Who cares matters

The profound Margaret Wheatley says, in her book Finding our way, “invite everyone who cares.” By that she means when we are planning a change of any kind we should involve everyone who cares about it.

In this situation we usually go through the organisational chart and work out who is affected by the change by their position in our organisation. Wheatley suggests this is one of the reasons our change efforts so often fail because we haven’t involved the people who care most.

The most obvious impact of failing to involve these people is they resist the change and sometimes even sabotage it. Even though this is a powerful reason for involving them, it is not the most important. The people who care bring both passion and imaginative solutions to the hurdles we have to overcome in order for our initiative to be successful. They see problems we miss altogether. They often also protect the very thing we want to protect – the very essence of our organisation.

So next time you are planning a major change project – find out who cares and invite them. Even if they don’t have a formal position in your organisation. You’ll be surprised at what they bring.

10 reasons you need a fool

The single greatest threat to effective leadership is hubris – that is, I as a leader, or we as a leadership team develop an exaggerated belief in our own power. That we only have to speak and it will be. I don’t need to regail you with examples of hubris embedded in corporate communications. You know it all to well.

This danger has been recognised for as long as we have had leaders. Throughout history there has been only one character seen as suitable to guard against hubris – the archytypal fool. (See some examples here.) Apart from the leader, the fool is the most important person in the organisation. It is no accident that the demise of the role of fool has coincided with the greatest examples of corporate folly.

This role is so important I have a whole section of my blog devoted to it here. Just to whet your appetite, here are ten reasons you need a fool (thanks to David Firth for this list) :

1. Alienator: The fool challenges you to expand on your thinking to welcome unconventional – and therefore potentially creative – ideas.

2. Confidante: The fool provides a “safe space” where leaders and teams can talk from a place of emotion and instinct without being judged.

3. Contrarian: The fool challenges norms. Whatever you say, the fool will say the opposite. This makes you think why you are doing what you do.

4. Midwife: The fool is in charge of bringing new ideas into the world – with care, gentleness and wisdom.

5. Jester: Ivan Illich said “real revolutionaries are people who look upon their institutions with a deep sense of humour.” The fool makes sure we retain our revolutionary spirit.

6. Mapper: The fool knows who knows. So often the problem is not that nobody knows. The problem is nobody knows who knows. But the fool does.

7. Mediator: The fool enables us to re-connect our fragmented businesses in a meaningful way and get beyond our easy misunderstandings in order to renegotiate past perceptions.

8. Satirist: The fool looks around the organisation and sees all the inflated balloons of ego and deflates them. Pomposity is vulgar and silly in any self-respecting workplace. Perhaps more importantly, it is an outward show of utter certainty – and in times of tremendous instability we cannot afford to be that sure about anything.

9. Truth-Seeker: The fool knows that truth is a very simple solution to most business problems. But we don’t use it. And then the project collapses and everyone crawls out of the wreckage and says “I knew that would happen.”

10. Mythologist: The fool holds the mythology of the organisation – why Esther Jones was hired five years ago when everyone else has forgotten. Why the colours in the logo are blue and orange. All the things that were once done for a good reason but no-one else remembers why. The fool also busts myths that endure but are counter-productive.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below.

Also, if you’d like talk about your personal purpose power and performance, sign up for my next breakfast here.


To whom is the MLC Board accountable?

The MLC Board vs Rosa Storelli stoush raises some interesting questions regarding governance of our large private schools.

I was a parent of daughters at MLC for eleven years and I never got to terms with how the Board was appointed. (Although I must say I had absolutely no qualms with the board at the time.)

I know of a colleague who, as a parent at another large private school, was approached to join the board. From what I understood of the situation, the Board itself chose replacements when a vacancy occurred. I stand to be corrected about this, but that’s how I understood it.

It makes some sort of sense in a way.

I am currently in the process of setting up a “company limited by guarantee.” This company will be a not for profit organisation to provide educational services as it happens.

To form the company we need a group of people who will be members. We COULD say the members are the directors or another group of people altogether. Whatever, we would have to have some mechanism for replacing both members and directors when one of them ceases to occupy the role for whatever reason.

We could do what it appears the other private school discussed above. Whenever a member leaves, the remaining members could appoint a replacement. The members then appoint directors.

There is no in principal minimum number of members apart from the legal requirement of (I think) 2.

There is no reason MLC could not do the same thing. Just because it administers tens of millions of dollars each year makes no in principal difference.

So it is possible the MLC Board is accountable to no one but itself.

We don’t know. But given we, as taxpayers, give the College millions of dollars each year we should know.

What makes a million dollar coach?

Some of you may know I’ve just started a group on LinkedIn called Million Dollar Coach. You might ask “what is a million dollar coach?”

