HR lessons from…The Paper Dolls

Its now time for my usual silly season blog post where I aim to show the HR lessons that can be gleaned from a well known children’s story. This year, it’s the Paper Dolls, by Julia Donaldson.

Are you ready? Then let’s begin.

The story touches on many pertinent HR and leadership lessons and I’ll draw out some of them here. Firstly, the story sets a context of an organisation that encourages creativity, innovation and collaboration, and the importance of a helpful manager…

The story then turns to diversity and inclusion, showing how, in the right culture, every employee can thrive and grow….

Sadly though the book then explains how success and happiness within an organisation often attracts jealousy and resentment, and shows how internal discord can create a sense of bullying and harassment. Tellingly, though, the culture of the organisation encourages the victims to run away rather than confront issues…

Pleasingly, the employees get away from their bully and remain happy in a different environment, but encounter bullying again, almost as if the bully is stalking their every move…

Until they finally believe they’re safe from harm in their organisation, enjoying life in their gardens and enjoying their home lives, but the reach of the bully extends to strike fear into them even outside work…

And this time the bully appears to win, causing lasting harm to the employees. However what the bully doesn’t realise is that the employees have a lasting connection to both each other and the concept of the amazing workplace, and reconnect beyond the bully’s reaches…

In this scene the book explains how relationships can survive even the most toxic of organisations, and that the employees will forever remember the good aspects of working there but come to forget the bullies…

And in the final scene the book hints strongly at how being treated badly by an organisation or bully can sometimes help to reinforce the good things in life, and provide fuel, motivation and a platform for creating and shaping even more amazing workplaces…

And so we end. A stirring story which covers the positives of innovation and creativity but also highlights the unintended and unwanted impact that a diverse and inclusive culture can have, whilst ending on a positive note in that this can, in itself, lead to the creation of better leaders.

The End

Till next time…

Gary

Ps in other news, and with tongue now firmly OUT of cheek, I’ve had a tough week in my personal life. Something I published has created trouble for someone else, despite there being no connection between them and my material, and led to a difficult relationship between us. On top of that my last surviving cat died suddenly at the age of 18 and, having had her since she was 5 weeks old, this was a blow I could have done without.

#cipdACE summary blog

A couple of weeks ago I attended #cipdACE and was part of the Blogsquad again. Here’s my reflective summary of the entire experience.

I enjoyed it immensely. It’s always one of the highlights of my professional year and this year was no exception.

The conference itself had a great programme with a wide variety of sessions as usual, but I felt it was of higher quality this year. I found it hard to choose which sessions to go to and the only solution I can think of for this is to get some sessions repeated, even if this means going back to three days.

I blogged and tweeted from many sessions and the links to those are below. However my main takeaways were from the sessions by Rachel Botsman, John Amaechi and Lenny Henry, unsurprisingly as these were the big hitters on the programme.

From Rachel’s session I have been reflecting on trust quite a lot and in particular how being more open and transparent doesn’t necessarily build more trust. On reflection I now agree with this and can see lots of examples of this in my personal and professional life. It will have an impact on how I coach in particular.

I’ve learnt more about trust in my first year running a business than in the previous 42 years of my life. It’s strange how individuals behave towards third party suppliers in a way they wouldn’t dream of doing to a fellow employee, and how that behaviour has shaped the way I now deal with companies.

From John’s session I particularly liked his points about the influence we have in HR or in business. Never doubt that we can change things. As someone once said, you can change the world, one conversation at a time. I like that idea.

And Lenny’s session was awesome, highlighting the role of HR in holding our organisations to account for their inclusivity and diversity, with some intensely personal examples.

The Exhibition was about the same quality as last year but did seem larger, and that’s a good thing. The suppliers were varied and whilst the free gifts are nowhere near the standard of previous years, and seem to be dwindling further year on year, there were sufficient variety of interesting suppliers to talk to.

I’ll repeat what I say every year though. Most suppliers are not plugged into the back channel on social media and this loses them valuable publicity. Many did not know their Twitter handle and lots mistook BLOGSQUAD on my badge to be my company name and claimed to have met others who worked for this company.

