‘WHEN A NEW MANAGER TAKES CHARGE’: Deciding the Pace of Entry

“I just need to get a handle on this new industry”

Believe it or not, when I was younger I was interested in keeping fit (I still have the body of a 32 year old obese man). Pounding all those roads on long runs, we learned one key lesson. It was critically important to start at the correct pace. For long distances, I normally ran an 8-minute mile and could keep going forever. But if the pace speeded up to, say, 7.5 minutes or slowed to 9 minutes a mile, I flagged and had to quit. The pace had to be exactly right. The same basic point applies to new managers joining an organization.

New Managers: Almost all New Managers suffer from ‘joining anxiety’ and want to do things quickly. I’ve seen many CEO’s who start out like Usain Bolt and run out of steam (you can’t run a 4-minute mile over a long distance). So, how do you decide the correct ‘pace’ of entry? While it’s not an exact science, see what you make of the following story…

Doug Meyer: In North America, a pharmaceutical company manufactured and marketed Consumer Health Products. When the President of the division moved on, the search began for a replacement. Within Colgate-Palmolive Doug Meyer had steadily moved through a classic marketing career and was approached about the job. From his perspective, the job offered a number of distinct benefits:

  • It was a ‘line’ rather than a staff job; Meyer definitely saw himself as a line manager.
  • It offered a ‘turnaround’ challenge. In his own words: “Where’s the fun in taking over a successful company. All you can do is hope not to screw it up.”

In many ways he wasn’t the perfect fit. Meyer had spent all of his working life in Colgate-Palmolive. Within the pharmaceutical industry, 18 years in the same company was deemed negative (‘narrow experience’) rather than positive (company loyalty).

First 100 Days: Meyer, quietly, began to prepare his entry strategy. He knew that ‘maintenance of the status quo’ wasn’t the way forward e.g. a slow ‘evolution’ back into positive numbers followed by incremental business growth. Having observed many new leaders, Myers knew that an ‘everything-that-happened-in-the-past-is-wrong-this-is-the-way-it’s-going-to-be’ stance was a sure-fire method to lose the loyalty of the existing team. He had an informal inventory of ‘entry strategies’ which he had seen work well in the past, including some personal mistakes. A former boss had counseled: “British people are not Americans. Talk softer. Be less blunt. Take it step-by-step.” A stint on the U.K. had taught him that a missionary zeal strategy could be inappropriate; the analytical British stance was superior, or at least a good counter-weight, to his own natural sense of urgency. The dilemma: how to make an entrance which communicated I’ve arrived while at the same time ensuring he don’t upstage the existing players.

The Coalface: He quickly moved into the field – completing store checks in Chicago and Philadelphia with the sales force. It was a long time since the divisional President had spent time doing store checks and the grapevine went into overdrive. The event, in part consciously designed to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the sales team, had an immediate impact. One of the senior executives commented: “It sent a great message to the group. It gained Doug instant respect. This guy was listening.”

When Is a Bear Not a Bayer? Prior to Meyers’ appointment, a new commercial for Bayer Aspirin had been developed. The advertisement featured a bear suffering from a headache. On taking a Bayer tablet, happiness was restored! The ‘Bayer on Bear’ theme seemed like particularly clever word play and the marketing group were pumped on the commercial; it just needed sign-off. During the second week in the new job, Meyer was shown the commercial. His instinctive reaction was negative – on the basis that it promoted a happy association with the Bayer name but did little to differentiate the product in terms of efficacy. He now faced a dilemma. Should he throw his support behind a commercial he was personally uncomfortable with in order to show solidarity with his team? Or should he be authentic, state his underlying discomfort and try to work out something different (a commercial is the visual realisation of a concept; if the basic concept is flawed…). As part of his ‘entry strategy’, Meyer had made a conscious decision to support the existing team in what they were doing. In what Meyer described as a ‘get on the train’ philosophy, he decided to support the ‘Bear’ commercial.

A Product Of Our Past: Meyer, the youngest of two brothers, grew up in Scarsdale, Westchester, a thirty minute train ride north of Manhattan. Scarsdale, sometimes labelled ‘the richest town in the U.S.A.’, is not short of high achievers. With an extremely intelligent elder brother and three academic cousins (who lived locally) Meyers’ peer group set the bar high. Surrounded by academic achievers, he found his forte in American Football and Baseball and began to differentiate himself on the basis of physical prowess. Whether to overcome these early peer pressures or as a feature of some innate drive, his early and continuing life was marked by a strong need for achievement. At university he blossomed in economics. College led to graduate school and eventually an M.B.A. (Economics Major). And, this is the part I really like. He achieved this despite dealing with severe dyslexia (which he is quite open about).

Bias For Action: Meyer had a strong belief that failure based on genuine effort is acceptable; if you never fail you never try. One of his stories concerns Babe Ruth, the all time great baseball player. A little known fact is that in 1927, the year that Babe Ruth led the league in Home Runs (a record 60) he also led in strike-outs. The moral of the story was that strike-outs are acceptable – as long as you are ‘swinging the bat’. “I came here to swing the bat. Not having a clue about this business allowed me to swing and miss. The same goes for everyone around here.”  

I watched his progress from a distance. He positioned himself as playing two roles. Firstly, Doug Meyer, the marketer, a participant in discussions; secondly, that of Company President. In the early days people found it difficult to respond to this i.e. to understand which hat he was wearing (the dual role notion caused initial confusion). It was not easy to neatly ‘box’ this guy into a conventional category. When you remove people’s security they focus on C.Y.A. strategies, politicking and endless deliberations of the ‘what ifs’ – the adult equivalent of removing a child’s comfort blanket. In the meantime, the only one focusing on the business is the competition! Creating insecurity is a sure way to deflect the available time onto non-productive issues and Meyer made strong initial efforts to assure people that his job was to restore the business rather than scapegoat past efforts. It was a Masterclass in a positive entry strategy.