The title is deliberately chosen to conjure the vision of a coach charging a million dollars a year in fees. Haven’t we all had that dream, however fleetingly, from time to time. I’m serious about this though. I want to see coaches earning high six figure incomes running a single person practice with a practice manager. But that’s a by-product of being a million dollar coach. It’s not the definition.

A million dollar coach, first and foremost does million dollar work. Who, regardless of the actual fee, always acts as if the client is paying them a million dollars. They never take shortcuts. They never think “this client doesn’t deserve my best.” They continually look for ways to improve their practice. They reflect on every coaching session and ask themselves:

  • what went really well in that session?
  • what could I have done differently?
  • is there anything I missed?
  • how was my client today?
  • was there some hidden message in what my client said?
  • did I deserve my fee today?
  • did I provide value to my client?
On a wider scale they reflect on their practice over the last day, week, month and year and ask themselves what themes they are seeing.
  • What value have they provided to their clients in that period?
  • How are they developing as a coach?
  • What are they doing better now than in the previous period?
  • What do they need to learn?
  • What are the world themes coming through in their coaching?
  • What part can they play in responding to those world themes?
  • What professional development do they need?
  • Who do they know who can help them be a better coach?
A million dollar coach has an unremitting focus on the value they provide to their clients. That doesn’t mean only monetary value but it should include it. It doesn’t necessarily mean every client gets value from working with them. The client is responsible for outcomes. But if no, or only a few, clients are getting significant value then the coach has to ask themselves how they can continue to charge fees.
Think of a doctor. Not every patient gets better. But if no patients get better (or experiences a better quality of life) then there is a problem.
As you start out today, tomorrow and every day ask yourself “How can I be a million dollar coach today.”

The business cost of profit

We don’t often think that profit has a cost. After all, profit is what is left after all the costs are accounted for.

However, I’m not thinking about the traditional relationship between income and expenses. I’m thinking about what we lose when we make a profit. Or at least when we are perceived to me making a profit at the expense of all other values.

Essentially we lose trust. And that trust costs us. It damages our brands.

I was prompted to think about this when reading this HBR article by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones (of “Why should anyone be led by you?” fame.) They argue there is a general deficit of trust in our community. The food company puts too much salt and fat into their products and the pharmaceutical charges too much for its drugs.

We are seeing the same phenomenon in Australian politics at the moment.

So my question is “What’s the business cost of this phenomenon?” Most directly our customers will do everything they can to purchase goods and services from anyone but us. When they get to the point where there is no-one left they will take it out on us with higher support requests or return everything they can. If they get a chance to screw us they will. They think we’ve been screwing them for long enough.

On a wider scale, distrust in our political systems leads to instability and that costs us dearly.

Perhaps if we demonstrated that we are motivated by a much broader range of factors than pure profit, we might start to win some of that trust back. And then we might just make more profit!

Pink Drive

Just been reading Dan Pink’s latest book Drive – the surprising truth about what motivates us. One of those books I read to confirm everything I already believe about motivation.

As Pink says, we’ve know what really motivates people for decades, but we still cling to motivational techniques (eg pay linked to KPIs) that all the research shows actually reduce performance. (OK, that’s a simplified version of his argument but it will do for here.)

There are many radical suggestions in this book – for example perhaps ‘management’ is an out of date concept!

Thinking of performance based pay and salary I couldn’t help but continually thinking about Enron and more recently the GFC.

One thing I didn’t like was his analogy with software systems. He refers to Motivation 2.0 and Motivation 3.0. Fundamentally this is a great analogy. Where it breaks down is in the 2.0 and 3.0 bits. Anyone involved with computer systems knows you don’t go from 2.0 to 3.0. You have 2.0, 2.0.1, 2.0.3, 2.1, 2.1.1, 2.1.1 release 2 etc, etc until you get to about 2.5. When you get there you start working on 3.0 while you still supporting 2.6 and 2.7. At some stage you are ready to switch over to version 3.

The technical aspect of this is not important. What IS important is that we didn’t suddenly jump from motivation 2.0 to motivation 3.0. There were a whole lot of steps in the process (as Pink documents.) What bothers me in the way he presents it is it looks like just another big discovery and we all need to do this massive shift away from what we have been doing to what we should be doing.

The business literature is all too full of this tripe and in this respect Pink has fallen into his own trap. If we did want to move away from our current models of motivation, we would need to do it gradually. Try out bits of it here and there. Or do a 90 day trial and see how it works.

Regardless, with this one caveat, I highly recommend this book.

The modern world began in 1919

“The Modern World began on 29 May 1919 when photographs of a solar eclipse, taken on the island of Principe off West Africa and at Sobral in Brazil, confirmed the truth of a new theory of the universe.”1 The new theory of the universe was Einstein’s General Relativity, a radical, mysterious, new explanation of gravity, destined to replace the more intuitive and accessible theory of Isaac Newton that had inspired and sustained the Enlightenment.”