A good example of this was @HR_Gem at the Perkbox stand. She asked for one of their unicorns and they refused as they weren’t free gifts. She said if she could get 100 retweets would they give her one and they said yes, no doubt thinking she was mad. About an hour later she had them and collected her unicorn. I tried the same tactic the following day and was told at first that I was making it up about Gem and her unicorn as no one on the stand knew about it. Eventually one person said that someone on the stand had mentioned this yesterday and they thought they’d now get into trouble for it, and so were now not repeating it or grasping the very obvious publicity that should have come from it.

Engage with social media, suppliers. We can bring people to your stand and get you free publicity.

I can think of a dozen ways I’d have been exploiting that if I were Perkbox.

Sadly there were other examples too.

As usual, the fringe and social activities provided as much value if not more, and this is again because the conference programme is so packed with good stuff it leaves little time for networking and catching up with people. My solution here is to consider a three day conference again and spread things out more in the programme but it would also allow fringe activities to spread over an extra day. At one point in the Wednesday evening there were four things I wanted to get to, all at the same time, and I managed two.

But the conversations you have inbetween the conference sessions and at the coffee stands in the exhibition, and in the bar in the evening, are often what makes the whole experience worthwhile. The more of that that can be fitted in, the better it is.

My own social media coverage was enjoyable and I put out a good output- six blogs at the event plus this one makes seven, hundreds of tweets, plus a dozen or so LinkedIn and Instagram posts. And not to mention the pre event promo videos I did on YouTube, which many seemed to have liked. I really enjoyed being part of the Blogsquad for the fourth year running.

Overall, this was a better event than the previous year but there’s still ways to make it even better.

And one day, I might get on the main stage myself, who knows?

Till next time…

Gary

Ps in other news, eldest son has passed his driving theory test and youngest son is now sitting up unaided. I have it all going on as a father…

#cipdACE blog 6 – Andy Burnham and Lenny Henry closing keynote

I’ve took some time to wander around the Exhibition for a few hours and also chat to as many people as I can. I’ve been into a couple of the free sessions for a short while and also a final conference session on employee engagement, but my final blog from the conference is covering Andy Burnham’s short slot and Lenny Henry’s closing keynote.

Andy Burnham took to the stage to question whether we are making enough progress around fairness in the workplace. He sees progress, but not enough.

Is work good enough for people?

A good question. There are still examples of poor practice, such as CEOs getting millions of pounds of bonuses whilst we still have a homeless problem.

Andy also highlighted how much may have stayed the same, citing what the trades union movement were asking for 150 years ago which seem to have resonance in 2018 too.

Unsurprisingly, he talked about how devolution can help shape the future of work and referenced the Good Employment Charter that he is leading on within Greater Manchester. This has to be a good thing, and of course you have to start somewhere but will it be enough to focus on Greater Manchester?

There are elements that are being pushed in Greater Manchester, such as basic rights, security, flexible working and more. And it is good to see this potentially being linked to public procurement to help drive compliance with it.

And aswell as this, we need to further the skills agenda and he outlined the initiatives he is setting in motion around this. There are big things afoot in Greater Manchester which, if seen through, will create a fairer society and working life, but I’d question whether it is going far enough by limiting it to GM.

And then we had Lenny Henry.

Lenny is here to talk about the challenges we all face around diversity, and began with a powerful video that shows it is still a very live issue.

He talked about his upbringing and facing issues around discrimination via his family, at school and because of the way society functioned.

Lenny’s talk was hard to blog because it was stand up comedy but actually telling some very serious messages, but I was too busy being entertained to write most of it down.

It was interesting to hear the barriers, tangible and intangible, that Lenny faced in building his career, through both covert and overt racism, and shared how his experiences had led to him beginning to campaign for greater representation from BAME communities in the media, something which has met with success after a lot of hard work.

Although he realises there is still a long way to go.

And in HR, we are uniquely placed to influence this in organisations.

Lenny gave examples of how individuals can kick start movements, and how one individual can influence the wider world, citing famous abolitionists and Suffragettes as examples.

If they can do it, imagine what we in HR can do…

Lenny then walked about Comic Relief but at this point I needed to run for my train.

It has been a GREAT two day conference, and I’ll reflect on this and do a summary blog next week.

Till next time…

Gary

#cipdACE blog 5 – covering John Amaechi session D1

After some quick coffee I’m in what is one of two sessions I’m particularly looking forward to today. It’s John Amaechi’s session on ethics in people management.

John started by explaining how he had rewritten much of his talk after watching Donald Trump on television last night. Trump’s behaviour raises questions about whether we are led by some regressive leaders and organisations.

