See beyond self: the art of being a trusted leader

Tomorrow’s General Election seems to be culminating in a contest of negatives, as opinion polls confirm voters have a low opinion of both potential prime ministers. In a way, there is nothing new in this. My earliest political memories and energies were provided by a flowering of left-wing views under Tony Benn’s banner, who never gained popular support, and the growth of free-market fundamentalists harnessed by Margaret Thatcher, who won, but was never popular in my neck of the woods.

Hostility to politics-as-usual has been stronger since the financial crash, and the inherent lack of trust in business – banker’s bonuses, tax evasion, zero hours contracts, PPI mis-selling – and the outcry over MPs’ expenses. In a contest of negatives at a time when all politicians are distrusted, the most striking finding in a Com Res poll last week is the question that uses the word ‘trust’.

Only 31% agree with the statement: I trust Cameron and Osborne to make the right decisions about the economy – but this compares with 21% who agree with the same statement about Miliband and Balls. If there is a lesson to take from the two manifestos, it is that both are intent on neutralising each other’s perceived weaknesses, rather than promoting their own values and trust based agendas.

Labour will neither admit that it would borrow to invest (a necessary flexibility as all Keynesians would support) nor set out where serious cuts would be, and the Tories will not explain how they intend to make £12Bn of welfare cuts – their numbers are so absurd as to be beyond credible discussion. Who can you trust? Why would you if this is their clarion call for your vote?

Miliband has blamed the broken promises by the Lib Dems on scrapping tuition fees and the Tories on curbing immigration for helping erode trust in all political leaders. Last week’s BBC Question Time highlighted the question of trust as an important theme.

Cameron was asked why anyone should trust him on the NHS. Miliband faced questions of trusting Labour over the economy, whilst Clegg battled down questions on how he could be trusted given his broken promise on tuition fees. It’s a question the Liberal Democrat leader has faced on many occasions. Clegg sought to turn the question of trust back onto his rivals, saying neither Cameron nor Miliband would come clean on the compromises they would have to make to win power.

There is a trust deficit in politics as with big business. While rear-view mirror approaches to dissect and repair what went wrong on an organisational level are warranted in many companies, offering strategic initiatives for work-culture enhancements, that’s not the answer for most people who want to impact trust today.

Trust is a key leadership trait, and can’t be built overnight. It requires time, effort, diligence, and character. Inspiring trust is not easy to build. To be a trusted leader, trust must be carefully constructed, vigorously nurtured, and constantly reinforced. Although trust takes a long time to develop, it can be destroyed by a single action and can burn down with a just touch of carelessness, as many politicians know to their cost. Moreover, once lost, it is very difficult to re-establish.

The financial sector also seems to be confused because it fails to distinguish between intellectual trust and emotional trust. The customer has no intellectual trust when he believes his bank will go bust or its senior managers earned bonuses way out of kilter with performance. He displays a lack of emotional trust when he does not believe his bank will give him a fair deal. The crash caused a reawakening of concern about the soundness of banks, so intellectual trust became an issue for the first time in years. But the lack of emotional trust is absolutely not new. Have people ever trusted the financial sector to give them a fair deal?

Perhaps both business and political leaders should also think about trustworthiness, rather than trust per se. Trustworthiness demands reciprocal vulnerability. Trustworthy leaders recognise times have changed and that they are no longer in control, they think and behave more like social activists in their leadership styles rather than conventional CEOs. Accountability is everything, social and moral principles come before profit. Do our political leaders have a moral compass, or self-interest, as their guiding principle?

For some people, asking a politician for advice on public trust is like asking the Grand Old Duke of York for tips on military strategy. While only a third of people trust business leaders to tell the truth, for politicians the figure is just a sixth. As politicians have discovered, trust is easier to lose than to gain. Rebuilding trust cannot start unless dissenting voices are brought together. No one can learn if they do not listen.

Trust within an organisation is further complicated by the fact that people use the word ‘trust’ to refer to three different kinds.

The first is strategic trust – the trust employees have in the people running the show to make the right strategic decisions. Do top managers have the vision and competence to set the right course, allocate resources intelligently, fulfil the mission, and help the company succeed?

The second is personal trust – the trust employees have in their own managers. Do the managers treat employees fairly? Do they consider employees’ needs when making decisions about the business and put the company’s needs ahead of their own desires?

The third is organisational trust – the trust people have not in any individual but in the company itself. Are processes well designed, consistent, and fair? Does the company make good on its promises?

Clearly these three types of trust are distinct, but they’re linked in important ways. Every time an individual manager violates the personal trust of her direct reports, for example, their organisational trust will be shaken.

In this era of distrust, leaders, whatever their organisation, need to be trust creators. One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is to assume that others trust them simply by virtue of their title. As a leader, you are trusted only to the degree that people believe in your ability, consistency, integrity, and commitment to deliver.

The good news is that as a leader you can earn trust over time, by building and maintaining eight key strengths of behaviours and actions. For example:

Clarity: People want transparency that removes ambiguity. Be clear about your vision, purpose, values and expectations. When a leader is clear about expectations, she will likely get what she wants, communicating priorities will see people become productive and effective.

Empathy: People put faith in those who care beyond themselves. Trusted leaders never underestimate the power of sincerely caring about their staff. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ is not just an old saying, it is a bottom-line truth. Follow it, and you will build trust.

Character: People notice those who do what is right ahead of what is easy or populist. Leaders who have built this trait consistently do what needs to be done when it needs to be done, whether they feel like doing it or not. They earn trust and respect as a person for doing what should be done, consistently. Simply, they make the right moral judgement.

Aptitude: People have confidence in those who show competency and capability as a leader. According to one study, the key competency of a successful leader is not a specific skill but rather the ability to learn and grow. Arrogance and a ‘been there done that’ attitude erodes confidence. There is always more to learn, so make a habit of learning to stay ahead of the game.

Connectivity: Trust is all about relationships, and relationships are built by establishing genuine connections. Creating and sustaining relationships is a key leadership challenge. By building a network of trust based relationships, a leader will gain credibility, useful when difficult decisions are called for.

Commitment: In times of adversity, it is the leaders who stay strong, resolute and determined that hold the respect of people, who trust their judgement. Wartime leaders like General Patton, leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lech Walesa, because they saw commitment and sacrifice for the greater good. Commitment builds trust, it creates a sense of purpose.

Reliability: In every area of life, it’s the little things done consistently that make the difference. The little things done consistently make for a higher level of trust and better results. The great leaders consistently do the small but most important things first. A leader is a dealer in hope, and behaving consistently inspires trust, respect and support. Equally, they don’t hide when the going gets tough, they stand up and show they are reliable.

Accountability: A leader is ultimately accountable for their decisions, behaviours and actions, you cannot expect people to follow you blindly without giving them justification. Being honest should be a trait that is taken for granted, but just how many of our political leaders answer a straightforward question with a straightforward, direct response?

As difficult as it is to build and maintain trust within organisations, it’s critical. An established body of research demonstrates the links between trust and corporate performance. If people trust each other and their leaders, they’ll be able to work through disagreements. They’ll take smarter risks. They’ll work harder, stay with the company longer, contribute better ideas, and dig deeper than anyone has a right to ask.

If they don’t trust the organisation and its leaders though, they’ll disengage from their work and focus instead on rumours, politics, and be unproductive. The building blocks of trust are unsurprising, they’re old-fashioned managerial virtues like consistency, clear communication, and a willingness to tackle awkward questions as highlighted above.

What do the enemies of trust look like? Sometimes the enemy is a person, a first-line supervisor who habitually expresses contempt, sometimes it’s knit into the fabric of the organisation, a culture that punishes dissent or buries conflict. Some enemies are overt, and some are covert – a conversation you thought was private is repeated and then grossly distorted by the rumour mill.

Because any act of bad management erodes trust, the list of enemies could be endless. Practically speaking, though, most breakdowns in trust can be traced back to either inconsistent messages and standards from leaders, misplaced benevolence or false feedback. The lesson is simple – to be a trusted leader,

In the words of Arnold H. Glasgow, A trusted leader takes a little more than his share of blame; a little less than his share of credit. They see beyond self. It’s not about their personal status, bonus, or achievement, it’s about something bigger. They link the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’, and help others view the landscape of purpose. They enable us see they do respect us as individuals, and that they acknowledge they have to earn our trust.

The oxymoron of political leadership

There was brouhaha last week when the broadcasters held firm on the TV election debates, leaving David Cameron facing an empty chair. Cameron issued an ultimatum, saying he would appear in only one 90-minute televised debate featuring at least seven party leaders, to take place ahead of the formal start of the campaign on 30 March.

Refusing to accede to the prime minister’s proposals, the BBC, Sky News and ITV announced that the party leader debates will proceed as planned, regardless of whether or not Cameron attends. In a statement to broadcasters, Downing Street said the decision was the Prime Minister’s ‘final offer’. Craig Oliver, Cameron’s spin-doctor, responded by telling broadcasters it is ‘disappointing’ they will not take up his offer.

BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 have all said they will continue with the debates as originally planned on the 2nd, 16th and 30th April, even if this means effectively ‘empty-chairing’ Cameron. They’ve rejected the Prime Minister’s alternative proposal which I see as a tactic to avoid the debates altogether. Labour’s tails are up, they feel that the current row is win-win.

The debates were well received by 22 million viewers in 2010 and research has shown that there is a public desire and a public expectation for debates in 2015. I believe that the formal election period is the right time to hold election debates. It is the point at which the parties have published their election manifestos and at which the electorate as a whole is most engaged with discussion of election issues and public debate about the future of the country.

Cameron’s aides made the calculation months ago that appearing to run away from the debates was damaging, but not as bad as appearing on TV alongside Miliband. The only question was how credible Cameron could look when he pulled out, and whether the public really minds whether the debates take place or not.

At present Cameron does not look that credible. His sudden desire for the nation to listen to the views of the Green party on social housing, or hear Nigel Dodds, the DUP leader, set out his views on the future of Ukrainian conflict, is inherently absurd. The real reason is that despite the stickiness of the polls, Cameron calculates he is on course to win without the TV debates. The economy will see him home and any cynicism about his refusal to debate will add little to pre-existing cynicism about politicians.

In that context, such debates merely become a gamble where none is necessary. A central feature of the Tory campaign is that Miliband is just short of a laughing stock. It would be deeply disturbing if, unmediated, Miliband appeared less dopey and more worldly than Mr Bean.

Moreover, incumbents normally struggle in election debates and however Cameron has donned the authority of a prime minister, he would have been on the defensive. Such debates would have been as much about his record, as the risk of Miliband. However, If Labour’s single biggest weakness is Miliband, it hardly makes sense to give him a 90-minute opportunity for voters to take a second look at him.

However, there is a broader point about the accountability of our political leaders. Blair, ever the showman, held monthly press conferences in an attempt to explain himself. Sometimes these events were a very difficult hour for the prime minister, but he made himself accountable, and you knew clearly what he stood for. Gordon Brown broadly continued the tradition. Cameron abolished them.

Cameron remains available for the occasional newspaper interview with a friendly proprietor and finds time for a 20-minute breakfast inquisition. But his favourite forum is Good Morning Britain, a revealing discussion with a woman’s magazine about his cooking prowess or three questions on regional radio interspersed with an Abba song. Some of that is understandable. Westminster can be a distorting prism for politicians.

By comparison, I recall previous elections filled with press conferences, newspapers and broadcasters got to pose questions for a party spokesman. Thereafter the party leader would undergo lengthy interviews with expert interrogators, as well as phone-ins, regional radio and newspaper interviews.

British political leaders are now protected, sanitised and risk-averse, which is why figures like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson have followings that stand apart from their parties’ ideologies. Despite the broadcasters being at loggerheads with Cameron, and the PM cowering, the irony is that we have more media than ever before, but less insight into their, vision, purpose and underlying values as leaders.

‘Political leadership’ is an oxymoron by any measure – enduring and woeful unethical individual behaviours, the enormous national debt and deficit, absence of a credible ideology to a long-term sustainable structure to education and health care systems, and foundering unemployment masked by convenient metrics just to name a few issues where there is no long-term vision that I’ve seen.

