I work hard too, but still probably too much, if my marriage is anything to go by’.

He pauses and looks up at the Red Kite, which is hovering closer, focused on something below ignoring them completely.  ‘And we’re adults aren’t we, we have to make choices and remake them regularly, that’s how our patterns shift in the long term. I have to choose the next step, the next path to go down’. He takes a deep breath. ‘I’m being a a bit stupid really, I know this stuff, I’ve been through it a few times. Maybe I’m just a bit tired right now and can’t see anything clearly. So, you go right ahead and make your choice, I think I’ll just sit here a while and enjoy the sunshine’.

Christine leans back on the bench and watches the bird swoop down, flash across the ground, then up and away. 

’You know I might sit here a while too if that’s okay? I can see two or three options ahead but I’m not sure yet. Would you like some lunch’? She unbuckles the top of her rucksack and begins searching inside. ‘Would you be willing to share some of your choices, the paths you’ve taken while you’ve been working hard’? She knows he will because he’s tapping the end of his nose as he thinks, a smile appearing on his face.

Grahame Pitts

December 2019

Postscript – One book, Two Poems 

The ideas in the first part of the story comes from a book I have just read (thanks Bryan for the recommendation) – The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek (https://simonsinek.com/product/the-infinite-game/). He talks about the need for organisations to move from our current model of short term results, to a broader longer term perspective, where we create sustainability for future  generations, rather than just our own. Although the book applies this to business it has the same resonance at a personal level.

The second part of the story pulls on the themes from two well known poems by:

Robert Frost – The Road Not Taken – (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44272/the-road-not-taken)

Peter Larkin – This Be The Verse – (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48419/this-be-the-verse)

Both poems are often quoted in personal and leadership development workshops and are used to stimulate, challenge and inspire.

Some possible reflection questions:

  1. Are you making good choices? How much are you driven by your patterns? Which of these patterns support you, which ones are potentially sabotaging you?
  2. Do you need to sit a while as you consider your next choice? Who would you like to chat to about your next step (someone with a different perspective, or at least different patterns). Or do you simply need your own quiet reflection time?
  3. Are you able to consider both your immediate short term choice and how this fits into the much longer term perspective? If you are in an organisation, are you able to see the long term picture (probably beyond your time there) and therefore what foundations you need to put in place now? 

Categories
Change Conflict resolution Culture & Style Leadership Organisational Systems

Something’s Moving in The Garden

‘Daddy, daddy there’s something in the flower pot, come look, please come and look’. Her face radiates up towards me, the blond curls spilling out from under her bright red bobble hat. Her gloves dangle by their strings out of her coat and I see her muddy hands, just a second before she grabs my trouser leg to get me out of my chair.
 
‘Woo, steady, I’m coming’. I fold up my newspaper, try to forget the quiet ten minutes I was having and head out through the patio doors into the cold winter air, realizing immediately I should have put a coat on. My wife is down the garden digging away, throwing weeds behind her. I resist the desire to call out and remind her this is my time and we’d agreed she and Lucy would garden together.   
 
‘Come on daddy, hurry up, this way’ and Lucy, our smart, insistent daughter trots ahead of me. I feel a glow of pride at watching her young confidence and remember the nativity play at school the week before. She is an angel and a junior one at that, with just three words to speak ‘peace and joy’. The hot stuffy hall, full of cameras and phones flashing. A confusing Christmas story full of sharks, zebras, a London post box, six kings and our daughter. There she is….. I see her vividly in her angel dress, her lines delivered slowly with loud perfection, each word which we’d practiced every night before bed after story time. My heart swells at the memory. I know she’ll be on the stage one day.
 
‘Look here, look’ and I peer into an extra large plastic flowerpot sitting on the floor of our small greenhouse, amongst the dry dusty bean canes. It’s the pot I had every intention of putting the Christmas tree in later, once I’d finished the sports pages. A strange animal looks up at me. A long snout, two large nostrils, a crinkled broad back and an even bigger tail, which swishes and cracks against the pot sides making the whole thing jump and vibrate. The eyes dare me to come forward and I am tempted to put my hands in, then change my mind.
 
‘Isn’t it sweet Daddy, can we keep it, please Daddy please’. Lucy jumps up and down on the spot, hopping from one leg to the other with excitement. Then her voice changes.
 
‘There, there calm down little one’ I hear Lucy recite her mothers words with the same intonation and softness and the thing settles, curling up, no longer banging the pot across the greenhouse floor. Before I can stop her, Lucy puts her grubby fingers in and rubs the top of its nose, calming it even more. There is a strange purring sort of noise.
 
‘I wouldn’t do that Lucy, just in case you know. Well it might have teeth’ and I tug at her coat and pull her away.
 
‘No, no Daddy he likes being picked up and cuddled. Look’ and she scoops the alligator looking reptile up in her arms. It flops over her shoulder like a rag doll and his snout hangs down her back, steam puffing out of the nostrils into the cold garden air. ‘He’s a bit too heavy though, can you take him’?
I carefully pick him off Lucy, unpeeling his claws which are sticking in her wooly coat. My hands just pass round the rough scaly body and I gently but firmly put him back in the pot. Except he doesn’t fit anymore and now drapes half in and half out.
 
‘Wow he’s grown’ Sue dumps a load of weeds on the compost and joins us in the greenhouse, watching it settle down, tail and rear end in the pot, the rest slumped over on the ground. First one eye closes then another. The  purring changes to a gentle snore.
 
‘Lucy showed me earlier, it looked like a lizard then, now I’m not so sure. Maybe its escaped from a pet shop or something’. That had been exactly my thought but there isn’t one near us, so my mind goes to the beatnik guy who lives three doors down. He had a snake once, but that was before we had Lucy. Then when he settled down with that new girlfriend, the posh one, I’m pretty sure he got a dog instead.
 
‘I could ask that snake guy at number twenty, or maybe we just phone the RSPCA’. Lucy looks up at me and I explain about the charity that helps sick and lost animals. She nods wisely.
 
‘But we will be able to keep him won’t we?’ and her head tilts upwards. ‘It would be the bestest Christmas present ever’.  Sue and I look at each other. 
 
‘Tell you what let’s have lunch, a boiled egg with soldiers and we’ll decide after. How about that’? I lift her up, swing her onto my shoulders and stride up the garden path, away from what seems like a complicated problem.
 


‘Right mate, what you got then, a baby crocodile the call said. Seems unlikely but we get all sorts of thing to deal with you know’. He’s standing on the door step, his RSPCA uniform not quite fitting, like he’s outgrown it. A beer belly hangs over his belt. He looks competent though, if a bit rough round the edges.
 
‘Okay I’ve got a cat travel cage here and if it’s bigger, this noose will hold it while we deal with it. This sorts out wild dogs, so it should do the job’. I look at the cage then the pole with a circle of rope and decide to not engage in a conversation. I’m not sure either will do, but its getting dark, so I show him through the house into the garden. Two pinpricks of light come from the greenhouse and the purring has turned to a low rumble.
 
 
“Right let’s be having you’ and flicking on his torch the man strides forward across the lawn. The blast of heat and flame shocks us all. Two small jets, like a pair of blowtorches arc towards us, smacking against his boots, charring the laces.
 
“Fireworks mummy’ shrieks Lucy with joy, wriggling to get away from her mum’s hand which is holding her tightly. No one can believe it, but it doesn’t matter because now the greenhouse begins to shake. One by one, with a bang, each pane shatters, sending slivers spinning away. Then the frame begins to twist and buckle, then crashing out of one end is a head and at the other a tail, flicking and crashing against the fence. With one last pop the frame disintegrates, aluminum pings everywhere and there standing in front of us is…
 
‘A dragon Daddy, a dragon, just like those pictures in the book.  Mummy, mummy Father Christmas has brought us a dragon, a real dragon’. Lucy is jumping up and down. My mouth is open. Sue is backing away and the RSPCA drops his alligator noose and runs. The dragon sits back on his haunches and with a soft thud settles down on top of the vegetable patch, his tail moving back and forth. Then it seems to wink at us.
 
‘My brussels, my brussels, my Christmas spuds, the turnips’ is all I can think about, as he then slumps forward, his head crashing down on the patio. He looks lovingly up at us. Warm air from his nose blows across our legs and with a contented sigh he drops off to sleep again.
 
 
 
‘I don’t know what to do, stop asking’. We’ve been round the subject endless times as we watch the dragon through the steamed up glass door.
 
‘Well he doesn’t seem to have grown overnight anyway, that’s a relief. And are you sure it’s a he, it maybe a she. In fact I’m sure it is a she’. Sue looks at me over her coffee cup as we watch Lucy, outside, leaning against the Dragon and patting his skin gently.
 
‘This is either very dangerous, in which case I should rescue my daughter, or I am in the middle of a very strange dream. Perhaps I’ll wake up soon’? I shake my head but nothing changes. Inside, I have an amazing sense of calm, which is crazy given the situation.
 