He gave a great anecdote about being on a networking cruise and appreciating the value of silence when being with someone. The power of “seeing” people for what they are – human beings, and not vending machines.

Too many leaders don’t see people as individuals, as humans.

And yet, our organisations shout from the highest platform that people are our greatest assets, that we have an inclusive workplace.

Often the problems come from line managers, who are the ones we need to reach most about how to treat people.

Most jobs require people to be technically proficient, but also good with people and living the values of the company.

At what point are we as practitioners going to say that it is not enough to be technically proficient, and hold people accountable for being good with people and living the values too?

This was a very good session but difficult to blog as it required more thinking than I could cope with whilst blogging at the same time.

John concluded by saying that within HR we are in a unique position to influence what happens in our organisations and to ensure they behave in the correct way.

Our leaders are disproportionately powerful, but are not as vigilant as they should be all the time.

But in HR we may be tiny in stature, but we are giants in our influence and we are constantly vigilant when leaders are not.

Sometimes, just giving someone some of our time and attention, is enough to influence behaviour and change people’s attitudes.

Sometimes, just five minutes is enough.

A great session but not an easy one to blog.

Till next time…

Gary

#cipdACE blog 4 – CIPD Manchester breakfast camp on flexibility at work #flexforall18

What a great night last night. There were so many fringe events to go to that it was hard to decide what to do. I ended up going to several but the best ended up being in the Rain Bar where around 20-25 awesome HR people who mostly know each other through social media just turned up, drank and enjoyed themselves.

The fringe side of things has vastly improved in recent years and I welcome this development.

I also slept well, and given that we are hearing from Lenny Henry later on, if my Premier Inn stay had been less than perfect he would also have been hearing from me.

I’ve made it to the CIPD Manchester breakfast camp on flexibility at work. This is a fantastically well attended event for a fringe event with about 60-65 people here to discuss making flexibility at work a reality for all.

Well done to Rachel Burnham for organising and running this event.

I write and speak incessantly about flexibility at work and it’s a common theme in many things that I do, so I was interested in seeing what others are doing.

The discussions were table based with expert facilitators moving round to ask different questions.

On the first round of this, our table discussed the challenges in convincing senior managers to embrace flexibility, and we shared many of the commonly heard and expressed barriers that we get from senior managers.

As a senior manager myself in many of my later jobs, I attempted, with varying degrees of success, to lead by example. It wasn’t always easy and I met with lots of suspicion in some places. But in other places, other people followed my example.

I guess the culture makes a difference.

Our next facilitated discussion drew on the experiences of the Flexible Hiring Champions, and this was great because we were able to listen to some real life successful examples of companies structuring their entire talent acquisition processes around flexibility and getting good results from it.

Importantly here we also discussed how some people don’t want flexibility and that they can’t or shouldn’t be forced to work flexibly. If people want to work Monday to Friday 9 to 5, let them.

A barrier here that most had encountered is that job applicants usually won’t share their desires to work flexibly until a job offer has been made, as they feel that sharing such desires would mean the job offer is not made at all.

Our third facilitated conversation was on the elements of cultures that support flexible working.

Flexibility for everybody was the first of these. But let people find their own flexibility, and give them choices.

Flexibility in all its forms is the second element. This is about understanding that flexibility doesn’t just mean one or two particular methods or styles but can be almost anything that varies when and where work is done.

The third element is trust. We often tend to trust people we can see, and if someone is working elsewhere there is a risk that they are not trusted. A good example of trust is from Sussex University who apply flexibility by default and managers must make a business case for jobs NOT being flexible.

The fourth element is about managers who “get it”. Flexibility has so much positive impact, but so many managers don’t understand this.

The fifth element was a great policy that enables, not restricts flexible working. Give managers the support and structure they need to make it work.

And the final element is technology. The technology that you get people to use when working flexibly should be the technology they use when in the office. The communication methods should be the same and the ways of working should be the same.

Our final conversation was facilitated by Manchester City Council on how they support line managers to embrace flexible working, but at this point I needed to dip out to go and see someone else.

A great start to the day.

Till next time…

Gary

#cipdACE blog 3 – the new Profession Map

This afternoon has been one long conversation with almost everyone I know in the HR profession. I’ve managed to miss two conference sessions because I got wrapped up in some great conversations with awesome people.

