Monthly Archives: February 2013

//February

Smile like a Dolphin

I’ve had some bad bosses in my time and I’ve had some good ones too. But I have never worked anywhere where everyone was happy. It used to worry me but it doesn’t anymore. After all why should a place of work be any different than one’s family, club or church?  In all these groups there is always a blend of contented and discontented people. I don’t want to make you depressed because there really is no need to be. 

I have always maintained that a boss does not need to be liked by everyone, in fact there are advantages in it. What I do find important however, is that he or she is respected. Respect is the basis of a trusting relationship and trusting relationships can withstand enormous changes and pressures.  

In politics one can fairly easily pick out the ministers that are uncomfortable in towing the party line. Why should business be any different?  We have no military rules, no guns to our heads. Humans are amazingly resilient. We are all capable of putting up with much and for long, believing that even if what we have is not good it is might be better than the unknown.

Leadership is about understanding these things. It’s about accepting that good employees will come and go. That you cannot make everyone happy all of the time but only some of them for some of the time. It is about feeling comfortable standing in front of a group of trusted colleagues knowing that some of their smiles are a thin disguise from a deep feeling of unhappiness and disappointment.

So this week I was happy to hear news from a colleague on a new assignment. How alive he felt, how energized; such a change from the previous months.

So be content in the knowledge that when a dolphin smiles it does not mean it’s happy.  As leaders we must do whatever we can to create a happy working environment. There is nothing wrong in being brave enough to admit that from time to time adjustments are needed to re-gain the trust and contentment of those that may have unwittingly become dissatisfied and lost.

The real question is how does one know when a dolphin’s smile is real? I guess the obvious way is to ask it, you may not hear the truth but at least you tried!

Have a good week,

Harley

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The ambition gene

Two people working at the checkout in a supermarket, one called Janet the other John. One of them is just doing it for the money, killing time with no ambition the other is doing it only until something better comes along and they expect something much better soon.

You either have it or you don’t, it’s as simple as that. There are some people that never want to do anything more in life than what they are doing right now. For them, change (if it happens at all) is a very gradual and logical process. While for others personal change is always happening. They want to be anywhere other than where they are right now. Life for them is a challenge, a constant striving for better and more. 

Janet our supermarket checkout girl has got her eye on management while John has only got his eye on Janet. For him, he just likes chatting to the customers and making them smile. If he can help a shopper out by filling their bags for them and even helping them to the door sometimes, he’s happy.

I find that it is too easy to look at those without the ambition gene as somehow being less, or even lacking but nothing can be further from the truth. There are days when I wish I was not so ambitious for myself that I could be happy driving a train for example. Trains are very useful and the driver of a train has an enormously responsible job. Literally thousands of people can be seriously impacted if he or she does not arrive at work on time.

Imagine for a minute that everyone was ambitious, it would be absolute chaos. It is bad enough having one or two ambitious people in a single department, assuming they want the same thing. And yet ambitious people that work well together can be the driving force for fast and impressive change.  They will challenge one another in such a way that does not harm the team. They will push the goals even higher and the results can be staggering.

I think alongside the ambition gene must be the competitive gene. In a way one goes hand in hand with the other but they are not necessarily the same.

Dictionary.com describes ambition as: ‘an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment’. It does not mention competition at all, but is ambition possible without it?

I am sure one day we will be able to choose some basic character types for our babies. Let’s hope that not everyone goes for ‘ambition’ as the main driver. Because if they do, we better pray that the development of robots will be far enough advanced not only to drive our trains for us but also all the other day in day out tasks that us ambitious people hate!

Have a good week,Harley

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Give your brain a rest! (why do you do it?)

I love my wife very much indeed but sometimes she can be so direct, so on the button, that she can seriously make me stop and think. So I was not surprised the other day when she came out with ‘why don’t you give your brain a rest, why do you do it?’ I asked her ‘what?’ And she replied ‘you are constantly analyzing everything, stretching your brain in all directions, always wanting to learn new stuff’.

I had told her that in January I would be slowing down a bit, “to take my time for some other activities”. It’s now nearly mid-February and I have not lied to her, I have taken the time for some other activities but, to be honest I have (not intentionally) misled her about the ‘slowing down’ part. It’s just that my life is like the sand on the beach. I dig my hand in it to make a hole to put some spare time into but it re-fills itself so quickly, leaving the sand looking like there never was a hole there, ever.

I wasn’t lying, I did intend to slow down but it just seems to be impossible. My life is not a holiday, it is filled with loads of fun stuff that some people call work. And as for my constant analyzing, she’s right there too, I don’t even know that I am doing it most of the time. But indeed I am “why did they do it that way?” and “why is something the way it is” etc. etc.

Sometimes when I watch a science program on the TV, apart from finding fault with the production, the lighting, the wardrobe, the locations, the experiments etc. I like to try and summarize the program afterwards; to be absolutely sure I didn’t miss anything.  A recent example is from the BBC’s  ‘Wonders of Life’.  This is what I summarized:

‘OK. So we are all made up of carbon atoms that were formed billions of years ago when helium atoms collided with one another, forming a new star and carbon all at the same time. Then these carbon atoms that are in me and everything on the planet are simply transferring themselves from one source of energy, ie me, into another, possibly a tiger or tree or other living creature. And that the variety of everything we know as life on this planet is formed by the bombardment of atoms from out of space that result in the mutation of DNA structures and this, coupled with a big dose of natural selection is what make our planet the way it is today.’

 But I ask you what is wrong with that? What else should one discuss after watch an interesting, if rather too long, TV program?

I even asked Siri, on my i-phone 5 (which by the way still does not function securely as a phone, shame on you Apple), “What is the meaning of life?” And Siri’s answer was absolutely perfect “To answer questions like this isn’t it?”

Have a good week,

Harley

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Amazing diplomacy at 32,000 feet

It all started on a flight from Luton airport to Tel Aviv. The plane hadn’t even left the ground when the trouble began. A group of passengers were arguing about their territorial rights. It seems that they had decided to ignore the ticket numbering system and had had sat down together in a group.  Other passengers complained and began demanding that they move to their allocated places.  It was then the air hostess came on the microphone and in her most authoritative school mistress voice said:

“Will everyone please take their proper seats and sit down!”

She was ignored.

After a while the Captain came on the microphone.

“Will everyone please take their allocated seats immediately, if you don’t we will miss our take off slot and we could have a very serious delay indeed”.

He was ignored.

After a minute or two another hostess calmly said:

“If everyone could just sit down wherever they are for now, we can sort it out when we are up in the air”.

Brilliant! Everyone looked at one another and immediately gave up their arguing, accepted that they might not be next to their colleagues or loved ones and sat down obediently. This simple approach of bringing in a positive vision (‘up in the air’) rather than the Captain’s negative one (‘serious delay’) did the trick and proves my point about using visionary images as a motivation tool in difficult times.

However, and there is sadly a ‘however’ in this story. Once up in the air another problem broke out.  A group of very religious people decided to hold an impromptu prayer meeting at the back of the plane, blocking the aisle and the pathway to the toilet in doing so. When fresh arguments broke out, one passenger was heard to complain “It isn’t fair, the religious people are getting it all their own way”. Unfortunately our diplomatic wonder was now busy serving orange juice and Gin and Tonics and had obviously decided that her previous intervention was enough for one day and that perhaps this incident was too much for even her to handle! (Or was it because she upset the first stewardess and was told to remain silent in future)?

Have a good week,

Harley

PS: I heard this story on ‘From our own correspondent’ the BBC Radio 4 program: to hear it all (highly recommended) just follow this link and slide forward to 22 minutes and 49 seconds: enjoy!

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