‘Don’t grab …..’ Too late, Lucy is gently pulling at his eye lashes, intrigued by their length and colour. The dragon doesn’t seem put out at all and closes both eyes, to let her run fingers through and across the black coarse fibres, like running fingers across a piano key board.   
 
‘Now we’re late, got to dash, I’m sure you’ll sort this out before we’re back’ and with a peck on the cheek I grab up my bag and head out.
 
‘Come on Lucy, time to go. Remember it’s dad’s and daughters day, then the party later’. We have this wonderful tradition where on the last day before Christmas, children are invited into the office and we finish with a kids party at lunch time. This is the first year for Lucy. She gives the dragon a kiss and skips over to me.
 
 

There’s a thud as I clip Lucy into her seat, the car rocks slightly then I feel a breath on my shoulder.

‘No, no, get out you beast’, but it’s too late, the Dragon is squashed in the back his head resting between the front seats and immediately the temperature rises and we’re in tropical heat. The frozen windscreen clears instantly and the rubber seal around the edge begins to overheat and smell. I am about to complain, then notice the curling lip and a large set of white sharp teeth emerging. And above, a slow lazy wink of an eye. I carefully and apologetically push the snout to one side, find the gear stick under the folds of rough skin and set off.
 


‘Morning you must be Lucy and you’ve brought your dinosaur too. Well done, just sign here’. I lift and hold her as she slowly writes her name across the visitors pad in large capital letters.
 
‘Its amazing what they can do now isn’t it, looks just like the real thing too’. The security man stares at the dragon.
 
‘And it even smells. What’ll they think of next hey. Look it winks, now that’s smart. Pricey I imagine. Do they do a smaller version at all? Sold out probably by now. Toy of the year is it? Maybe I can get one in the sales in January’? He chatters on, he always does, I mostly nod my head in the mornings, it nearly always seems too early for chatty conversation. Lucy hands him the pen and the security man looks at her name covering twenty of the official visitor signature boxes on the form.
 
‘Right oh guys let’s go and the three of us squash into the lift. I can’t help smiling as we step in. We practice counting the numbers on the panel, with dragon thumping a tail in the floor when Lucy hits ten. The lift is still bouncing up and down as the door slides open at my floor.     
 
Some people look, others don’t even seem to notice, as we walk through the open plan office. At my desk Lucy points at the family photos sitting beside my over flowing in tray, able to name each person, touching her fingers to the glass. Dragon comes close and examines each one, seeming to nod approval. At the same time as he moves, he is inadvertently knocking files and expense reports onto the floor and then swishing them into a muddle with his feet and tail.
 
‘CEO needs you in the Board room now, some sort of emergency’. Jane floats into the room, all competence and smartness. She is organised to the hilt, keeps all the executive team on track, the best assistant I have worked with.
 
‘Hi Lucy, why don’t you come with me for a few minutes? I’ve heard all about you, Daddy has a meeting to go to’. She doesn’t even seem to notice Dragon who begins to hiss as Lucy bursts into tears and hides behind my legs. I watch her stride back to desk, as I tell her ‘I will deal with this and that, sorry Lucy is not good with strangers’.

‘Are you sure, oh all right’ the CEO is muttering, unsure how to handle a child in the boardroom, but Lucy is quietly sitting on my lap tucked in to the table playing with the paper clips on the files in front of us, smiling sweetly. ‘Good old Luc’ I think, ‘come on let’s get old grouch ready for Christmas. Who needs a meeting today of all days’. No one noticed dragon slip under the large mahogany table and the whole room seems to not hear the rumble and notice movements by our feet. I am a bit disconcerted to have hot breath on my thigh as Lucy digs through the sweet jar she’s been given, dropping jelly babies into an open mouth. Each one disappearing with a satisfied smacking noise.       
 
I am sweating, this is a huge mistake, I am under attack. The CEO persists in his interrogation. Others in the team are slipping down in their seats, keeping out of the argument, one or two have tried to help me, but there is no stopping him. It was coming, of course it was. 
 
‘I gave you the chance, gave you resources, listened to your proposals, accepted your part of the business might be different, but look at the results’. He slaps the financial report on the table and his face gets redder and redder as his anger rises. It had been coming, he hates my challenge and now he’s picked up on my emails which he normally ignores. He knows we need to change but meanwhile his shares are losing value and we all know he wanted to cash out and retire this year.
 
I need to fight back, but not with Lucy here and she is looking worried, peering up into my face and holding tightly to my small finger with her left hand. As she reaches into the sweet jar with her other hand, it tips. Before I can reach out, it starts to roll down the length of the table, coloured jelly babies tipping out, red, black, yellow, green. Everyone watches transfixed as it drops off the edge, just as the finance director makes a snatch at the disappearing jar. He leans over to pick up the container, then pulls back fear all over his face.
 
First smoke, then the nose, then the teeth, the eyes, the flashing scales. The front feet haul up onto the Chippendale table, leaving deep scratches in the surface. His body, as he stretches, fills that end of the huge boardroom. His head crashes into the ornate plastered ceiling and his tail knocks the coffee cups off the side cabinet. With a roar of anger the flames and smoke spurt from his nostrils. The heat scorches down the table incinerating reports, note pads, wrecking laptops and phones. The flames destroy the smart organised file in front of the CEO and then with a flick, the last heat blackens his hair and softens his smart royal blue designer glasses, making them droop and distort on his nose.
 
No one moves. The CEO sits there stunned. The left lens on his glasses drops out into the ashes of his papers. Around the table hands go to faces and there are stifled giggles amongst the ‘oh dears’ and ‘that was unfortunate’. I don’t wait, I push back my seat and with Lucy trotting next me and Dragon behind, leave the smouldering room.
 
‘Happy Christmas everyone’ I call over my shoulder. ‘Catch up on all this in the New Year.  Or in case I’m not here, enjoy all that new business coming soon’. In the car park I consider matters.
 
‘Hey Dragon, any chance of a lift home? I think maybe we’ll leave the company car here’ and he bends his head to allow Lucy and I to slip onto his back. We lift off, waving to the warehouse staff as we glide up into the cold clear blue sky.  
 


Post Script

This story came from a conversation with a client recently, about running a small ‘different’ business within a much larger organisation. We chatted about a metaphor when a strange mystical creature appears in a regular well organised, efficient vegetable or flower garden.

And below, just a couple of possible reflective questions for you …….particularly for  those of you who ask  for practical applications, to land this fluffy fable stuff!

– What happens when change arrives and is different from the norm or what was planned or expected – for you yourself or for your business?

– Do you take on a particular approach, attitude, or behaviour when someone is in your vegetable patch, or you are stepping on someone’s prize flower bed?

– Can you see an aspect of yourself in the story? Do you sense a connection with one of the characters? Any messages for you?


Categories
Leadership Learning Talent Management Teamwork

Knockout Fight

“In the left hand corner representing joy, hope, anticipation, creativity, please give it up for Jhac our latest contender for the world title” the announcer’s voice boomed around in the darkness followed by muted clapping from the auditorium. Jhac waved and after a tentative half confident walk around the ring, settles on his stool in the corner and as his gloves are tightened, listens to his coaching team go through the final briefing.

“Come on Jhac you can do it ” calls a lone voice making him smile, his mum is in the crowd, willing him on, as she has at every bout since he’d chosen to take up boxing. Now she’s up on her feet chanting his name and others are half heartedly joining in. It doesn’t matter one way or another to her, she is there for her son and will be forever. Now she’s turning round shouting up into the rows behind and that gets the boozed up ones going, jeering, cat calling, telling her to f* off, sit down.

The pa systems booms into life drowning the argument and then the lights are flashing, followed by billowing iced smoke which swirls around the long corridor from the changing rooms to the ring.

“And now ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the defending and heavy weight champion of the world, representing doubt, worry, failure, despondency, Mr DWFD, or, as we know him Baaaaad Boooooy. The crowd are on their feet, stamping to the music, clapping, shouting and there emerging out of the smoke is the biggest boxer Jhac has ever seen. He fills the space, not just physically but emotionally and mentally too. He’s huge and threatening and ignores the crowd completely as he strides to the ring, squeezing through the ropes and eye balling Jhac with a sarcastic, arrogant look. The commentator reels off the belts, the titles Bad Boy has won. The crowds howl their delight and everyone can feel the anticipation of another annihilation ahead. It reminds Jahc of a fox hunt, a blood letting, the closest people can come to war without getting hurt themselves, baying for damage and destruction. Jhac’s mum does her best, shouting back and waving her arms, until a steward physically pushes her down into her chair and holds her there as she screams at him.

Bad Boy begins his ritual, pacing round the ring, beating his chest and growling, coming closer to Jahc’s corner every time, before finally walking right up to him and spiting on the floor between his legs. Jahc looks at the globule of phlegm and laughs, before standing, screwing his boot symbolically into the spit and raising his gloves. The bell hasn’t rung, the referee is about to intervene and give the normal set piece lecture, but it is too late they are off. Jahc is dancing round the ring, skipping to the music, which is then suddenly turned off as the management realise what is happening. Bad Boy isn’t happy, he’s used to dominating from the word go. He growls a ‘fuck you’ growl and lumbers across toward Jahc and swings. The right cut slices through the air, he’s fast and he knows it, the silence in the crowd says they know it too and they suspect it is all over before the bell has even rung for the start. Not Jahc though, he ducks, pivots and the boxing glove hisses past his face making Bad Boy stumble as he boxes into empty space.

