Losing our mind?

For some time, I’ve agreed with those who maintain that the brain doesn’t control the body unless the mind has surrendered its position. (My actions haven’t always aligned with this belief, granted, and every now and then health events remind me to align my actions and my beliefs.)

For about the same period of time, I have used the brain-body analogy to better understand organisation success. Yet, I had not fully explored the mind-brain connection with this until this past week.

During reflections, I came across this organisational change story (abridged here from Peter Hawkins’ The Wise Fool’s Guide to Leadership):

The Change advisor asks: What is this organisation you want to change? He is shown the glossy annual report.
You want me to redesign this report, he asks? No, the executive replies – this is what we tell our shareholders. The organisation we want you to change is reflected in these company accounts. The advisor flicks through the accounts and asks: Your organisation is made up of figures, all neatly lined up in rows on paper? Not at all, the executive replies. Here is our organisation….. and shows him an organisational chart. I see, comes the reply: your organisation consists of a series of boxes, each joined to the others by straight and dotted lines. In exasperation, the executive says: All right, the organisation is not the propaganda, the accounts nor the written structure. As the organisation is really the people, I will clear the car park and get all our employees out there. Then you will really see our organisation.

The reply? So, your organisation is a large crowd in an empty space, wondering what the $%#@ they are doing there?

If, as some maintain, the mind programs the brain which runs the programmes (the effects of which show up in the body), what programs the mind?

Before this slips into the esoteric, consider the average organisation – the organisation brain-body has elements of:

  • mid-brain purpose and drive
  • right brain genesis, creativity, passion, relationships
  • left brain roles, structure, plans and systems to execute on potential
  • practical functions to carry out daily actions

But what, where or who is the mind?

Considering that many rely on the average organisation for livelihood, for services and for returns, I would prioritise the soundness and health of the organisational mind.

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Leading greatness

Leadership has many different faces but a common business view is that it has something to do with both greatness and collective good.

History is strewn with examples of powerful figures who led millions of people in a direction we would later consider against the common good. In business, in the main, we are intolerant of autocratic, ego-driven dictators who punish dissenters and alienate talent. That is not to say they don’t exist, being deliberately positioned by those who should know better; by those who generally don’t see the rot that spreads until it is too late.

It is all too common for those in power to ignore what really counts, being blinded by what is easy to count – short term gains at the expense of long term value. Those with insight can clearly see the effects of great leadership in the energy and discretionary effort of those within its circle of influence. They are motivated by the aspiration, drive and determination to conquer every competitive challenge.

The insight-impaired who walk right past talent and capability never ponder what it takes to build an organisation that can achieve something extraordinary. Instead, they most likely blame failure on the market.

Are great leaders always popular? Not necessarily. They act on what the situation needs, not what they are pressured to say or do. Often they speak words that threaten the power of those with assigned authority. One such leader is recently-deceased civil rights activist, poet and prophet: Dr Maya Angelou.

She remains alive through her documented wisdom and insights that speak to every leader who seeks to inspire greatness.

 “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Maya Angelou

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Leading on Purpose

Many ponder the concept of leadership – what it takes; what it means – yet people quickly register great leadership. They can also tell when it is missing.

Great leaders have great expectations and believe in great things. In their presence, people walk taller and accomplish more. A “high expectation” environment develops around a great leader. As Theodore Hesburgh said, You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”

Leadership connects the dots between people’s contribution and organisation success. It connects organisation success with impact on key stakeholders. When people connect aspiration for excellence, financial growth and more opportunity, the latter is more likely to happen. When leaders make this non-negotiable, it will happen.

Great leaders shape the semantic environment. This includes the words to use and those to avoid. It includes what you pay attention to and what you ignore.

Many use this story to contrast management and leadership:
There was a man walking along a famous road in Paris. He came across two builders working. He asked what they were building. The first said: “A wall”. The second looked away into the empty space beyond. He responded with wonder and awe, “I’m building a cathedral to the glory of Notre Dame.”