Yet there are things we can do to deal with our epidemic of leadership incompetence, beyond voting people in and out of office every few years, while complaining between elections about the mess we have on our hands. Yes, this ‘mess’ drama is grimly entertaining and feeds the economic needs of news media and their advertisers, but surely we need our political leaders to start with their vision – what do they stand for?

Leadership success always starts with vision. John Kennedy famously dreamed of putting a man on the moon. Eleanor Roosevelt envisioned a world of equal opportunity for women and minorities. Compelling visions can truly inspire people. But there is actually nothing mystical about vision, simply, a vision is a picture of what an organisation could and should be.

A hallmark of great leaders is that their vision includes big ideas. Big ideas get people excited. Nobody wants to do something small. Leaders want to feel that what they do matters – Kennedy’s vision for the space programme was ‘We choose to go to the moon . . . not because it is easy, but because it is hard’.

Great business leaders also know how to paint a vivid picture of the future. They make it look easy. However, most of them have worked hard to develop and articulate their thoughts. A powerful vision, well-articulated, attracts people to an organisation, motivates them to take action toward progress, unites them to a common purpose and drives breakthrough business results.

But back to political leadership, and parallels to leadership in business. For this blog, I’ve boiled my thinking down to ten essential traits and behaviours of great leadership, which I sincerely hope will be helpful reminders to our political leaders seeking election as to what working leadership looks like when practiced skilfully.

Key Trait 1: Be a visionary You must stand for something, and communicate your vision to the people you want to follow you.

  • Learn to paint a picture with words, speak it, write it, touch it
  • Your company’s vision should be in your mind every day, and you should re-evaluate it occasionally so that it stays fresh
  • Be involved in living and breathing the vision every day

Key Trait 2: Have passion Your people want passion, in fact, they’ll go to the ends of earth because of it – think of the sailors who travelled with Columbus to explore uncharted territory. Their leaders’ passion inspired them to take on new and dangerous challenges.

Engage and represent your people to light the fire in their bellies, to get them to feel passion about the company and connect to your leader’s vision. Passion is infectious.

Key Trait 3: Be a great decision maker How are major decisions made in your company, what is your process for making them? For instance, do you create a list of options to help you make the best decision?

Some leaders have a set process, and others fly by the seat of their pants. But you don’t want to be one of those leaders who consults no one before making a decision, announces the change the next day and then gets frustrated when no one follows it.

Leadership means having the courage to take timely corrective action on someone or something that’s not working. Timely decision-making is intrinsic to good leadership. Here’s a system I use to become a better decision maker. It’s called the Q-CAT:

  • Q = Quick. Be quick but not hasty.
  • C = Committed. Be committed to your decision but not rigid.
  • A = Analytical. Be analytical, but don’t over-think.
  • T = Thoughtful. Be a thinker, but don’t be obsessive.

Key Trait 4: Be a team builder To become a great leader, you must develop a great team. Don’t breathe down their necks and don’t micromanage, enable your team to find their voice, give them the freedom to work through their own decisions.

However, when projects aren’t on track or your team is falling behind on deadline, it serves no one if you start pointing fingers. This is when you need to support and inspire confidence. When a crisis hits, your team will look to you to be a tower of strength and leadership.

Key Trait 5: You must have character Without character, all the other traits are for naught, because your innate character strengths play a critical role in your leadership style. The real question is, are you aware of just what role they play? Take time to learn about your individual personality and what part it plays in your leadership style.

Key Trait 6: Collaborate Leadership means working together, with give and take toward a common goal. When egos get in the way, people rather than ideas, take centre stage in distorted ways. Leaders collaborate through rigorous debate of ideas, not by demonising people.

Key Trait 7: Be accountable Leadership means owning the ups and the downs – the errors and failures shape you more, even though first thoughts tempt you to distance yourself from them. Aside from being good moral leadership, an error-owning leader tends to result in great achievements in the long run due to their determination to bounce back. Alas our political leaders are epically far better at blaming or stepping back from mistakes than they are at owning a failure or misstep.

Key Trait 8: Innovate Leadership means innovation. True innovation isn’t in a method, process or workshop, it’s in the heart of our curiosity and thinking. Intrinsic to the survival instinct of politicians is avoiding what takes courage to change. The key to change our political leaders for the better is to remind them that innovation is about creating a better and shared future. President Obama’s proposed brain mapping project is a clear statement on the innovation front.

Key Trait 9: Be honest Leadership means candour with yourself and others, both emotionally and intellectually, being willing to ask for and hear honesty from others. Honesty brings the humility needed for leaders when things are going well, and the necessary fuel for critical change when things are in trouble. With the prevalence of distrust among political leaders, candour is greatly lacking, and therefore little or no great leadership can happen. It’s in our shared national interest that this trust gap and lack of openness be changed.

Key Trait 10: Listen Leadership means asking and listening, rather than doing the talking all the time. It’s trusting the people who know best. Your job is to quieten the noise of your own point of view in order to hear those with genuine wisdom and judgement.

The 2010 debates attracted a mass audience and constituted the only popular new idea that British democracy has had in decades. The genie has left the bottle, and no matter how awkward and exposing our political leaders find the debates, the voters (a third of whom are undecided) want a taste-test before they commit to five years.

Moreover, since the last election, social media has shifted our senses and reshaped our perspectives. In 2010 Twitter had 3 million users in the UK, today it has 15 million, and 80% are not tweeting selfies, rather 80% of accounts are created to receive information not transmit. We are using Twitter to suck up video links and news footage, with on-demand broadcasting as we demand to see things for ourselves.

When electoral turnout is in decline and a third of young voters aged 18 to 24 aren’t even registered, when a snarling alienation taints public life, why not use every tool to engage the electorate in heated debate and showcase your leadership vision, virtues and values? Live debate creates the opportunity for an immediate, undiluted broadcast of your own leadership credentials, but also a real benchmark to your competition.

A leader’s core vision provides the glue that holds an organisation together through time, consisting of core values and core purpose, ideology shaping the vision, the raison d’être, it’s not about goals and business strategy. You discover core ideology by looking inside, and connecting with sincerity, humility and authenticity. You can’t fake it. What’s needed in our political leaders is this big commitment to emotional and intellectual transparency, and robust validation, such that when people see what their vision is, there is almost an audible gasp, creating an emotional connection to sharing the vision.



Valentines’s Day, Greek Gods and seduction not speed dating – lessons for customer love

Many of the everyday fundamentals of our Western lifestyles owe a debt of gratitude to the Ancient Greeks – democracy, drama, all-action blockbuster war epics, and lying around thinking about stuff in general. All beloved activities in the Eastern Mediterranean 2,500 years ago, and all still popular today in our house – as well as other aspects of their culture including moussaka, retsina, lashings of taramasalata and a big, chunky feta salad.

Greek dancing and plate smashing are optional and mostly accidental at home, but my affection for all-things Greek stems from the fact that I met my future wife as a student whilst on holiday in Corfu. A Greek holiday romance which blossomed to the sun drenched sounds of bouzouki, fuelled by souvlaki and drenched in ouzo. Dôs moi pâ stô, kaì tàn gân kīnā́sō.

And as the sacred festival of St Valentine’s came upon us once again at the weekend – with all its promise of a new romance, maturing affection or crushing rejection – the Greek influence on our way of life and their pioneering attitudes towards love once again came into my thoughts.

But what is love, that old romantic chestnut? Love came in many forms for the Greeks, perhaps the depth and complexity of their understanding of love was due in part to their selection of eternally, irrepressible deities etched on some hideous pottery?

The Iliad, the smash-hit blockbuster page-turner from celeb epic poet Homer, was a love story, a war provoked by a young man who was unable to keep his passion in his trousers, and an attractive married woman who sacrificed a husband and a perfectly acceptable job as Queen of Sparta for a cheeky bit of nooky with a younger lover. Quite a few of the Greek dramas end with someone having killed a current or former lover in an eruption of vengeful jealousy or spite, however, they also treasured the purity of love, and the spiritual transcendence it could engender.

Eros was the eponymous market-leading Greek god of love, all statues seemingly obliged to have his tackle out on full display, but as the son of Aphrodite the lascivious love genes ran strongly in the family. While other famous deities such as Zeus, Artemis, and Poseidon have since tumbled down the rankings, Eros remains a prominent presence today.

Can we assume that our love-struck Greek predecessors would have embraced Valentine’s Day as enthusiastically as they embraced each other? Valentine’s Day gestures have always taken many forms – from the cheeky card, to the anonymous light-aircraft banner-trailing fly-past, to the hastily-bought bunch of petrol-station flowers. St Valentine himself was, of course, the patron saint of hackneyed chat-up lines and clumsy passes.

St. Valentine’s Day began as a liturgical celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. Several martyrdom stories were invented for the various Valentines that belonged to February 14, and added to later martyrologies. A popular hagiographical account of Saint Valentine of Rome states that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry. According to legend, during his imprisonment, he healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius. An embellishment to this story states that before his execution he wrote her a letter signed ‘Your Valentine’, as a farewell.

Valentines Day was first associated in Britain with romantic love in the time of Geoffrey Chaucer in the Middle Ages, when the tradition flourished. In C18th England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as valentines). In Europe, Saint Valentine’s keys were given to lovers as a romantic symbol and an invitation to unlock the giver’s heart.

Paper Valentines became so popular in England in the early C19th that they were assembled in factories. Fancy Valentines were made with real lace and ribbons, with paper lace introduced in the mid-C19th. The rise of Internet is creating new tradition, with an estimated 25 million e-valentines sent in 2014.

Okay, maybe you deserve a little bit more credit, it wasn’t a hasty, last minute arrangement, you actually made your dinner reservations weeks ago, and you had a genuinely heartfelt token of your affection wrapped and ready to go a week before the day too. Great work Casanova, but you’re still forgetting some very special people who are also deserving of your love today. “Who?” you ask? Your customers, that’s who.

After all, it’s really those customers who are paying for that romantic dinner tonight, right? Don’t they deserve some attention, too? Luckily, there’s not as much pressure to show your love to customers on Valentine’s Day as there is to show your significant other. That being said, you need to woo them from the charms of the competition – and after customer attraction, it’s all about retention and renewal, as in any other relationship.

According to Forest Research, it costs five times more to find a new customer than to retain a current customer. Sometimes, small changes have a big impact on how customers perceive the quality of your relationship and make the difference between loyalty and high churn rates.

Customer retention is an essential part of a service business model because existing customers are easier to upsell and more profitable than constantly acquiring new customers while having a high turnover. Customer churn is a key performance indicator firms need to track and control. When churn happens, clients stop using the product or service, switch to a competitor, or move to an in-house alternative. They’ve lost the romance.

Nurturing relationships with your customers is a crucial part of growing a successful business. In this age of automation and innovation, caring for your customers has never been more important. At any moment, an unhappy customer can share their opinion with the masses through social media and negatively affect your business. That’s why it’s even more important than ever to create an excellent experience for your customers to help develop your company’s relationship with them into a loving and lasting one.

Walt Disney said it best, Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends. Creating love between your company and your customers can help scale positive word of mouth that’s absolutely priceless. Creating a customer-focused culture is a business opportunity that should not be overlooked. Most businesses are failing when it comes to the customer experience, which is your opportunity to swoop in and enchant those same customers into falling for your company. The data speaks for itself:

  • Only 37% of brands received good or excellent customer experience index scores in 2014. Whereas, 64% of brands got a rating of ‘OK’, ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ from their customers. Source: Forrester Research
  • As many as 89% of consumers began doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience. Source: RightNow
  • Up to 60% of consumers will pay more for a better customer experience. Source: Desk
  • Average annual value of each customer relationship lost to a competitor or abandoned – $289. Source: Genesys Report

So what are the lessons from a romantic St. Valentine’s Day encounter for your customer encounters? It’s all about being thoughtful, and having the right mindset? Price is the value of the relationship, it is not the metric for an immediate transaction, so don’t focus on that. The aim is to build a relationship, develop a horizon for future, ongoing work, and not simply an immediate invoice.

It’s romance, not speed dating, think lifetime value, so how do you create a ‘client romance’ and a long-term relationship generating a sustainable stream of sales revenues? Here are my thoughts, and remember, it’s seduction, not speed dating.

Set the scene Frame the meeting in the first 60 seconds, be a psychologist, shape how the ‘feel-think-feel’ experience happens. This three-stage process happens in the first 60 seconds of a meeting and frames how the client anticipates the meeting will be as an experience.