Jahc’s mum is on her feet again yelling, the neutrals in the crowd are suddenly shouting for Jahc and new bets are being placed. Jahc’s heart is bounding, he’s following the drill the team has agreed, take the game to the opponent, don’t let him get into a groove, keep him guessing. Right thinks Jahc, great theory, but this guy is huge, deadly and now he’s mad too. The sweat begins to trickle down his face as he dances away and around the ring, making Bad Boy chase him and he neatly ducks away as his opponent tries to trap him in the corner, even managing to get a soft punch to the Bad Boy’s arm as he slips away again.

One minute, two minutes he’s still there skipping, weaving, occasionally making a punch but largely staying out of trouble, following the game plan for round one. Stay on your toes, stay focused is the last thought he has as the pile driver hits him, the glove smacking into his face, the soft leather crumbling against his cheek, before fully making contact and lifting Jahc off his feet and throwing him across the ring. He sees the crowd, the lights, his mum in the corner of his eye as she gasps and her hands go to her mouth in horror. There isn’t much more because his head hits the floor and he’s out cold.

“Five uh, six uh”, Jahc can hear the count through the haze, he knows he has to get up, but can’t, everything has gone to mush. His corner are yelling, he hears them. “Seven uh, eight uh” its all over he can’t get up, then he’s on his knees, blood drips from his nose onto the canvas. “Nine uh” he’s on his feet, just, bent over but up. Bad Boy snarls and charges toward him, the bell rings, the referee tries to intervene, but Bad Boy has none of it and brushes him aside before smacking Jahc on the nose and crashing him back onto the ropes.

There is uproar, the crowd want a fight but a relatively fair one, Jahc’s mum is climbing into the ring and being pulled back by the radio commentator whose microphone she has just sent flying as she stands on his crib notes. Jahc is a crumbled heap on the floor, he looks dead and his team gather on their knees around him, the smelling salts are waved under his nose. The referee mutters about stopping the fight, the competition doctor is being summoned, it looks like it is all over and Bad Boy has done it again.

Jahc remembers getting to his feet, seeing the red stain on the canvas and hearing the sound of his nose breaking, then nothing else. Now he thinks he can hear people talking, a face with a bow tie peering at him, looking in each of his eyes, then he slips away.

“Wo there boy where you going” and Jahc wakes to find himself walking past a gardener digging a vegetable patch, who is now leaning on his spade and eyeing him up and down, his eyes sparkling under his weather beaten cap. Jahc can see the path stretching off in the distance and turns to go.

“Funny gear to be wearing for a walk if you don’t mind me saying” and he points a dirty finger at Jahc’s bright blue shorts and then at the boxing gloves on his hands.

“Um, yea, well, you know, well never mind, I’ve got to be going now” and his eyes are drawn to the road ahead which looks warm and inviting, with the sun glinting in the distance.

“Ah ha, okay but you want a bit of advice”. Jahc doesn’t want to hear this old boy’s thoughts, he just feels a right idiot standing here half dressed and he waves his gloves around in a circle trying to be polite and without realising it does a little jink and circle as though he’s sparing in the practice gym.

“Classy, real style, if I didn’t know better I’d say that’s natural talent I’m looking at there” and the gardener rams his spade into the soil and moves over towards Jahc.

“ I have plenty of people pass me here you know, most don’t even see me, they’re just busy rushing by. He turns to look at the sun in the distance and it plays onto his wrinkled face creating shadows and highlights.

“You know they’ve had a go at something given it their best shot, hit some failure, I guess that might have happened to you hey” and he winks and then points at the soft gloves on Jhac’s hands.   “I don’t judge, because using your talent, well that isn’t easy. I know everyone who comes past here has given it a good go, there are others that don’t even start, so well done you, but I wonder….” and the gardener seemed to drift away into his thoughts, before turning, picking a large ripe tomato and fitting it neatly into the palm of Jahc’s right hand glove. “Known to have super powers these toms you know. Me I don’t know, but they taste great with a bit of salad though. Enjoy”. So Jhac does, but it’s tricky, not just holding the tomato in a boxing glove but eating it too, because it slips and slides and bursts as he bites into it. The taste though is exquisite and fills him with warm, hopeful sensations as he swallows.

“Come on Jahc let’s go” the shock of the water on his face and then the towel is roughly rubbed over his nose, coming away red and snotty brings him round. Then the bell rings and he’s on his feet, wobbly yes and nervous, but he’s out there ready to fight again. He tastes tomato on his mouth, have his back up team been feeding him supplements between rounds, he can’t remember. He can though hear the crowd who are rooting for him now and booing as Bad Boy comes lumbering towards him leering and cursing. He must have been given drugs he thinks because he can feel energy coming back and he’s back on his toes, dancing a little, bruised but already thinking through his plan. Audaciously he waves to the crowd, they roar back and he feels their support and notices his mum standing on the press table howling too. The commentators are going mad, not at mum, they’ve given up controlling her, apart from peering round and through her legs up to the ring shouting into microphones. They sense a shock is on the cards and it is.

Jahc wipes his nose with the back of his glove, then spits on the floor and quietly says to himself “ My way is the right way, but you’ve got to fight boy and fight smart”. Then he’s away parrying, jabbing, bouncing in and out of range. His team are yelling instructions, the gym work comes back, the practice moves, previous fights, he can see it all in his mind and then he sees the final move.

Bad Boy is worried now, he’s run out of ideas and finds himself chasing Jahc round the ring hoping to trap him in a corner. He doesn’t see it coming, a shimmy, a duck, a punch to the stomach making him double up, then the hook to his chin and he topples backwards like a large tree. “Timber” shouts a smart aleck in the crowd and time seems to stand still, until bang the torso of Bad Boy hits the canvas with a resounding thud. Jahc doesn’t look, his right hand hurts too much, it must be broken he can’t go on, the pain is shooting up his arm and into his shoulder. He wants to sit down, lie down, anything to take away the shock, but he hears his team telling him to stay there, walk and in a daze he listens to the count. Then the auditorium erupts. He’s done it, he’s knocked out Bad Boy.

Jahc doesn’t normally dream, he’s usually just exhausted at the end of the day, yet tonight he does. He’s wearing his winner’s belt and he’s back with the gardener and they are both laughing, and recreating the fight in the garden. Jahc pretends to knock out the old man, which he does carefully as his wrist and arm are plastered up to the elbow. The gardener falls gently backwards in amongst the rows of vegetables and flowers, squashing the carrots and lies there giggling to himself before pointing up at Jahc and saying

“Yup that’s some talent you’ve got there, watch out world”.

 

Post Script – Just a few ‘mulling’ questions:-

1. Do you know your talent(s)? Are you using them well, honouring the skills you have been given?
2. Are there blockages you are facing, what can you do about them?
3. Who can support, help you, encourage you, challenge you to keep moving forward? Or, perhaps point to a new direction, or how to address an issue in a different way?
4. Who do you know who deserves your support and encouragement? Maybe someone younger, a friend needing to make  a change, a member of your family?
5. At work, how are talent people supported? Are you pushing individuals to work well and productively every day? How much talent does your team have, could these be used more?
6. In the world at this tough time, what can you and I do, with the talents we have, to help tilt the world back to to safer stronger place?

 

Categories
Change Leadership Learning New Talent Management Teamwork

James Goes Running

James pulled out the dusty mud crusted trainers from the bag he’d thrown them in all that time ago. Down here in the cellar all was quiet, just the occasionally hiss of the boiler as it began heating the house for the day ahead. He sat on the steps and pulled each one on, tightening the laces to just the right tension ready for the road ahead. With a deep breath and pulling back his shoulders, he took the steps two at time, the running shoes creaking and leaving dried earth behind on the steps. Out of the house he walked to the gate, turned into the road and set off at a gentle pace, shaking the sleepiness from his joints and muscles. He remembered what a great time of day it was before everyone woke up, the calmness and tranquility, no noise yet from the houses as he padded gently past. Before long James was in a rhythm, his body remembering and adjusting to the style and pace he ran at. His breathing regulated and steadied. Now his mind dropped into neutral and he noticed the world around him, yet he had as much attention inwards mulling and considering the day ahead and beyond that his future. The birds chattered, another runner passed with cheery hello and smart BMW roared by as the ‘bright young thing’, as they called him, from next door, shot past on his way to catch the 6.30 commuter train to London. He ran on taking the slight hill ahead with ease and confidence, letting his legs stretch out and enjoy themselves.

“Morning James, good to be out and about hey. Lovely time of day for a jog I say” and James looking to his left found himself running next to a rather rotund man, with billowing shorts to his knees, bright yellow trainers and a blue basketball hat crammed down over a bush of bright ginger curly hair.  He ran with an unerring confidence  and strength considering his size and shape. He thrust out his hand.