Meyer’s third week in office coincided with a strategic planning meeting held in Amelia Island, Florida to set the ‘strategic direction’ for the company. The various elements of the strategic process (mission statement, goal areas, objectives, strategies and action plans) were new to Meyer; the mechanics of the meeting to debate/draft a ‘new framework’ seemed clumsy. It seemed that an inordinate amount of time was spent ‘wordsmithing’ and not enough on bold strokes; the means to achievement (the Strategic Plan) seemed to have become an end in itself. The meeting moved along for a couple of days, with sub-groups painstakingly piecing the elements of the jigsaw together. Although new to the company, Meyer could sense the almost religious zeal with which the Strategic Framework was regarded and was reluctant to be critical of the process. However, inwardly, he felt a growing sense of unease.

In a move which could best be described as ‘part fact, but mostly faith’, Myers announced to a stunned audience that their strategic goal should be to build a half-billion dollar business. This represented an enormous 14% compound growth rate over the 5 year planning period, an outrageous target. Whether due to his enthusiasm, the significance of the $500,000,000 or simply the intense heat of the Florida sun, the figure was embraced by the group. It marked a crucial turning point and the meeting became much more up-beat, positive and optimistic. Within four weeks, the group had developed an ‘upside strategic plan’ of $600 million; the half billion vision had become a ‘floor’ rather than a ‘ceiling’ of achievement.

Bottom Line: Oh to swim close to confident leadership. It’s a thing of beauty. Deciding how you will enter a new role is a surprisingly important moment in time. Don’t underestimate the impact of what you do and say in the early days.


PS Lighter Note: Did you go to a catholic school? Some BIBLICAL REVELATIONS from a Catholic elementary school are listed below. Kids were asked questions about the Old and New Testament. The following statements, written by children, have not been retouched or corrected (incorrect spelling has been left as is.)

  • In the first book of the bible, Guinness, God got tired of creating the world, so he took the Sabbath off.
  • Noah’s wife was Joan of Ark. Noah built an ark, which the animals come on to in pears.
  • Lot’s wife was a pillar of salt by day, but a ball of fire by night.
  • The Jews were a proud people and throughout history they had trouble with unsympathetic Genitals.
  • Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the ten ammendments.
  • The first commandment was when Eve told Adam to eat the apple.
  • The seventh commandment is thou shalt not admit adultery.
  • Moses died before he ever reached Canada.
  • The greatest miracle in the Bible is when Joshua told his son to stand still and he obeyed.
  • The people who followed the Lord were called the 12 decibels.
  • The epistles were the wives of the apostles.
  • Paul cavorted to Christianity. He preached holy acrimony, which is another name for marriage.
  • Christians have only one spouse. This is called monotony.

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.


Posted in Management Practices | Leave a comment

Post-Mortems: Are you working in a ‘Learning Organisation’?

Making Mistakes - Post Mortems Needed

Making Mistakes – Post Mortems Needed

Played golf recently with a property developer. He’s a solid bloke who lost all of his money (and a little bit of ours as well) during the fall of the Celtic Tiger. In a dramatic period of boom and bust, Ireland entered our version of the great depression. Jobs lost, houses lost, confidence lost in a ‘Celtic Car Crash’ that witnessed enormous swings in wealth creation and depletion. Everyone has a story of ‘how it all went wrong’ and a strong belief about ‘why it went wrong’. One guy told me he had no money at the start of the Celtic tiger and didn’t lose any money when it ended, stating: It was a good time to be poor.”  But my golf-loving property developer friend wouldn’t claim it as a good time. It’s hard to be positive about losing your family home when you are now living in a small, rented apartment with no immediate end in sight.

Ecomonics & Psychology: In addition to the economics masterclass, the fall of the Celtic Tiger provides a fascinating study in psychology. At least some element of public interest in the ‘bust’ part of the story is driven by misfortune. While the Germans embrace schaudenfreude, the Irish have always had it’s first-cousin, begrudgery. Property developers and their glamorous partners attending €1,000 a plate charity dinners provide photo opportunities and titillation in equal measure. Like to take Rosanna Davidson to Marrakesh? (move to the end of the long queue on the right). But like the bad guys in a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale, the Celtic Kings got their comeuppance. Fortunes gambled and lost. Late night visits to the High Court begging for settlement time. The steep fall from ‘Master of the Universe’ to bankruptcy.

Post Mortems: But, can we actually learn anything from what’s happened and avoid the same trip wires in the future? While learning lessons from things that go wrong sounds smart, in practice it’s extremely difficult. Two roadblocks to learning occur during all crisis periods. The reduction of complexity to simplicity quickly followed by the immediate search for the guilty.

The First Law of Crisis = Reduce Complexity: Economics is a complex subject. Financial market liquidity,  G.D.P. ratios and balance of payment deficits may be great lunchtime conversations in the ESRI, but they are beyond the pale for most of us. Faced with complexity, people default to the ‘dummies guide to economics’, reducing everything to a couple of sound-bites (“A handful of greedy bankers ruined it for all of us”). However, in order to understand what actually happened during the Celtic Tiger Era, we need to wrestle with complexity. Economics is akin to medicine i.e. getting the diagnosis right is kind of important.