In the absence of leadership, people narrow their focus and fixate on activities and things rather than impact and perception. In the absence of leadership, people re-define employment as showing up, getting paid and going home.

Changing location from home to work doesn’t create success. Great leaders evoke a full mind, heart and spirit response – complete commitment to the cause. Both intellect and passion channeled in the common direction are essential for success given the cut and thrust of competition.

Great leaders do the following without a great deal of fanfare:

  1. Expect great things (as people live up to or down to expectations)
  2. Treat people as brilliant — whether they show their brilliance is situational and discretionary
  3. Keep them plugged in to the big picture — the why (Without this, a large part of the brain disengages.)
  4. Educate them — in touch with business reality not sheltered employment
  5. Keep them informed of what’s happening so they are responsible in an environment of trust and inspiration
  6. Treat people as adults — most have parents and don’t need more
  7. Encourage accountability in a horizontal (not vertical) direction — peers miss nothing
  8. Regularly hook them into the big picture as day-to-day demands can narrow focus and hide broader impact
  9. Systematically drip-feed messages of significance and purpose.

Thinking and acting along these lines creates leadership throughout the organisation for the ultimate outcome of creating a leading organisation.

You really do get the organisation you deserve.

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Time for KITA?

Remember this term? Now regarded as bad form for a manager, when you give yourself a Kick In The A#%$, it could well be a positive step on the road to success.

Time management is all about good habit formation and spotting/ changing habits that give diminishing returns. This requires a long, hard, honest look in the mirror – a readiness to get brutal with yourself where needed.

Do you always invest your time in what is really important, or are you often side tracked by:

  • What you’re good at?
  • What you enjoy doing?
  • Fillers – activities that take time but don’t add value?
  • Others’ priorities so that you have to work late or let others down?
  • Crises that are the result of your own or others’ lack of planning or procrastination?

Time can be both a commodity and a currency. Once consumed, it is gone forever.  As a currency, some time is worth more than other time depending on how it is spent. You can’t recover spent time, but you can get a return on time well invested.  When you convert experience into wisdom, you can get more time later.  But few people are good at reflecting on experience and extracting the lessons – converting experience to wisdom.

As ‘creatures of habit,’ people are capable of good habituation (which delivers efficiencies) but all too often, repeat inefficient and unhelpful habits, with diminishing returns. Lack of insight (realization…self knowledge….reality checks etc) sustains this.

Ask yourself three important questions:

  1. What are your current habits costing in results? Efficiency? Health? Happiness? Relationships? Reputation? Leverage?
  2. What are you prepared to change to have more of what you want and less of what you don’t?
  3. Who is really in charge – you or your habits?

Working with people recently in this area revealed these common themes:

  1. Blocks of unproductive time – get clear about where time goes and then ring fence quality time to work on value-adding tasks. Allocate/ schedule time for “A” (most important) tasks BEFORE they become urgent, leaving you on the back foot.
  2. Procrastination often happens due to uncertainty about how to begin something. Develop good quality thinking to start and complete challenging, complex tasks. Mindmapping is a timesaver to get started on complex tasks and tap into your reservoir of superior thought. (Like anything else, it requires repetition to form a habit.)
  3. Interruptions – you have a plan but can’t stick to it. That should only be an excuse for the first three weeks in a new role. Thereafter, your plan matches your reality (or it’s not really a plan but a dream.)
  4. Crises or extraordinary events – see point 3. Manage crises preemptively. You should only be surprised once with a crisis.
  5. ‘The boss’ commits you to what you can’t deliver. Manage demands so you can do what needs doing, not just for your role but for collective impact. This means negotiating, give-and-take and quality agreement-making. If this is not a sound skill and good habit, put it at the top of your work-ons list. (If the boss keeps shoveling stuff onto you and it gets done, don’t blame him/her for what you’re teaching.)
  6. Delays because of disorganization – develop and maintain great work habits or you will see time disappear into a bottomless pit of confusion and frustration. Both are extremely energy-sapping and energy is an asset in demand management.
  7. Assumptions – communication is not defined as sending an email. Invest time upfront to get clear agreements or you will needlessly repeat the same task. People will not go out of their way to read your mind.
  8. Doing everything yourself: do you envy others who seem to have time? They are generally good at co-opting resources from elsewhere. (You may be one.) Instead of closing the door on them, look and learn. But remember, a delegated task will only save you time if the task is set up correctly and parameters are clear. A little time invested upfront will save a LOT of time later.