Be curious, take their agenda, not yours live in your customer’s world, be counter intuitive, your sales agenda will kill the sale. Identify some immediate needs and quick wins you can help them achieve and add value, whilst looking at the bigger picture and longer term.

Don’t come on too strong too soon Join the dots for the client’s thinking – link statements with insights. It’s like jazz, learn the harmony and improvise over the top, give them a feeling of assurance and excitement, the art of the possible from working with you. Wow them!

Always listen Playback their words to create a connection: ‘So, if I’ve heard you correctly…’ – reflect back – shows listening skills, validates where you’re at, and helps you to organise their thinking; understand how they are feeling. Build intimacy and engagement in the conversation.

Have insight Be prepared to directly describe a real problem and your solution from experience, be able to demonstrate the value you bring. Serve as a sounding board, facilitate collaborative discussions by providing an answer that stimulates the conversation. Listen with curiosity and interest to make an authentic connection.

Watch their watch, mind your mindset. Help them simplify, clarify and focus on their issue, help identify the critical factors in their decision. Be a collaborator, focus on being a helpful part of the decision making process, not the decision itself.

Treat your customers like a valued partner Talk about yourself less and your client more, take them on a journey of thinking about what could be. Frame the issue in your client’s language then build a relationship road map, a picture of what success looks like for them from being with you.

Ensure your conversations have energy Be alert, engage sincerely, show interest, make it a dialogue of ideas and insights, show the client you and your thinking. Create empathy – we are in this together, identify the common ground and create win-win scenarios. See yourself sat the client’s side of the conversation – how you see it is how you sell it. Your energy in a meeting can create opportunities.

Build trust Make yourself relevant to the client’s business and personal goals, agenda and aspirations. Be able to have a meaningful dialogue in their industry language, understanding their business and drivers – all client buying decisions relate to this information. Let them see you are investing time in them as a person and the relationship, not just a transaction.

Be a thought leader, create the possibility of something Treat your customers right, genuinely interact. The quality of your thinking reveals your credibility, create dialogue to stimulate your client’s thinking, not a sales opportunity. Success means not closing a sale in the first meeting, the less you sell today, the more you sell in the future.

Understand what is not being said What are they thinking now? Use contrast to change the mindset – what’s the most important message you want to leave? Develop your ‘points of view’ – offer a perspective developed from experience – medals and scars – offer advice, guidance, thoughts – create a personal impact of your credentials.

Consistently make gestures Offer a point of view or some learning, ‘I’d like to see if there’s something we can help you with… ‘….and share the benefits of our experience, and see what success means to us both….’

Be the person your dog wants you to be when you get home Ok, wet noses aside, the unconditional love of a dog is deeply loyal and sincere, the simplest and most uncomplicated love you’ll ever experience. The greeting you get from your dog when you get home at night is often the highlight of the day. It’s simply about being you, they want the person that is you, so take that ‘you’ to your clients, and simply be yourself.

So the Monday morning after Valentine’s Day, and just think, would you go out on a date with someone who you did not know and called you out of the blue? Of course not, you’d expect a little flirting and romancing first, you’d want to have an idea who’s asking you out, and something about them.

It’s the same for business decision makers, a cold sales call is bound to have less chances of securing that first meeting as opposed to someone who has done a little business flirting and romancing to get to know you before you agree to a first appointment – however enticing their proposition.

With so many touch points challenging your customer’s attention you need to invest time and creativity engaging and ‘flirting’ with customers, with knowledge, expertise and content to show you can help them and get on their radar. Spend time developing why they should be interested in you and then how you can help them, showing the potential value you can bring before you try to sell to them.

Remember, it’s seduction not speed dating, you want a relationship not a transaction. You need to ask for that first date and get it, because if you’re not romancing your customers, who is?

The organisation cultural legacies of the Christmas Day Truce & The Accrington Pals

For me, 2014 was memorable for the 100th anniversary commemorations of the commencement of World War One. They were poignant, especially a torchlight vigil in Towneley Park, Burnley on 3 August, a stark personal narrative of the impact of the War – 16% of the male population of the town lost their lives. It spurred me to find out more about the humanitarian aspects of the War, and the chronicles of two aspects of the War gave me particular cause for reflection – The Christmas Day Truce, and the story of The Accrington Pals.

The Christmas Day Truce of 1914 is celebrated as a symbolic moment of peace in an otherwise devastatingly violent War. Along the Western Front, a scattered series of small-scale ceasefires between German and British forces provided a brief festive respite. The arrival of December 1914 was proof, if any were needed, that the war would not be ‘over by Christmas’.

For the men at the front, months of tough fighting were to be followed by a festive period away from home. Throughout December, 460,000 parcels and 2.5 million letters were sent to British soldiers in France. King George V sent a card to every soldier, and his daughter, Princess Mary, lent her name to a fund, which sent a small brass box of gifts, including tobacco or writing sets, to serving soldiers.

By Christmas Eve itself, the damp weather gave way to the cold and a festive frost settled on the Front. As the main night of celebration in Germany, candles and trees went up along parts of the German line. One account by a British soldier recalls:

It was a Christmas card Christmas Eve. There was white beautiful moonlight, frost on the ground. At about 8pm we saw some lights and we heard the Germans singing ‘Stille Nacht’. They finished their carol, we applauded them, then we thought we must reciprocate in some way so we replied with ‘The First Noel’.

When we finished they began clapping, then they struck ‘O Tannenbaum’. So we went on, first the Germans singing one of their carols then we’d sing another of ours. Then we started up ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ and the Germans immediately joined in singing the Latin words of ‘Adeste Fideles’. Well I thought this was rather an extraordinary thing really to think of the two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.

Along the Front, some men responded to the events of Christmas Eve by emerging from their trenches into No Man’s Land on Christmas Day and spontaneously exchanged gifts and took photos. However, the temporary truce did not have full support from the military hierarchy.

General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, commander of British 2nd Army Corps Expeditionary Force, issued strict warnings to his senior officers about preventing fraternisation with enemy soldiers. High Command was angry, they feared that men would question the war, and even mutiny, as a result of fraternising with the enemy that they were meant to defeat. Stricter orders were issued to end such activity, with harsh punishment for any man caught refusing to fight.

Roughly 100,000 British and German troops were involved in the unofficial cessations of hostility along the Western Front, and it’s the ‘tunics for goalposts’ tales of football matches that really capture the imagination.

There is evidence that football was played in at least four places between troops from the opposing armies, including the 133rd Royal Saxony Regiment pitched against Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, where the Scots won 4-1. Some accounts of the game bring in elements of fiction by Robert Graves, a British poet and writer, who reconstructed the encounter in a story published in 1962. In Graves’s version, the score was 3–2 to the Germans.

Another started after a ball was kicked from the British lines into No Man’s Land, outside the trenches around Ypres. The match was recorded by Staff Sergeant Clement Barker in a letter home. He described how the truce began after a German messenger walked across No Man’s Land to broker a temporary cease-fire. British soldiers went out and recovered 69 dead comrades and buried them. Sergeant Barker said the impromptu football match then broke out between the two sides when a ball was kicked out from the British lines into No Man’s Land.

Royal Field Artillery Lieutenant Albert Wynn wrote of a match against a German team (described as ‘Prussians and Hanovarians’) played by the Lancashire Fusiliers, near Le Touquet, using a ration tin as the ball. In Frelinghien, The Royal Welsh Fusiliers played football with the German Battalion 371. The Germans won 2–1. Many professional footballers served in the forces, those killed in action included Bradford Park Avenue’s Donald Bell – the only professional footballer to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

The camaraderie shown by the soldiers to their enemy is poignant, amidst the horror in the mud. Camaraderie is a word I’ve used a lot this year as I’ve experienced a number of the War commemorations in Lancashire, home to a number of ‘The Pals’ regiments, where groups of men from the same town came together to go to war. Their stories epitomise camaraderie.

The Accrington Pals is the best remembered of the battalions raised in Lancashire in the early months of the War in response to Kitchener’s call for a volunteer army, due to the tragic outcome for the battalion and the town in terms of casualties. Groups of friends from all walks of life in Accrington and its neighbouring towns enlisted together to form a battalion with a distinctively local identity.

A month after the outbreak of war, the Accrington Observer & Times of 8 September 1914 reported that the War Office had accepted an offer made by the mayor of Accrington to raise a complete battalion. When recruitment began on 14 September, 104 men were accepted in the first three hours. Brothers, cousins, friends and workmates enlisted together; by 24 September the Accrington battalion had reached a full strength of 1,100 men. Around half the battalion had been recruited from Accrington, the majority of the remainder came from neighbouring towns.

The Pals were ordered to France, to take part in the attack on the Somme, the objective was to capture the hilltop fortress of Serre, and form a defensive flank facing north. In the early evening of 30 June, the 11th East Lancashires left camp at Warnimont Wood for an arduous seven-mile trek to the trenches of Serre. At 2.40am on Saturday 1 July, they reached the front line trenches.

At 6.30am, the British artillery commenced its final furious bombardment of the German front line. At 7.20am, Captain Tough led the Pal’s first of the battalion’s four waves 100 yards into No Man’s Land. A few minutes later, the second wave followed, led by Captain Livesey.

At 7.30am, the leading waves rose and walked in line towards the German positions. Machine gun and rifle fire immediately tore into the advancing lines of infantry. One British observer likened the lines of dead to swathes of cut corn at harvest time. Incredibly, groups of Pals defied the machine gun fire, threaded their way through the barbed wire and dropped into the German front line.

All was in vain. Behind, the third and fourth waves suffered dreadful losses before reaching No Man’s Land. The leading companies were cut down, some of the Pals – their officers killed or wounded – pressed on towards Serre, never to be seen again. The remaining survivors in the German front line, bereft of reinforcements, were forced to withdraw. By 8am, the battle for Serre was effectively over.

In its first major action, the Accrington Pals battalion suffered devastating losses on 1 July 1916, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme. When the roll was called by RSM Stanworth that evening, less than one hundred men answered their names. Records show that out of 720 soldiers who took part in the attack, 584 were killed, wounded or missing. The Accrington Pals were effectively wiped out in a matter of minutes.

The losses were hard to bear in a community where nearly everyone had a relative or friend who had been killed or wounded. Four members of the regiment were awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry – drummer Spencer John Bent; Private William Young; Second Lieutenant Alfred Victor Smith; Second Lieutenant Basil Arthur Horsfall.

Two remarkable stories from the Great War, that make you question the humanitarian aspects of leadership, and fill me with thoughts of empathy, camaraderie and trust that must have been in the minds of those that fought. A hundred years on, what are the lessons from these War stories we can take, and their place in our business thinking, behaviours and actions in 2015?

Empathy Our capacity for empathy is built into our psyche as a means of coping with emotional situations. The anthropologist Franz Boas referred to this as the ‘psychic unity’ of humanity, and it’s important that this is set into our personal and collective moral compasses in our business culture, as an important prism through which we see the world.

The religious context of ‘goodwill to all men’ during the Christmas Truce must be acknowledged too, perhaps just as important was the soldiers’ ability to find commonality through culture, including song. For troops in opposing, enemy trenches, hearing singing from the other side must have made them seem more human – whilst fighting resumed by the morning of December 26 in most locales along the Front, in some places the truce lasted until New Year’s Day, soldiers were reluctant to fire on the men with whom they had just fraternized, as they were no longer amorphous enemies, but personalities with faces, emotions and backgrounds.

The Christmas Day truce showed empathy and benevolence for the enemy, which we don’t often see. However, this has a clear place in any business, in terms of respecting your competition – recall the actions of Andrew Flintoff to Brett Lee in the Second Ashes victory in 2005, showing compassion for his opponent at a moment of high adrenalin victory.

It isn’t about crushing competitors, rather it’s about your leadership based on strategy and confidence in your vision, which puts you in a superior position to your competitor by outwitting and outsmarting them. I would thus suggest that having a degree of empathy for your business rivals is ethically and morally the right mindset to have, determination to win is a natural instinct, but not at any cost.