The Second Law of Crisis = Find Someone to Blame: The second law of crisis could be labelled as ‘finding someone to blame’. Many of us who had additional money to speculate had our ‘snouts in the trough’ during the Celtic Tiger era and part-share the guilt for what happened. But, it’s much simpler if we can hang the blame on one person or one institution. Having a mental picture of ‘Ireland’s Most Wanted’ allows us to swim away from our own role in the show. Of course there’s an important distinction to be made between searching for financial progress (labelled as greed by some commentators), and criminality. I’m not trying to be an apologist for illegal behaviour. Key point: there’s a collective responsibility here; mistakes were not confined to a handful of high-profile individuals – even if we don’t like that analysis.

While reducing complexity and outsourcing blame are psychologically understandable, they ultimately shield us from learning what really went wrong.  In practice the death of the Celtic Tiger had 4 central players. Banks. Developers. Government. Speculators. Let’s consider the role that each played.

The Role of Wealth Creators: In a modern economy, the dual role of Government is to legislate (control) and re-distribute wealth (care). Wealth redistribution creates a just society, in which disadvantaged or economically marginalised groups can share in the bounty. While there are always arguments about the mechanics of wealth re-distribution, this is generally accepted as a primary Government role. However, in order for wealth redistribution to happen, there has to be a group of people who generate wealth. ‘Wealth Creators’ are the engine of the economy. One argument against capitalisation is that too much wealth is concentrated in the hands of too few people. The ‘solution’ (for those holding an alternative political perspective) is to distribute wealth more equally – an  analysis that neatly sidesteps the fact that no model society exists where this has been accomplished. Capitalism, while undoubtedly imperfect, produces the most benefit, for the most people. Margaret Thatcher said: “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money to give away.” Within capitalist societies, wealth creators take risks and get rewards. Sometimes the rewards are huge but the downsides are awful. Like losing your home. There were some tragic personal stories, including suicides, as a result of business losses. Love them or hate them, wealth creators are a key ingredient in a successful modern economy. Where a country has boundless natural wealth (like the abundant oil in Norway), encouraging a wealth creating group may not be quite as important. In Ireland, where the only natural resource is people, wealth creation is fundamental to our economic health.

Exposing Those ‘Evil’ Property Developers: It doesn’t make sense to speak about Property Developers as a homogenous group. Like hill walkers or church bell ringers, property developers come in all shapes and sizes. Some have left a positive legacy in terms of quality architecture and infrastructure; others less so. In Ireland, people are really annoyed that ‘they’ have ended up paying for big gambles made by others. The way this narrative unfolds,  heads the property developers won (if the deals worked), tails the taxpayers lost, picking up the tab for stupid decisions made by others. That’s the bar talk. Is it correct? Like all good stories, there’s an element of truth. During the boom years, I worked on a couple of philanthropic projects supported by Property Developers where sustainable jobs were key upsides. But, putting philanthropy and employment to one side, didn’t property developers lead a frenzy of development, pushing individual unit costs sky high – driving the economy so hard that, like an over-inflated bubble, it eventually burst? Laying the blame for this at the door of property developers is a good sound bite and meets the twin ingredients considered earlier i.e. it is simplistic and has a clear Villain! But accusing property developers of being profit-driven is like accusing foxes of being carnivores – it’s the nature of the beast. More importantly, it completely ignores the group with the most important role in regulating the property market – the Government. To say that the banking regulator was ‘asleep at the switch’ does an injustice to the level of brain activity underway when we are sleeping. Comatose might be closer to the mark.  In my General Electric days we used to say: “You can’t send a technician to do an engineers’ job.” And that’s exactly what happened.

Everyone Needs At Least 3 Houses (Don’t They?): To understand this final point, we need to focus on the place where psychology and economics overlap i.e. behavioural economics. Picture the scene. You have arranged a quiet pint in the local with your best buddy Mick O’Neill.

“Any news Mick?” asked casually.

“A few things bubbled up this week. To be honest, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster.”

“Yeah, like what?”

“Well, I’m just back from Dubai. We couldn’t really afford it, but I put a deposit on a stunning waterfront condominium. Our unit won’t be completed for another 24 months. We will ‘flip it’ at that stage and walk away with a 30% upside. That’s my news. Anyway, how did your week go?”

“Ah…okay” (spit out with barely contained jealousy and rage).

During the Celtic Tiger era, many people overstretched, gambling money they couldn’t afford to lose, sometimes buying ‘off-plan’ properties in countries that they’d never even visited (I wasn’t personally aware that Bulgaria was a hotbed of Irish tourism). Following the property price collapse, capital gains and rental incomes fell through the floor. Property ‘speculators’ (people buying a couple of apartments for their pension funds or for their kids) were badly stung. At the ‘bottom of the property ladder’ individual mortgage holders suffered negative equity and some lost their homes. Rising unemployment combined with inflated purchase prices, put these people in a savage pincer movement. If you have no excess financial capacity, when you lose your shirt there is nothing else in the wardrobe to cover your nakedness. While many property developers are broke, few will be homeless – unlike people with less assets who had no safety net. Lester C. Thurow (The Zero Sum Society) suggests that we can’t argue against the intent: “Economic security is to modern man what a castle and a moat were to medieval man.” But, many people lost perspective on the inherent risk and a lot of bad calls were made.

Untangling Complexity is Difficult: Faced with the bewildering task of untangling the above, most people would take to the bed with a migraine. Rather than wrestling intellectually to understand this, it’s easier to scapegoat a couple of individuals. While Government policy is always in the mix (they are ultimately responsible for drawing up the economic masterplan), blaming an identified person is more potent than lashing out at a ‘process’. Much better to have a real-life, flesh and blood person to slander. While property developers/bankers fulfil this role for many, we were all part of a game that seemed (and was) too good to be true. We collectively forgot the key life lesson that happiness is wanting what you have, rather than having what you want. And we drove blindly over the side of an economic cliff that should have been better signposted.