“CC’s my name, Captain Confidence actually but most people abbreviate it. We all need to believe in ourselves hey James and I’m your man to help there”. He nudged James in the ribs, his elbow seeming to send shock waves into his chest and directly up to his brain, where a fizz and a pop suddenly made the world a bit brighter and sharper, the birds now chirruping loudly in his ears. CC settled into a steady rhythm next to him and whistled as they turned left together into the park and set off round the perimeter track.

“Morning CC, morning James, good to see you both”. James startled, moved his eyes away from CC to his left and saw a tall gangly runner next to him wearing a trilby hat and a long overcoat, neither of which impeded his movement. His height meant he seemed to walk rather than run and he strode along next to them.

“Reggie Resources here, good to make your acquaintance, now what do you need?” and he pulled open his coat to reveal pockets stuffed with everything you could imagine.

“Maybe a map, or a compass, perhaps some Kendal Mint Cake, or better still, a brand new pair of running shoes” and with a broad flourish dived into a pocket and revealed the latest Nike trainers.

“Later, later old chap” retorted CC. “Plenty of time for all that, let’s just get into a good steady rhythm first”. And the three of them set off along the path together.

“You’ll definitely need contacts, I have a whole book full here” whispered Reggie to James, showing him surreptitiously a small leather bound notepad, before sliding it back into his pocket. James smiled. He thought his first run would be hard but it wasn’t, not physically, not mentally and actually, running between these two he felt carried along and somehow supported by them both. They swept round the bottom corner of the park and headed toward the bandstand where to everyones surprise,  the local town band sat tuning up, just as though it was a summer Sunday afternoon. The bandmaster seeing them, lifted his baton and the music flowed towards them, almost lifting them off their feet with its depth and resonance. The notes fell and rose with their running and the instruments shared in their journey, from the big base drum with its steady regular deep beat, to the tiny piccolo picking out softer detail. James’s heart lifted and a broad smile came to his face and he felt his toes lift his feet and his stride grow, until he was almost off the floor and flying. CC, Reggie and James glided on past the town band and floated on and around the side of the park.

With a miss timed e flat on the tuba and a clash of the cymbals, the music came to a sudden halt as the band master leapt from the stand and rushed after the three runners, waving his baton madly.
“Wait, wait….. wait for us” and he beckoned behind for the band to follow him “Don’t you want inspiring music to help you along?”

“Sounds great to me” said Reggie ever resourceful and thinking of other places this band might come in useful. CC didn’t reply, he was still bobbing about and singing to the last tune, skipping lightly over the grass, jumping up on the park benches, floating, then landing perfectly back on the ground. James liked the band, the sound inspired him with his running and without a thought of the consequences, invited the band to come on the adventure with them. So off they went, James, Reggie and CC taking longer and longer steps and finding, with the music playing, they could hurdle the park benches easily. The band, not quite as fit or able tried to keep up, found they lacked the puff to run and play at the same time, starting being crafty and as the three went round the perimeter of the park, they cut across the grass saving time and energy and allowing the trumpet players to have a quick smoke occasionally too, while they waited for the three runners to arrive.

James came back to the park gate after several circuits and turned out into the street, the music faded and looking back he saw the band waving him off. There leaning against the metal railings, stood CC and Reggie.

“We’re around any time, for sure when you are running, but other times too. Just let us know and we’ll get out trainers on ready” and both gently saluted him as he sped away down the street.

At his house, James stopped and did some gentle stretches to finish his run. He felt calm and relaxed and ready to face the day. Not bad for a first time out in ages he thought and clicking through his mind were all sorts of ideas for developing his career. He marched up the garden path, humming a catchy tune he’d heard earlier and headed in for a shower …. work called.

Grahame Pitts

December 2016

 

Post Script
So, imagine you are  needing to shift something in your business, or yes, you are lookng to make a career move. A couple of questions:-

– Do you know the resources you have available that are within you? Or, are they other external resources you sense you need? Are there other people who you need to make contact with and ask for their help and guidance?

– How confident are you, what gives you more confidence? Is your confidence grounded in reality, will others see how practical, experienced and capable you are? Can you describe your skills and talents well?

– Are you fit enough for the journey ahead, physically, mentally, emotionally? How do you maintain high performance, to move ahead daily to achieve your plans?

– What inspires you, keep you going when work may be tough? Listening to music, looking at wonderful art, being outdoors, reading great books?  Where do you go, what do you need  to lift you and give you creative direction?

PS James got the job he wanted, he persevered and got there!

Categories
Change Leadership Learning Organisational Systems

Power

The clock ticked through to 2.30 and Mark wriggled in his seat. The spare chairs around the conference table in his office sat empty, the coffee and the water fresh, with ten cups and nine glasses neatly arranged. He sighed, drank his own water and stood up.

“Any sign of anyone Jodie” he called as he checked through his IPad for messages and emails.

“No, sorry all looks pretty busy out there” she replied, while squinting down through the  broad open plan office. “To be fair it is one of those days and we do have that major client in”. Mark knew that and he understood the importance of this customer, he was in the round up and sign off later in the afternoon.

“Okay, no problem, but perhaps I’ll take stroll and see who I bump into” and he set off out of the executive suite, heading firstly to the marketing department who he intuitively felt more comfortable with. Fifteen minutes later his mood hadn’t improved. People were polite, engaging, some were clearly overwhelmed by having him stop by their desks, others interested, chatted amiably about the business. No one though seemed able, or willing to engage him in debate. He knew he had a bit of an abrasive style and he found social interactions a pain, so when the exec team suggested an open hour each week it had seemed like a great idea. Now he wasn’t so sure. He wanted fierce debate, challenge, honesty about the style of the business, ideas for the future. Yes, the weekly open meeting and his conversations had been some of that, but more about pay, conditions, toilets, the canteen. He was now seriously considering delegating the whole thing to HR.

He stalked off through operations and into finance asking questions and generally causing alarm and discomfort. He could see people slipping out from their desks and heading to the corridor, filling the toilets, creating queues at the coffee docks. Perhaps if one of his directors had been around they could have bridged the gap, but all the senior management were tied up. So, after getting one word answers from one of the IT analysts he headed downstairs to facilities. He had no interest in these things but he’d heard about Jim, head of maintenance, yet he never came to any meeting what so ever. Well he should and he would now. Mark banged his way through several safety doors, heading deeper into the bowels of the office. Past store rooms, skirting the central  heating boiler room, past a desk shoved up against the corridor wall and finally into what looked like the main electrical source centre. Large leads snaked across the walls into boxes, each marked and coloured ,acting as junction points and there laying on the floor two large leads waiting to be connected. Mark ever inquisitive went over to the large thick black cables, picked the two connectors up and looked carefully at the pins and sockets.

“Whoa there boy, slow down, don’t you be putting them together just yet” and a large gnarled, muscly hand lent over and took one wire away from him. “Just doing some work on that circuit so best not plug it in right now, we’re still running tests” said Jim, who knew exactly who Mark was and made no effort to treat him as the CEO.


Mark wasn’t used to having things taken away and later wouldn’t quite be able to recall why he did what he did next. Maybe frustration, or just plain curiosity, his mother and father always said it would get him into big trouble one day. Jim, when he told his mates in the pub later chuckling over a beer, would call it arrogance and stupidity. Yes he did, he really did, he grabbed back the two connectors and rammed one into another. The room exploded into light, a blue haze shot around them both, Mark’s feet lifted off the floor, his body vibrated and pulsed as the high energy current pulsed through him, pushing his hair up on end and his eyes bulging in their sockets. Jim momentarily stunned by seeing his boss illuminated, shaking and seeming to gurgle slightly, leapt into action launching himself across the room and slamming the main fuses off. Even without the power, Mark seemed to vibrate, his hands gripped the connectors with his fingers rigid around the plastic fittings. Jim prised his fingers free and guided him to a chair.


“Steady boss, steady, that was a real bolter you just took there, just sit for a moment. Do you need me to get the a first aider down?” Mark sucked in big lungfuls of air, ran his fingers through his upright hair, closed his eyes and then laughed.

“Now that’s what I call power, real power, you feel it right in your heart” and he thumped his chest “Power really does vibrate. Woo hoo, give me more”.

“Man, you are one crazy nut case” replied Jim looking at him “Who really enjoys being almost killed?”
“It isn’t that, it’s just real, that’s what power is” Mark sucked in more air. “Jim honestly that’s what it’s like in my job, but it’s so difficult to describe and I’ve just experienced it” and again he touched his chest. “Power at a senior level is just like that and if you don’t take care it is dangerous, yet fun, fun, fun”.

“Yea right and abusive too” retorted Jim “Some of you guys are just plain bullies, throwing your weight around”, including you he thought to himself.

“Yes, including me, I need to learn how to stop myself jumping in, bossing people about. And see,  I’m pretty good at guessing what you are thinking, so just say it from now on, tell it to me straight”. Jim nodded his head, shook his head, laughed and reaching into his lunch bag, pulled out his coffee flask. He added two large sugars to both drinks and watched Mark uncurl his fingers, crack his knuckles, take the coffee and swallow it in two large gulps. Jim sensing the opportunity lent over and eyeballed his boss, which was tricky as one pupil was massive dilated while the other had shrunk to a pin prick of blackness.


