The Dangers of Large Organisations

First appeared in ‘CIO’ (U.K).

The CEO of an Organisation asks all Department Heads to send any spare money, resource back to the centre to fund one particular vital project.

Two weeks later the Head of IM has a meeting with a Divisional Director in an Operations team;

“That looks like a really sensible project. Maybe we can do something with it next quarter. “

“Why not now?” enquires the Divisional Director

“Well you heard all the spare resource has gone back to the centre. I won’t have any money until the next quarter.”

“Don’t worry about the money. I’ve some tucked away.”

Now I’m sure something similar wouldn’t happen to you. Well, I’m fairly sure if you work in an Organisation of less than 150 people. It seems that this is a magic number for Organisations. Based on research by sociologist Professor Dunbar this is known as Dunbar’s number. As an Organisation grows it seems that communication problems and hidden agendas emerge far more obviously when there are 150 employees (give or take 10).

It seems that once an Organisation grows and splits into various silos the problems multiply dramatically. A real tension develops for managers between the aims of the Organisation as a whole and running their own part of the business.

I worked in a large public company where one business area recruited 100 staff for a particular project that for a variety of reasons was postponed for 6 months. These extra staff was contracted for a year and were just sitting around doing next to nothing.

The Head of the area announced to the rest of the Organisation;

“Sorry – screwed up. I’ve 100 staff spare who would like them?”

The conversations with various managers when something like this;

“How much would these staff cost me?”

“Nothing. We’ve arranged to pay them from my budget so they wouldn’t cost you a penny”

“Who will write their Performance Agreements?”

“I’m sure we can work that out hen the time comes.”

“Where will they sit?”

“?”

“Who will they report to?”

“?”

“Forget it. Seems more trouble than it’s worth.”

This silo mentality is a huge blockage in Organisations. There seems to be a real problem breaking the walls down. The more established the Organisation it seems the tougher the walls. It gets to the stage where each silo is almost a self contained unit. Whilst there are real benefits here (operating as small business, good communications within the area, sense of pride in the silo ‘team’,) there are huge disadvantages as highlighted. The problems of communication across areas and sharing resources, people seem to outweigh the advantages. It becomes rare to loan people out, or move people. Budgets are guarded. The ‘centre’ becomes the enemy. For instance toward the end of the financial year large Organisations tend to look at budgets for specific areas. I’ve worked with Departments that would have a spending frenzy in March. When asked why they were going crazy buying far more pencils, paper clips, pens than they could ever use it was explained that if they didn’t spend their allocated budget then it would be cut next year.

When asked why they didn’t explain this to the finance section I was given the ‘you don’t know how it works around here’ look.

It seems that the values at the centre don’t apply to the Departments. There’s the ‘they’re not our values’ mentality. This isn’t necessarily just about a silo mentality. There is a problem with values. They sound good. No-one would argue with them but how far would people actually go to uphold them. In recent years there have been a spate of Organisations where the values seem to have been ignored by everyone – Enron, Parmalat, Shell for instance and I guess some of this is to do with a ‘silo mentality’. But for me there’s another factor here. It’s been identified as ‘social loafing’.

Try this experiment when there are a dozen or so of you in a room;

Get one person to clap as loud as they can.

Then get 2 people to repeat this. Then 4, then 8.

What you should see if you produced a graph of people v noise is a straight line. In fact what you see is a gentle curve. As more people join the group the less effort people put in.

In a more dramatic form there was the Kitty Genovese case. This was a case of a brutal murder on March 14th 1964 in New York.

For more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in KewGardens. Twice their chatter and the sudden glow of their bedroom lights interrupted him and frightened him off. Each time he returned, sought her out, and stabbed her again. Not one person telephoned the police during the assault; one witness called after the woman was dead.

The values in organisation are susceptible to social loafing I would guess. ‘I thought someone else would do it’ seems a common response to missed targets, values. Add this to a silo mentality and there are real problems……

Mimicking Charisma?

First appeared in ‘The Age’ (Australia.)

A lot of people use a single word to define that feeling of warmth, charm, personal impact a person just ’has or hasn’t got’ – charisma.

Some believe that it’s something you’re either lucky enough to have or not. But as Arnold Palmer famously said when asked about his lucky shots from the bunkers, “It’s a funny thing, the more I practise the luckier I get.”