So What Do We Need to Do Now? Having made several poor calls myself, it seems outrageously arrogant to tell anyone else what do to. But a sense of humility never seems to win (“the meek shall inherit the shit”), so here goes. The key lessons are as follows:

  1. Growth Rates: Economic growth of more than 3% p.a. represents ‘overheating’ and needs to be controlled through fiscal and monetary policy.
  1. Wealth Generation: Wealth creators need to be encouraged – by incentives – on the working assumptions that the tax treatment they receive mirrors that of other sections of society.
  1. Political Leaders: Should adjust public spending to the underlying income streams, i.e. not base it on windfall payments. During boom periods there might be a ‘forced savings’ system whereby the Government keep a fixed % of income for rainy days.
  1. Financial Regulation: The capitalist system can only work when there are a series of checks and balances in place. While a balance needs to be found between ‘light touch’ and ‘bureaucracy’, the system cannot be self-managing (the current pendulum swing to ‘over-control’ is choking business growth).

So What? In business organisations the exact same points apply. Post-mortems need to be forensic and quick, laying simple lessons bare. The truth sets us free. If we could learn from the mistakes made during the Celtic Tiger era, the most expensive lesson in Irish history may have been worth the price. But, it’s easier to reduce complexity into bite-sized chunks. At a political level, where people have to get re-elected to hold onto their jobs, that’s not admirable (but it’s perhaps understandable). At an organisation level, where you hold an executive role, it isin’t. Don’t run away from the lessons that can be gleamed from mistakes. Mistakes have the power to turn us into something better (assuming we don’t repeat them). Institutionalise post-mortems in your organisation. Examine the bodies – before you bury them.


PS Lighter Notes: A couple of 1-liners on ‘mistakes’ to go with the this week’s theme…

*A married man should forget his mistakes. There’s no use in two people remembering the same thing.

*Thanks for explaining the word ‘many’ to me. It means a lot.

*I’ve been repeating the same mistakes for so long now, I’m starting to call them traditions.

*If you really want to know about mistakes, ask your parents.

*Turning vegan is a big missed steak.

*Some people learn from the mistakes of others. The rest of us get to play the part of ‘the others’.

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

Posted in High Performance | Leave a comment

Managing Executive Transitions

Enda - the road

Enda – the road

One time Unionist MP for South Down, Enoch Powell, is famous for his so-called ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech delivered in 1968 when he stated: “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure…”

The scenario usually plays out as follows. A senior politician makes an error of judgment and gets fired from the front bench. In Ireland, people seldom voluntarily resign over mishaps – they’re normally pushed. The evidence? There are so many examples of political careers ending in failure, it’s difficult to know where to start. One of the more colorful was the British Cabinet Minister David Mellor who famously had an affair with Antonia de Sancha. The relationship, conducted over an intensive 3 months, is probably best remembered for the image of Mellor wearing the Chelsea football gear to ‘score’ in the bedroom, which later turned out to be a fabrication concocted by the celebrity publicist Max Clifford. I prefer the Barcelona strip myself (it can get Messi). Yes, never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Irish Politicians: In the case of Irish political leaders, the ‘end of reign’ is normally a tad less colorful. Their demise coincides with party members coming to a view that the Dear Leader has ‘overstayed her/his welcome’ and needs to be replaced with someone more electable. Of course, the person who normally disagrees vehemently with this analysis is the leader being deposed. Politicians cling to power with a grip that would make a Silverback Gorilla jealous.

Succession Planning: Is there a parallel to this in the business world? In the best-managed companies, leadership transitions are typically planned and outwardly less traumatic. I’ve had the privilege of working with several retiring Senior Executives and CEO’s, helping them to manage their end-of-career transition and confirm the following: less public doesn’t always mean less painful. The good news is that executives who’ve managed to climb the greasy organization pole are normally financially secure. The mortgage is paid;  money pressures are light or non-existent. Those looking enviously from the sidelines envisage former CEO’s saying goodbye to long hours and hello to the Irish Times over a lunchtime full strength Guinness. It all looks rosy – except to the person facing into what can be a very uncertain chapter in their life.

Final Chapter: While we all experience the normal moans around good health, the final chapter throws up additional worries for former executives. Will I still be a player? (depends on how you define your life goals). Will I still have some influence in my old organization? (forget that: there’s nothing as ex as an ex). Will I be remembered? (yes: normally for about 3 weeks). Will I be able to fully ‘let go’? (you’ll have to – assuming that you want to stay mentally healthy). One CEO I know had more ‘going away parties’ than Elizabeth Taylor had honeymoons. Some years on, he’s still ‘stuck in the past’. Every single conversation leads back to “When I worked in Company X.” It’s sad. If you want to read about managing the final chapter in your life – track down the brilliant Chasing Daylight – subtitled ‘How My forthcoming Death Changed My life’ – by Eugene Kelly. Or you can work with an Executive Coach to help plot the course. Or, God Forbid, even punch in some ‘thinking time’ and DIY. Whatever method you choose, make sure that you plan the next phase of your life before it sneaks up on you. My brother Tony said he recently walked past the bedroom mirror and wondered how a small, baldy, fat guy had broken into his house! I know that feeling.

The Message: Make your executive transition plan-ful.   Don’t end your final chapter with a ‘bitter after-taste’ which can taint a lifetime of success. ‘Walk-the-plank’ voluntarily rather than waiting to be pushed.


Thought for the Week: This anonymous quote struck a chord…“The kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving of ways.” 

PS Some Lighter notes …

Regular naps prevent old age, especially if you take them while driving.

Retirement is the time in your life when time is no longer money.