“You know you could take more of us with you, if you just thought about that power you have as executives. I’m used to electrical power, you felt it just know, you need to be professional, assess the risks and manage it well. I reckon management power is similar, not to be abused or mistreated but real important to get things done. Just take care how you use it”.

“Well maybe, hum well let me think” muttered David staring back, he’s eyes gradually normalising and returning to their normal green brown colour. He pulled himself out of the chair, put his mug down, shook Jim’s hand and with a slight stagger left the basement.

There’s nothing so grand as a story and this one whipped round the building. The meeting room was packed  at the next open hour, even Jim was there. The conversation was varied, soft and relaxed at times and sometime spiky and demanding. Mark mostly listened, interjecting occasionally and in the quieter moments, reflected on power and how a shock occasionally was a good wake up call.

Grahame Pitts – 21st September 2016

Post Script
Power is an interesting thing, we all need it and must use it. Yet applied without care and attention it can rapidly damage others and ourselves. So, thinking and reflecting about your power is important, in particular, being willing to try different approaches in different situations. How flexible are you with your personal or positional power? As a leader, are you aware of the impact of your power, does anything need to change?

Take a look  at the latest HBR Research on this in the article ‘Managing Yourself – Don’t Let Power Corrupt You’ in the October 2106 edition (page112) or down load it on  https://hbr.org/2016/10/dont-let-power-corrupt-you

Categories
Change Culture & Style Leadership New Organisational Systems

The Naked CEO

The alarm shrilled and shook on the bedside cabinet announcing six thirty to John, who groaned and bringing his hand out from under the warm duvet, shut off the noise. He rolled forward to semi upright and yawned, pushing his hands through his hair. His mind gradually stuttered into life, there was something about today, what was it, he couldn’t quite remember. The cat jumped onto his lap and rubbed herself against the bristle of his weekend beard  and then looked at him expectantly. He stretched, put the thoughts to one side and within thirty minutes was showered, dressed, had his sandwiches made and was out of the door and into his car.

“Hi Sandra”, he pushed open the passenger door and she slid in, her perfume wafting across to him. She pushed her bag onto the floor, fastened the seat belt and turned towards him smiling. They had a sort of thing going, a friendly occasional kiss type of relationship. It never seemed to progress but it didn’t stop either and he liked sharing the journey into work and back. Sandra was easy going, relaxed and fun to be around.

“So here it is, today’s the day, bet your looking forward to it” she said, twisting in her seat to get a good look at him. “And you’ve made a special effort, look at you all shaved, smart tie and is that a new suit?” She picked a piece of fluff off his sleeve and then pinched his cheek gently. “You’ll be great, just you see”. John had the strangest feeling of being examined in minute detail, his collar suddenly felt tight and his earlobes started to tingle, which was very disconcerting. He calmed himself down, checked this speed, he could do without another speeding ticket and  drew attention away from himself by joking about the bright blue tights Sandra was wearing. They had a way of being rude to each other while exchanging compliments and Sandra looked great today, well she did every day and her legs especially.
“Morning John, have yourself a good day won’t you” said the overnight security man in reception. Now he was giving him strange looks too, a confident smile but with a lot of respect. Strange, strange and that same feeling of being examined, checked. No matter, he had a lot to do today, a key account to visit and hopefully move the big sale for the quarter one step further on. He bounded the stairs, got to his desk and began checking his emails.

“Hold on there boy, you’re in the wrong place”. His boss was leaning over him, a big grin on his face and now swiftly, was taking over his mouse and closing down his computer. Then he spun him around in his chair and pointed it down the length of the open plan office towards the executive suite.

Now John remembered and he felt slightly sick. It had meant to be a joke, his email chain of witty comments on how easy it must be to be the CEO, anyone could do that job, what does she do all day, etc, etc. He had sent it just to his level, his mates really, but as usual it had been passed on and guess what, the executive team thought it was great idea and perhaps yes actually, someone should have the experience of being the CEO for just one day. So, all their names had gone into the hat and by some quirk his had been drawn out. How could that happen with over a thousand staff he wondered, but it did. He remembered Sandra laughing hysterically on the way home and pretending to be him as the MD handling a meeting. Then his own boss the next day, saying he couldn’t wait to report to him. Two weeks ago it seemed funny, now on a Monday at 8.30 it didn’t.

He walked down the length of the office, everyone looked at him, some made comments, most just stared. Now he felt not just examined but somehow stripped bare, everyone had their eyes on him. And it was as though he could hear they thoughts too, some were reasonable and some just plain rude. Already he could feel the weight of expectations on his shoulders and he didn’t much like it.   Arriving at Rachel’s office he knocked and waited. She was a busy MD, action was her motto, yet she always had time for everyone, although expected good time keeping and good manners. Late, that wouldn’t go down well he thought to himself. He coughed and pushed open the door and stepped into the large room. The clear glass desk framed by the huge circular port hole window looking out onto the busy street was empty, the leather chair still pushed in tight against it.

“Hi John, coffee?”. Rachel was sat on the sofa with the papers spread around her. She looked so relaxed. Normally on a Monday morning she was calling for last weeks sales, comparing against budget, against last year and likely to be just a bit antsy but in good way. She was dressed in jeans too, which was even more strange in contrast to John’s sharp suit.

“Okay the office is yours, I’ll be right here but I’m letting you lead, first meeting at 9.00. Just ask me anything, pull me in at any time, but I’ll try to butt out…. well except with customers of course. Diary’s on the desk. Enjoy ”.

By ten o’clock he was exhausted and to be truthful he couldn’t do much, he kept asking Rachel questions and she stepped in gently leading where necessary. In just that one hour he had growing admiration for her, for the executive team, for their skills, their knowledge, the ability to juggle endless demands, changing priorities. He realised what a tough job being the CEO was. Perhaps he wouldn’t be such a smart arse again.

Over their second coffee, they did a mini review and laughed about what was happening. Rachel seemed to be enjoying the day and for all her bark (and at times he’d been on the receiving end of that) she treated John with care and compassion.

“Okay, ready for the staff briefing” she asked. John looked at her, surely he wasn’t meant to run that. The Monday ‘heads up’ to everyone was a quick fifteen minutes in the atrium behind reception. Three power point slides, maybe a short film clip, sometimes just Q & A. Rachel made it look easy every week, relaxed, calm, very direct and motivating, even if the sales were slipping. He took her hand written briefing notes and noticed his hand shock a little. She just smiled and sipped her coffee.
The noise in the atrium was deafening, not from everyone talking, actually a few whispered to each other, but mostly they just stared. It was the the bombarding thoughts John was picking up. Each person he looks at shoots a different set of thoughts towards him. He feels like he is being blasted by both an extreme heat wave and a gale force wind simultaneously. It almost knocks him backwards and he has to lock his knees to stand upright. He feels his suit being ripped from his body, then his shirt and suddenly he is naked. He hands move involuntarily to his crotch and he tries to cover himself. But the comments keep coming, scorching his skin or making painful pinging nips on the flesh. Some stick too and weigh him down, stopping him speaking and some comments feel as though they have got into his body and are killing it slowly.

“John, John, it’s okay” he can hear a dim voice in the distance, just beyond the roaring, crashing words. “I’m right here” and he turns to see Rachel smiling at him. “Its normal, don’t let it get to you, breathe. Everyone is constantly looking at you as the boss, making judgements, projecting fears and worries on to you, it is normal. Relax, we’ll do this together”.  And they do. Rachel starts and John watches as the thoughts, questions, hopes and doubts of people buzz and fizz around her and which she occasionally swats away. He leads on the sales results and key customer contact this week and the questions flying around almost bury him, although only one or two are asked directly, externally, into the room.

Sandra drives on the way home, he’s exhausted, part elated ‘he’s done it’ and still over whelmed by the sheer voracity of the demands and expectations. Sandra is chatting about cooking him dinner and occasionally touching his hand. He looks at his wrist, sees his shirt and suit still there and realises just what has been happening. Words and thoughts, particularly those unexpressed, can have a powerful impact. After eating he’ll write Rachel a thank you note and try to describe his experience and his admiration for the job she does and all executives do.

Grahame Pitts – March 2016

This story comes from a conversation with David about ‘always being watched, always on display’’ as a CEO and guidance from his own boss, around this in his first MD role. We all project onto others our concerns, hopes, thoughts; even more so to those we perceive as above us, our leaders. Perhaps we are reminded of our parents, or our family background in some way.

We all need to be aware of these unsaid, and sometimes unknown dynamics and all work to address them, regardless of where they are in the organisation and the hierarchy. Then our energy can be fully focused on the opportunities and the issues the business is facing today.