Practice makes perfect. Winston Churchill, like many leaders, was not a natural public speaker. In one of his first speeches to Parliament in 1904 he delivered it without notes and had to cut it short as he become totally lost.

After he sat down in embarrassment, he was quoted as saying that this would never happen again. After that he prepared relentlessly for every speech. For every minute of delivery he spent an hour preparing. It was not unusual for him to prepare for 30 hours on one speech.

Although a lot of research indicates how you say it has more immediate impact than what you say – what you say will be remembered for a great deal longer. So make sure you are clear about what your intention is. If it is to be helpful and honest, people will forgive many shortcomings in delivery, body language and tone.

On the whole, people are pretty good at picking up intentions. We generally know when someone is lying, or ’being economical with the truth’.

However it is good practice not to totally rely on your good intentions. You may have the best intention in the world but if the audience is not in tune with you they may not recognise this.

This could be due to all sorts of reasons – some history with you or something currently going on in the workplace that you know nothing about. If this is the case, the effect you have on your audience may not be the same as your intention and you will need to rethink.

Walking the walk

Studies show leaders appear more powerful by acting as they think leaders should act. The ’fake it till you make it’ process. The more you act like a strong, powerful person the easier it is for people to regard you as one and the easier it is for you to become one.

If you have someone in mind as a role model that makes this process even easier. Copy what they do when they enter a room or answer a question. Suddenly after a few weeks of acting authoritatively you realise you are not acting anymore. Within a few more weeks you will start adapting and developing your own style.

In terms of public speaking, there are a number of simple, straightforward tips that can make a huge difference. From the start you need to take control of the environment. This means controlling everything you can control. Both the physical aspects (lighting, numbers, seating arrangements, screen, handouts) and the non-physical aspects (introductions, questioning policy, number of slides, timing, your appearance, knowledge of the audience, your preparation, posture).

Expect the unexpected. Do not be distracted by ’Oh, it’ll be okay – it’s the same as last time”. Get them to show you, check and have back ups for everything. Also recognise that even when you have done everything you can, things will happen that you have not thought about. When that fire alarm goes off accidentally, or the police rush in chasing an armed robber, adapt and do not start thinking about who to blame. Well, not for the time being at least.

The vital part of this is non-physical. Make sure your introduction (if you are having one) is correct and more importantly is what you want. If you are making a speech in front of 500 people do not let yourself be introduced with: “Tonight we have someone making their first speech in front of a large audience so please be gentle on them.”

Tempting though it may seem to get some audience sympathy it just will not work. In a classic experiment two sets of students were given identical lectures and told that the first lecturer was new, and the second an expert. Guess which one received vastly better ratings?

There are some leaders who, I admit, do have that special ’something’. But I guess they have worked hard at developing other aspects of themselves and I really believe anyone can learn to lead.

The outside part is easy (well relatively). The hard part is inside – the intention and the vision. If these are solid then with hard work, the rest will follow.

Values

First appeared in ‘A.I.V.C.I.’ (Australia)

What are the values in your Organisation? What are the values for your part of the Organisation? Where did they come from? Are they written down? What happens when they don’t match the behaviour?

Lots of questions – lots to think about. So let’s start at the beginning. No doubt you have a set of values. Surely you’ve something in the bottom of your desk drawer on a card or a sheet of A4 with a combination of the following words; “respect”, “professional”, “honesty”, “value”, “excellence”, “customer”. Yes? So where did this come from? I’ll give you a few options;

1. It was in your induction pack when you joined and no one’s really sure how it got there.

2. The Board had an away day at a large hotel out near Swindon, returned with this and sent out copies to all.

3. You took your team away to a large hotel near Swindon, returned with this and haven’t looked at it since.

4. None of the above.

Unless the answer is ‘4’ I’m guessing this piece of card doesn’t mean a great deal to you. Which is not to say that there’s no merit in having a set of values. I think it’s vital to all Organisations to know what they’re about and what’s acceptable and not acceptable in their teams.

The problem with assigning a set of values to people is the same problem as trying to force them to accept anything – It’s called psychological reactance. Jack Brehm has carried out a lot of research on this from the mid sixties. Reactance occurs when an individual feels that his or her freedom is being restricted. Some examples will help explain it; a group of people were studied that expressed no preference as to which of two brands of cigarettes they would choose from a vending machine. In the machine there was only one brand of cigarette available – the other brand had been removed. Suddenly the majority of people wanted the other, removed brand and were willing to walk quite a way to get the other brand.

