The four ‘ings’ of work

The four ‘ings’ of work

My children often ask me “what do you actually do at work Dad?” and to be honest, over the years I have struggled to answer the question with any level of clarity or conviction. For self-assurance, more than anything, I have tried to resolve this question in my own mind.

In principle, there are four aspects to peoples’ work, and as you evolve into varying roles, the weighting of these elements changes significantly.

We all usually start with doing. Because this is where we start, and it is normally how we and others measure our performance, it is easy to place too much weight on its importance as we grow. In fact, it can hinder our growth. While it is critical initially, as we evolve, we realise that doing can be limiting.

The second aspect of our work that is encouraged is thinking. There are two components to this. Thinking about how we can work more effectively ourselves, and hence improve the doing, and thinking about how we can improve other things around us. This element is very rewarding. We recognise our own value more, we see the positive influence on others and our environment, and this realisation leads into the third aspect.

We start to utilise our feelings. We want to feel valued and appreciated. We place more importance on relationships and trust. We want to influence the feelings of others. We start to recognise the importance of feelings and how directly relatable they are to performance and wellbeing.

And finally, once we have travelled this journey, we start sharing. We share our experiences, we pass on our knowledge, we educate and inform, we provide guidance, and through this sharing, we utilise the talents of others to replicate all the above.

In summary, do-ing is about achievement. Think-ing is about improvement. Feel-ing is about development and share-ing is about fulfillment.

So, what do I do at work? Not much doing, a bit of thinking, lots of feeling, and I am flat out sharing. How cool is that!

Performance measures for leaders. Learn how to teach.

Performance measures for leaders. Learn how to teach.

A close friend of mine is a primary school principal. I had the privilege of working with him for a number of years as chair on the school board. Recently, he mentioned something that resonated with me. He said “Arthur, they say the most important person in the classroom is the teacher, however they become the most important by ensuring everyone else in the room is more important.”

This statement captures so much of what many define as good leadership. It recognises that a role is more important than a title. Its message is focused on the performance of others, rather than the individual. It highlights the value of humility, of sharing and empowering. It identifies the importance of transferring knowledge and experience onto others.

When leaders consider their own performance, it is important to keep measures in perspective. Is the performance of a leader more important or less important than the group? Sometimes leaders become too focused on their own performance. It is relatively clear the performance of the group must be the true measure, not the individual.

Leadership phrases such as “make yourself redundant” or “make sure you’re the weakest link or the least capable” all carry similar messaging; however, the classroom phrase is more profound. It implies that for those in leadership roles, ultimate performance is achieved through the performance of others, and we should measure leaders who have wisdom, knowledge and experience by how willing they are to develop others around them, without need for recognition.

So, why do the best classroom teachers act this way? They only have students for one year generally, and then pass them onto the next teacher. The answer lies in what motivates people. Do they gain satisfaction and self-reward through their own performance or through the performance of others? Good teachers, as with good leaders, are motivated to see others develop, improve, and perform to their highest ability.

If leaders need direction on how to improve culture, and how to develop high performing teams, they should look no further than this classroom reference. It is no coincidence that my close friend has been a highly successful and respected principal for most of his career.

How many P’s in Leadership?

How many P’s in Leadership?

While it may seem an easy question, leadership requires a few key attributes that change the obvious answer. My experiences and observations have taught me that there are three essential traits a leader must exhibit to be effective.

The first relates to energy and drive. A leader must be PASSIONATE. This characteristic is important not only for the individual, but also in how they influence others. Leaders who lack passion for their role are less likely to reach their full potential. This passion also contributes to effectiveness. Without showing passion, it is very difficult to yield influence.

Secondly, a leader must be PRINCIPLED. Clarity and consistency in actions and behaviours are crucial to gaining the confidence of others. This instils a sense of dependability and assuredness. It provides guidance for leaders in decision making, while building reputation and personal brand.