The good news is it can take as few as three weeks to change a habit. The rewards that come from a new (good!) habit will keep you committed.  Instead of getting buried by demands and shrinking your capacity out of fatigue and frustration, focus on expanding your capability to handle increasing demands. Your success is a function of what you can achieve within a fixed time budget.

Remind yourself that tiME management is really ME management. Focus on YOU and you are half way there.

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Change for the worse?

“CHANGE” is one of the most consistent challenges today.  Organisational change is usually driven by:

  • Financial pressure – profit demands, new ownership, drive for efficiencies, restructuring etc.
  • IT system implementation or new processes
  • External events (including earthquakes, major weather events or pest damage)
  • Market shifts (including GFC, price of coal or loss of a major account)
  • Government/local government policy change (including Super City, legislation and/or policy changes)

Change is life. When anything living stops changing, it dies. Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) put it like this:

“We shrink from change; yet is there anything that can come into being without it…..?
Is it possible for any useful thing to be achieved without change?
Do you not see then, that change in yourself is of the same order.”

Continuous, iterative, life-sustaining change is how we, and our organisations, stay alive. But unexpected, shocking, threatening, and (perceived) nonsensical change – that is something else. This is all too often experienced by the normal  (never mind abnormal) human brain as a threat to the very survival of the individual.

The primal brain reacts to perceived threat as if it is spine-tinglingly real, typically unleashing a range of rather disruptive, and potentially life-threatening, behaviours.

Relevant for organisational change is the fact that the adaptive human brain learns survival in another social setting – the nuclear family. The brain in formative years has to negotiate a daily series of power struggles. Freud called this the battle between superego and id. Berne called it the battle between internalized constructs of Parent and Child, with each state accompanied by a typical set of statements (‘scripts’) and emotions. People become programmed into these two modes, which explains bizarre and destructive behaviours during times of rapid change.

Centralised power, the traditional/military hierarchy with its chain of command, plays right into this illusion of Parent power in organisations. Illusion because the REAL power is with the masses. You as manager have limited  REAL power. There is only one of you. There are many others. What they  do as a collective has way more impact on:

  • How much is sold
  • How much is delivered at what quality
  • How customers perceive the organisation
  • How loyal customers are to your brand
  • How much money you lose in wastage and inefficiency
  • How much ends up on the bottom-line.

This impact may not be visible nor as immediate as you have come to expect from a president of a division or a ‘chief whatever’. But in a far more powerful collective effort, the sum total of the collective far outweighs any individual or elite group.

When you  divide and rule, starve this powerful force of information, treat them like children (“Kept in the dark and fed on $%*&”), then you have a disaster waiting to happen. For one, due to the phenomenon of lag, it takes a while for you to see the need for change. They see it on a daily basis. (But it is not their job to do anything about it,  due to job descriptions based on ‘divide and rule’.)

Is it any wonder that up to 70% of Change programmes fail? From McKinsey research, only 30% of executives see Change programmes producing a more healthy organisation and only 38% think the organisation performed better after the Change programme. Yet, 57% of Change programmes are to reduce costs and bring more efficiency. You can’t dictate this to people. When working against you, they have more ways to counter every move you make than you can ever imagine, let alone manage. Why not treat them as partners? That is actually what they are.

There are four typical approaches to Organisational Change, listed here in the order of success and in reverse order of prevalence (in my experience).

  1. Team-driven
  2. Campaign-driven
  3. Leader-driven
  4. Change Process-driven

Most prevalent is number 4: a project manager is appointed to manage  the change. Typically, they never leave their computer.