I’m sure Kinsey used the same technique in relation to some sex therapy technique – If you expressly forbid people to do something – they’ll want to do it all the more. Those of you with children know this to be a universal truth. One final example, a friend with an 18 year old son asked him where he was going as he was getting ready to go out. After the usual surly response my friend said to his son as he was going out the door “Oh well – have a good time.” To which the reply was “Don’t tell me what to do”. Slam.

So imposing doesn’t work. Imposing your values definitely doesn’t work. So what do you do? You let people decide their own set of values. This works so much easier with a new team. There is less history (obviously) and less baggage. New teams tend to be more committed, motivated and open. Perhaps the best example of this in action is the 1997 British Lions tour of South Africa where they devised a set of values for the tour before boarding the plane. These values centred on being focused, committed and involved total support and team work. They were carried everywhere and invoked whenever there was a breach of these values. It certainly worked. I know it’s different for you without a common enemy, common strategy and group of disparate individuals to mould into a winning team. Well, maybe not that different.

Trying to get your team to achieve an agreed, worthwhile set of values is not easy. There is a history within teams. There is a history about values, mission statements, etc… It’s almost become a reactant in itself in some companies where they’ve had mission statements, visioning and values rammed down their throats and seen no change at all. So you’ll need to be pretty thick skinned and determined to get it to work. You’ll also need some powerful examples and commitment.

A great example comes from BMW “Excellence through quality and innovation”; BMW employ more than 100 staff in their acoustics and vibration technology departments. They ensure that everything from the sound of the windscreen wipers to the sound of the doors closing is acoustically perfect. This seems to work for BMW.

Another from 3M; “The key: linking growth in individuals to those things that unlock energy and activities that our customers value.” The Organisation allows scientists to spend 15 percent of their time working on whatever interests them and requires divisions to generate 30 percent of their revenues from new products introduced in the past four years, amongst a range of other initiatives demonstrating innovation and trust in their employees.

You’ll also need a sound process to turn this into something tangible. Ask people to come out with their lists of values. No doubt you’ll get “good teamworking”, “professional” and “an honest approach to customers”. Don’t deride these. These are important and need to be kept. However, you need to dig hard to find out what is special about your team. What would your team members say set them apart from others? Or, what would they like to set them apart from others – is it technical excellence, willingness to take risks, total support all the way up the line, attention to detail? If you can identify one key value then it will make all the others real.

Then the hard task is to describe them in a way that doesn’t kill them. If a key value is “Don’t take crap from suppliers” please don’t change it to “Have care and respect for all stakeholders” – keep it.

The next part will be to have them listed in whatever format works. I’ve seen an old, fading flipchart sheet with a scribble of values given pride of place in an office 18 months after its design. I’ve seen screensavers, playing cards, nothing at all. Whatever works. Don’t tell people how they keep it though. I remember a chat with a professor at a leading business school pulling a list of key values from his wallet.

“I need a piece of paper telling me to be nice to people now do I? ” he ranted. “I wonder if I lost this would it be OK for me to go on a killing spree?” he half joked. – reactance kicking in again.

The only way to keep the values real after this day is to live them. You can’t have a value espousing the virtues of risk taking then sacking someone who’s idea failed. It’s about honouring those values of risk-taking. When General Electric spent $50 million on an expensive, environmentally friendly light bulb that no one wanted they, in the words of Jack Welch, “..celebrated their great try. We handed out cash management awards..”

So, there are only 2 things to remember; encourage your team to create their values and support them. Sounds straightforward enough?

The Importance of Being Memorable

First appeared in ‘Across The Board’ (U.S.A.)

Great leaders have stories, legends, myths about them. These tales may be totally true, based on some truth, or purely wishful thinking, but it doesn’t really matter: They inspire people. If you’re a CEO for a billion-dollar company, you need to be noticed. Your employees will want stories to tell about you. They don’t want to be led by faceless accountants (no offence to faceless accountants). However trite it sounds, actions really do speak louder than words.

There’s the example of a British CEO who took charge of a confectionery company that was in serious financial difficulty. His first act was to cut the tails off the mouse-shaped candies. What an incredible symbolic act-with one gesture, he demonstrated the ruthlessness he was going to show to turn the company around.