The last attribute is functional – a great leader must be PERSONABLE. In modern society dictatorial, demanding and commanding roles are unpalatable and usually ineffective. Collaborative, team oriented, and persuasive influencers draw the best out of others, while gaining respect. They exhibit empathy and engage sincerely. They build relationships either directly, or indirectly through their words and actions. They connect with people.

These are the three P’s in leadership – PASSIONATE, PRINCIPLED, and PERSONABLE. Does this mean everyone with these characteristics is a start-up leader? I’d suggest not. I know many people with these attributes that neither are, should be, or would want to be a leader. However, if you are in a leadership role or you aspire to be one, then it’s important to recognise some key traits that you not only must have within yourself, but portray at all times to ensure you remain as effective as possible. Display these three P’s and you’ll give yourself every chance of being a successful leader.

The Workplace and Mental Health – is it part of the problem or part of the solution?

The Workplace and Mental Health – is it part of the problem or part of the solution?

There are many issues of concern for society currently. In the workplace, none is more important than mental health.

When medical illness is directly attributable to the workplace, it is usually quickly addressed. Physical injury is now better controlled in most work environments, and relatively easy to identify and rectify. Mental health on the other hand is complex for many reasons. It’s arguably harder to recognise, concerningly easier to hide, and far more difficult in identifying a cause.

There are clear challenges in managing the mental health of people in the workplace. Unlike physical injury, not everyone reacts the same to circumstance. A trip hazard can be eliminated or appropriately managed. This method of rectification doesn’t exist with mental health. Our approach shouldn’t be to eliminate the occurrence of mental health issues in the workplace, but rather create the best environment possible to assist those in need. Zero tolerance is the benchmark for workplace injuries. For mental health it should be 100% tolerance.

Most people who suffer severely from mental health issues require professional help. Medication is not uncommon, but not the only factor in management. Once help is sought, and treatment is referred, people have the best chance of leading a better life.

The complexity with mental health revolves around an individual firstly recognising the issue, reaching a point of acceptance, seeking help and then embracing and acting on the advice. All these things are for the individual to address. The objective of the workplace should be to create an environment that allows, and even more so, encourages all of this to occur.

So how does the workplace achieve this? What process and procedures should be implemented? What actions should be taken? What training is required? All important and valid questions.

My experience has led me to an understanding that there is no specific set of procedures, actions or training that improves the workplace to a point where we can be satisfied mental health is well managed. But there are some principles we can instil in our people that provide the best opportunity for those with mental health issues to recognise, accept, seek help, and act.

Firstly, we must do everything possible to remove the stigma. This is most effectively achieved through leadership. Open dialogue and sharing personal experiences are the cornerstone to raising awareness and creating a sense of acceptance from all.

Secondly, the workplace should be perceived as a safe haven, even though there may be elements of work adversely contributing to someone’s state of mind. The key ingredient in addressing this is based on strong and meaningful relationships. Feeling supported, confident that you won’t be judged, and comfortable in sharing thoughts and feelings, all become critical in creating that environment.

Education for all, is the third critical principle. This involves looking out for each other, knowing what signs to look for when you suspect someone may be experiencing difficulties, having the right approach to engage with that person, or simply, knowing who to go to if you see a colleague in need.

Lastly, flexibility to create the right work arrangements. To assist in management of issues, people need flexibility within the workplace. That might be time commitments at work, workload or managing the demands of work in a controlled manner. The workplace needs, as best as it can, to accommodate each individual based on their specific requirements.

These four principles are the cornerstone of creating a work environment where people have the best chance of improving their mental health.

Rather than identifying causes within the workplace and then trying to eliminate them, let’s change our emotional mindset. We must encourage friendships, show support and understanding without judgement, and simply care for one another.

If we create these fundamental values and relationships, we will all be in a healthier state of mind.

The True Art of Leadership

The True Art of Leadership

Questions are continually asked in relation to what constitutes effective leadership. In many ways, there appears to be more answers than questions.