Somewhere an elderly lady reads a book on how to use the internet, while a young boy Googles ‘how to read a book.’

A woman came home to find her retired husband waving a rolled up newspaper round his head.

Wife: “What are you doing dear?”  

Husband: “Swatting flies. I got three males and two females”

Wife: “How on Earth do you know which gender they were?” 

Husband: “Easy: three were on the beer, and the other two were on the phone.”

 Question: How do you know you’re old enough to retire?

Answer: Instead of lying about your age, you start bragging about it!

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

Posted in Executive Coaching | 2 Comments

Want to be Successful? Learn how to Make Great Presentations

Become a Great Communicator!

Become a Great Communicator!

In this business, we get involved in all sorts of events. Have laptop, will travel. So, the call to make a presentation on coaching to the Irish Midwives conference in Galway wasn’t particularly unusual. On the basis that you can never become complacent, I needed something to grab audience attention right up front. While the first 100 days sets the tone for a political career, the first 100 seconds are critically important in effective presentations. When he did shows with American soldiers stationed overseas, Bob Hope always completed preliminary reconnaissance. He’d find out something quirky about the commanding officer. Then he’d build that into an opening joke and have the audience eating out of his hand. While not many people have Bob Hope’s delivery, we can all steal shamelessly from the method.

Phone a Friend: In times of crisis you turn to your friends, right? As it happens, one of my music buddies, Sean Dowling, is a midwife in the Rotunda (apparently, there are 3 male midwives working there. Who would have known?). I explained the dilemma and he promised to come back with the answer. During the follow-up conversation, Sean was excited. “I have it, I have it” he declared. “You walk on stage to the James Bond soundtrack and declare: ‘Paul Mooney, at your Cervix.'” With friends like Sean, who needs enemies? Googling like crazy I came up with the line “I’m a midwife. What’s your superpower?” and ran with that instead (#chicken).

Humour Works: Humour works well – up to a point. Right up to the edge of the cliff it works really great. Go just beyond that and the fall is steep. One time I sat in the audience at a CIPD conference (85% women) when the male presenter used a poor metaphor to describe the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, using the old line that payment for doing good work (extrinsic reward) was the equivalent of a ‘fur coat and no knickers.’ He thought it was hilarious. The audience didn’t. There’s a thin line between grabbing attention for the right and the wrong reasons. That’s why using humour is scary for many presenters.

Oops: Fall from Grace: And that’s exactly what happened to me during a recent pitch – this time (again) to a group of nurses. In fact I may have had a double whammy in that neither the content nor the style of the presentation went down well and the feedback was suitably brutal (I brought along a guy to play a piece of music and they seemed to like him – so that’s something to cling to). In this particular case I’d made the rookie error of not doing enough research on the exact needs of the audience and ran a ‘pitch’ for a more advanced group that completely missed the mark. Lesson 1: You have to do your homework and I screwed up.

Public Speaking: Jerry Seinfield said that at a funeral, most people would rather be in the casket than have to deliver the eulogy. So, public speaking is not for the faint hearted. And, no matter how experienced you are, from time to time we all make mistakes and fall from grace. But, here’s the kicker. It’s almost impossible to build a successful executive career without being a reasonably good public speaker. You don’t have to morph into Barack Obama. And you don’t have to ‘win’ every single pitch you make. But, if you are ambitious, you can’t avoid this area. If you are not ‘cured’ already, I suggest you undertake a public speaking course. Something tough (‘if it doesn’t challenge you – it probably won’t change you either’). In addition to honing your speaking skills, the ability to make great presentations builds confidence. So that’s the pitch this week. Now, you just need to get cracking on it!


PS If you would like help with this area – I can send you a workbook on Public Speaking. There’s no cost and no catch. Just send me your email (paul@tandemconsulting.ie).

Feedback Comment of the Week: This guy I know – let’s call him Mike – is a brutal golfer. A couple of weeks ago he playing in a Pro-Am (3 Amateur players get to play a round of golf with a professional). At the end of the round it’s normal that the professional player gives the amateurs some feedback – a couple of golfing tips having watched them play over the past 4 hours.

According to my sources, Mike played particularly badly that day. Hitting drives out of bounds. Duffing iron shots. Lousy putting. Nothing seemed to be working. At the end of the round, he almost ran up to the professional and, like a child, asked: “So, what do you think?” Deadpan, the professional responded: “You need to get 2 inches cut off the top of each club.” A light came on in Mike’s eyes. Finally, someone had diagnosed his golfing problem. He said: “If I get the clubs shortened, will that make me a better player?” The Pro responded: “No, but it will make it easier for you to get your clubs into a wheelie bin.”

PS Lighter Moment: Was working for a manager recently who told me he had outlawed BMW’s? I thought it was something to do with travel costs or air emissions until he explained that it stood for ‘Bitch, Moan and Whine sessions’. Hey, good luck with that.

Key Question: Q: What do you call a Pirate with 2 arms, 2 eyes and 2 legs? A: A beginner!

Proof that men are better friends … (from Joe Bell) 

Friendship among Women: A woman didn’t come home one night. The next morning she told her husband that she had slept over at a friend’s house. The man called his wife’s 10 best friends. None of them knew anything about it.

Friendship among Men: A man didn’t come home one night. The next morning he told his wife that he had slept over at a friend’s house. The woman called her husband’s 10 best friends. Eight confirmed that he had slept over, and two said he was still there.

PPS Officer Fitness Reports: The British Military writes OFR’s (Officer Fitness Reports). The form used for Royal Navy and Marine fitness reports is the S206. The following are actual excerpts …. you couldn’t make it up…

“His men would follow him anywhere, but only out of idle curiosity.”