There’s the story of Michael Grade, then controller and now director-general of BBC One. Visiting the news department one day when they were short-staffed, he acted as a junior researcher to cover a shipwreck story, finding a member of the coast guard to interview. People at the BBC still talk about that today.

You can have the world’s best mission statement talking about teamwork, respect, and treating people as equals, but until you demonstrate it, it’s just words. Bill Gates illustrated this theory in Microsoft Germany. Most German industries operate in a very formal manner, but this memo, on Gates’s instruction, told employees to use the informal German word for you, Du, instead of the more formal Sie. This very small act was highly significant in motivating the employees and encouraging them to recognize a more egalitarian way of working.

Making a statement doesn’t have to involve a grand gesture. James Dyson, founder of the vacuum-cleaner company Dyson, created a superb environment for his staff-subsidized restaurants, no memos, no shirts, no ties. The story that sticks in my mind, however, is what new employees have to do on their first day: Everyone-whatever grade, whatever salary-has to build a new vacuum cleaner themselves and can then buy it for £5. In a similar vein, Edward Guinness, head of Guinness brewers, publicly recalls his first day in overalls and Wellington boots, cleaning out huge beer vats. These examples allow all employees to see their leaders as human. There are a number of television shows at the moment that show leaders getting their hands dirty: Executives are filmed spending a week on the shop floor, delivering products, selling burgers. Aside from being great TV (and great publicity), it’s a way to get employees to respond to the leaders. You can see their newfound respect for their bosses.

On the more serious side, there are a number of acts that organizations make in times of crisis that allow them to stand out from the crowd. In Liverpool, England, the Littlewoods Organization, a mail-order company that is the largest family-owned business in Great Britain, sent each employee called up to fight in World War II a personal letter guaranteeing him a job upon his return. These letters became legendary. During the Depression, Levi-Strauss CEO Walter Haas kept employees working when there was no meaningful work for them. Malden Mills CEO Aaron Feuerstein continued to pay the company’s 2,400 employees after a devastating fire that practically ruined the business. These stories live on in the minds of employees and customers in a way that advertising can’t. They engender tremendous loyalty.

Often in organizations, individuals make the difference. Their values permeate the company, and their acts say more than a hundred mission statements ever could. There’s another story of the Littlewoods Organization’s founder, Sir John Moores, who as a multimillionaire always bought his shoes from his own catalogue. On one occasion, the supplier, knowing whom the shoes were for, sent a handmade pair, with fine stitching and soft leather soles. They were returned with a terse note: “This isn’t what I ordered.”

Other individual stories are legendary: When John Harvey Jones took over at British chemical manufacturer ICI, he moved all of the meetings out of the huge boardrooms and into the offices; Sir Colin Marshall of British Airways attended every session of his customer-care program, “Putting People First”; IBM’s Lou Gerstner was reputed to have unplugged the projector during overlong, convoluted presentations by his executives. These stories appeal to employees, customers, and the media. You cannot buy this advertising. Leaders who are real characters, charismatic and passionate, inspire others by these acts. They take business out of the nine-to-five grind. It gives their employees role models, something to talk about and something to be proud of. It gives employees the freedom to take risks-and that has got to be good for business.

Why the Best Players do not Necessarily make Great Managers

First appeared in ‘CIO’ (U.K.)

Look at the top sports managers. With a few exceptions they all have a similar profile. They weren’t the best players at their sports but they have performed at a high level and have a good understanding of the pressures involved.

If you consider the 1966 England World Cup winning team, only one player, Jack Charlton, has had any success as a manager. All of today’s top Premiership managers: Jose Murinho; Alex Ferguson; Arsene Wenger and Rafael Benitez were all – without being at all disrespectful – journeymen professionals. So was this year’s Italian World Cup winning team manager, Marcello Lippi.

This phenomenon isn’t confined to football. Tiger Woods’ golf coaches – Hank Haney and Butch Harmon – were professionals with no major wins. Tony Roche, Roger Federer’s coach, was a competent tennis pro but won just the one major title. What this seems to imply is that there is a huge difference between the skillset required to play a game and one needed to manage a team of players.

In sport this seems blatantly obvious yet this logic is frequently ignored, often with disastrous results. Look no further than Paul Gascoigne.

