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 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 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
Organisational Systems Talent Management

Across the Talent Pool

“If you want your child to be brilliant read them fairy stories. If you want your child to be a genius, read them more fairy stories” – Albert Einstein

Evidence suggests that the ability of leaders to tell stories can be a key ingredient for business success. Why? Because those power point presentations are simply not enough. A story reaches deeper into us, connecting with those profound archetypes found in legends and fairy tales across the centuries. Telling fairy stories is not normally an activity associated with management, but our good leaders do just that. Listen carefully at the next planning meeting. If you leave motivated, then the presenter has probably used metaphors, personal experience and stories to tap into that much deeper and more personal space within you. Rather than relying solely on passing information to your rational mind he or she has touched the part of you that resonates with enduring myths and tales told since the dawn of time. There is an inordinate amount of wisdom contained in stories – and a deep understanding about the human condition, and indeed the organisational condition – that links into the very heart of true leadership. Joseph Campbell, the great authority on the story writing, takes us through the essential stages of any great myth: including preparing for the journey; setting out; meeting and fending off danger; achieving success; and eventually returning triumphant. We have all listened to stories, told our children more than a few, or watched great films with a similar approach at the core and, yes, we do apply those frameworks to successful business lives.

So, if you are all sitting comfortably, a short story to take us into our subject here …

Strolling through the woods on a warm sunny day a young man came upon a beautiful pool. Clear and translucent, it had attracted a crowd of visitors. Across the water, no more than 50 metres away, the crowd became animated, chattering, fingers repeatedly pointing at the water where movement stirred, breaking the surface of the water, colours appearing at the surface, flashing in the sunlight. It was exhilarating, bustling; excitement pulsing through the crowd. People strained to spot the beautiful fish lured by the floating bait, and nets began to appear. A beautiful koi carp was lifted from the water and placed in a holding tank.

It all seemed important and significant, yet for some reason the young man wasn’t drawn to that side of the pool. Instead he walked over to a different part, overgrown, a fallen log in the water, sunshine struggling to penetrate the canopy of trees. There was no noise here except the sounds and smells of nature; very different yet somehow more real. Sitting down on the bank, leaning against a tree, the young man felt relaxed and sensed a connection to something bigger and broader than himself.

Looking into the dark, still water he saw no more bright, translucent fish. Instead, other fish swam gently beside the bank. Solid brown carp, all shapes and sizes, young and old, appeared and disappeared, occasionally coming to the surface to catch an insect. Though not as pretty, nor probably as valuable, as their koi cousins, these fish were in other ways just as important. Certainly they were part of the whole pool, part of all the fish in the lake.

The young man sat watching and wondered, why was no one interested in these fish? They looked graceful,strong, sure, solid, and they brought a calmness and a reassurance to him as they swam in the cool water. Was it their colour, where they lived in the pool, or perhaps their size? It did not make sense to him.

Across the pool the people had gone. Little remained of their fishing trip, bar some litter, trampled grass and muddy footprints. Over this side of the pool the fish continued to swim and as he watched there seemed more of those strong brown carp everywhere.

For the future success of our organisations we have to select key people with the ability to drive the business forward. We have to make choices; the life blood of business is at stake. The quality, the integrity, the capability of our people is central to everything we do. So, we rightly spend money and huge amounts of time and energy to secure the right people.

Yet many organisations bemoan the lack of quality leaders coming through. There is too much change and not enough resource, so the identified high performers are often stretched to breaking point and beyond. The talent pool seems fished out, but do we look at the other side of the pool? What about those other key people who, year in year out, bring regular good results? They are not always quite so confident, outspoken, perhaps. Initially they may be reluctant to articulate change and take others with them. Yet, in their own way, they do just that. Projects are delivered, budgets met. Yet somehow these people slip through the talent net. Perhaps many of them actually choose to do just that, preferring the tangibles of operational delivery to the expectations and the exposure of the corporate development dance.

Are we missing something here? Why don’t we invest in these people? Why are they in some way forgotten, passed by in the rush, and often neglected? Our organisations are changing. We can no longer rely on the few ‘galacticos’ to see us through; we need everyone, all the talent we have available. Hierarchical structures are no longer as effective as they used to be. Much of the work is now accomplished through matrix approaches or info rmal networks. That means involving everyone, both the highly talented and those who always keep the ‘wheels on the bus’, enabling the business to keep moving forward, mile by mile.

What would happen if we targeted resource and development at these people? How much potential is available but untapped? This must be worth investigating. At a minimum we motivate those people, but better still, we might just find the tipping point for major change. A change that might build more success over the long term because it is deeply rooted in the organisational culture and lived by the people; a legacy that they can proudly pass on to their successors.

So, we’ve told you a story and shared a paradigm around talent that we think needs to change – no longer relying on the selected few, but seeing more in the potential of many. The koi are important … but so are the carp!

Returning to our original theme, leaders please do tell us your stories. Share your highs and lows with us – engage us completely. We don’t only want well trained, honed, glossy professionals. Yes, those skills are essential, but as important, is the journey that has shaped you, the dragons you have met and slain, the princes and princesses you have rescued. The tough times, the good times: these are the essence of business life. Your stories can and will take the performance of others to a new level.