Camaraderie In business as in the military, teams have a well-honed sense of camaraderie that helps team members read one another’s signals, move as one, and watch each other’s backs. This sense of commitment and connection is an essential component of effective teams. The more people value their relationships with one another, the better they will perform for one another and thus for the organisation. We can only imagine the camaraderie that existed in The Accrington Pals, a collaborative and collegiate culture that got things done, working as one.

Camaraderie is about creating a common sense of purpose and the mindset that we have a common goal and shared destiny. In short, camaraderie promotes a group loyalty that results in a shared commitment to and discipline toward even difficult work. The opposite would be employees coming to work, acting like lifeless robots and talking to each other only if they need to borrow a stapler.

However, whilst there are some negative aspects to consider, including groupthink and negative cliques, the benefits of shaping a culture to cultivate and build collaboration and unity are such that all businesses can benefit from genuine camaraderie between its people.

Trust We all have some level of trust that the people we pass on the street are not out to harm us (though that may not be true in every instance). In the context of the Christmas Truce, it is much more difficult to achieve that critical threshold of trust for individuals or groups who have been recently shooting at each other. The question is how that cycle of distrust can be conquered.

At some point, one side must make a leap of faith to trust, with no assurance that it will be rewarded. The officers during the Christmas Truce obviously took a huge risk by acting upon a moment of inspiration and leaving the safety of their trenches, but it paid off.

Trust in business is an essential ingredient for an organisation to function, a vital element in the emotional contract between leaders and their co-workers, and between colleagues. Without trust, an organisation is morally bankrupt, as the lack of internal trust eventually manifests itself in customer relationships.

So at the end of the 100th anniversary year of the start of the First World War and looking into 2015, we are minded by the Christmas Day truce and games of football, and the devastation suffered by the Pals battalions. The stories show the soldiers worked together, creating an atmosphere and culture of organic collaboration, underpinned by empathy, peer camaraderie and trust.

Each in their own way offers insights in terms of how humanity and emotional engagement pervade even the most abhorrent environment. If you replicate the qualities and culture in your business, they will effectively leverage collective talents into strategies that will elevate your business performance beyond your competition. Looking back to 1914, who would have thought that ‘tunics for goalposts’ and ‘Pals’ would resonate with legacies for business 100 years later?

Ramones’ tee-shirts, bisto and Sheffield 1981-1984: surfing on a wave of nostalgia

From 1981 to 1984 I spent three memorable and formative years in Sheffield as a student, a time with an abundance of experience and learning, a time spent in The Leadmill, The Broomhill Tavern, The Fat Cat, The Punchbowl Inn, The Grindstone, The Frog and Parrot, The Museum, The Beehive, The Limit and, of course, the library.

Last week I reunited for a 30th anniversary, and reconnected a lapsed but still warm friendship with housemates from that bygone era. Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective, and maybe objectivity, but the three years at university are so significant in your development. There’s a certain nostalgia and romance in a place you left, and whilst I don’t think nostalgia is a healthy modality, it’s in us all.

It’s curious the way we get nostalgic for some hoped-for thing that never happened, as if something that never happened were in the past. I know the fog of sadness came over me the days after the reunion, memories re-energised, and a yearning for those good, historical times. But nostalgia and a sense of history are not the same thing, nostalgia is a dysfunction of the historical impulse, or a corruption of the historical impulse. Either way, we re-connected within ten minutes, lost time a thing of the past, literally.

I sallied forth to enrol at the University of Sheffield in 1984, an adventure equal in magnitude to St. Brendan’s C5th voyages of discovery, creeping alone with sinking heart into the university campus was like entering a huge and austere labyrinth to which there was no key. After all, what was the value of my prized ideas and ideals compared with the rumblings of the universe?

Then came the first lecture, given by the diminutive, prematurely grey Professor Tony Lowe in his proportionately diminutive, understated voice. His subject, the philosophy of numbers was quite unpopular, but I just adored it, building on my thirst for pure mathematics. To this day, his insight, passion and laughing remarks about numbers ring in my ears.

No regrets. Twice I ended up in casualty: nearly breaking an ankle in a rugby match and as a result ended up on a drugs trial – pharmaceutical not judicial, and then chinning it down the concrete steps at Crookesmoor late for a tutorial, almost breaking my neck and giving myself concussion. Still made it out that night though, I recall.

Sheffield has an architecturally compressed culture and beauty, and although the time at university lasted just three years, the lure of the academic buildings and culture has always continued with a strong connection for me. As we stumbled across town, each part of Sheffield held some memory for us – ‘on this street corner this happened’ – and the intensity which we all knew of our time at university and the way that it burned brightly but briefly, spending three years of your life on a choice.

When we asked ourselves if we had any regrets about our time here, or any particularly embarrassing highlights, we each remained somewhat coy, but memories of juvenilia and student experience clearly still hold resonance.

Over pasta and beer conversation turned inevitably to reminiscing about our previous Sheffield lives. We talked about people we hadn’t thought about for 30 years – Simon seemingly a collection of failed romances and constant rejection – about days we would always remember and nights out we’d rather forget. We all left feeling a sense of nostalgia for the student days we would never get back. However, it was also great to see how each other’s lives had moved on, the families we now had, working and living in new places.

If I was a student today I would be excited about studying in Sheffield, it’s wonderful they have an Andrew Motion poem, ‘What if?..’ on the side of a building you can see when you leave the railway station. The great thing about Sheffield is the fact it has a village feel and has extensive greenery you don’t find in the likes of Manchester.  One thing about Sheffield I don’t miss are the hills – some are like cliff faces and are completely evil to walk up!

As for our time, it is forever shrinking. Oppressed by our desire to be multitasking and smartphone driven efficiency, we live under a perpetual time pressure. The disease of this millennium will be called chronophobia or speedomania, and its treatment will be embarrassingly old-fashioned. Contemporary nostalgia is not so much about the past, as about vanishing the present. All our yesterdays make your appreciate the value of time spent.

Nostalgia goes beyond individual psychology. At first glance, nostalgia is a longing for a place, but actually it is a yearning for a different time – the time of our student days in this instance, the slower rhythms of our dreams. In a broader sense, nostalgia is a rebellion against the modern idea of time, the time of history and progress. The nostalgic desires to obliterate history and turn it into a private or collective mythology, to revisit time like space, refusing to surrender to the irreversibility of time that plagues the human condition, is where I’ve ended up after last week.

Onto our Sheffield road trip, first was Broomhill, past the shale football pitches, student eateries and well-meaning fair trade shops. I was delighted to see the Record Collector shop remained. Further down, we stumbled past the Broomhill Tavern a hunting ground for collecting beer mats, and then the Broomhill chippy, home of world-class battered sausages. About turn and onto the number 52 bus to Crookes.

So in 2014, 30 years later, we found myself back at the house we shared. Simon (Genesis), Geoff (Black Sabbath) and me (Joy Division), annoying the neighbours in a typical student terrace house. We ended up with two Firsts and another missed by a viva, subsequently two PhDs and an MBA, now all the downhill side of 50, fathering eight children between us. Not a bad set of outcomes from a raw beginning.

Nothing much had changed apart from some double-glazing, sky dishes and some wheelie bins. It was no longer a student house, it was neat and tidy, well maintained – I have fond memories of my attic bedroom, ice on the inside of the windows. Back on the bus to the city centre, we wandered down Division Street, one of my favourite streets in Sheffield. It’s a sort of Indie Street, with independent stores and boutiques, bars and pubs, second-hand shops, cafes and the odd charity shop.

The day was filled with many hugs, poignant silences, uproar at long-lost moments reencountered, personal moments of reflection, and a tear or two. Wistful recollections of our early friendship seem incongruous until the root of their emotional bond was revealed. Every moment contained elements of the raw, next to each other or even occurring simultaneously, so that truthful observation overlapped with crude caricature, and pieced together story structures yielded moments of considerable emotional force. Nostalgia is a kaleidoscopic cornucopia of what was once in a lifetime. We were talking heads then, and now.

Now with established families, motivated, employed and relatively successful, the day was a flashback to halcyon student days. The present is airy and well-lit, while the past looks dingy and claustrophobic in retrospect, but we all looked back over our shoulders with affection and even gratitude. Time passes like a hand waving from a train you wanted to be on as you stand on the platform. It is strange how we hold on to the pieces of the past while we wait for our futures.

Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were, there are a few moments in your life when you are truly and completely happy, and you remember to give thanks, and we all agreed 1981-1984 was a happy time. Even as it happens you are nostalgic for the moment, you are tucking it away in your scrapbook, I think we’ve all done that. Someone once said, “I don’t have a photograph, but you can have my footprints. They’re upstairs in my socks”, which I think is the best quote about capturing memories you can have.

Our plans for the future made us laugh and feel close, but those same plans somehow made anything more than temporary between us seem impossible.

When you start thinking about what your life was like 30 years ago – and not in general terms, but in highly specific detail – it’s disturbing to realise how certain elements of your being are completely dead. They die long before you do. It’s astonishing to consider all the things from your past that used to happen all the time but never happen anymore, and never even cross your mind. It’s almost like those things didn’t happen. Or maybe it seems like they just happened to someone else.

I realised that I was at home in my past, there are no days more full than those we go back to, and it was the first time I’d ever had the feeling of missing someone I was still with. In an era of unscratchable touch screens and sleek, perpetually connected devices that seem to smoothen all the edges of the world, I suddenly found myself yearning for the reassuring roughness of the imperfect. Ah, nostalgia, so much to answer for!

Nostalgia, comes from the Greek nostos (to return home) and algo (pain or ache) – hence a longing to return home – was coined by C17th-century Swiss doctor Johannes Hofer as a label for the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home. The Kuhreihen, simple melodies played on the horn by Swiss Alpine herdsmen, were banned because it reminded the soldiers of home, although some military doctors believed their problems were specific to the Swiss and caused by the racket of Alpine cowbells!

We can all see the marketing of nostalgia is serious business. In the last couple of years, when the credit crunch squeezed and with uncertainty about the economy, big brands have been marketing nostalgia to remind us of all the good times we used to have, reinforcing their history and heritage, their products’ endurance and quality, their authenticity.

The reason that nostalgia is now being considered as an important emotion by marketers is because it makes us happy. In times or recession or instability nostalgia is effective because when people are feeling down about their situation now, nothing makes them feel better than remembering the happier times in the past. Numerous studies confirm that most consumers really do look back on the past with rose-tinted glasses and an open wallet for any product that can help them recreate it. Products popular during a person’s youth will influence their buying habits throughout their lifetime. That explains my Ramone’s tee-shirt!

Nostalgia can add significant value to brands that have the opportunity to tap into the heritage of the brand, for example the Mini and Fiat 500, the retro styling of digital radio brands etc.  Nostalgic, iconic brands have defined Britain for years, some remain as strong as they were when they were founded: Hovis (1886), Marmite (1902), Brasso (1905), Bisto (1908), to name a few, have all stood the test of time.

Most importantly, it must have an emotional link The word ‘brand’ derives from the Old Norse word brandr meaning to burn, referring to the practice of burning a mark or brand onto cattle to denote ownership. It is this indelible mark in our mind that makes us prefer certain brands.

Lyle’s Golden Syrup is Britain’s oldest brand. Its green and gold packaging has remained almost unchanged since 1885. Research indicates that more than 85% of us immediately recognise the brand. Its original Victorian logo representing a lion and bees, coupled with its biblical quotation out of the strong came forth sweetness, has stood the test of time. It harks back to the great industrial times of the late C19th, a time we respect and value.

Bisto is another example. Trusted, reliable, and found in most kitchen cupboards across the country, the brand has remained in red-brown packaging since it was founded in 1908. An astonishing billion servings are sold each year, which equates to 18,000 tons of the brown powder. Lashings of piping hot gravy is a nostalgic memory for us all, an emotional link utilising its comforting values and association with family gatherings.

One of the most famous examples of ‘advertising nostalgia’ was the mammoth 122-second TV commercial from Hovis.  The advert won the British Television Awards ‘Commercial of the Year’, told the story of a young boy travelling through time charting Britain’s turbulent history over the past 122 years – including the first world war, the suffragette movement, the first motor car, the second world war, the Queen’s coronation in 1953, the swinging 60s, England winning the 1966 World Cup, the 1980s miners’ strike and the millennium celebrations.