“I would hesitate to breed from this Officer.”

“He’s not so much of a has-been, but more of a definitely won’t-be.”

“When she opens her mouth, this is only to change whichever foot was previously in there.”

“He has carried out each and every one of his duties to his entire satisfaction.”

“He would be out of his depth in a car park puddle.”

“Technically sound. Socially impossible.”

 “When he joined my ship, this Officer was something of a granny: since then he has aged considerably.”

“This Medical Officer has used my ship to carry his genitals from port to port, and my officers to carry him from bar to bar.”

“Since my last report he has reached rock bottom and started to dig.”

“She sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them.”

“She has the wisdom of youth, and the energy of old age.”

“This man is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.”

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.


Posted in Building Confidence | 1 Comment

Q: Do you suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Does this describe you?

Does this describe you?

Client’s visiting Psychiatrists, Counselors, Psychotherapists and Executive Coaches present with a wide range of issues. Some of this is simple (“My new boss is a jerk” or “I’m not happy going bald at this age”) and straightforward to deal with. Other mental health issues are relatively easy to diagnose e.g. depression caused by a recent bereavement or loss. But, sometimes, the diagnosis is more complex  and the fix is neither straightforward nor guaranteed (e.g. addiction or obsessive/compulsive disorder are both difficult conditions to work through). The professional sitting in the consulting room, waiting on that knock at the door, has no advance knowledge of the issues that will drive the conversation.

Anxiety Provoking: The wide range of presenting issues, the difficulty of untangling these (while maintaining ‘unconditional positive regard’) and the pressure to discover a way forward all provoke anxiety within the professional.   While there are many different approaches deployed, there are some commonalities. Generally speaking, the professional comes to a view about what’s happening for the client and what needs to be done to move the needle forward. It follows that the typical journey, is a movement from an initial fogginess to a period of greater clarity (for both parties).

Speed Consulting: For the purpose of our discussion, let’s assume that you are a public patient – seeing a Psychiatrist after an 18-month wait to get in the door (not untypical). After such a long queue, there’s pressure on the doctor to get to the root of the problem quickly and pressure emanating from the client to get relief from the symptoms. Both parties want to drill down to the core – fast. Now, on the basis that you can’t fix a problem you don’t understand, getting the diagnosis correct is hugely important. As a slight aside, some branches of mental healthcare, express a disdain for the term diagnosis arguing that this implies a  top-down [non-egalitarian] relationship; they see themselves involved in a joint problem-solving activity with the client. Leaving aside the niceties around how the process is labeled, how is a diagnosis actually completed? To help the professional feel secure that they have made a correct diagnosis – help is at hand.

DSM-5: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5 for short – it’s the 5th version) is the product of years of effort by hundreds of international experts in all aspects of mental health. This authoritative volume defines and classifies mental disorders. It has 3 Goals: (1) better diagnosis (2) improved treatment and (3) eliciting areas for further research. So, in trying to make (sometimes speedy) assessments – professionals don’t have to rely solely on their own experience. They have access to this publication which details the typical ‘symptoms’ and the suggested treatment regime for a wide range of mental health conditions. It’s invaluable. The DSM-5,  packages this complex information into an easily digestible format and it makes interesting reading.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder: One of the conditions, labeled Narcissistic Personality Disorder, may be of particular interest to ‘Donald Trump Watchers’. Here’s how the condition is described: Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultra confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

Put down that phone immediately! You don’t have to book a flight to the USA to experience this first hand. Over the past 20 years, I’ve come across Irish people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder on 3 or 4 occasions (both men and women). It’s a particularly difficult condition to work with – not least because the person with the condition is (normally) in complete De-nial that anything is wrong! (that’s not the longest river in Africa).  If a client presents with this condition and they don’t like me/my message, I’m toast. If I don’t like them (realistically, if I don’t feel I can add any value) I walk. So, no big deal. But, if your boss has a Narcissistic Personality Disorder and you have 2.2 kids, 3 budgies and a fire-breathing bank manager who monitors your mortgage repayments – that’s one horrible space to inhabit.

Newt Gingrich: Hopefully I’ve lulled you into reading this far – because I’m really bursting to make one rather simple, but elegant point. In a recent interview, Newt Gingrich (American politician from Georgia: 50th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives) commented on the impact of Donald Trump on the USA political stage. The interviewer played all of the usual cards e.g. misogyny, bullying, ‘alternative facts’ (AKA lies), instructing the ‘free press’ to publish particular arguments and so on. Gingrich listened attentively while all of the charges were leveled against President Trump. His answer: The USA president needs to deliver 2 things (1) ensure that no acts of terrorism are committed on American soil (2) create jobs. He then said: “Everything else is noise.”

Now, whether you love or hate this particular analysis (and, I’m no apologist for Donald) there’s some wonderful managerialism at play here. As executives, we each have key deliverables – a small number of things we need to ‘get over the line.’ Everything else is noise. In doing your own job (which may not include leadership of the free world) don’t get distracted by ‘noise’. Staying focused is the central executive challenge. Regardless of your personality (extrovert, introvert or even Narcissistic), you are paid to make a small number of changes happen. That’s it.

Now that all those extraneous burdens have been removed – have a great week.


Saving Goodbye:  Dr. Sean Brophy recently passed away. Sean was a graduate of the National College of Ireland (then known as the College of Industrial Relations) in Renelagh and went on to specialise in Personal Construct Psychology – where he developed an incredible depth of expertise. According to his friend, Tony Brady, Sean was a perfect example of squeezing the last drop out of life by living in the now. He had a great phrase: “In life pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.” Sean never suffered. Intelligent. Authentic.  Empathic.  Ireland has lost a brilliant executive coach.