A Leader-driven approach is having a Pied Piper who is charismatic enough to lead people in a direction no matter how much sense the change makes to them. The issue with this is self-evident; one person cannot create organisation success.

The Campaign-driven approach is powerful, drawing on advertising techniques of neuromarketing. It is how the London Olympics team solved the issue of persuading volunteers to keep information about the opening ceremony to themselves. A clever byline and loads of feel-good paraphernalia made the volunteers feel part of an exclusive club (as they were.) The phrase “Save the Surprise” did much of the persuasion work for leaders.

This still doesn’t beat the Team-driven approach to Change that is simply a way of life for this type of organisation – an organisation:

  • that keeps everyone firmly grounded in trading and financial realities
  • where key expectations of those whose opinion and support counts drives daily focus and overall results
  • where everyone and every sub-team knows they are all on the same team and every thought and action ultimately affects everyone for the better or worse.

Telling it like it is, involving people fully in how things work and expecting everyone to continuously make things work better means that Change is engineered into the foundations of the enterprise.

In my experience, people are astute at creating systems they need to succeed, and usually deliver beyond expectations when it is humanly possible to do so.


  • Give them an impossible task
  • Keep them in the dark
  • Suppress their contribution and creativity
  • Make demands and disappear
  • Put yourself first ahead of them or anyone else
  • Lose their confidence and generally behave like a *^%#….……….and before you know it, you have created at best, a dead weight that resists any attempt to move in any direction other than the one they are heading in, and at worst, the most insidious enemy to success.

No other way works better with organisational change than when people are fully involved and committed to change as an every day success requirement – just part of staying alive. When unexpected events hit hard, remain honest. Employees are your best allies during troubled times if you keep it real. None of this works if you have an agenda other than the collective best interest.

When you have the right motives,  change becomes a way of life, driven by the whole team – the only way to truly excel.

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Olympic success – no accident

It will be no accident for those winning gold medals in Sochi. Specific attributes and actions are common to this elite group. E.g.:

  • Desire
  • Dedication
  • Focus
  • Smarts
  • Guts
  • Talent
  • Competitive performance
  • Experience
  • Training
  • Consistent application
  • Innovation – pushing the boundaries
  • Performance analysis for continuous improvement
  • Teamwork
  • Collaboration
  • Loyalty from and to fans, family, sponsors…….whoever helps them get where they are.

Interestingly, listening to a recent interview with Mike Pervan (Altitude’s General Manager), it occurred to me that many items on this list apply as well to gold-medal winning businesses. With customers like Boeing, you have proven credibility in  meeting stringent safety criteria. Given that the aircraft interior impacts safety in a crisis and is also fundamental to the passenger’s travel experience, this is a high-stakes game. Operating at this elite level in such a highly-regulated and scrutinised industry is no small feat for a kiwi-run (yet global) aerospace interior business.

Smart athletes let their results do the talking. So it is with successful business. “Under promise, over deliver” has never been more relevant. Over promising and under delivering is the shortest route to disaster. When customers are grumpy and over-demanding, it is like an athlete trying to compete with an injury – excruciating in many ways, for all involved. Yes, you can temporarily anaesthetise the issue, but the situation eventually takes its toll. You can never replace a fit, flexible, strong, confident performer, whose every minute is focused on preparation, performance, recovery, analysis and improvement – on a repeat loop.

Positivity is another common success attribute – Kiwi Janina Kuzma, member of New Zealand’s Winter Olympic team, echoes many athletes who commit time and effort to visualisation practice. It was made clear that they train in this skillset, practise it with as much application as other forms of training and regard it as fundamental to their success. (One wonders what the average employee visualises about their work day.)

When the athlete is on the podium realising the dream, they know exactly how much that glory has cost them. They have never been under any elusion. In that moment, the many years of pain and disciplined execution is worth the cost. But it is no accident – simply the flow-on effect of doing a million things right, repeatedly.

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Creatures of habit

What will 2014 hold for you?…. your team…….your business?  The SAME as 2013…as 2012? For many, it will be. How come?