But enough wallowing in nostalgia, it can create inertia. I find that the present interests me less and less. The future continues to preoccupy me as a reliable source of excitement, hope and new stuff, but increasingly the present seems to have no outstanding qualities of its own, being merely a waiting-station through which I travel back to the vast shadowlands of the past, or the bright new shiny future.

The Chinese definition of happiness is having someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to. I’m happy now as I was in Sheffield, 1981-1984, and as the Buzzcocks sang, About the future I only can reminisce, and although this may sound strange I’m surfing on a wave of nostalgia, for an age yet to come. Ah, nostalgia, Ramone’s tee-shirts, bisto and Sheffield 1981-1984.

Scottish Independence & Cialdini’s ‘Six Principles of Influence’

The Act of Union, 1707, still nailed in my head from school history. Three centuries on, could we be about to tear it up?  My personal choice would be to stay together, but just think about the party celebrations if Scotland votes ‘Yes’, it’d be a right old knees-up that would go on for weeks.

One of the most interesting conversations I’ve had on the subject was on the Glasgow train out of Euston on the way to Manchester last week. A young Scottish bloke, partially obscured by a ziggurat of lager cans, held forth on how Scotland, he said, was literally on the rise. It was an interesting encounter, before finishing his cans around Macclesfield, calling us English all bastards and falling asleep.

Those of us who live in the north of England look south and see the same thing as the Scots – an England effectively shrunk to the London agenda within the invisible force-field of the M25. Much of it is owned and managed remotely by billionaires on the other side of the planet, capitalism’s own geography creates archipelagos of conspicuous wealth, but the North is not on their map of the world.

And who presides over England, this dichotomy of breadline and bunga-bunga? Why, those quintessential Englishmen from Bullingdon. Food banks have proliferated during the course of Cameron’s administration, and we have a chancellor with a sheepdog’s haircut.

I propose a referendum for the North of England. I’m thinking the Scottish border is a marker, and we slam the door at Stockport to create a tense, cold war-like Berlin Wall of the North. OK, it gets a bit hazy. Berwick belongs in England, and we’d want Whitby, but I’d let New Scotland have Leeds. I think there’d have to be a separate vote for the North East to be honest. Feelings could be volatile and the last thing we need is a Geordie Balkans.

People of the North, it’s time to choose. Here’s a shibboleth for you – the word ‘supper’. If it suggests an informal meal in someone’s kitchen involving salad, white wine and moaning about school fees, you’re not in my gang. If it suggests something battered with chips and gravy, you’re North of English.

At this point the outcome looks like a tossup, although I can’t see any substance to chief agitator Salmond’s position on any aspect of his economic, business or monetary manifesto. The risks of going it alone are huge. They may think that Scotland can become another Canada, but it’s more likely that it would end up becoming Spain without the sunshine.

Everything that has happened in Europe since 2009 with the Euro demonstrates that sharing a currency without sharing a government is dangerous, fiscal and banking integration are essential elements of economic stability. An independent Scotland using sterling would be in even worse shape than Euro countries, which at least have a say in how the European Central Bank is run.

I don’t think independence a daft notion or some kind of fatuous affectation, I think there is a reasonable case for it. It matters even if you accept that the Scottish government’s prospectus for life after independence is only one of many possible futures, none of which can be decided until independence is achieved.

But if you are to vote on independence it should be done on the basis of a moderately honest prospectus with clear statements of facts, not emotional cries of Braveheart ‘Freedom’. The independence conversation has been sustained and animated, but no clear economic prospectus is offered by the Scottish government. A lot of people are voting on the vision of a cuddly Brigadoon Scotland, on a deeply cynical and meretricious set of promises that simply cannot, not even when assisted by great dollops of wishful thinking, be delivered.

It is not possible to spend more, borrow less and tax the same despite Salmond’s ‘optimism strategy’. That, however, is what the SNP propose. Lower borrowing rates, 3% annual increases in public spending and no changes to the overall level of taxation. It is incredible. It supposes that voters must be easily gulled to swallow anything, no matter how fanciful. A nonsense wrapped in a distortion inside a whopping great lie. Do the maths!

Sure, many of the details could be worked out and it’s certainly possible that after an initial period of difficulty Scotland could emerge as a stable and contented country. It needn’t be a disaster. Nevertheless, the growing pains would be acute and I think it best to recognise this reality. I know politicians can never say they don’t know the answer to something but there are times when pretending you have all the answers is worse than admitting the obvious truth that you don’t.

So I think of E Pluribus Unum and I think that’s a motto that applies to the UK too, and so does its opposite: within one, many. I like that at Waterloo the Scots Greys, part of the Union Brigade, charged into the French lines to the cry of ‘Scotland Forever’. Perhaps this is romantic and sentimental, but here’s the thing: Scotland is different from England but it is not separate from it. It’s stirring emotions, no more so than Gordon Brown who came close to tears in a passionate speech rallying against the SNP’s healthcare ‘lie’.

But if any part of the UK is deserving of separate status, it is the North of England as I suggest earlier. We’re a world apart from those Home Counties types who glance at the Times crossword on the commute home, who keep Buckinghamshire’s wine bars in business, the golf clubs ticking over, and the personal trainers – who Mrs G’n’T utilises between school drop off and teeth-whitening sessions – keeps busy.

The North is closer to heaven than it is to London. Bounded by the sea on both sides, it has its own dialect, cuisine, ales, customs, sports and wildlife. All it is lacking is independent governance. Where would you rather be, in the smog, shuffling elbowing Boris Johnson in the crowds at Chelsea Flower show, or breathing in the clean, pure, damp air on Lancashire moors? Ah, Lancashire, you beautiful beast! Your rolling, rugged hills, magnificent moors and stunning, jagged coastline, your luscious landscape. I’m suddenly wondering why we didn’t put up border controls decades ago.

The seat of the Industrial Revolution, the county that made Britain great, and we still have plenty of industry to keep us going today, plus great football teams and music – and those who protest that Liverpool and Manchester don’t count, Lancashire’s boundaries used to encompass both cities and as a new North we would seek to correct the ‘historical mistake’, as Mr Putin would say, of allowing them to be stolen from us in the Metropolitan Reshuffle Scandal of 1971. Lancashire is the county upon which Britain’s cultural pillars have been built – factories, pubs and football. Not only that, but the people are warm and honest too.

In contrast and fundamentally, warmth and honesty are missing from both sides of the referendum debate. Much of the argument has been profoundly dispiriting and depressing tit-for-tat from both sides. I waited to hear someone convey something energising and optimistic about their proposal, but nothing, not even a bat-squeak of warmth. Both sides have the demeanor of an undertaker telling you bad news.

Both sides deliver their cases to the bleak tattoo of a single drum: we can’t, we can’t, we can’t; the risks, the risks, the risks; they’re wrong, they’re wrong, they’re wrong. It was like listening to a seven-year-old who doesn’t want to go to school in the morning. By the end, I had an urge to hug my dog and tell her everything is going to be ok really.

Convincing voters to ‘Yes’ in the referendum is like when you’ve come up with a fantastic idea for a new product. Now you need to convince everyone to support it against other products, so, how can you get everyone onside? Influencing others is challenging, which is why it’s worth understanding the psychological principles behind the influencing process. This is where it’s useful to consider Robert Cialdini’s ‘Six Principles of Influence’ model.

The ‘Six Principles of Influence’ were created by Robert Cialdini, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University. He published them in his respected 1984 book ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’. Cialdini identified the six principles through experimental studies of what he called ‘compliance professionals’ – salespeople, fund raisers, recruiters, advertisers – people skilled in the art of convincing and influencing others.

The six principles are as follows:

1. Reciprocity We generally aim to return favours, pay back debts, and treat others as they treat us. According to the idea of reciprocity, this can lead us to feel obliged to offer concessions to others if they have offered them to us because we’re uncomfortable with feeling indebted to them. For example, if a colleague helps you when you’re busy with a project, you might feel obliged to support her ideas for improving team processes.

To use reciprocity to influence others, you’ll need to identify your objectives, and think about what you want from the other person. You then need to identify what you can give to them in return i.e. where is the ‘win-win’.

2. Commitment (and Consistency) We have a deep desire to be consistent. For this reason, once we’ve committed to something, we’re more inclined to go through with it. For instance, you’d probably be more likely to support a colleague’s project proposal if you had been invited into the initial dialogue.

If you’re selling a new product, sell a very small quantity, a ‘taster’, which makes it easy for people to change their mind once they’ve bought it. Buying the product is the early commitment, making it a small transaction removes risk and makes the decision easier in the first place.

3. Social Proof This principle relies on our sense of ‘safety in numbers’.  We assume that if other people are doing something, then it must be OK. We’re particularly susceptible to this principle when we’re feeling uncertain, and more likely to be influenced if the people we see seem to be similar to us. That’s why commercials often use mothers rather than celebrities.

You can use this principle by creating a buzz around your idea or product highlight the number of people using it, use testimonials, encourage people to talk about it using social media, and publish case studies with current customers to demonstrate its success.

4. Liking We’re more likely to be influenced by people we like. Likability comes in many forms – people might be similar or familiar to us, or we may just simply trust them. People are more likely to buy from people like themselves, from people they know and respect.

When pitching a new product and persuading the market, ensure that you put in time and effort to build trust and rapport with customers and people you work with, and with consistency. Develop your emotional intelligence and active listening skills, and remember that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when it comes to relating to others.

5. Authority We feel a sense of duty or obligation to people in positions of authority, this is why advertisers of pharmaceutical products employ doctors to front their campaigns, and why most of us will do most things that our manager requests, even when we don’t agree with them.

You can use both your own authority, and the authority of others, as influencers. To use authority, get support from influential and informed people, and ask for their help in backing your product. For marketing, highlight well-known and respected customers, use comments from industry experts and research results.

6. Scarcity This principle says that things are more attractive when their availability is limited, or when we stand to lose the opportunity to acquire them on favourable terms. For instance, we might buy something immediately if we’re told that it’s the last one, or that a special offer will soon expire.

With this principle, people need to know that they’re missing out if they don’t act quickly – limit the availability of stock, set a closing date for the offer, or create special editions of products.

The name of the game in the business world is persuasion, the goal of any business is to find, win and keep customers. You can use these principles whenever you want to influence or persuade new or existing customers. Some 90% of selling is conviction, 10% persuasion; don’t raise your voice, improve your argument. The most important persuasion tool you have in your armoury is your integrity. I’m not sure either side in the Scotland debate has really thought about how to structure their points of view to create genuine influence

In three days’ time Alex Salmond could do what Thomas Jefferson said he always preferred to do – begin the future of his country rather than just dream about its past. Has he done enough to persuade and influence, has he done enough to pass the ‘Renton test’? Salmond has the cunning and ability to whip up populist fervour when it comes to portraying Scotland as the wronged party in an unhappy relationship, but for me his hectoring style carries no charm, guile or charisma – and has no influence on me nor any persuasion – yet he wants divorce and he wants to keep the joint bank account!

Life’s too short to go unnoticed, especially when you’re 52.

Life’s defining moments do not always announce themselves with the glorious fanfare of positive celebration. There can be the unwelcome milestones of big birthdays, the loss of an elderly, iconic family relative or trauma (I can remember puberty). They can just come out of nowhere silently and with a soundless impact.

Three years ago I experienced just such a moment. Early one morning when out with the dog, my brain unplugged itself and the lights were on but no one was home – more so than usual. I remember thinking ‘This is the kind of life-changing thing that happens to old people, not me’ as I was unable to move or speak but observe lots of clever, caring people doing stuff to me as I lay in hospital.

Eventually my brain rebooted and my mind rewound itself back up enough to formulate a conscious intention but the neural pathways still slumbered. The next couple of months were enforced recuperation with chess, Sudoku and canasta to complete the rewiring, and thereafter I got on with things as if nothing had happened.

Looking back, I recognise now this period impacted me much more than I thought at the time. It was like some bizarre prefiguring of my future life, a bad fortune telling of my tea leaves. From that moment, I’ve never regained an absolute trust that my body will automatically fall into line with my will, rather it will falter and fail. I can no longer depend on it to function properly as this incident was solid indication that my youth had ended and middle age begun.

These days we are persistently told that age is just a number, that 40 is the new 30, and 50 the new 40. Odd then that entire cohorts of the cosmetics and medical industries are dedicated to rolling back the effects of passing time. We are all living healthily for longer, working later and shunning the putting out to pasture we once happily greeted as well earned retirement.