Categories
Change Leadership Learning Teamwork

Spinning Plates

“Where do you want em boss? Some pretty ones here, not just those plain old white ones we seem to have hundreds of them”. Harry, the facilities manager, added the plates to the pile by the door of the CEO’s office, smiled at what he saw, felt slightly confused about it all, then picked up the old boxes and headed back to the warehouse. Caroline heard him, waved but hadn’t time to stop, too much going on. Life had been manic since the promotion, a whirlwind of meetings, decisions, financial information. She grabbed another plate and with one flick of her wrist positioned the crockery on the stick and neatly organised it, along with the others spinning around her.
 
Some in the office thought it was an art installation, others thought it was a new keep fit regime, some thought Caroline had shares in a homeware factory. It was though, they all agreed, an amazing sight. Endless plates spun in the sunlight, the canes supporting them wiggling and bending as they held the centre of gravity. And better still, was the skill and grace that Caroline had, in moving quickly and confidently between them, giving some an additional twist to keep the plates spinning. She hummed to herself, occasionally doing  a light jig, as she went about her work.
 
The plates spun in her office, out in the open plan office and now in service centre too. She had to pay special attention there, as phone calls to customers were key and any plates crashing to the floor would have been disastrous. Roger the service manager had taken to giving the most wobbly plates a spin. He knew what spinning plates was like, he’d had years of experience himself and now when he thought Caroline wasn’t looking, he lifted one or two plates from their poles and hid them in a cupboard.
 
“A head office plate has just arrived”  called Jane the PA, through the maze of sticks around her. Caroline turned her head and sure enough Jane was just taking a large hand painted plate from a jiffy bag and holding it out to her.
 
“Okay, wait, wait, let’s just clear a space and we’ll get it going” and between them they shifted the other plates around a little. Then with one huge throw of her arm and with Debbie, the FD who’d just arrived holding the stick, the plate began to spin. Everyone held their breath, the plate twisted , slipped on the pole with a screech, but with the combined energy of Jane, Debbie and Caroline working together and wiggling the stick, they got it centred and it began to spin and whirr in the air.
 
Even though she said it herself, not bad and provided she didn’t take a lunch break, stayed late and came in at weekends, it seemed to be working. Which was why, as she sipped quickly at her cold coffee, she didn’t appreciate Geoff the HR Director’s quiet reflective comment.
 
“Have you noticed how some of the plates seem more interesting than others”.

She muttered under her breath at the interruption but made herself stop and look around. He was right, some did seem more colourful and almost cried out for more space to spin in.  Caroline walked about under the plates looking up at them carefully, finding herself attracted to certain designs, shapes and sizes. Not all were huge by any means. Of course the head office one was, they all knew it had to be there and needed constant spinning. Jane brought her another coffee as she studied the plates and as she sipped and munched her favourite chocolate biscuit, she considered each one. Then she made a decision and sometimes alone, sometimes in consultation with her executive team (who had been summoned to look at the plates), she began to pull some out, neatly taking each unwanted plate and pole and putting it  aside. First the small side plates, then the white ordinary dinner plates and as they went, her heart lifted a little. Harry was hastily summoned and he repacked boxes and placed them on his trolley.  She ignored the coughs, the taps on the office door, the muttered comments “that was my plate, it’s very important in my department you know”, “wrong call you’ll regret that” and went about her work. Soon there were a just a few beautiful plates spinning and beside each one a director stood, occasionally wiggling the stick. Caroline walked around them all, checking they had the right ones, moving at the right speed, adding a twist to a pole now and then and watching as each plate seemed to change and grow in the sunlight. To her amazement one or two slowly turned into a golden colour, with beautiful embossing appearing around the edges and now these plates almost seemed to spin by themselves.
 
“Well would you look at that” said Geoff and pointed to the head office plate. It still spun rapidly but now it was smaller, not quite such a  bright colour, seeming almost to draw less attention. The executive team laughed together, as they watched the FD niftily reposition this plate near the golden ones and there, they continued to spin very happily together.
 
The white plates were later used on the ‘smash the crockery’ stall at the next family fun day. Roger owned up to the plates stored in his cupboard and his judgement was shown to  be pretty good, apart from one small plate which had some interesting swirls of colour in the design. This one, some senior managers kept spinning and they found it was a potential winner for the budget next year.  Caroline got home early some days, leaving others spinning plates, but knowing when to intervene, using her energy and her skills wisely. And it made her smile when visitors to the business asked to see the plates, particularly the golden ones. Sometimes she showed them, at other times she just talked about confidentiality and went about her business with a spring in her step. Head office seemed pretty satisfied too.
 
 
Grahame Pitts
October 2015

Postscript: 
From previous newsletters, I have been given feedback to ‘please anchor the fable with some practical challenge, to take it back to my business’  So, in the spirit of this, a couple of questions below. However, knowing we all see different reflections in stories, from ‘ah ah’ to ‘bah what nonsense’ (keep telling me Nigel), your own thoughts and reactions are fundamental, so trust them ahead of my prompts. Enjoy your leadership thinking and analysis, then follow your energy to go and deliver the results you want.

1. How many plates are you spinning? Are there a few high value ones which require more attention than others?
2. Who in your team needs to be attending to which plate? Where and how do you need to delegate and what do you need to do to ensure those plates become rich in colour, or even gold?   
3. Where do you need show courage? Is there one plate that needs your particular attention? 

4. Where else in the organisation are there plates, perhaps hidden, which need finding and spinning?

Categories
Change Culture & Style Leadership Talent Management

The Power of Ambition²

The Ambition twins sat side by side on the floor, leaning against the wall in meeting room two. The overflowing waste bin next them reflected the recent lunch meeting, sandwich wrappers, napkins and used coffee cups escaping onto the carpet.

 

Professional Ambition took a deep breath and pulled his jacket around him, leant his head back against the wall and sighed.  “I’m tired, really tired, meetings endless bloody meetings, why are we doing this, day after day? Most people are covering two jobs and  haven’t had a pay rise for two years”. He shut his eyes and sighed again, then in frustration flung his arm out sending the bin across the room, the contents spilling out under the table onto the grey patterned carpet.

 

Personal ambition reached over and took his hand gently in her own, squeezing softly.  “Hey, don’t forget those dreams, don’t give up, we came here to do great work and we still can. Today’s just a bad day, you’ll be back on form tomorrow, you see”.  He looked over to her and she smiled her warmest smile. He saw her strength, it hadn’t diminished over time, if anything it had matured and become more focused and disciplined. He remembered their past results with satisfaction.

 

Their work took place around the world. Whispering, cajoling, encouraging  people to line up personal hopes and goals and professional aspirations and work goals. Sometimes this happened very obviously, was clearly articulated and easily understood. Sometimes it just happened through an ‘ah ah’ moment, a dream or more gently in a quieter thinking moment. Sometimes in a rush, sometimes over time. The twins loved their work and had seen some great results over the years, some great innovations, some much happier and fulfilled people and often both.

 

Now Professional Ambition got to his knees, grabbed the waste bin and pushed the rubbish back in , then with a flourish jumped up and rammed his foot down on top. His foot stuck inside and he shook it vigorously but to no avail. Personal ambition stood up laughing, straightened her jumper, slid her arm through his and marched him from the room. Down the corridor they went, her humming softly, him stumping his foot up and down clanking in rhythm.

 

The CEO and the FD felt them pass as they chatted by the coffee machine in the kitchen, sensed movement in the air and the hint of hope and possibility in the atmosphere. Personal & Professional ambition intended just to leave early for the day, they were nearly at the door, clanking and humming when they both stopped turned and looked backward to John the CEO, stirring sugar into his coffee, looking wistful and a little sad. Both knew there was work left undone, so back they noisily came and joined the pair.

 

“The problem is the lack of ambition, I keep saying it, nothing changes though” exclaimed John as he washed his spoon under the tap.

“It’s been tough, very tough” said the FD, his head in the fridge, searching for fresh milk, his voice muffled and echoing, “Everyone is trying their best but you’re right we have lost something”.  Professional Ambition, now sitting on the counter gently tapping his waste bin against the cupboard door, nodded his head in agreement. “Perhaps we’ve pushed too hard, maybe our lean is too lean”.

 

Personal ambition leaning against the door frame smiled at the three of them in the tiny kitchen together. Geoff, the FD, coming out of the fridge, neatly avoided the swinging bin and poured milk into his cup.   “Lets focus on this at the management conference next week, who knows they might surprise us”.  Everyone nodded their heads in agreement.  John grabbed his files off the counter, took his coffee “Any idea how to do it?”

 

 

“Smart seats these” exclaimed Professional Ambition, as he whizzed round in his smart black leather conference chair. Each spin took in a view of the group coming back in from a gentle stroll. Fresh air after lunch the facilitator described it as and they certainly seemed happy and chatty as they arrived back in the room in pairs. Jane from Marketing seemed particularly vibrant and upbeat and sat down immediately and made some notes on her pad.

 

Personal & Professional Ambition took up position either side of  the CEO, a hand on each shoulder, giving him plenty of support. He felt strong, tired yes, in need of a good holiday, but positive and upbeat too.