I’ve also had a decent wander round the Exhibition and a chat to a few exhibitors. The quality of the Exhibition is better this year.

There are also various options for evening drinks which I need to choose from, and therefore almost everyone who wants to, can get some much needed winding down over a glass of wine or bottle of beer.

I’ve finished the day by going along to a Q&A session with David D’Souza and Victoria Winkler about the new CIPD Profession Map, labelled a special press briefing but it turned out only I was there and so there was little structure to it.

I’ve got a brochure about the new map and wanted to comment on a few things that jump out to me. It is of interest to me as I’ve contributed to this along its development path for the last two years, and a lot of what I do is linked to this map.

Here it is.

What do you think? I like it.

Why?

There is obviously lots that is new or refreshed so my views here are just commenting on the things that jump out to me, rather than a full blown review, so you will want to look at it in your own time and do that.

Here’s my two pennorth.

– A greater focus on culture and behaviour, business acumen, analytics, change and digital working in the Core Knowledge section. These are welcome from my perspective as I think not enough current HR practitioners display these elements and they can only help us to become more effective within organisations

– More emphasis on ethics, courage, inclusivity and passion within the Core Behaviours. Some of these overlap with existing behaviours but the fact they are more explicit in the new map reflects the changing world of work and the role played, or to be played, by HR in this. I’ll be interested to see how these make it into the new qualifications though but they’re definitely valuable.

– Within Specialist Knowledge, a section on the Employee Experience, a particular specialism of mine. More sections with an L&D/OD focus, reflecting my view that HR needs to have a greater emphasis on OD skill sets to help organisations improve, and a new section on People Analytics, reflecting the growing specialisms in these areas. All of these are welcomed too.

I’ve not spent a great deal of time studying this, and there’s clearly more work to do to roll this out and develop them fully, but the work to date has been positive and it’s good to see it at last.

There are more briefings on the CIPD stand, on Thursday at 11am, and a more formal launch is imminent.

What are your views on how this represents our profession?

And that’s the end of my day at the Conference although there are plenty of fringe events later. I’ll possibly see you at some of these.

Till next time…

Gary

#cipdACE blog 2 – session A2

I’m back in a session on large scale structural transformation.

The intervening 45 minutes passed in a blur and I barely had time for a coffee and a toilet break inbetween so many people who I wanted to say hello to. People really seemed to have enjoyed the opening keynote speech, and so did I.

This session focused on the restructuring and redevelopment of Aston Martin, and the speaker started by explaining the problems that Aston Martin has had in recent years. Essentially the business had been in a cycle of boom and bust for many years, and lots about their business model was not conducive to sustainability.

This was their redeveloped strategy. The approach was a holistic one with representatives from all functions, and these function heads still meet weekly to look at strategy and overall business sustainability. This builds on the concept that people are part of the solution, not the problem. They have used all their peoples ideas to help redefine the business.

In this they have asked people questions that I always advocate organisations and leaders ask their staff:

– what are you enjoying at work right now?

– what is pissing you off at work right now?

Great questions.

Aston Martin began working establishing patterns of behaviour to build one team and one way of working, beginning with the top team.

The speaker shared a picture of their top team, which was all male, all white, and thankfully he realised how this looked and highlighted how this had changed recently, but this made me wonder how much of Aston Martins problems were as a result of the composition of that top team?

The next speaker was Stuart Henderson, Group Head of HR and OD at Together Housing Group. This was interesting because a few years ago I applied for this job and he must have got it when I didn’t.

He talked about the challenges faced by five organisations merging at once, and this is a situation I’ve dealt with in the past and he outlined what kinds of things the group needed to do to ensure the transformation worked.

They began with establishing general design principles to drive their new structures. They also spent time ensuring line managers were on board, and that trades unions were fully involved and informed.

Here’s how HR continues to contribute to Together Housing, which is noble and nothing wrong with it BUT I don’t think this is anything startlingly new and many organisations will already be doing this.

One key takeaway from me was about checking whether your leaders have the right skill set. Stuart said that many of your managers will be able to steer a ship. But how many can plot a new course, or build a ship? This is something I think many organisations who struggle with change don’t give enough attention to.

An interesting pair of speakers with some good practical insights into change management and transformation.

But it’s lunchtime now.