Today, I just dismiss my brain switch-off as ‘one of those things’ and fortunately the random stream of consciousness output that comes from what I have between my ears is still pretty good. I still do stuff, work and have a good social life. I switch and click between being husband, son, father and friend. I am nowhere near the end of my productive life. And yet I know as surely as day is not night that one season of my life has ended and another begun. I’m not maudlin, just poignant at the passing of time.

So what’s brought this self-reflection on? Ok, it was my birthday at the weekend and another page on the calendar was torn off. I took it badly, as you can probably gather by now. I turned 52. Bloody hell, 52. Old. I am now officially middle aged. Still got my own teeth and hair mind you. I’ll admit that it remains fuzzy as to whether middle age qualifies as a biologically distinct phase of life (one that comes with its own neurological and biochemical map) or is just a label we give to a period of mental adjustment that helps us accommodate vague feelings of loss.

Then again, perhaps it is merely a socio-cultural construction, a shorthand way of dividing people up by their attitudes and lifestyle choices? Beginning, Middle and End. When the term ‘middle age’ came into general use in the late C19th it was principally in a socio-economic setting. Empire and industrialisation had expanded and enriched the middle classes, and women who had finished raising children could enjoy another decade or two of vigour and relevance. The negative tarnish came with the mass production of the 1920s and the theories of scientific management that underpinned it, sharpening our association of youth with productivity and middle age with decreasing efficiency.

This chimes with my sense that we shift this way and that, mentally and physically, and it’s a labeling of bodily decline in defining the idea that middle age is a kind of subjective reckoning. I’m picturing a Venn diagram that captures the intersection of three factors – physicality, mentality and spirituality – middle age is that shady area where the circles overlap, where the light is fading and the chill of winter starts to set in. The specific age at which we enter this penumbra is different for each of us, but the common quality is a profound sense of alteration and a dawning understanding, dim at first, that there is no point of re-entry to the bright terrain of youth.

As I gear up to turn 52, what has lodged in my mind is that it is a mathematical near-certainty that I have passed the halfway mark. That from now on growing older will be less about marking the age I’ve arrived at than about counting down what is left. At 52 I will quite literally be over the hill; ahead of me, the incline runs downwards. And it doesn’t end well.

Although I can see determined resistance to ageing into the inner weakness it betrays, I don’t believe for a minute that self-denial is any better. Besides, when I journey down that path promising myself I will stop hurling spokes into the spinning dials of my body clock, I find that I’m still far from happy about ageing. I feel unprepared for it. Caught on the hop. Exposed. Most of the time I pretend it isn’t happening, only to be pulled up short by that terrible sense of dissonance occasioned. Greying hairs on my temples look back at me from the mirror, lest I forget.

But I’m a positive fella really, just tend to think and overthink too much. I’m actually more ambitious about doing stuff than I was last year, got an expanded list of things to do, it’s just that I enjoy the juxtaposition of ‘What if?’, ‘So What?’ and ‘If Only’. So what’s in my road map to create an expansive and lasting network, my manifesto to shape new innovations for myself as I hurtle to middle age tranquility?

If you’re not doing something hard, you’re wasting your time When you’ve been through a lot, you know that the best times are when you get through them. You know that feeling when you’re working right at the edge of your capability and you’re so engaged in trying and failing and trying more that time just flies? That’s when you’re really testing yourself. Ask yourself every day, every week, ‘What is something hard that I can tackle?

Life is actually really, really random Bad things will happen to you, you will fail and things outside of your control will happen. You need to lean into this, and expect things to be messy. Remember, the other side of randomness is that some really great things can and do happen. When they do, don’t balk at the opportunity, seize the day.

Get good at using your time The most important thing you have is time because you can’t make more of it. Think about every use of your time and give it all equal weight. Recognise that grunt work takes time just as much as learning takes time. Figure out what you like doing, what extends your capabilities the most, and organise your time to strike the right balance. Ideally, this leaves some space for reflection and sleep. If you don’t give yourself space, there won’t be any room for good, random things to happen to you.

The 20-40-60 rule The rule goes something like this: At 20, you are constantly worrying about what other people think of you. At 40 you wake up and say, ‘I’m not going to give a damn what other people think anymore.’ And at 60 you realise no one is thinking about you at all. Actually, nobody is thinking about you from the very beginning. Of course, this is good news and bad news. The bad news is that no one is constantly wondering if you’re okay, consequently, you need to be your own advocate. You need to think about you. You need to do stuff for yourself.

Success starts with self-mastery Self-mastery is being in control of the internal thought processes that guide your emotions, habits, and behaviors. It’s the ability to direct rather than react.  The former is done with intention and awareness, the latter is visceral and without reason. Self-mastery is captured well in this quote attributed to many: “Watch your thoughts, they become words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become character; watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

Talk to yourself There’s a voice inside your head, and that’s completely normal. It’s your internal dialogue, the inner commentary that strives to make sense of the world.  The first crucial step is to become an observer of your thoughts, to become self-aware, self-reflective. To think about your thinking. Become the best version of yourself you can be. I give myself a good talking too every morning and it’s always a lively conversation and debate.

Make peace with your past We’re not just the sum total of our experiences, self-mastery tells us we have got new things to learn ahead of us, so we’re certainly not confined to them.  It’s not easy to do, at times I do find myself nostalgic, in a positive way, but do let events and memories seep deep into my soul.  Fortunately I have no regrets, I would imagine it’s hard to pick up anything new when your hands are full with burdens.

Don’t be a bystander I’ve always taken an active approach to life, being a performer rather than a spectator. There’s no room for passivity and sitting on the bench. Don’t hesitate, just do it. Life’s too short to go unnoticed, so make a difference. I think I get this positivity from my parents, and it’s a personal trait I’ve instilled in my kids too. As Tennessee Williams said ‘Make voyages, attempt them, there’s nothing else’.

Have a positive mindset This psychological strategy can be understood in the question, Is the glass half empty or half full?  It’s changing your interpretive lens to uncover the best version of events there can be. Give yourself a call to action to define how you want to do things. It’s easy to write your own manifesto, and while you don’t have to do it in a specific way, figure out what you care about, how you perceive yourself, and how you want to act moving forward. It’s not always a key to figuring out exactly what you want to do with your life, but it’s a great starting point for at least figuring out how you want to go about those goals.

In our formative years, we fancy ourselves doing this or that, life is all before us and open to adventure. But life may have led us to do neither. Later, in maturity, what draws our attention is usually something that has bid for it on previous occasions and we’ve left it out of journey, and they keep calling out to us: Don’t forget me, please don’t forget. As I get older I find there is usually something about a spontaneous affinity when we recall a memory that remains pertinent to our present.

You can’t know where your quest will take you, but do it with vitality.  The most valuable knowledge that you will ever discover is, and always will be, within. So as I elbow my way into middle age, I reflect on the past- where a takeaway was a mathematical problem, a Big Mac was what we put on when it was raining, when you had to peel potatoes if you wanted chips at home, and water came out of a tap; if someone suggested bottling it and charging more for it you’d have laughed out loud.

But more importantly, I’m interested in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my time there. As Steve Jobs said, ‘you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future’.

There’s always a moment when the door opens and lets the future in, and I’ll be barging right in there with my manifesto outlined above, which I hope you found useful. My brain is working well, but sometimes plays tricks – I just looked in the mirror and thought, ‘who’s that old man staring back at me?’ Then I realised it’s not a mirror, it’s a fish fingers box I was holding.

My blog was scribbled whilst scoffing birthday cake, reading my birthday cards and wondering when to spend my vouchers for a skydiving experience, volcano hopping or a trip to the garden centre, but I drew inspiration from Marina Benjamin, Heidi Roizen and Thai Nguyen, and some of their published work to shape my thinking and craft my words.

I don’t want a holiday in the sun

I don’t want a holiday in the sun, a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. I echo John Lydon’s philosophy when thinking about my annual break, as once more the Munchausen-by-proxy version of Carly Simon Syndrome of those vanity-fuelled sun-worshipping folks slotted by the swimming pool from 8am to 6pm and do-not-move fills my head.

Where to go? I fancied Mexico, simply from the colour of their shirts and the players’ names in the World Cup – Jose de Jesus Corona, the goalkeeper, why weren’t my parents more imaginative? The town of Oaxaca caught my attention, but it was out of season. Were we in Oaxaca on Christmas Eve, it would be the great Noche de Rábanos, or Night of the Radishes celebration. Got to be there.

The radish is not a vegetable that has figured large in my life at any time, yet historically it is a much-celebrated foodstuff. The Greeks thought them so splendid that they used to make gold replicas. The Oaxacans, however, sculpt them into great tableaux and compete for prizes.

These are not the miniature salad radishes that grace the occasional picnic, but great efforts weighing five to ten pounds that are transformed into entire Nacimientos (nativity scenes), conquistadors, or even historical heroes like Emiliano Zapata. Hand carved root vegetable gifts, nice idea.

There are plenty of people who think they’ve seen baby Jesus in a root vegetable, but not many who can be bothered to carve one. I love a hand-made gift. One of my most prized possessions is a rock coloured all over with crayon that my then five-year-old daughter gave me one summer. To this day it remains the finest paperweight that money can buy.

I also have a pine-handled bottle opener nurtured over 13 weeks in a CDT class by my son James, the highest value item in my Will. Grinling Gibbons, eat your heart out. Doesn’t quite match Salvador Dalí’s surrealist gift in 1936 to Harpo Marx – a harp with barbed wire strings, but it’s a nice piece.

But back to holidays. I like to go somewhere with time to sit and think and, occasionally, just to sit and not think at all. Apart from that, I’m easily pleased. I’ve passed through The Inbetweeners type holidays some 30 years ago, the everyday horror of being stranded between childhood and adulthood, a hundred feet out in social no man’s land – a gig that becomes impossible as soon as it starts, adolescence comes with obsolescence built in. There’s rawness in holidays of that age group, teenage hubris and humiliations, whether they’re scatological or something subtler.

Thailand beckoned, but then I read a piece warning travellers not to take a copy of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. The warning is to be found inside the in-flight magazine of Philippine Airlines (a bit late if you’re on the final approach to Bangkok airport) and has been circulated on Twitter. Passengers are told that ‘Thailand is very safe for tourists’ but are offered five tips to help ‘blend in’: You don’t want to be mistaken for an anti-coup protestor.

I have to say that I’ve never really been that interested in getting a tan. Partly this is because I find sunbathing to be one of the most tedious activities on Earth and partly this is because I’m not in the least bit bothered by the way it looks. Oh, and apparently it’s also extremely bad for you. Tanned skin is damaged skin, you know.

Not surprisingly then, I find the whole trend for tanning a little bit baffling. It’s incredibly narcissistic, isn’t it? I’ve never really understood why, in their quest for the all-year tan, people will willingly go to a salon and submit themselves to damaging ultra-violet light, or why they will sit for hours slow roasting on a beach.

For me, pale is interesting. I’m 100% Anglo Saxon as in Thomas Huxley’s division of humanity, although to be fair, I have a skin tone that could optimistically be called ‘North-of-England olive’ after my two weeks away, but would more accurately be described as ‘Lancashire white’ – not to be confused with the potato of the same name.

Rightly or wrongly, there is a part of me that sees someone with a tan and thinks that they are preeningly vain. I’m sure there must be some exceptions, but in my head, I always reckon that a man with a glowing tan is also likely to have overly plucked eyebrows and probably dries his feet in the gym changing room with a hair dryer. There’s so much that is wrong with that, although I see more blokes doing it.

Until recently, I knew very little about the mechanics of how you go about getting a serious tan, and I cared even less, and then I overheard a conversation on a train between Claire and Hannah. Claire likes a bit of sun, had just got back from a week in Portugal and was as brown as a walnut and keen to stay that way.

The conversation started harmlessly enough. They had a bit of a chat about her holiday, but then, before I could blink, we seemed to be talking about sunbathing and how it is important to make sure you get ‘an all over tan’. What this means – I know this now – is that you have to a) get naked and b) make sure that you frequently change the position of your body so that everywhere catches the sun.