You would expect business to have more sense. However there seems to be a flawed logic that often forces this same, potentially dangerous, mistake.

Here’s how it goes. Someone performs particularly well in a specific job function and there’s no system for rewarding these outstanding individuals, so the only option to retain them seems to be to promote them.
As I was told by a leading civil service economist: “I added up some hard sums and got promoted. I added up even harder sums and got promoted. I added up some incredibly hard sums and they gave me 120 staff to manage.”

Holding on to the past

It’s hardly any wonder that new managers face a particularly difficult time at the beginning of their new role. Any new job is stressful. With this particular career move they have to ‘unlearn’ the old skills and start learning new skills – often with their old peers. The danger for many new managers is that they try to cling to the past – put in long hours and still get involved with the day-to-day, hands on work. After all, this is why they were promoted. This is their ‘comfort zone’. In footballing terms they become ‘player-managers’. They and their staff get confused as to their role and responsibilities. Are they the boss or still one of them?

However, there comes a time when they need to define their role. There just isn’t enough time to do everything and they need to get others to do the work for them. This can be incredibly difficult for managers to cope with. They know how they would do it so letting someone else do it differently can be incredibly frustrating.

Learning to adapt to this lack of ‘hands on’ involvement is very difficult, as managers have to learn to give up control and trust people. There aren’t enough hours in the day for you to do everything or check everything. The only option is to take a deep breath and let it go.

This doesn’t mean anarchy. Managers and staff need to have sensible discussion and agree outputs, time frames and parameters. Both parties should be absolutely clear about where the boundaries are and what support is available.

The lucky few

There are exceptions. The Franz Beckenbauers, Jack Charltons and Ruud Gullits who seem to have all the footballing skills, plus incredible interpersonal skills and ‘something special’. No doubt this also applies to some individuals in businesses.

But for the majority companies need to offer alternatives. For instance, give people the training and opportunity to look at management before they are thrown into it. Or even more radically – give them a three-month trial.

Frequently, programmers or economists don’t want promotion – just the recognition for doing a good job. It may be the case of just building in some financial rewards.

The alternative is being stuck in a cycle of: recruit and train specialist – specialist performs well – promote specialist to manager – specialist struggles as manager – specialist leaves the company. Recruit and train specialist… and so on…. and so on…

What this seems to imply is that there is a huge difference between the skillset required to play a game and one needed manage a team of players.

Leadership – When Communication Means Not Talking

First appeared in ‘CIO’ (U.K.)

An aircraft crashes in the jungle. It’s filled with staff from their works’ outing. The survivors get out of the aeroplane – there are 20 administration staff, 3 managers and a leader. The leader disappears. The managers mutter phrases such as “Typical”, “Well what do you expect” and organise the staff into teams. They distribute tools (machetes, knives, etc.) which are luckily available and start making their way through the jungle, cutting down trees, bushes creating a path. Suddenly they hear a shout “Stop”- it’s the leader. The managers look around – there’s no sign of her. They continue motivating and encouraging their teams. Again they hear a shout “Stop”. One of them looks up and sees the leader in the tallest tree. The managers go to the foot of the tree and listen. The leader is pointing in the opposite direction;

“You’re going in totally the opposite direction” she calls down,

“Shh” one of the managers answers “They’re working really well”.

*****

Three months ago I spent 25 minutes at a conference the other day with a Senior manager who I’d never met in my life before – and would never like to meet again I hasten to add. He talked for 23 of those 25 minutes about…. himself. I listened.

I saw a colleague of his last week. The chap I was with at the conference told this colleague that I was one of the most interesting chaps he’d ever met!

There’s a lesson there I guess. I once worked for a boss who was not the most dynamic person ever, not the best speaker in the world nor was he ruthless in an Adolph Hitler / Bill Clinton / Margaret Thatcher way. However we would all do anything for him. Why? I guess it was because he always had time for you. He always asked about your family, what was important in your life. Every day he was in our office he spent the first 30 minutes “working the room” – not in a manipulative way, but in a genuine way. He invariably missed his first meeting of the day as he would insist on doing this without fail. As I say we would have died for him.

Compare that with another way of “working the room”. A senior manager came along to speak on a training program. Before he was due to speak we chatted;

“Any of my people here?”

“Two I think” I replied

“Oh, who?”