As with most things, the simpler the answer the more effective and truer it will often be. Without wanting to unnecessarily contribute to the multitude of opinions on this topic, some of the recent events that have happened domestically and around the world, have in many ways crystallised my thoughts and highlighted the relevance.

I believe the true art of leadership entails influencing people to accept decisions based on what’s best for everyone rather than what’s best for the individual.

Leaders should always make decisions that benefit the broader group. The phrase often used is “for the greater good”. Effective Leaders, however, have the ability to influence thought away from the potential negative impact on the individual and instead, help them accept the decision by recognising the overall benefit.

This approach is always more challenging to implement during difficult times. Weak, ineffective leaders turn to popular decision making, in which individual support can be simply garnered by personalising the impact, while cowardly or naively ignoring the longer-term effect on the broader group. Effective Leaders can implement sound decisions, however difficult it may be.

In fact, one could sensibly argue that highly popular decisions can’t be “for the greater good”.

If the decision is popular based on the benefit to individuals, then leaders should question its soundness.

So let’s not confuse popular decisions with great leadership. Let’s understand that effective leadership is difficult to undertake and can often lead to decisions that are difficult for individuals to accept. Let’s identify and commend those among us that show the true art of leadership.

Virtual Intelligence – will it render professions irrelevant?

Virtual Intelligence – will it render professions irrelevant?

Rather than talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI), I prefer to reference Virtual Intelligence (VI). Artificial implies fake or unnatural, whereas Virtual implies computer generated or simulated. Virtual suggests a replication of the real world. I believe the term VI better represents the transformation we are currently witnessing in the digitalisation of society.

What will VI mean to the professions and what impact will it have on those professionals and their careers? I believe the impact will be profound.

Many professionals believe their roles within society will forever be safe based on the presumption that judgement, creativity, instinct and experience will always prevail and never be digitally replicated. This misconception may be the undoing of many.

To understand this better, we need to clarify why these human attributes exist in the first place. Primarily, humans use these terms to explain their lack of processing power. People who perform at the highest level, use judgement or instinct to make decisions. Similarly, a person who generates something that hasn’t been seen or done before is defined as creative. So how can computers replicate these attributes?

The reality is that computers don’t need these attributes. Their processing power is infinitely higher than a human and continues to grow exponentially. Rather than be creative, a computer can generate infinite options to an open problem. By applying defined parameters, infinite options quickly converge on the best solution. Without the ability to generate every possible option the human relies on creativity alone.

So, will VI render the role of professionals irrelevant? In my mind this will ultimately be determined by how the client uses the technology. If the client perceives any level of risk or uncertainty in using the technology, then the client will expect the uncertainty and risk to be carried by the professional and hence their relevance will be maintained. If, however, the client is willing to accept that there is no risk associated with using VI, the professional will ultimately be rendered irrelevant.

Responsibility will transfer over to the client, virtual will become real and the only thing artificial will be the professional.

Newton’s 1st Law of Business

Newton’s 1st Law of Business

One of the key elements to a successful business lies within the laws of physics. Between Galileo and Newton, the Law of Inertia (Newton’s First Law) was developed to explain how bodies behave. Interestingly, while inertia is not directly measurable, it can be calculated, and it is critical in describing outcomes and fundamental in determining behaviour. The principles of this theory are overwhelmingly relevant in business.

We should not confuse inertia with momentum. Momentum is a measure of how quick you’re moving relative to mass. Inertia is how much force is needed to impart change, or similarly, how resistant it is to change. It’s inertia that needs to be monitored to ensure it’s not detrimental to your business.

While most businesses see momentum as desirable, consideration is needed towards the resulting impact on inertia. The momentum a business can experience may often hide the dangers of building inertia.

Using Newton’s 1st and 2nd Law as the analogy, business inertia can be explained. Bodies with large inertia require a great deal of force to move. Without the application of enormous force, bodies of large mass take a long time to slow down, speed up and more importantly, change direction. Large inertia can make organisations slow to react. With the same level of inertia, adding mass slows them down.

Hence, business inertia is an important characteristic in predicting outcomes and assessing behaviour.