Let’s think about that for a moment. Everywhere. Between the toes? Yes. Apparently that’s important when you wear open-toed shoes. Under the arms? Very, very important in a season with so many sleeveless tops. Don’t forget the backs of your arms either. Underneath the breasts? Obviously. This may entail a bit of strategic lifting and shifting. I tell you. Every day is a school day, isn’t it?

Anyway, still searching for a suitable holiday destination, I then came to the killer social media feeds. ‘Looking for that special place for your Caribbean getaway? The last word in luxury ocean front views, a refreshing dip maybe, we are an art hotel, and each room features it own paintings, and you’ll love our body hugging posteurpedic beds, and our showers feature the latest in alpine massage technology, and each room is fitted with a cooling device that defies gravity, and..’

I know, I know. At that point I gave up and defaulted to my wife and daughter’s relentless search and we were off. So having unpacked and decluttered my mind, and having no access to the Internet, I arrived at the chosen destination. Here are my ‘thinking outloud’ takeaway reflections from my break, a stream of random consciousness and musings that I hope give you some insight into my three weeks in the sun.

The greatest reflection of yourself is how you use your time Whatever you say about what really matters to you, the true test is where you place your time. If you say your priorities are your partner or your kids or your health or learning, that statement will only be true if your calendar reflects it. The only reason for time is so everything doesn’t happen at once, but don’t wait, the time will never be right.

To know what you think, write it down Not having technology and having to write things down myself in a notebook, to let it see light, is the best way for me to clarify what I actually think about something. ‘Writing is the painting of the voice’ said Voltaire, for me, I realise that writing is the best way to talk without being interrupted.

Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity You can’t artificially generate curiosity, so you have to follow where yours actually leads. Curiosity ends up being the driving force behind learning and the thirst for knowledge.  ‘Millions saw the apple fall but Newton asked why’ said Bernard Baruch. Curiosity did not kill the cat, conventionality did.

Get outside Sometimes you need to step outside, get some air and remind yourself of who you are and who you want to be. Being on holiday gives you freedom from the usual routine, to breathe the air without interference and to just do stuff. What you think of yourself is much more important than what other people think of you. Be yourself, everyone else is taken, so give yourself some space.

Pay close attention to what you do when you’re alone When no-one else is around, or looking, or talking, when the house is empty, when the afternoon is yours alone, what you choose to do says a lot about you. Pay close attention to where your mind wanders in the shower. Your natural wanderings are your compass to what’s truly interesting to you. Equally, it’s bad enough wasting time without killing time.

Self-control is a finite resource I’m good company for me, I like the idea of solitude, being alone and being content with myself, but I fear loneliness, the pain of being alone, and I’ve never been lonely, an exposed position. However, you can only ask so much of yourself each day, you’ll snap or warp or splinter if you ask too much. You have a limited capacity to direct yourself a certain way. I now realise there are boundaries to being independent.

You end up being the average of the people you spend your life with You become a reflection of your environment, particularly your social one. Choose people wisely, don’t hesitate to move or change if you know things aren’t right. Equally, everything defaults to mediocre. Most jobs are mediocre, most people’s work is mediocre, most products and experiences are mediocre. Most lives drift in an inertia of mediocrity. Rise above the mediocrity, the mundane, the ordinary. We don’t get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. As Steve Jobs said, make a dent in the universe.

Put yourself in places that make you nervous Nerves are really the only way to know that you’re being stretched. If there hasn’t been a moment of nerves in your life for a month, it might be worthwhile asking if you’re pushing hard enough. Step outside your comfort zone into the learning zone. If you do what you always did, you will get what you always got. Great people did not achieve great things by staying in their comfort zone.

Listen to your own pulse Money can’t buy you happiness, but consciousness can. I picked up Laura Vanderkam’s book, ‘168 hours: you have more time than you think’ from the bookcase in the hotel reception. She talks about thinking of your week in terms of 168 hours, instead of seven 24-hour chunks. When you look at your week from that perspective, you have more time than you think. This book is a reality check that tells you I do have time for what is important to me.

You never know where you are on the big wheel You never know what’s coming, you have to have some faith that your moment is coming, but you don’t need to be Speedy Gonzalez all the time. Travel has many joys, luggage is not one of them. Live for the moments of serendipity and synchronicity. Sleep. Hydrate. Move. The basics are key. You strive to be conscious in all areas of life, relationships, raising children, your work, but we need more awareness and clarity.

I’ve become influenced in the last year by Tim Ferris, look him up here He’s a big believer and doer of lifestyle design, work and life balance and has redefined success.  His blogs are quirky and thoughtful, and you may get some clues on what to add to or subtract from your own mix as you search to find what works for you.

We all know that holidays are good for us, but if you are in doubt, google the health benefits of taking a holiday. However, many of us do not take time off. We are constantly on solving problems, putting out fires, thinking of ways to grow faster, bigger, better, We cannot imagine how our businesses can function without us. And then there’s the guilt: How can I leave my team? They need me.

But more importantly, a holiday provides a great opportunity for personal growth in an accelerated way. Yes you rest, you catch up on sleep, you read a book or two, you may be even be lucky enough to fill up on vitamin D and get a tan (!) But above all, you constantly absorb, morph, learn. Serendipity will make it that you will always find people to quench your thirst for knowledge, your curiosity for idiosyncrasies, your craving for new experiences.

We all have a tendency to become myopic when we focus too long on the same thing and we forget to look beyond our horizons. A holiday brings that back and more. I feel more relaxed and more deeply connected to myself and that’s not been the case for a while.

So now with new things learned and others unlearned I’ve already begun to create and continue a healthier, more authentic life rhythm that’s best for me, and the thing is, in doing that, what I give to those close to me and try to contribute to the rest of the world will be so much better.

Lessons from being a dad for a start-up business leader

Being a dad is just like running a start-up business – you set the direction, nurture and adjust as required, and always have one eye on the future as well as today. Often the kids are more of a challenge than a business, but sometimes not. Father’s Day yesterday brought this clearer into perspective for me.

Father’s Day was inaugurated in the United States in 1910 by Sonora Smart Dodd to celebrate her father, the Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, a single parent who raised six children. Sonora wanted to recognise her father, and to compliment the existing Mothers Day celebration. She original suggested June 5, her father’s birthday, but the celebration was deferred to the third Sunday of June, which is now fixed in our calendar.

It did not have much success initially. In the 1920s, Dodd stopped promoting the celebration because she was studying, and it faded, but in the 1930s Dodd started promoting the celebration again, raising awareness at a national level. She had the help of the Father’s Day Council, founded by the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers to consolidate the commercial promotion. Americans resisted, perceiving it as just an attempt by merchants to replicate the commercial success of Mother’s Day, but the trade groups did not give up, and today Father’s Day has become a second Christmas for the men’s gift-oriented industries.

I’ve been a father for more than 23 years, and have two children, James and Katie, now threatening to leave the domestic payroll but clinging on, and I have loved every messy, noisy, chaotic minute of it. But when it first came to my attention that there were these beautiful, cute, little people dependent upon me, I was deeply scared by the prospect of fatherhood, unsure if I’d do a good job, worried I’d fail and let them down.

I can tell you this: being a father is the scariest thing I’ve known in my life. All of a sudden, I was 29 and in charge of a fragile human life, so precious and dear but so flickering and vulnerable, and I was completely unprepared. It was the most terrifying experience ever. And it’s been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. More rewarding than running a triathlon (well, I imagine it is, I’ve never done one).

I now see a father not as a shaper of clay, but a herder of cats. A father isn’t molding a child into the perfect ideal of a human being he’d like him or her to be, rather he’s nurturing, guiding and loving, as they grow into whatever they already are. So for men who are becoming fathers, and women becoming mothers (because there’s not much difference other than anatomy), here are my thoughts on herding cats, and the parallels to growing a start-up business.  Just know that I’ve violated all of these fatherhood ideas repeatedly, and learned these lessons along the way.

Your first job is simply to be there and love them Of course, we need to keep them safe, fed and clothed, and anyone can do that with a bit of effort. What’s important is whether the child grows into an adult who is loved.  At the end of the day if you can say that you were there for your child, and she or he felt loved, then you’ve succeeded.

For your start-up business, it’s about the shaping, the caring, the loving too, guiding it through those embryonic moments as it takes its first steps. What you do in the early days of your business are important to give it the best start in life.

Your example is more important than your words We often tell our children to be considerate as we yell at him, and so he doesn’t learn to be considerate but to yell back.  My son James, then aged 12, once left me a note asking me to be more consistent.

Being a business leader is all about setting the example, your behaviour, attitude and conduct should be a role model for others to follow. Leading from the front and showing the way ahead is just like being a dad.

A hug is more powerful than punishment A hug accomplishes your main duty (to love), and is more powerful than any punishment. When a child behaves badly, this is a mistake, but what’s more important than judging and punishing is understanding. Empathy. Put yourself in their shoes. What would help you in that situation? Have compassion. Give a hug.

Hugs in business are good to celebrate success, but take an empathetic approach to your business, rather than punishment when things don’t work out.  Talk about the problem, get folks to understand why their behaviour wasn’t so great, it’s about learning rather than retribution, and empathy starts with your example.

Trust them As his dad, let him take risks and fail, and show him that it’s OK to fail. Don’t give him the neuroses of worrying constantly about safety, of making a mistake. He will fail, and your reaction to that failure is more important than the failure itself. You must show him that the failure is just a successful experiment, where you learned something valuable. If you trust him, he will learn to trust himself. He will grow up knowing that things can go badly but trust that all will turn out OK in the end. That’s a trust in life that’s incredibly valuable.

Creating an environment of trust to your start-up is invaluable, a culture where it’s acceptable to take risks, try new things out, see what works. Things will go in a different direction but support curiosity and don’t create a fear of failure.

Let them be who they’re going to be You aren’t in control of that. You might care deeply about something but she doesn’t. You might think what she cares about is trivial, but that’s who you are, not who she is. Let her express herself in her way. Let her figure out things for herself. Let her make choices, mistakes, take care of her own emotional needs, become self-sufficient as early as she can.

A start up needs leadership, it doesn’t need micro-managing, create the vision, values, purpose and strategy, let people get on with stuff within the framework you’ve set, don’t make it claustrophobic, give folks space to breath and grow.

Engage Take walks and have talks, gaze up at the stars with them and wonder about the moon. Listen to their music and dance with them. Ok, maybe not. Pack it in dad! Do puzzles together, bake cakes together, get into their blanket forts, pretend to be a Jedi, tell them stories you made up, sing badly together. I’m good at that.

Each moment you have with your child is a moment in time, and then they grow up and move away, and start to become their own person and figure out who they are and get hurt and need your shoulder to cry on, but then don’t need you anymore. In the end, fatherhood is being there until they don’t need you to be there, until they do again.

Engagement is business means ‘being there’, having an intimate relationship with people in your start up, which recognises them as individuals, not just workers.

From bloke to dad I found this transformation exciting and it seemed the next logical step in my life. I felt I’d done my share of pubs and larking around and was ready for something more. Of course becoming a dad helps the process of growing up because you are forced to acknowledge that in the eyes of this small being, you are in charge.

Responsibility for your people, taking a paternalistic perspective, is a vital element in securing the growth of your start up. Your decisions inside the organisation have a direct impact on their lives outside of the organisation, recognise and accept this.

Tired and testy In a universe far, far away, people sleep all night. I know this, because I was once of this tribe. Then I became a parent. Babies cry when they’re hungry, when they’re too hot, too cold, need changing or a cuddle. I recall pacing the bedroom at 4am with both kids in the early days as they howled the place down.

You spend the first two years helping them to walk and talk, then the next 16 years telling them to shut up and sit down. Like all aspects of parenthood the key is patience, unlimited patience. I’d be lying if I said I’ve never run out of patience or felt I couldn’t cope. The thing is, it takes a while to learn.

You need patience with your start up, there will be similar sleep deprivation experience and times you doubt your ability to cope. The thing is, it takes a while to learn here too.

Handle with care I held both James and Katie a lot in the early days. As a man, it’s easy to feel useless around a new born. I mean, it’s not like you’re built for breastfeeding. A more primitive instinct I’ve yet to experience and it made me feel more like a bloke than downing a pint in five seconds ever did. Cuddling is good. At first, though, you’ll feel like a clumsy, clueless ape-man, petrified of picking up your own child in case you drop them or pull a tiny arm off by accident.