I told him who they were. Blank look. He had no idea who they were.

“Where are they sitting?”

I told him.

He walked in – walked straight over to them “Hi Annie, Hi Rita Great to see you again.”

They beamed. They were absolutely thrilled that a senior manager earning ten times as much as them had remembered their names.

Well they were until he left and I explained to them how he had manipulated the situation.

To talk or not to talk – that’s the question?

As a leader you can be quiet or loud, it seems to me but whichever route you choose you’ve got to treat your people with care and respect. There was a survey carried out a few years back asking staff what quality they admired most in their leaders. The result was surprising, well to me at least it was. The top quality was ‘honesty’. Interesting, eh?

The top business leaders I’ve come across have one surprising quality that I barely noticed at the time but becomes more obvious more idiotic leaders you work with. This is a quality about treating people (all people) especially their staff (all their staff) with total respect and never making them wrong.

I’ll explain. Maybe it’s easier to illustrate this with a negative situation. I’ve seen a very, very senior manager in the Civil Service throw his laptop computer at the head of the multi-million pound Computing section exclaiming “What can I do with this piece of shit. You told me you’d fixed it last week and nothing’s changed. Take it away!” (I’ve removed the expletives).

I understand his frustration. To many in the Office he’s a hero – someone who won’t take crap from anyone – but I do wonder. Someone once said “Don’t make someone wrong. If you make someone wrong they’ll get you back.” Humans, unlike other animals, hate being wrong. It’s the second most potent drive – so I’ve been told. This was illustrated to me by an (allegorical?) experiment involving rats and humans. This is where you place a rat in a T box at the bottom of the T and put some cheese in the left hand corner of the top of the T (got it?). The rat goes to the cheese and eats it. This experiment is repeated a number of times until the rat gets the idea. Next the cheese is moved to the right hand corner. The rat goes to the left hand corner – sees no cheese then goes to the right hand corner. Sensible. Imminently logical.

Bring in the human. Repeat the experiment until the human gets the idea about where the cheese will be (left hand corner). Then move the cheese to the right hand corner. The human goes to the right hand corner -sees no cheese and sits down. He waits and waits and waits thinking “Someone screwed up – and it’s not me.” Humans hate being wrong. I’m sure the Head of Computing Section will get him back – sometime, somewhere. Life has a habit of working out like that don’t you think?

The best leaders don’t do that. They don’t make people wrong. They go out of their way to let people ‘lose’ with dignity. They invent ways out for them – even their opponents. You never know when you might meet them again.

A colleague relates the story of his stressful day going for an interview. He was driving along – quite stressed when someone cut him up. He overtook to see a little old lady – totally oblivious to him. Without swearing – he said nothing to her. Of course you’ve guessed who was chair of his interview panel.

There are, of course, many other aspects to leadership. There has to be some charisma – some inner confidence, even a touch of arrogance in a person to inspire others. Now if you could just bottle that it would be something. However I truly believe trust, respect and honesty are as important to leaders as that charisma.

I once made some ridiculous, offensive remark about the intelligence of a certain group of individuals – computer programmers. Someone, rightly, got really upset and irate. My boss defended me totally saying things like “In this business (management development) you think need to think on your feet… learning the ropes ….you can’t be sure what you’ll say all the time… it’s to do with the intent not the words… etc. etc..” and calmed the situation.

As we chatted later I explained that I hadn’t realised how difficult it was and that my intent was, obviously, true and I agreed with everything he said. He looked at me and smiled “You do anything like that again and I’ll have your balls for paperweights”

Leadership and Personal Impact

First appeared in ‘CEO Refresher’ (U.S.A.)

There are some people who walk into a room and you can almost feel the energy levels in the room double. Other people walk into a room and the temperature seems to decrease a degree or two. What is it that gives certain people that particular brand of authority?

How do you define this indefinable feeling of warmth, charm, personal impact a person just ‘has or hasn’t got’?

A lot of people use a single word to hide behind;

Charisma – “Oh, that’ll be charisma, a thing that cannot be bought, learnt or given”,

“Leaders are born, not made”,

“I’m just not a natural leader so what’s the point?”

“It’s just something you’re born with – you’re either lucky or you’re not.” etc., etc.

But as Arnold Palmer famously said when asked about his lucky shots from bunkers; “It’s a funny thing, the more I practice the luckier I get”.