Organisational change is a recurring theme in my current work. A CHANGE challenge is that neuroscientists tell us 70-90% of today’s thoughts are the same as yesterday’s. Why is this?

Two opposing forces in the brain are:

  • Efficiency through repetition:- as you repeat thoughts, so the nerve pathways become myelinated (insulated) for quicker performance – less effort, more speed. Habits serve us well and if your brain didn’t habituate, you would need to re-learn how to tie your shoe laces each morning as a youngster.  Organisation success is due in part to systematising of proven processes – ‘recipes’ – for consistent quality.
  • Change – doing new things or old things differently:- as you adapt to a dynamic environment, so your survival is assured. Neurogenesis and neuroplasticity (new brain growth and brain change) preserve life.  Organisation success requires ITERATIVE change. Continuous change is healthy and essential, but constant, tumultuous change can even be life-threatening.

The past becomes the future

Sometimes habituation and renewal wires cross through various experiences. People habituate what threatens their survival (or at the very least, their health, relationships, income or performance of their business) when they choose short-term at the expense of long term gain.  Charles Duhigg connected human habits and business/organisation success in his book ‘The Power of Habit’. The ‘hit’ (reward zone in the brain that emits an intoxicating neurotransmitter) entices the repetition of that behaviour. Before long, it has habituated and the person as a conscious being is no longer in the driver’s seat.  Without realising it, daily thoughts and actions recreate the past, over and over.

Addictive thoughts become addictive behaviours

Two survival drives of the human brain can unwittingly enslave you to subconscious decisions that don’t serve you well, to avoid discomfort (pain) or in pursuit of that ‘hit’ (pleasure). Your superior, intelligent, advanced mind is thus programmed by a process that mimics chemical addiction. Prof Cliff Abrams at Otago University has lectured eloquently on this topic. The ‘hit’ mechanism can vary widely – from chocolate or coffee through to vodka or cocaine.

This can actually be a way to anaesthetise against painful life circumstances. “Studies showed that a high sugar intake has the same effect on the ‘feel-good’ hormone dopamine in the brain as cocaine” (from an article entitled Bitter You – Page 18, You, 23 January 2014.)  For others, it is a familiar pattern of behaviour that triggers a cascade of powerful habituating hormones.

Avoid the trap

The reward and pain avoidance systems in the brain are instinctive and fundamental to life preservation both in the short and long term. They are extremely powerful and it is pointless denying them. But like daily adaptive responses to gravity, you can adapt your behaviours to work with  these powerful, life forces.

Choose your thoughts and choose your future

Given that imagined reality  is as influential as reality itself on the auto-suggestive brain, and given that humans are narrative creatures, their interpretive stories about daily experiences determine how their brain responds to life experience. Those who make success look easy simply make this a deliberate process – they consciously interpret and narrate in a way that drives them towards want they want and away from what they don’t. Simply changing the phrase “I’ve got to…..” to “I get to…………” can change your emotional state and therefore application to a task at hand. Repeat this a thousand times in different ways and your actions will create circumstances that align with your best intentions.


1. Attach (anchor) pleasure to a mental goal that your intelligent mind chooses deliberately and attach pain to an action you know will not be in your best interests. In no time, your efficient brain will habituate your choices.
2. Be honest (i.e. brutally frank) about the cost of current habits. This is not easy as self-delusion is alive and well in the average psyche. But self-delusion is simply another habit learned as a child. It can be unlearned when you realise that, as an adult, you don’t need such self-protection.
3. Deliberately habituate (establish and repeat) actions that are aligned with your chosen goals. Ensure you interpret these as pleasurable (or create rewards along the way) to stay plugged in, in the direction you CHOOSE.  Alternatively, make it more painful to do the things you know won’t serve you well. It may sound glib, but this is the way many successful people self-programme for success. They deliberately attach their chosen story to life events.
4. Calibrate – count your start point and count what you’re doing; monitor your progress and adjust as needed.
5. Publicise your commitment – tell others what you are committed to change.
6. Make change a habit. Initiate change the moment you notice you’re getting stuck in a negative pattern. (For anyone struggling with debilitating addiction, find an NLP specialist who can boost your change efforts.) When you choose constant CHANGE (life-preservation), you become more responsive to externally-driven (unexpected) change.