With your start up business, you need to be gentle, hold it close to you, shape and nurture, give it a cuddle too, look after it and help it enter the world.

Have baby, will travel When James was first born, I was scared to leave the house with him on my own, I mean a pram was a difficult vehicle to navigate and it held such a precious cargo. Tackling a zebra crossing became an epic quest, a trip to the supermarket made Neil Armstrong’s jaunt to the moon look easy. And as for the park, well, Bear Grylls, eat your heart out.

However, you get used to it, and the first holiday to Whitby was great fun, even if he didn’t like the feel of cold wet seaweed on his feet, The only way to learn is to get out there and try.

With your start up business, it’s all about getting out there too, talking and pitching to potential customers, don’t be scared about the new journey, it’s all part of learning and finding out what works.

Offloading your offspring I’ve not always found it easy to leave the kids for an evening. The first time we left Katie with a babysitter was a disaster. We fretted about her throughout the first course, rowed through the second and were home before pudding.

Katie was happily asleep when we got in, but I woke her anyway just to make sure she hadn’t slipped into a coma. Like most new parents we raised imagining the unimaginable to an art form.

After a time, your start up is starting to walk and talk, and you have to let other people have a part of it, and trust them with it. You have to leave it on its own for a while to start to find its feet.

The sky’s the limit Of course, I’ve got a dad too, and I’ve often been minded by the saying ‘by the time a man realises that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he’s wrong’. My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me, and taught me that I could do anything and be anything I want to be.

We never know the love of a parent until we become parents ourselves. I get my ‘always go the extra mile’ sense of determination from my dad, if you’re going to do something, do it right. Then do more.

The attitude of ‘keep going, never stop’ and pushing yourself to reach beyond your expectations is needed for your start up. Believe in yourself and your potential, and make business as usual a stretch based on unreasonable demands on yourself to create something very special.

James is now 23, Katie is 19, and both are bright, funny and argumentative in a positive sense. These days the separation anxieties are all mine. I love it that I can now admire them for real rather than imagined achievements, congratulating them for the tuneless recorder solo never came easily to me.

I like it that in many ways my job as a father is done. They have a clear sense of right and wrong, an inner self-belief as to where they are going in the world, and an emotional confidence that I never had at that age. I also quite like it that they think they know more than me. Even though they don’t. I’m not old, I’m retro, and I am always fundamentally right, and they know this.

Being a ‘business dad’ in a start up business is a similar journey, with the emotionally highs and lows, hopes and dreams, self-doubts and pride. Like a family dad, the job is never really done, you’ll always be there.

Now my kids are able to see me as a person as well as a dad. They know my strengths and weaknesses almost as well as I know theirs. Then again there are still some weaknesses I try to keep hidden. Such as writing sentimental pieces like this. But, luckily, as no one in my family ever reads a word I write, that shouldn’t be a problem!







Reflections from D-Day: camaraderie & selflessness

Friday saw the 70th anniversary of D-Day, 6 June 1944, when Allied Forces launched a combined naval, air and land assault
 on Nazi-occupied France. Codenamed Operation Overlord, the Allied landings on the Normandy beaches marked the start of a long and costly campaign to liberate north-west Europe from German occupation.  I also wonder whether it was the pivotal day of the C21st. It was certainly the greatest team effort of that century.

Just after midnight, the Allied assault began. The operation caught the German military command unaware. Low tides and bad weather – combined with Allied deception plans – had convinced the Germans that an attack was unlikely at that time. As more than 1,000 British bombers began to pummel Normandy’s coastal defences, Rommel, commanding German defences in France, was in Germany celebrating his wife’s birthday.

The initial Allied assault was made by airborne infantry, who secured key bridges and crossroads on the flanks of the landing zone. Some of their most important and celebrated achievements included the capture of Pegasus Bridge and the town of Sainte-Mère-Eglise. Commandos also attacked key targets ahead of the main landings. One remarkable feat was the attack by US Rangers on Pointe-Du-Hoc, a headland which housed a coastal battery that threatened the landing beaches. The successful assault involved scaling a 30m cliff face under German fire.

At 6.30am, US soldiers went ashore by landing craft at Utah and Omaha beaches. An hour later, the British and Canadians arrived at the beaches of Gold, Juno and Sword. When British and Canadian troops landed, the tide was high, leaving fewer metres of beach to traverse. Although mines sunk a number of boats, soldiers succeeded in silencing German machine guns within half an hour.

At the day’s end, although they had not yet taken their objective of Caen, the soldiers had penetrated six kilometres inland, and their foothold in Normandy was secure and could begin their advance into France. At 6pm, when Churchill addressed the House of Commons, it was to announce the astounding success of an operation, which would go down in military legend.

Enemy gunfire has never sounded in my ears, the anxiety of an unseen enemy has never entered my body, the life and death sacrifice of fighting for my country has never been a choice for me to consider. These realities are a result of the freedoms I have, and I am grateful for all who have accepted the work to defend my country.

Despite my intellectual understanding of the realities of war, I spent most of last Friday with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat watching and listening to the poignant stories and pictures of frail, yet spirited men, most in their 90s, distil their recollections of that momentous day.  Age had finally wearied them. They marched proudly on Sword Beach with stiff legs, bent backs and, in some cases, tears in their eyes.

As D-Day passes over the horizon of living memory, nowhere do you feel the power of teamwork, shared purpose and ultimately shared sacrifice more than in a military cemetery. Looking across the thousand upon thousand of white stone graves at the Normandy Cemeteries, gazing out across the English Channel, it takes your breath away. It is almost beyond imagination to realise the bravery of these men, who put aside their personal freedom, their individuality and paid the ultimate price.

I was struck by a number of thoughts from the D-Day commemoration around teamwork, notably how a small team of motivated individuals can beat a much larger, well-provisioned adversary. But overriding this, it was camaraderie that struck me as the lifeblood of a team. It is what fuels results, and it was that emotion which filled my senses on Friday from the veterans.

Without it, fractured relationships slow down a team, the team is more readily blindsided by surprises and may not withstand the impact. Without camaraderie individuals fight for recognition tearing apart that palpable connection. The sense of the D-Day veterans was that they were part of a team, and that camaraderie was what made the coastal invasion a success.

However, there were a number of other factors contributing to the D-Day victory, which I think we can take into our everyday business thinking.

Vision is important Without vision an organisation will lack direction, focus and purpose. Vision takes individual concerns and focuses the team, giving them confidence. This fosters teamwork on a number of levels. While seemingly attainable, a true vision lies just beyond achievable. When the team accomplishes things it didn’t at first believe possible during its journey to achieve the vision, everyone’s confidence is boosted and team development is furthered. The D-Day landings showed the unifying power and purpose of a vision under extreme circumstances.

Planning Strategising in a chaotic environment is essential, many unforeseen factors affect the outcome of a plan – the weather was the biggest issue on D-Day. Planning for contingencies is imperative in business too, the externalities we face can create a chaotic environment in which planning becomes even more critical. I am a big believer in a one-page business strategy and a plan that keeps things simple, focuses on top priorities, key actions and leaves flexibility to change as conditions evolve. It’s the planning not the plan, which is vital.

Inspiration Having a big, meaningful goal is a tremendous force for motivation, and cohesion. The D-Day mission was not some vague, abstract adventure, rather it was tangible, concrete, easy to understand and internalise for all involved. While each veteran I saw interviewed had his own particular story, everyone had a common and powerful pride in what they had accomplished and in the people around them. It was frankly overwhelming and astounding. Even in the best organisations I have worked with, in my experience, such a core consistency of inspiration to achieve an outcome and pride in its achievement is extremely rare. Of course, most organisations don’t have a mission as inspirational as the British forces did that day.

Relationships mean everything During the most adverse encounters a team will ever face, the relationships and friendships between its members bind them together. Hardships create strong bonds within a team, which in turn, serves to strengthen the team even more. Trusting one another and, in turn, developing real relationships will inevitably lead to teams that will overlook individual motives in place of team objectives.  Simply put, interaction fuels action and a collective resolve, mental strength in a crisis.

Listen to everyone, but trust your own judgment Imagine the military briefings on D-Day. Leaders gather to discuss mission parameters, variables, strategies and tactics, and while everyone weighs in with their opinion, ultimately, the highest-ranking leader makes the decision. In business, one bad decision may not mean ‘life or death’, but it can have a detrimental impact on the fate of your business.

Every situation you encounter and every decision you make is different. There is no easy or single formula for success. The best leaders are those who listen to everyone, are receptive to advice and seek to learn from others – yet have an unwavering trust and confidence in themselves to always make the best decision possible. At the end of the day, you are accountable for your business, and, as such, trusting your own judgment is paramount.

No one is left behind Wounded and dead soldiers are carried on comrade’s backs and inside crowded vehicles to safety, or to a proper burial. Everyone counts, and everyone looks out for each other was a clear message from the veterans. Everyone crosses the line together. That makes for a highly effective team and for a sense of safety despite the perilous circumstances, just knowing that someone’s got your back. Pulling each other together and watching for each other’s success is what Henry Ford said: Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.

It’s not about you We all have a propensity to think we live in a bubble. You don’t.  As a business leader, this truth carries more importance, as whatever your ambitions or challenges, fostering teamwork demands equality. Each person or role has its place, and they are self-defined based on the team dynamic, creating balance, and respect for them. Respect isn’t just an altruistic ethic, it’s a necessity. It was there in bundles in the hearts, minds and voices of the veterans.  Whilst most companies are well integrated when it comes to race and creed (less so gender), when it comes to respect among individuals, most organisations have a lot to learn.

100% performance From moment to moment, the D-Day landings exposed the Allied men to an extraordinary degree of danger. But they made it look simple and got on with it, despite their fear. The key is training, training, training, and total focus and dedication when you are on the line. The activity on the beaches from videos of the day looks a little random and pretty informal – no tight formations, but in the end, you realise you’ve watched an amazingly choreographed event, with an underlying intelligence and efficiency that comes from a lot of people working together to optimise the total performance of the organisation. But it wasn’t about the organisation, it was about the individuals, giving 100%.

Function as a team Teamwork is critical in military context, as it is in business. In the D-Day landings, the separation between the officers and the troops was very limited. They dressed alike, got their fill of sand and sea water alike, and while there was equality, there was also clarity of function, such that every team member knew their role and became their best.

Many of the veterans referred to their Captains, often the first to die on the charge up the beaches. This was literally about leading from the front, and in such circumstances, decision-making isn’t a democracy – the leader is in charge and their behaviour shows this. We’re only as strong as our weakest soldier is the reality, and in military situations, one weak soldier can cost not only his own life but also the life of the whole team. Therefore, everyone has to pull together to make sure the team functions well and survives. At the same time, weaker players get the team’s support to bring them on par with the rest. The mutual commitment to success is strong.

Team debrief Allowing your team to have a real voice and offer transparent feedback is one of the things that really builds camaraderie in a team. Again the veterans recounted the after action debriefs, a review of the tough lessons learned from each event, to constantly improve tactics. In the same way, successful business leaders learn as much from their failures as their successes, but as long as you collect the right intelligence and properly apply what you have learned to the next situation, you can ensure more successes than failures down the road.  Building a culture around transparency is a key tool to building effective, high performing teams.

Team training Always be learning and always be training, the D-Day campaign saw rehearsals of every single stage prior to execution.  As mentioned above, once a mission is completed, one of the most important elements in the debrief is the discussion of lessons learned. What are we going to take away from this operation to help us improve as a team and always develop as an organisation?  The most successful companies are often the most innovative.  So how do they become innovative? They do so by encouraging and supporting growth, providing resources for constant learning, and rewarding creativity.  People succeed when they are inspired and excited to come to work, and given the skills for growth.

The success of any military unit, sports team or business doesn’t just come from great leadership and management, it comes from the alliance, connectivity and contribution of the individual team members, working in a collaborative environment. The D-Day landings showed this in circumstances that most of us are unlikely to experience.

For me it was the camaraderie and sheer selflessness in the veterans that gave me a new definition of teamwork: selfless acts towards a common goal. Selflessness is perhaps the most important element for an individual in a team.  Once individuals act selflessly, the goals of the team are within reach. Not bad principles for a business.