“Okay who wants to speak first” asked the facilitator. Everyone looked at each other, the floor, their note pads or anywhere but at John. The silence yawned in front of everyone, the blinds shading the sunlight at the windows clicked quietly in the background. Sitting at table 3, Jane tapped her pencil on her pad and waited, it was her first conference after all, need to be respectful, but no one spoke. Even the usual extroverts had gone quiet. Why she wondered. The walk had been great, her partner on the walk had come up with a great vision and her own ideas, now more fully articulated, were interesting and giving her a real buzz when she thought about them.

 

She didn’t see Personal Ambition walk up to her and whisper in her ear. What she did feel though was a tingle down her spine and an impulse to stand. Her chair screeched as she pushed it backwards, everyone turned to look at her. The words stuck in her throat, her face reddened. Then after a deep breath and a desire to sit back down which didn’t seem possible – something seemed to hold her there – with a rush the sentences  were out, spilling one over each other, as she rushed to share her ideas and vision for her function and the business.

 

John’ s eyes widened, his shoulders relaxed, he smiled. The FD lent forward asked a couple of questions, then lent back in his chair.  Jane sat down with a bump, listened to her heart beating and felt strong, if a bit worried. Had she gone too far? Then the dam burst, now one after another people spoke, ideas poured out from around the room. Even the cynics got swept along. The facilitator raced to record the key detail on the flip charts. One idea built and reinforced another and the shape of the company began to change as the afternoon conversations wove together a new future.

 

Personal and Professional Ambition listened intently too, feeling fulfilled as the pride and personal expectation rose in the room. As the last person came to the end of their story, they moved in front of John and gave a bow and curtsy respectedly and left the room, high fiving each other at the doorway.  John just continued to smile. The future, it was here in this room, tomorrow would be a great day.

 

This story is based on an actual strategic planning meeting which took place on an autumn day last year, involving 40 people across a business coming together  to develop strategy and style. There may have been 42 people but we can’t be sure.

 

Grahame Pitts. July 2012

Categories
Change Culture & Style Leadership Learning Teamwork

Hot, Cold, or Just Watch the Meter

Joanne watched the meter on the wall ticking, the numbers clicking over slowly as she studied and compared them to those on her plan in the folder in front of her, which by now was covered in red marks everywhere. “Come on, come turn over faster’ she muttered willing the numbers to roll forward, knowing though really, if anything, the clicks were even now a little further apart. In frustration, Jo grabbed her chair, climbed up and on to her desk getting to eye level with the meter which blinked happily back at her, making one more click as another sale came in “Move dam you, move’ she said quietly and lent her head against the warm glass surface willing the meter to rotate, which it did to her command and made yet one more shift. She sighed and shut her eyes.

“Ugh um, hello, um, what are you doing up there” said a voice below her and the new Finance Director standing in the doorway, smiled a professional concerned face up to her.

“Something wrong with this machine I think, it might need a service. We worked it too hard last year, now its on a go slow” the CEO replied. Brian liked Jo’s style, it was one of the reasons he’d joined the business, so he wasn’t surprised to see her slumped against the meter, but he was surprised when she ripped it from wall and hurled it down onto the floor where it smashed and parts shot everywhere.

“I’ll come back later shall I” said Brian breathing deeply, wondering if he’d be the next one thrown across the room. It wasn’t so good to know your boss worked out in the gym every morning, lifting weights and had a regular one to one judo class with a black belt teacher.

“No I’m fine” retorted Jo, kicking the plastic case across the room toward him, which he trapped neatly under his foot as it tried to escape from the room. The heat behind him wafted into the office. The both knew the business was working in overdrive to get the sales, you could feel the tension out there, the stickiness of the temperature really too high to be either efficient or effective. Being successful was one thing, maintaining success completely  another. Brian closed the door and as they sat on the soft chairs he put the remains of the box onto the coffee table.

“Never did like that thing anyway, glad it’s gone. Could see it blinking away from my office, so it must have driven you nuts”. Jo smiled, it did sometimes, but mostly she loved seeing the sales coming in and the margins holding up. Still now she’d have to do it by hand for a while, but the numbers were interesting so why not, pencil and paper, or computer, they’d do just as well. The air conditioning kicked in cooling the room and the two of them sat in silence, enjoying the quietness now the ticking was dead. The circulating air calmed them and the buzz of the business outside fell away.

Jo sniffed the cold air. “We need this ourselves you know, we each need some personal air conditioning don’t we”? she mulled, before pouring them both a glass of water. “I love being out there in the heat of the battle, working our way ahead through difficult terrain, finding the next solution. All the regular day to day business stuff, it gives me a real buzz. But you know, maybe our job is different now, we need to be able to manage the two worlds, the heat of the daily battle and the coolness required to think about the future, the market, the changes to our business model”.

“Surely we just balance both” suggested Brian and he got up and opened the door. They both stood in the doorway and felt the blast of heat on one side and the cold on the other. It made logical sense to be right there but it felt confusing, like being on the edge of a weather front. Jo pulled Brian back in the room and shut the door.

“Actually that’s worse, neither one thing nor the other, more a confusing muddle. We need the coolness, the reflective thinking and then we need to be out there driving, pushing, motivating everyone, setting the example”.

“But surely we just have to make the numbers, that’s the important thing and that’s what head office are looking for. You know the score, no if but’s, sorry’s, excuses, make the numbers every quarter, deliver”.

“Agreed, but they don’t dictate how we get there and that’s our role, our choice. Maybe its doing more of what we know works, driving things harder. Or, maybe its about doing things differently because its time to change. That’s our job Brian, to sit in that middle ground, to think well, to think coolly and then to apply it back into the heat of the day. Its hard for anyone to think when the temperatures in the 90’s and you’re being bitten to death by the mosquitos. I do know though, that just waiting for the meter to turn isn’t our job”.

“Okay so let’s agree some cool time for people, not off site navel gazing, but real good clear thinking, creativity, matched with hard sharp analytics, done on a regular basis” mused back Brian “And it’ll be great if we can avoid some of those weather fronts that sweep into our exec meetings sometimes”.

“Yup and what I need to do is to talk about why this it might help and how we’ll do it. Give a good context, get people used to the idea of hot and cold – good, fast paced delivery, with a lot of movement and agility – and also – reflection, planning and challenging the way we do things, whether our plans are right, checking assumptions and mind sets”.

“Right boss, lets start with us, I’ll round the executive team up for an air conditioned moment together at the end of the day. Meanwhile, I’ve some work to do and you know most of these sales figures anyway”. He left another folder on the table, stood for a moment under the central fan, the adjusted his white linen suit and left the room.

Jo smiled and turned to her desk and picked up the phone, it was time to set up a visit to a major customer and then make them the focus for the team meeting at 5.00. As she punched the number in, a beautiful tortoiseshell butterfly fluttered in through the office door on a draft of warm air.

Grahame Pitts

May 2015

 

Postscript

This short story comes from being with a number of leaders who have felt the pressure to constantly maintain success year after year, particularly from a number one position, even though the market has changed dramatically. There is a need to change, but moving from the original source of success is difficult and indeed may be wrong, so clear, cool thinking is important. Some leaders naturally have the gift of ‘cool thinking’ , managing themselves and others well in order to handle these pressures, others find this much harder.

A well known and critical competence for senior leaders, is the ability to move confidently along the spectrum of ‘operations’ to ‘strategy’  and I have noticed over years, the most successful manage this movement well, whether in meetings, in 1.1 conversations, or at planning sessions. Those leaders move from detail to concepts easily and are also able take others on that journey.

Now I notice, the most successful leaders, also have the ability to move between cool, clear reflection and the ability to lead in the heat of battle, inspiring others to deliver more. They are not taken hostage by circumstances and instead use all the skills and leadership in the business to find the right way and the right style to go forward.

References:

Thinking Fast & Slow Thinking – Daniel Kathneman

Hostage at The Table – George Kohlrieser

Who Moved My Cheese – Spencer Johnson

Good to Great – Jim Collins

The Other 90% – Robert Cooper

 

Categories
Change Leadership Teamwork

Efficiencies don’t Rule the Waves

The Dark Prince whispered in The Butchers ear, as they listened to the rhythmic creaking of the oars in the galleon, his warm management accent sing songing into the first mate’s brain, alerting it to potential savings deep inside the ship.

“There, hear it? The slap of an extra blade in the water, I reckon we can do without that oar, third back from the left, unnecessary I’d say, what do you think?”

The Butcher tilted his head to one side, his shining bald palette glistening in the full sun high overhead. He concentrated hard, the furrows on his brow crinkled together, his left eye squeezed shut as he pushed his nose forward to sniff the air.

“You might be right there, maybe we can double up on two and four, although we need to take car: we’ve been running regularly on 24 hour rotating work patterns for months now, so the guys will be tired, mistakes happen.”

The Dark Prince ran his fingers through his beautifully brylcreamed moustache, expertly twitching up the two ends into elegant points.

“You’re right, of course, but the Admiral will have our guts for garters (and he loves his garters they both knew) when we next come into harbour. He said we were over crewed, wouldn’t listen when we talked about the size of the jobs we were doing; always available to head out anytime; needing a full crew ready to go”.