Competitor Offering: Dr. Corina Grace is running a Focused Leadership programme – on Lambay Island, off the coast of Dublin.  The retreat, co-facilitated with Chris Blakeley, will be held in May and October this year. The design for the sessions looks great.  Corina can be contacted on 353-86-8049789 (www.graceconsulting.ie)

PS Lighter Notes:

Q: How many narcissists does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: Just one – to hold the bulb, while the world revolves around him!

On a bumper sticker: “Only You Can Prevent Narcissism” (think about that one!)

There are two letter ‘I’s in the word ‘Narcissist’, and they both freaking hate each other!

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

Posted in Management Practices | Leave a comment

Grabbing the Moment: The Importance of Mindfulness

Don't wait until it's too late!

Don’t wait until it’s too late!


‘All this talk of getting old

It’s getting me down my love

Like a cat in a bag, waiting to drown

This time I’m comin’ down’

The Drugs Don’t Work – The Verve

My brother Peter has Alzheimer’s, a progressive disease where symptoms of dementia gradually worsen. In its early stages, memory loss tends to be mild. By late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on conversations and respond to their environment. While it’s not 100% clear when it started, Peter has suffered from the ‘full-blown’ condition for some time, and has been hospitalised for the past 6 years. It’s the long goodbye. Sometimes when we visit, he’s in good form and with it. At other times he’s lost-in-space – as a result of the condition, medication or both. Sometimes, there’s light, almost comic relief. A couple of months back he informed that he was “punching in long hours”, complaining about the level of compulsory overtime he had to complete while working there, asking if it was legal! But when he mistakes one of my sisters for my mother (long since dead) or when he just can’t respond at all, there’s a great sadness, the last chapter in his life being spent in a disconnected state. Overall, Peter had an interesting and pretty full life. He spent a number of years in Asia, working with the Royal Air Force. When I grew up in Cabra, courtesy of Peter, I had some of the coolest toys imaginable – all the way from Malaysia and Singapore. After the overseas stint, he came home, got married and raised 6 kids. Benjamin Franklin said: “Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.” So, maybe there’s some comfort in the fact that he had a lot of good experiences until more recent times. Maybe…

Institutional Rhythm: A couple of weeks back I brought along the guitar and played a few songs (cue jokes about playing to a ‘captive audience’). In advance, I’d chosen stuff from the 60’s that he’d likely remember. With music, the melodies and lyrics become hard-wired into our brains. Several of the residents were able to sing along, remembering every word of those older tunes. About 15 minutes into a pretty lively session, the staff served lunch. We’d reached the bewitching hour of 12:30 – the exact time at which lunch is served regimentally every single day. This particular day, December 25th (Christmas) was no exception. It didn’t matter than one old lady was up dancing with my niece. She was told to sit down. Nor that an older man, who at one time played the Accordion, declared himself to be ‘in the band’. Two other people gave a rendition of their ‘party piece’ (strangely, one resident can still tell jokes really well – but can’t converse normally at all). Leaving that day, I was saddened by the inflexibility. The power of routine seemed to have over-ridden human compassion. The needs of the inmates had been trumped by the requirements of the institution.

Zero Control: On ‘mature reflection’, my anger at the care home (it’s staffed by really nice people) was less about Peter and more about my own fears. Let me make an assumption here. Most people reading this blog will have led an independent life and intend to continue to live with a modicum of dignity and self-reliance. Forget about flying in bad weather, poisonous spiders or public speaking phobias. Having to be ‘helped to the toilet’ or wearing an adult nappy has to be high on the list of our worst fears. The loss of control. The replacement of living (in a fully human sense) with a form of existing. “There’s nothing like spending the final years of your life in a care home – surrounded by a bunch of other elderly people” – said no-one ever!

Living Well: The hope is that, like the Dutch and some other sensible Europeans, we could have an adult conversation about end-of-life issues. About how it might be possible to easily end our own life or ease the suffering of someone we love. Of course, there are enormous ethical considerations and key safeguards required. But they have to be weighted against the equally weighty questions about the quality of life living on some ‘Granny Farm’ – segregated from physically and mentally well people of all ages.  Life maintained through the power of pharmacology. Perhaps there are some simple arrangements that might ease the burden.  For example, in Holland 3rd level students reside in care homes with the elderly, completing chores with patients in lieu of rental payments. By breaking up the stigma of older people bunched into one place, it’s an example of a potential win-win solution to twin societal problems. Now, that’s clever.

Back at the Ranch: In the meantime, while we live in hope that ‘Ireland Inc.’ will sometime grow up and tackle this awkward but extremely important  issue, can I suggest two shorter-term responses (1) Make arrangements for when you get old  – by having difficult conversations with your kids now. Don’t postpone it. Ignoring the aging issue doesn’t make it disappear. You are not an Ostrich  (2) Secondly, do what you can to grab life with both hands while you still have some control. Don’t put all your money under the mattress, waiting until you ‘retire’ to enjoy the fruits of your labour. I’m guessing that tomorrow, many of us will regret the chances that we didn’t take today.

Simple ideas. All we have to do now is to pay attention i.e. put them into practice. Hey, let me know what tunes you like and I can start practicing for your visit! Or visa versa.


Saying of the Week. Courtesy of Kevin Empey (Willis Towers Watson): “When you commit, the world tilts in your favour.”  Hadn’t heard that one before and it struck a chord.

Comment of the Week: Was at a retirement ‘do’ for Karl O’Connor – moving on from Ulster Bank after many years stellar service. Karl is one of life’s really good guys. Talent builder par excellence. Anyway, the line was that there are so many middle-aged, ex Ulster Bank people now working for Bank of Ireland,  that BOI has been nicknamed UB40!