Managing inertia, while maintaining momentum, is one of the keys to success.

So did Newton have a deep understanding of business? I’m not sure. Does his theory relate to business as much as it does to physics? Absolutely.

Accountability vs Responsibility

Accountability vs Responsibility

Managing a business and the people within it can be challenging to say the least.

Understanding your business and then communicating and implementing strategy effectively is critical to success.

One approach that can be effective in understanding, communicating and implementing, lies within the interpretation of, and understanding the differences between, accountability and responsibility.

Empowering people, establishing trust within a relationship, while allowing autonomy within roles are key attributes of a thriving workplace. Identifying and articulating the meaning of these two terms can create clarity for one role while defining and appreciating the roles of others around them.

In simple terms, responsibility should lie with the person doing the work. Accountability should sit with the person responsible for those doing the work.

When articulated in this way, the messaging becomes very powerful.

For those taking responsibility for their own work, there is a clear recognition that autonomy exists. Understanding that accountability rests with someone else establishes trust and authentic empowerment results.

For those responsible for people, recognising that accountability lies with them, but without responsibility for doing the work, provides powerful guidance on how they should act and behave. Handing over responsibility for the work in a genuine manner, while remaining accountable for the outcomes, is extremely effective in defining the role of those accountable for others. Importantly, this acknowledgement helps those responsible for work, to appreciate the trust bestowed on them by others.

While titles and management structures will vary significantly between organisations, the fundamentals outlined above provide clarity for most within the business. From those who take full responsibility for only their own work, through to those that remain fully accountable for the entire operation.

Defining these two simple terms succinctly and using them to provide guidance on people’s roles within a group goes a long way to establishing respect, trust and teamwork within the workplace. Characteristics that all organisations strive for.

Don’t underachieve for fear of failure

Don’t underachieve for fear of failure

Has society become too risk-averse?

Do people have expectations on safety, compliance and equalisation to the extent that trailblazing is frowned upon, while risk-takers and outliers are ostracised?

Conservatism is the antithesis of aspiration. Australians are ashamed of failure. Other cultures wear failure as a badge of honour, a sign of resilience, resourcefulness and strength.

Generationally, children are brought up in an ever-increasing protected and sheltered environment, where adversity, hardship and disappointment are avoided. Exposure to these experiences builds resilience. History has shown that through these experiences, true innovation and progress flourish. Are some of the essential qualities, that remain critical to people’s wellbeing, being filtered out?

When I speak to people, be it young people, business people or others, decisions and expectations are often set on the basis that they shouldn’t fail or carry any risk. Aspiration is often replaced with certainty. But with certainty comes conservatism, which can often lead to underachievement.

So as leaders, I believe it is critical that we encourage aspiration and risk-taking in others. Leaders should provide the experienced support, foresight and reassurance to allow others to manage and accept potential failure, and in the process build resilience.

Our advice should be “Don’t underachieve for fear of failure”.

Accepting potential failure is the prerequisite to overachievement. Resilience is the essential ingredient in realising it.

Don’t request the sacrifice, accept the offering

Don’t request the sacrifice, accept the offering

How do you get the best out of people? It has long been a question in business, with many varied opinions and points of view.

Is it through motivation, reward, incentive? Does it result from creating the right working environment? Is it all or none of these things? My feeling is we are asking the wrong question. We shouldn’t be seeking to draw the most out of people, but rather have them be willing to offer as much as possible.

Everyone has different expectations on what is normal acceptable effort. If we set our own measures on what we want out of our people, then neither party is content. There is either more to be offered, or there is a feeling that expectations are too high.

Alternatively, we can build relationships with people and make them feel committed and willing to contribute. We can show them how their efforts positively impact on others and the business overall. We can create a sense of belonging and have them recognise that what is good for the business is good for them.

This is what brings the best out of people. Achieve these things and the best outcome will be delivered. There will be no reluctant, unsustainable sacrifice, just a willing, ongoing offering.