Till next time…

Gary

#cipdACE blog 1 – opening keynotes

I’m here at #cipdACE for the umpteenth year running. It’s the highlight of my professional year and has been since about 2003 when I first went to Harrogate.

Whilst I retain a fond memory of the Harrogate days, the conference these days in Manchester has really come into its own, and what tends to make that happen is the fringe that takes place before and after each day, which adds to the social event feel. Harrogate had that in spades, and now so does Manchester.

I’m in the Blogsquad for the 4th year running and I’m also representing my 4th different organisation in that time, although this year I’m working for myself and loving it. I love being in the Blogsquad too, it’s great to be able to share the content that I see and hear and get involved with so much that’s going on.

My journey today was not too bad, aside from cramped trains meaning I had to stand all the way.

The opening address was by Peter Cheese as usual.

The real Peter Cheese this time and not that imposter who appeared in the promo video.

Anyway. In his opening keynote, Peter touched on various topical events and happenings that are having an effect on the world of work, starting with Brexit and the Gender Pay Reporting legislation, highlighting how the world of work is changing as a result of these and other forces.

The picture above was Peter’s views on how we in HR are shaping the future of work. He gave a quick run through on how we contribute in each of these areas, but then moved onto building professionalism itself, referring to the recently completed review of the Profession Map which is having a soft launch today. If you’re interested in finding out more, the CIPD stand has talks about it at 11am on both days.

The opening keynote was from Rachel Botsman, talking about the currency of trust.

Trust is a term that is bandied about a lot, she said. But we don’t spend enough time focusing on it.

She started with an exercise to gauge levels of trust in various public figures. But trust is contextual and based on what people say or do to us, and as such it is highly subjective.

She gave a great anecdote about how trust is based on signals that people give out, using her childhood nanny as an example. There was high trust there until an incident happened. How did her parents get the decision to trust someone with their children so drastically wrong?

The reason is that people can project an illusion of information that can often convince people to trust them. When trust breaks down, we see elements of bad character that the illusion has covered up.

She then talked about how to build trust. There are obviously two parties to the trust exchange, the trustor and the trustee. She described the way in which signals pass between both parties to ensure that trust is built up, or not as the case may be. Her point was that, just as money is the currency of transactions, trust is the currency of interactions.

This is an interesting point and one I need to reflect on in more detail, but has tremendous implications for coaching and mentoring work I do.

When you meet someone new or do something new, you are making a trust leap. But the more people that do this, the more the next people making this leap will trust automatically without question.

She did a great exercise to demonstrate a trust leap by asking us to give our phones to the person next to us. Sometimes a trust leap is what is needed. But in making that trust leap, you immediately look for signals and other elements that help to build that trust.

Why do we have to make a trust leap in order to build that trust? The signals are there without the trust leap taking place.

She then moved onto the concept of the Trust Battery. This is a concept that I have blogged about before, but which I call Credit. I recognise this well. It’s about how people often start within organisations with their Trust Batteries at half full, and it is the things they say and do that make it higher or lower.

It’s a great tool to have constructive conversations about people’s behaviour and the relationships you have with them. BUT the more transparency in the relationship, the less you need to have and believe in trust…

That’s a mind blowing concept. As I, and many others in the audience, felt it was the opposite.

But it makes sense.

If you know everything about someone, if you know how they are thinking and behaving, you don’t need to trust them.

But if someone doesn’t share everything you DO need to trust them.

That could change a lot of my interpersonal relationships.

And yours too.

What a great opening keynote speech with lots of personal takeaways.

Now it’s time for coffee…

Till next time…

Gary

My first job

My eldest son has started his first paid job. He’s washing up in the kitchen of a country pub. Watching and hearing about his experiences has made me reflect both on early jobs I had and what value I may have got from these, and whether the employee experience extends as far as those doing casual work to earn money to support their studies.

My eldest son is 17. He’s beneath all the tax, NI, pension thresholds and so the money he gets is pure cash spending money. He gets the minimum wage. At age 17 many people have already got experience of work, but it’s the first time for him and it has been interesting to see him approach this and I’ve had to try to resist giving him advice on how to navigate the world of work as I think it’s important that he finds his own way through the early days.

He has no idea what he wants to do, career wise, and this job is just money to help him whilst he studies his A Levels.