Lighter Note: This one from Tim O’Neill (don’t tell his wife Geraldine).



New Dog: This is Lexi. She’s an 8 week-old German Shepherd puppy. I bought Lexi as a surprise for my wife but it turns out she is allergic to dogs.  So we are now looking to find her a new home.

She is 59 years old, a beautiful, caring woman who can drive, is a great cook and keeps a fine house. All inquires to 084-2190122.

From Sean Dowling…A Quiz Question

 Q: What’s the difference between a Rottweiler and a Poodle urinating on your leg?

 A: You’d let the Rottweiler finish!

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

Posted in Positive Psychology | 2 Comments

To get Thrust – you need Trust

Don't underestimate the importance of Trust

Don’t underestimate the importance of Trust

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines trust as firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.” In simple terms we can reduce this to whether people actually believe what you say. Ernst Hemingway said: “The best way to find out if you can trust someone, is to trust them.”

The Donald: We saw this in the recent elections in the USA. Despite the fact that Trump’s pronouncements were somewhat ‘elastic with the truth’ (now cleverly re-labelled as “Alternative Facts”)  a majority of voters (electoral college) signed up with him for the next 4 years. Arguably, a key factor in the non-election of Hilary Clinton centered around the question of trust e.g. the use of a non-governmental email system. While few of us really understood the implications of this, it served to create a strong perception of un-trust-worthiness i.e. negative campaigning on the trust issue worked! Closer to home, a detailed survey by one university group demonstrated that couples reported ‘trust’ as being the #1 issue which they value in a relationship. So in politics and in personal life, trust ranks high on the ‘importance list’ for most people. The exact same point applies in organizations. We know about the need to install organization ‘hardware’ (strategy, systems, structure, skills and so on). But we also need to programme the ‘high-trust’ software. Trust is a critically important ingredient in all high functioning relationships. Yet, even where the importance of this is recognized, it’s hard to define this in a precise way or know how to build this. Trust is an elusive concept and always seems to be just slightly out of reach.

High Performance: While this assertion is difficult to ‘prove’, in my experience, high performance organizations are almost-always built on a foundation of trust. Staff may not always like the specifics, but they trust the leadership team’s ability to move the organization from today towards tomorrow.   It’s back to that simple idea: Do staff believe what the leadership team say?  That data used to support arguments is genuine?

Building Trust: Part of ‘trust building’ is being clear and consistent in what you say. But it’s more than this. What you ‘do’ needs to align. A couple of years back, I completed a customer services overhaul project for a multi-national in Munster. The reception area was certainly impressive. A 10’ by 10’ copy of the Mission Statement hung on the wall – signed by every single staff member – declaring life-long-love with customers (delivered through leading edge technology and world-class service). When we peeled back the layers on that particular onion, the Customer Services Manager was the worst-paid Director (by a mile). The customer services team were housed in a virtual dungeon area of the plant (no natural light). They were using 2nd hand Steelcase furniture that the engineers had abandoned. But, most telling of all, no-one in that plant had actually visited a customer site and there were no formal metrics (absolutely zero) for measuring service. Yes, some things are shiny on the outside. Like donkey droppings!

Active Listening: Here’s another twist. In the political arena we are schooled to believe that ‘changing your mind’ is negative. We are often informed through the media that Minister X or Party Y ‘rolled back’ on their commitment to do Z. This is offered as evidence  of weak leadership, typically against a backdrop of pubic pressure. But, are U-turns always negative? At the most recent Resolve Annual Conference held in the Irish Management Institute, Marie Moynihan (Dell VP) told the following story: To reduce costs, Dell decided to change health providers and move to Glo health. The packages on offer were broadly similar to their current provider but offered a significant discount in premiums. When they attempted to ‘sell’ this new arrangement to staff – there was uproar. While only 5% of staff had opted for enhanced medical coverage – it turned out that a lot of people were ‘thinking about doing so’. Their family profiles were changing. While baseline cover with the new provider was cheaper, enhanced packages were more expensive. So, the company renegotiated the deal with Glo and made a number of accommodations to the points made by staff (they didn’t address every single point made). This ‘ability to change your mind’, to listen, to park the idea that the senior team have a monopoly on wisdom, is part of trust-building. If someone comes up with a better argument – doing a U-turn is not a sign of weakness or managerial pragmatism – it signals a partnership approach to the way you run the business.

Teaching Trust: Given the importance of ‘trust’ in relationships generally – and in the employment relationship in particular – you’d expect to see this topic in lights – high on the teaching agenda. Despite my mini-research (essentially a ‘trawl’ through the curriculum of six post-graduate programes in management), this topic is missing-in-action. It does not feature at all. Yet, as David Hurst reminds us: “Trust, like the lubricant in an engine, is noticed only when it is gone and the motor has seized up.” When you begin to wonder if you can trust someone (or not) then you already know you don’t. This topic should be a central part of the management curriculum for external and internal leadership development programmes.

High Performance requires Thrust e.g. the propulsive force delivered by jet engines. But, you only get this when the bedrock of Trust is in place. When is the last time your leadership team had a decent conversation about this? It’s a topic for your Leadership  agenda, for sure!


PS Lighter Moments

Trust is the most important thing in a relationship. You have to be 100% sure he won’t tell your husband!

According to a recent survey, 4 out of 5 Urologists smell apple juice before drinking it.

I don’t mean to brag, but I completed my 21-day diet in 4 hours and 30 minutes.

BIG Question (from Norman Harte): “If the USA Secret Service Agents come under attack, do they shout: ‘Donald, Duck!” 

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

Posted in Management Practices | 1 Comment