Make 2014 a year of continuous change and growth. Continuous change and renewal develops a change-adeptness that will serve you well in an accelerating world.

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Leadership Lessons

During reflections about Nelson Mandela and a life well lived, one ponders one’s own life and what can be learned from a man who will go down in history as one of the greats.

Leaders from a range of organisations at workshops over recent weeks have named a wide range of iconic and exemplary leaders.  Naturally, Nelson Mandela featured strongly in this list but the list itself was quite diverse.  Common to all those names, however, were two factors:

  1. Admirable and significant ACTIONS
  2. Character ATTRIBUTES that made their actions seem effortless.

Many noteworthy leaders are great with words. Barrack Obama follows in a long line of extraordinary orators (studied during his early years). Nelson Mandela too was known for a great turn of phrase but words can only take you so far. People only believe when you ‘walk the talk.’ Actions truly do speak louder than words.

Was Nelson Mandela unrivalled in his suffering for a cause he believed in? Was he singularly selfless in his quest for the betterment of his fellowman? Of course not. But where he seemed unrivalled was his dignity when pushed to human limits and his wisdom about how to unite where conflict and prejudice were deeply engrained.

Modern students of humanity may label this high EQ (emotional quotient/emotional intelligence). This is the ability to reign in impulses, adapt emotional state to what a situation requires, read others’ emotions and influence others positively. On this scale, he must have been right up there.

Can this be put down to years of trial and tribulation? Not solely, no.  Many suffer and only deteriorate in character. Many endure hardship and  seek escape in a range of destructive ways.  Fewer emerge from years of torment with a character carved from unrelenting pressure with a reservoir of fortitude, forgiveness and forbearance that fuels aspiration, courage and patience. As it turns out, that depth of character (revealed in both word and action), inspired billions, not just the millions in the land he called home. When you inspire a species, you truly do express humanity in its ultimate form.

As people, we seem fairly united in our admiration of someone who suffers on others’ behalf and triumphs. We look up to them and hope they will take on the mantle of leadership. Simply put, we trust them to take care of what matters most.

There are no more pertinent challenges to today’s leaders – in all walks of life – than the two met admirably by Nelson Mandela:

  1. Courage to make a stand at odds with either the majority or the ‘powers-that-be’.
  2. Gravitas to unite conflicting positions, voices, perspectives, roles and needs.

 “Most organisations begin purposively. After time, the goals of the groups give way to individualistic aims and the institution begins to decay. A tremendous amount of energy pours into the system at one end, but the real output dribbles (out the other end).” J K Fordyce

The LEADER reminds those in a feisty team that they all lose if only some win and that reminder can come from anywhere and anyone. The title of ‘leader’ does not magically endow someone with special qualities. Rather, leadership is something any and every individual can contribute. Showing others the value of what they have in common and the cost of entrenched positions is LEADERSHIP (whatever or whoever the source.)

Acts of leadership, in situations of need, create a force that can dissolve barriers, invoke human spirit and advance positive causes in unprecedented ways.

Surely the way to honour Nelson Mandela is to demonstrate his finest attributes and firmest actions wherever these are most needed, and possibly when most unreasonable to expect.

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Family business

I’ve just spent 5 days travelling to and from a family wedding – last cab off the rank. (Last niece to get married, born the month I left South Africa, many moons ago.) Being with family reminded me about what families and businesses have in common. Not ‘family businesses’ – all organisations across the whole private/public/not-for-profit spectrum. These are those dynamics that play out at work and that occur around the dinner table at home, too.

At your next work meeting, notice the following then observe similar dynamics at your next family get together.  (As we approach the festive season, there’ll be plenty of those!)