His experiences in his three weeks so far have been interesting, to me at least. It’s casual work but is on the far extreme of casual. His hours are flexible and set a day or so in advance, and whilst his work is repetitive and boring, he is learning about customer service, process management, service delivery and a few other things aswell as the importance of turning up on time and so on.

I tweeted about this and asked people what their first jobs were. You can have a look at some of the dozens of responses I got on Twitter, but there were a lot of paper rounds and milk rounds, both of which I’d consider bygones of a different age but a rite of passage for many my own age.

Interestingly, most people recalled these jobs with fondness, despite no doubt hating it at the time, and I wonder whether there’s something about the distance that time brings and also an appreciation of the raw, innocent person one once was and how open to new ideas and ways of doing things you were.

I suspect the employee experience wasn’t even a concept back then, and engagement levels may have been either high, low or inbetween but hardly anyone noticed or cared.

What was your first job and what was your experience like?

I had a series of short term jobs all in breaks from or alongside studying and found I learnt loads in each one, but often about life aswell as work.

My first job was cutting chips in a chip shop on a Saturday morning, about five hours work for which I’d get the princely sum of £5, which seemed a lot back then. I learnt I didn’t like peeling and cutting potatoes but also that the chip shop felt it had a USP, which was pies, and that it’s whole operation was built around pie making and selling, despite being a chip shop, which really surprised me. I also learnt that the owner of the chip shop was King in that shop, and that what he said (often with swear words) went, and if you didn’t do it straight away then you could be out of a job within minutes. A great insight into authoritarian leadership.

My second job was an office junior in a local solicitors firm. I was on reception, and so dealt with members of the public in person and on the phone and learnt about customer service and telephone skills. I also was the chief brewer upper and learnt how to make coffee.

I was 17. And I’d never made a cup of coffee before. My parents were tea drinkers mostly and I had never liked hot drinks, so had never come into contact with coffee let alone made one.

How my life would change from that point on. I could marry coffee now.

Also I was in charge of sorting out the archives, which were messy. Aside from learning how to spot and kill spiders, I learnt how to organise and systematically file stuff, which is something I still enjoy.

I also had jobs making sandwiches and clearing tables at a service station on the M6, where a succession of people tried to tempt me into pyramid selling schemes and I learnt how unsuited I was to anything involving food preparation.

Also, if you ever bought a sandwich at Knutsford Services on the M6 in the summer of 1995, you should probably get to a doctor soon.

Here I experienced bullying for the first time, as I was physically threatened by two co workers in order to join them in deceiving and defrauding the company and doing unethical and illegal stuff. I refused, and was told I needed to quit there and then and not come back, and if I told anyone about it I would be beaten up severely. I did quit, and never breathed a word about it until now. I wonder if that still happens?

I had a job in a shoe shop where I learnt about sales techniques and how many people’s feet really smell a lot, and the motivating power of bonuses and incentives for sales staff.

I had a job in an office doing basic accounts work and worked for a manager who timed you when you went to the toilet.

And a packing job working 12 hour shifts where it was daylight when I started and finished, but inbetween times it had been dark.

And in hindsight although I hated many of these jobs, I did learn from each of them and do now look back with fondness on almost all of them.

My employee experience in these jobs was not created or shaped by HR. I never came into contact with anyone from HR or anyone senior in the organisation. My experiences were dictated entirely by my immediate manager and team mates. No corporate communication reached me. No one tried to engage me with the organisational mission and in some places I had no idea what the company really did.

But my manager and team mates had the dominant role in shaping my experience, and so I feel it must be true for my son in his first job and others too.

The good, and the bad.

I doubt very much if anyone from HR had had any influence on the managers I came into contact with in the early to mid 1990s in these roles.

But I ensure that every manager I come into contact with these days knows in no uncertain terms the power they have over the employee experience and overall levels of engagement. How the climate they create and maintain in their team impacts morale and levels of performance.

And I help them to be even better at it, through a range of techniques.

All because once, I spent my Saturday mornings cutting chips in a chip shop.

The employee experience matters, whether it is someone’s first job or their last. No matter who they are.

Let’s make the world of work a better place, one person at a time if we have to.

Till next time…

Gary

Ps in other news, we had a difficult few days with our youngest son in hospital for 3 days with what was suspected at the time to be meningitis but ended up not being, although still very serious. He’s five months old and it was a terrible few days but thankfully he is fully recovered now.

