Category Archives: leadership

Lessons from Machiavelli – Part 1

“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men (sic) he has around him.” – Niccolò Machiavelli

Machiavelli was referring to how loyal and competent a ruler’s team is.  The ruler’s wisdom is reflected in her/his ability to select capable people and keep them loyal to him/herself.

Machiavelli’s insights are still useful today, however with the span of almost 500 years we can also look at this through an additional lens. Through research, and not just warm fuzzy feelings about inclusion, we know the more diverse a team, the more intelligent decisions the team will make.  A diverse team has the ability to challenge my assumptions or perceptions.  Nothing interesting starts with knowing.

So, the modern leader, not only needs the wisdom that Machiavelli refers to of choosing capable people, but also the wisdom to select a diverse team.  There has been lots of emphasis placed on diversity that is visible – such as gender and ethnicity.  And this is a great place to start. But, what about the diversity that is not visible – thinking differently? different personalities? political persuasions? religions? educations?

Working in a diverse team requires not just our functional expertise. We can no longer assume we have the same experience, same network and same perceptions as the rest of the team.  Instead, we need a curious mind and a humble attitude.  We need to be able to listen, really listen, collaborate, ask great questions, and think deeply.

Finally, each member of a diverse team has to provide unique value. When a team is diverse there is no room for passengers.  So each person on the team has to be able to balance listening, with speaking up with insight… No pressure!

So, how would Machiavelli rate your team?

  • How diverse is your team?
  • Out of 10, how do you rate the capability of your team to meet today’s challenges?
  • Does your team have a mindset that enables diversity? is it curious? is it humble?
  • Does your team have the skills needed to embrace diversity – listening, asking good questions, collaborating and deep thinking?
  • Do you have any passengers?

machiavelli-crashworks

Have you learnt to fail in a perfect world?

With many children returning or starting school this week, my mind has turned to how we learn.  In particular, how and when we learn to fail.

At early years, our kids learn that getting something “wrong” is bad. Our brains are wired to listen to fear more than reward and we play it safe. So, it is no wonder that when we get to the workplace we arrive with a strong aversion to failure.

We are surrounded by systems that demand perfection. We want customers to have a perfect experience – 100% of the time. We want products that are perfect or we want a refund.  We want shareholders to get healthy and ever growing dividends. We want trains to run on time. Our “reality” TV “actors” have white teeth and wake up perfect hair.  Our Facebook poses must be perfect and natural.  Even our bananas have to be blemish free.

Yet the enduring adage of successful innovators is to fail fast, fail often, fail forward, fail cheap, ….

Learning to fail takes self awareness, self control, reflection, humility, resilience, humour, graciousness, vulnerability, patience and an appetite for risk. Sometimes, failure can be served with a side dish of anger, frustration, self loathing, shame, guilt and sleepless nights.

Our reality is that we are caught in a conundrum – working in a system that generates operational excellence to be successful today but knowing we must innovate (and fail) to be successful tomorrow.  We have to be ambidextrous.  It takes wisdom to know when to be “perfect” and when to fail.

  • When did you last fail?  What did you learn? How did you respond?
  • Who have you shared your failures with?
  • Do your team know when they can fail?  What do they think your response to their failure would be?
  • What have your taught your kids about failure?

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Can I really do another year of this?

Happy new year!

As we brush the sand off our swimmers and slip back into work attire, many are asking themselves, “Can I really do another year of this?”

When it comes to work, my philosophy is that there are really only three options.  You can love it, change it or leave it.  There is not a fourth option to half-heartedly sit on the fence and whinge about your boss, your colleagues, your workplace, your customers, your salary, …

Having a whinge about work is safe and costs you nothing.  You don’t have to take a risk. You don’t have to manage the disappointment of putting your heart into something to discover your efforts may fail.  You don’t have to risk giving your manager feedback about what might work better for you.  But living in a whinging safe place can trap you into becoming that person at work who is negative, critical, unadventurous, lacks innovation and does just enough to stay under the radar. Over time the whinger can become become toxic. Is that really who you are?

So, before you take the train to whingeville.  How will you stay energised in 2017?

Love it

  • What do you love about your workplace? colleagues? job? customers?
  • How will you sustain and grow your energy and passion in 2017?

Not feeling the love? So, what do you need to change?

Change it

  • What is within your power to change to enable you to feel more energised? Do you have a clear and shared vision for the change?
  • Is the change inside you?
  • Is the change outside you? How will you change the system?
  • Who can help you? What is in it for them?

Not able to change what you need to? What is stopping you from leaving? Are those things really stopping you?

Leave it

  • What have you learnt about what you need to be motivated? How will you ensure you have that in your next role?
  • How will you leave well?

If you lead a team, why not kick off the year by asking the team what they love or what they need to change to grow their energy.  Instead of asking “why don’t you leave?” (and risking a constructive dismissal claim), consider empathetic ways to ask if there are options other than loving it or changing it that are sustainable.

So, what will you choose in 2017?

love