Typical (and habitual) behaviours include:

  • Making a mark/dominating proceedings
  • Basking in the reflected glory of others
  • Putting others first and themselves second, then realising they are losing out (and reacting in a number of ways)
  • Getting excited over little things
  • Making jokes to relieve tension
  • Telling entertaining stories
  • Speaking their mind without much thought about the consequences
  • Circling around an elephant in the room – changing the subject if it’s raised
  • Keeping the peace at all costs
  • Saying one thing but actually meaning another
  • Enjoying a lively (heated?) debate and if there isn’t one, creating one
  • Doing their own thing – whatever that is, it is what everyone knows them for so they prefer not to disappoint.

Coincidence that this occurs at both home and work? Of course not. Put people in groups and behaviours are extremely consistent and predictable. Given that there are personality patterns and group behaviour patterns, these are bound to recur where you find people in groups. What many don’t realise is that people can react to a trigger at work, responding to an internalised family dialogue that neither party is aware of. This can be confusing for onlookers.

I was reminded of another common element when running a workshop yesterday. A participant said: “The last time we brainstormed to create new ideas as a business was when we were under an imminent threat.”  This is true of families, too.  In times of crisis, people demonstrate qualities not usually on display. (But maybe they could be.)

When the chips are down, you realise what is most important…that:

  • You’re in this together
  • You have strength in numbers,  relieving stress during tough times
  • You can create something special and significant as a tight unit
  • When you keep focused on what counts most, you can achieve more as a collective.

For success, satisfaction, happiness……whatever you aspire to, align priorities when together. If you do this, then the whole really is more than the sum of the parts.

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You know you’re in the right camp when……..

….you’d rather be with this team on this boat – Emirates Team New Zealand even if it is trailing the competition.

It sounds clichéd, but New Zealand really is the winner in this 34th America’s Cup regatta.

Two (now) well-matched vessels of unprecedented design genius, showcasing the best of New Zealand ingenuity and sailing mastery to the world; more importantly (for the collective good) parading our technological brilliance in front of the world’s wealthiest, in a way that has nothing to do with sheep or cows.

Something about being a New Zealander means we prefer to win through sportsmanship, not gamesmanship. We would rather win in an way that is sustainable and that we can be proud of than ‘at all costs’. When it comes to gamesmanship, we accept that the Aussies have that trophy well locked up. (George Gregan…….Glenn McGrath….and now one James Spithill.)

But when it comes to grit and relentless effort against the odds, true New Zealanders, those who put nationhood first, have that trophy well locked away.

Consider how we:

  • Box above our comparative weight in world rankings
  • Never have the same budget nor sophisticated resources as the other guys (piece of 4 by 2 and number 8 wire)
  • Have to forage to even show up at the start line (think of Rob Hamill and Phil Stubbs knocking on doors for funding when they should’ve been training)
  • Are under-capitalised in most business sectors (which accounts for our productivity rankings)
  • Are able to crawl back from the brink even when the country loses faith and turns against us (think of Hamish Carter and his amazing comeback in Athens)
  • Don’t use a postponement card even when we can and probably should – because we want to be able to look in the mirror and like what we see.

We as a people pay dearly – personally, financially and physically – for what we value most and for our lofty aims. But it is a choice we make over and over, deliberately and predictably. How we deal with disappointment also reveals character. And we are surely being tested on that front.

There is always an easier course that is more lucrative, less gruelling and a lot less punishing. But then we’d have to give up what we value most: being able to look ourselves square in the face and not flinch.

As a wise elder once said: As long as you can put your hand on your heart and say I gave it my all, there is nothing more I can ask.

I think Blakey would be proud of the dignity and mana on display in San Francisco. It is easy to win when you have no competition. It is easy to show up when you are confident. Getting back out there in the face of such fierce and powerful competition takes guts. Our dignity, honour and loyalty are now the trophies at stake.

Of course we want to win. But not at all costs. We want the result to reflect the reality of the competition and right now, we are in competition with a stronger competitor. Yes, it’s a cliché, but New Zealand really is the winner in San Francisco.

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