Paul Johnson Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties


I finally got around to watching this talk by Seth Godin on Tribes this morning.

It got me thinking about another discussion I’ve been having recently on Thought Leaders Central regarding the perennial Mac vs PC debate. We don’t make buying decisions based on which product best suits our needs at the lowest cost. At one point or other we generally join a tribe (in this case Mac or PC) and then pretty much just buy whatever everyone else in the tribe buys. We ever try to bring others into our tribe.

When I first started thinking about this I thought we did this for social/emotional reasons. We like belonging to a tribe and we like to wear the badges of that tribe.

While I still think that’s true, I wonder if there is a pure economic element to it as well. Belonging to the tribe means we don’t have to spend time comparing all possible options when we are looking for a new product – we buy what the tribe buys. This might result in us having a product that does not quite suit our needs as much as another product and we might pay slightly more than we need to. However, we have save ourselves a lot of time and energy comparing all the available products. As well its likely other members of the tribe have already tried the product we’re thinking about and they’ll give us a good indication if it will live up to our expectations. This seems pretty efficient to me.

Symphony and the power of intention

In this article I discuss the connection between AWARENESS, INTENTION and SYMPHONY.

When you walked in the front door of your office this morning what was in your mind? I’m guessing there were probably 101 things ranging from dealing with an under-performing staff member to the argument you had with your teenager this morning. Perhaps there was a good segment on the radio that made you think and you were still pondering as you came through the door.

That’s usually a fair description of my state of mind as I walk into my office. However something I read just before I went to sleep last night made me think about how we all do this and in doing so we miss so much. The particular phrase is not important, just that it made me stop and think.

It made me think about the source of my awareness. What was I paying attention to? As I drove down the road was I aware that there were real people in the cars going past? What sort of day might they be having? When I take all the people I pass or pass me on the way to work is there one particular message I’m picking up? Maybe. Maybe not. I won’t know unless I tune in and become aware of the source of my attention.

If you do this your awareness becomes heightened. Now go back to the front door of your office again. (You can do this in your mind if you like.) What did you see when you came in? What was the mood? Who was there? What were they doing? What were they wearing?

Now ask yourself again what you were thinking about and how you felt as you came in the door. What was your intention? Did you have an overarching intention for the day?

So often I get to my desk and just start doing whatever is on it. I forget why I am there and what is important. I forget my compelling vision. Why I am doing what I’m doing.

So can I ask you to go back to the front door of your office once again (in your mind again is fine.) This time, just before you open the door, stop for a moment. Think about your intention for this day. What is it you want to achieve? What single message do you want to convey to your team?

If you can really focus on your intention, you’re ready to conduct a symphony. Not a physical orchestra but a metaphorical one. The conductor works with each part of the orchestra and then brings them all together for the performance. Each section coming in at exactly the right moment with just the right sensitivity of phrasing. One moment making the gentlest softest sound and the next with every instrument ringing to its full volume.

This is your job. To bring all the different skills, personalities and viewpoints of your team into one performance. You don’t want to make them the same – how dull would that be? You want the different instruments ringing out a tune in tune and in time with the rest of the orchestra.

Imagine that before you walk in the door. Your intention for the day is to conduct one of the greatest symphonies every performed and it’s all going to happen within the boundaries of your organisation.

Further Reading:

Human Potential and Hope

I came across this piece by Marcia Devlin this morning.

The first part of her post reminded me of my Grade 6 teacher. (A Mr Horn, if I remember correctly.) Now I liked Mr Horn very much. I thought he was an engaging teacher who always made us think. But I do remember him one day looking around the class and saying, quite seriously and matter of factly, “I don’t think any of you will go to university.”

I now have four degrees and I know one other member of the same class has a PhD.

Predictions are not really very useful. I could go on about that but the part of Marcia’s post that really caught my attention was :

I’m a bit taken lately with human potential ideology and hope theory. The former moves away from deficit models to models of human potential and the latter promotes the generation and pursuit of goals. (links added.)

I was excited by just the thought of these concepts. How would it be if we were to move away from all this talk about (inherently self-limiting) standards in education and moved towards finding the potential in each child in our care? That instead of focussing on all that is wrong with our world, we were to move towards generating hope.

Our previous prime minister was famous for saying he wanted Australians to be relaxed and comfortable. On reflection, this sounds like an opium for the masses. It sounds a long way from finding the potential in every member of our society and generating hope.

Education is currently dominated by standards. What if it were dominated by potential and hope?

Business leaders are evaluated on achievement against “key performance indicators.” What if they were evaluated against the extent to which they developed their organisation’s potential? What if they were evaluated against their achievement in promoting hope, both within their organisation and in the wider community?

Lot’s of questions I know. You didn’t really expect me to provide answers did you?

Further reading:

The Dangers of the Human Potential Movement.