There’s the story of Winston Churchill, one of the best, most ‘natural’ speakers of the last century. Churchill, like so many leaders, was not a natural speaker. Yet in one of his first speeches to Parliament in 1904 he delivered without notes and had to cut short as he become totally lost. He had to sit down in embarrassment. He was quoted as saying that this would never happen again. He prepared relentlessly for every speech after that. For every one minute of delivery he spent an hour preparing. So it wasn’t unusually for him o prepare 30 or 40 hours for one speech.

Although a lot of research indicates that how you say it has more immediate impact than what you say, what you say will be remembered for a great deal longer. So, make sure you’re clear about what you’re saying, especially what your intention is. If your intention is to be helpful and honest, people will forgive many deficiencies in body language, tone, etc. So be absolutely clear what you’re intention is, then check that this is the effect that the others’ take away.

On the whole people are pretty good at picking up intentions. People, being a bit like me and you, are quite clever. We generally know when someone is lying, or “being economical with the truth” or whatever the current acronym is. As a leader however it’s good practice not to totally rely on your good intentions. You may have the best intention in the world but if the audience are not in tune with you they may not recognise this. This could be due to all sorts of reasons – some history with you, previous leaders, something currently going on in the workplace that you know nothing about, etc… If this is the case the effect you have on your audience may not be the same as your intention and you will need to rethink. So, it’s vital that you find out what the effect is as well as being sure of your intention.

The Gerald Ratner story leaps to mind. I’m fairly sure his intention wasn’t to say that his shops were selling rubbish, but that was certainly the effect.

Studies show that leaders appear more powerful by acting as they think leaders should act. “Fake it till you make it” would be one way of describing this process; The more you act like a strong, powerful person the easier it is for people to regard you as this and the easier it is for you to become this.

If you have someone in mind you respect as a role model that makes this process even easier. Copy what they do when they enter a room, answer a question, etc. Suddenly after a few weeks of acting authoritatively you realise you aren’t acting anymore. Within a few more weeks you’ll start adapting and developing your own style.

In terms of public speaking there are a number of simple, straightforward tips that can make a huge difference. From the beginning you’ve got to “take control of the environment” as I think Al Pacino advocates. This means everything you can control you control – the physical aspects; lighting, temperature, drinks, food, numbers, seating arrangements, screen, handouts, etc. etc.

The ‘non-physical’ aspects – introductions, questioning policy, number of slides, timing, your appearance, knowledge of the audience, your preparation, posture, etc. etc.

In a little more detail – ensure you take control of as much of the physical environment as you can, or get someone you really trust and recognises the importance of, to do it.

Don’t be distracted by “Oh, it’ll be OK – it’s the same as last time”. Say “show me” and check, check, check and have back ups for everything.

Also recognise that even done everything you can things will happen that you haven’t thought about. You know this so don’t pretend it won’t. When that fire alarm goes off accidentally, or the police rush in chasing an armed robber, adapt and don’t start thinking about who to blame. Well, not for the time being at least.

The vital part of this is the non-physical aspects;

Make sure you’re introduction (if you’re having one) is correct, and more importantly is what you want. If you’re making a speech in front of 500 people don’t let yourself be introduced with; “Tonight we have someone making their first speech in front at a large audience so please be gentle on them.” Tempting though it may seem to get some audience sympathy it just won’t work.

In a classic experiment two sets of students were given identical lectures and told that the first lecturer was new, and the second an expert. Guess which one received vastly better ratings?

Quick tips;

No ‘death by PowerPoint’ – unless it’s vital (people get bored).

Keep handouts until the end – unless it’s vital (people get distracted).

Practical things to do;

– Stand straight and tall – taller people are perceived as having more authority.

– No leaning against anything.

– Maintain eye contact with a number of people.

– Gear the material to the audience. Mention people’s names – choose people in the group you know, or are popular.

– Don’t talk for longer than you need to.

– If possible allow far more time for questions than speeches.

– The smaller the group the better your message will get across – there are of course practical considerations for this.

There are some leaders who, I admit, do have that special ‘something’. But I guess they’ve worked extremely hard at developing other aspects of themselves, and I really believe anyone can learn to lead. The outside part is easy (well relatively). The hardest part is inside – the intention and the vision. If these are solid then with a fair amount of hard work, the rest will follow.