Born this way

A few days ago I posed a question on Twitter about the impact of the behaviour and style of those who led you at a formative stage of your career has had on your own leadership behaviour and style.  Here I’ll discuss this.

Here’s the tweet.

Capture

This was prompted after a meeting with someone in my network.  Well, I say meeting, we both like to ride our bikes so instead of a traditional meeting, we spent a morning riding around the Cheshire countryside punctuated by coffee stops, and chatting about all things people management and development.  Most enjoyable.

Anyway, we got to talking about various poor leaders we have encountered, and I told the story of a particularly bad manager I’d had in recent years (we’ll call her Jane Doe), without doubt the worst I’d ever had.  And to my surprise my friend knew the person in question, had worked with them over 15 years previously when Jane Doe was starting out in their management career.

What my friend said about Jane Doe surprised me.  He said that when he knew them, they didn’t display any of the poor qualities I later experienced, but said that management was very new to Jane at that point.  He also said that Jane Doe appeared to have, at the time he knew her, a very bad manager herself who regularly reduced Jane to tears and who was known to be a bit of a tyrant.  In fact, as my friend described Jane’s manager and behaviour, I was struck by how similar it was to how Jane behaved some 15 years later with me.

Almost identical in fact.

And that made me wonder whether Jane’s experience of poor leadership and management behaviour in the formative stages of her own management career had shaped her own leadership style and behaviour as her career developed?

Hence the tweet.

I guess its a bit of a nature vs nurture debate and one to which there is unlikely to be a definitive answer, but the responses on Twitter were interesting.

Almost everyone said that the managers they had early in their career did have an impact and continue to do so.

However many people said that when they had experienced bad managers, this had made them react strongly against it and seek to avoid this type of behaviour.

Others pointed out that there are other influences, such as parents, teachers, friends/peer groups, and specific experiences.  And I’d agree with that.

But my question was hinting at whether bad managers beget bad managers, and whether good managers beget good managers.  And I think that whilst there isn’t overwhelming evidence in favour of this hypothesis, most would concede that it is at least possible – one tends to learn behaviour by observing others, and if you’ve seen a leader get results (note – define results in whatever way you will, but in this case I’m talking about compliance, obedience, and short-term performance) by acting in a certain way, then you would be tempted to copy that behaviour when you first get into management to see if it gets similar results – and it might.  And so if this behaviour you’re copying is one that reduces people to tears, but gets them doing their work – you’re tempted to copy it.

But if you’re a decent human being then you might observe this and think “hang on, there’s got to be a better way of getting results than this”.  And you’d be right.  So there’s an element of how the brain functions, of personality layers too, that will shape an individual leaders’ decision making and style – and I’m not inclined to get into discussing this here in detail but would be interested in what you think?

I’ll talk a little about some of the best leaders and managers I’ve worked for and, as I’ve been reflecting on this, I’ve listed 5 great managers I’ve worked for and have, for the first time, noticed some shared qualities, styles and behaviours that they have.

Why hadn’t I noticed that before?  Particularly as they seem to be qualities which I aspire to copy and adapt.

All 5 of them were in touch with their and my emotions.  They were all helpful, supportive, genuine people who inspired loyalty, and whose approach to getting you to do something was to make you feel that you really wanted to do it, and never to order.  There were no tears, but plenty of jokes and laughs.  There was a caring approach and a focus on family.  And they were all awesome.

Contrast that with some bad managers I’ve worked for where you could almost reverse the preceding paragraph.  One was known, behind her back, as The Smiling Assassin.  Another was known, behind his back, as The Hatchet Man.  Another had the secret soubriquet Lethal, and another was known as The Jerk.  The names are relevant because these are labels given to them by staff who saw that these leaders weren’t good leaders, and who knew their behaviours were poor – the leaders were seen as false.

But, most of them did get results.

So somewhere some aspiring managers might have been watching them and thinking they’d copy this behaviour at some point…and so the cycle continues.

I like to think I’m a decent human being and a leader with some good qualities, and I can say that that has been shaped by working for great leaders in the past.  How might I have fared if I’d been Jane Doe and working for a poor leader at a formative stage of my career?  Would I have become a poor leader myself?

I hope not.

Poor Jane Doe.

What are your views on this discussion?

Till next time…

Gary

PS in other news, my eldest son starts College this coming week, and we are also now looking for primary schools for my youngest daughter – talk about a spread of parenting responsibilities…