The Butcher nodded, glancing at the map then easing the tiller slightly to the west. His mind slipped back over their years of their working together, coming into the service as apprentices; believing back then in the purpose of what they were doing; transporting messages across the empire; feeling they were part of something important. Those were great times: the great voyages; the different people they’d encountered, friendly and unfriendly; the open cheque book; fun times on expense accounts. Now those good times were all a distant memory. Although it was difficult to pinpoint a moment of change, it just seemed to have somehow sneaked up on them bit by bit without them knowing. Now the old camaraderie had gone, the crew were with them just about, but there were mutterings, complaints being passed up, nothing extra given when the shifts changed over, none of the old bantering. Certainly no fun across the ranks.

“Decision taken, bring up Oarsman 3,” snapped The Dark Prince, as he flicked dust from his uniform jacket, buttoned up his shirt and straightened his tie, ready to deliver the bad news.

Oarsman 3 down in the belly of the ship was exhausted, he knew his timing was out, all down the line he could hear grumbling as others tried to keep a regular rhythm. No one wanted to blame him, they tried to cover but when the normal steady beat stammered, they knew they lost power and each time it took more energy to recover.

“Go and get 3B out of bed he’ll have to take over early today,” shouted Oarsman 6, always the natural leader of the rowers on this shift. The cabin boy grabbed back his water can that he’d been passing along the line of sweating rowers and turned to head down the stairs to the ranks of sleeping men, tossing and turning on hammocks on the floor below. He crashed straight into the stomach of The Butcher coming along the narrow passageway and was tossed lightly aside, into the ranks of the rowers, as he struggled down the dark enclosed deck toward the front of the boat.

The Butcher grabbed Oarsman 3 and attempted to haul him out of his seat, but he just shrieked with pain as his feet still under the straining bar refused to follow his body.

“Out you, out!” Screamed the Butcher, whacking 3 around the head as he struggled to free himself, and together they crashed back down the narrow gap between the rowers to the hatchway and upwards to the sunlight.

On deck, the boat had almost come to a halt; the oars on the left side of the ship now out of line with some pointing skywards where The Butcher had knocked into the rowers. Those on the right hand side were still moving but slower now, keeping a rhythm, the combined movement making the boat move slowly in a wide circle. Stumbling up through the hatches came the off-duty crew, complaining, swearing, yawning as they marshaled in ragged lines on the deck. Then came the on-duty crew, sweaty, blinking in the fierce sunlight, shaking stiffened legs and stretching arms and backs.

“Attention!” shouted The Butcher, attempting to bring them all into disciplined lines ready to witness the yet another efficiency saving. The Black Prince snapped his feet together, put his arms behind his back and smiled his slightly masochistic smile as Oarsman 3 was brought in front of him. They all knew the routine – a quiet word from management then over the side you went, an old oar followed, you were given a little help after all, company policy. Some made it back to shore, some didn’t, but they all knew the routine and the management speech: “it was necessary for the benefit of the whole ship, for the whole crew, for the rest of us to keep our jobs; it’s nothing personal, men.”

Except this time, the plan didn’t work. Just as The Black Prince lent forward to begin his well rehearsed speech, pulling his jacket sleeves up to reveal his new gold cufflinks bought with a recent quarterly efficiency bonus, a murmur began to swell across the massed lines of the crew. The Butcher screwed his face up, shutting an eye in his usual style, sweeping the decks to see who was talking. It seemed to be somewhere at the back. No the front. Or was it the new recruits? The women? (Who accepted them on board anyway, he’d never agreed with that policy although they could pull an oar as good as any of the men and better technically too. So, he kept his mouth shut), the section heads? The freelancers? Where was the ring leader? Now all the lips were moving, all softly chanting together, “No, No, No”, and then, as The Dark Prince raised his hand to silence them, (and of course with every expectation of beginning his own management speech) the chant rose to a thunderous roar, now accompanied by stamping feet (all in time of course, the whole crew had learnt the skill of efficiency and good use of effort).

Number 3 oarsman squashed between the roar of his buddies behind him and the ever increasing irritation and concern of management in front of him, stared at The Dark Prince as his eyes bulged, his face went bright red with rage and he roared his anger at the crew. His spittle rained over Number 3 who was frozen to the spot, stunned by the deafening noise bounding in on him from all sides. The Butcher, meanwhile, sensing the situation was spiraling out of control pulled his dog whip from its holster. This was largely ceremonial and he hadn’t used it professionally in years but its appearance enraged the crew, who at seeing it surged forward causing the Dark Prince, The Butcher and the other managers to back up against the foredeck then onto the rear gunwale. The angry “no, no, no” now turned to a gleeful “jump, jump, jump” and to add insult to injury the crew began a well rehearsed dance throwing their hands in the air and pointing at their leaders. Now old oars were passed forward out of the storage lockers, hand over hand over the heads of the crew and tossed one after another into the sea.

Without a command the crew pressed forward. Oarsman 3 found himself pressed up against the shiny buttons on the jacket of the Dark Prince and he smelt the mixture of expensive after shave lotion mixed with brylcream. The Dark Prince in return was the closest he’d ever been to a crew member and he didn’t like the sweat and slightly unpleasant smell tickling his nose.

All this was a side issue though, because the crew had the momentum and still shouting “jump, jump, jump” pushed forward. The junior managers went first, tipped over the side, more oars following them into the water. Oarsman 3 felt a hand grasp the back of his tunic, pulling him back as the pressure from the crowd behind grew. The Dark Prince teetered on the edge of the deck alarm now showing on his face, along with a thin trickle of perspiration running down his left cheek. Oarsman 3 reached out, getting hold of one shiny brass button on the Captains blazer, and for a moment this held them together. They both watched, eyes transfixed, as the cotton stretched out between them seeming to hold for an instance and then, with a pop, the button and jacket parted. Accompanied by one last roar and a manic swiveling of his arms, the Dark Prince toppled from the deck, spiraling through the air, his dark blue uniform and brylcreamed moustache appearing and disappearing in the sunlight, before he hit the sea with a splash.

The Butcher, smarter by far, had leapt for the mast and now dangled mid ship above the stamping crew. Oarsman 6 held up his hand and the crowd went silent. The anger had gone out of them and now their eyes moved between the Butcher on his perch, looking rather like a giant parrot, bull whip hanging loosely in his hand, and the Dark Prince and the management team in the sea below, splashing and swimming as they organised the oars into a raft.

“Hey Butcher, what’s up, not about to take flight are you?” the crew laughed and jeered. Again, Number 6 held his hand aloft, and the crew softened.

“Tell you what, we’ll do you a deal Butcher boy, how about you become the Captain, we reckon we could work with you. But you go back to how you used to be, using all our skills, involve us in the decision making. And, you face up to the Admiral and sort this efficiency nonsense out. Do that and we won’t make you swim for it. What do you think?”

“Yea come on!” shouted some of the crew, mostly the older ones who knew Butcher from other times, and had been part of some great offshore and onshore exploits with him in his younger days. “We know you’re a good guy really, come on, step up and show us.”

The Butcher looking down at them felt a sense of relief waft over him, and then, a second later a feeling of hope, which was helped by seeing the Dark Prince who was shaking his fist up at them and cursing up at them all. Maybe, he thought, they could do it differently, he’d always wanted to captain his own boat. They’d have to concoct a good story, but it might just work. Ultimately he knew the Admiral believed in the right things, even if he went about them in completely the wrong way. He’d listen he felt sure. He wanted smart bright things at the top running the boats now and he craved success that was for sure. And, perhaps Number 6 would make a good first mate, the crew would respect that decision and he’d seen his leadership skills at work often enough. He drew the old bull whip up, curling it into loops, and flung it out to sea, just missing the Dark Prince who let out an expletive toward the Butcher which completely confirmed his decision. Seconds later he was on the deck, ready to negotiate a new way forward, although he knew there was a lot of listening to do first.

Later, in years to come at the officer training school, they would talk about this moment and how it changed the style of the navy forever. How crews were motivated and developed and led differently from that moment on. They would also talk in the bar at night of how successful the boat had been and how the brutal Butcher returned to being a great leader, leading endless campaigns and delivering the Admiral great success (and a top navy award at the end of his career). They also mentioned that Oarsman 6 got his own boat two years later and men and women queued up to work with him. Oarsman 3, who never was much good at rowing, became a galley cook, eventually retiring and setting up a fish restaurant. Occasionally he was visited by a man who looked remarkably like the Dark Prince, or may it was just a similar blue jacket with a missing button that stirred a memory for ex-Oarsman 3.

Grahame Pitts

December 2014

After writing this story and while still reflecting on a question of ‘efficiency savings only take us so far and sometimes nowhere’, I picked up two classic Harvard Business Review articles both of which resonated with this question – ‘Leadership in a Permanent Crisis’ and ‘Discovering Your Authentic Leadership’. These put this fable into a more practical context, with good case studies and sound research. I hope you enjoy these articles too.