Making Your Promises Explicit: Taking a Leadership Oath:

Should Leaders take an Oath?

In the consulting world, I come across many different managers and styles of leadership. Some people are planful, understanding exactly what they are going to do and when they are going to do it. Others are more instinctual, sensing what needs to be done, gifted with an antennae that separates important Shark issues from unimportant Minnows. Some need the ‘trappings of office’ to feel secure and manage. It’s like the twin entrances to Pearse Street Police station in Dublin. One entrance has a police figure wearing a flat cap; the other entrance has a figure sporting officer’s headwear – reflecting the different entrances to the building (based on rank) in the police force 100 years ago.

Teaching Leadership: It follows that teaching people to lead poses a real dilemma. Should they be given part of an organization to manage and see how they get on? Or do you break Leadership down into easily digestible chunks and teach them the individual components – much like simple concepts in music are taught to a beginner with complexity added later in a sort-of layering process? We start with A,B,C. Then we learn to spell C-A-T. Eventually, we figure out how to spell catastrophe!

Conceptual Models: One way to teach is to provide ‘models’, which help people to conceptualise the leadership role. As they become more experienced, they can by-pass the model. Dr. Eddie Molloy used to express this as follows: “People learn to cycle holding onto the handlebars. But when they become good cyclists, they can let the handlebars go.” Learning to lead often follows this same basic pattern.

Beyond Techniques: Beyond techniques – Executive Coaches often get clients to conceptualise their job as something incredibly important. This is more than just building a toolkit of individual skills. We know that Doctors take an oath swearing to practice medicine ethically and honestly (widely believed to have been penned by Hippocrates). As organization leaders, should we hold ourselves to the same high standards? Ambrose Bierce suggested that: “Character is the diamond that scratches every other stone.” So, in addition to constructing the baseline skills, should we also focus on building leadership character? On a trip in the USA, I came across the following Leaders Oath.


I will do everything that I can to help my team and my team members succeed.

I will do everything I can to help the organization to which I belong achieve its goals.

I deal with people, with all of their human strengths and failings, and will treat them with respect and with care.

I will strive always to do what’s right, even when it is difficult.

I will not be ashamed or hesitant to say, “I don’t know” and then seek the answer.

When problems occur, as they will, I will strive to identify them early and deal with them immediately.

I’m a member of society and my actions and decisions spread ripples that affect others.

I know my work as a leader can always be improved through conscious and continuous personal development.

I pledge this because leadership is a sacred duty to the people who have entrusted me with their goals, their aspirations and their wellbeing.

So What? I know that this might be a bit OTT in an Irish context, but would a modified version (or even a discussion on this among the senior team), work in your organization? Of course you can always take the opposite approach i.e. just show up and see what happens! But that’s generally not a great recipe for success.


PS Reverse Mentoring: Just thought that you might be interested in a trend emerging in the UK and USA labeled ‘reverse mentoring.’ It’s a recognition that the older Grey Beards (like myself) are not as technology friendly as the so-called Digital Natives. To address this, some companies are ‘pairing up’ senior executives with younger employees who coach them on the use of a variety of technologies. L’Oriel’s HR Director, Leah Jones, stated: “Our digital-savvy Millennials who are nominated to be mentors also feel valued, recognized and empowered by being able to share their expertise with a senior leader and the wider business.”

 PS Lighter Note: EVER WONDER……

Why don’t you ever see the headline “Psychic Wins Lottery”?

Why is ‘abbreviated’ such a long word?

Why is it that doctors call what they do ‘practice’?

Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavor, and dishwashing liquid made

with real lemons?

Why is the person who invests all your money called a broker?

Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?

Why isn’t there mouse-flavored cat food?

Why didn’t Noah swat those two mosquitoes?

Why don’t sheep shrink when it rains?

Why are they called apartments when they are all stuck together?

If flying is so safe, why do they call the airport the terminal?

PPS The Blind Cowboy: From Larry Mc Givern…

An old, blind cowboy wanders into an all-girl biker bar by mistake. He finds his way to a bar stool and orders a shot of Jack Daniels. After sitting there for a while, he yells to the bartender,

“Hey, you wanna hear a blonde joke?”

The bar immediately falls absolutely silent. In a very deep, husky voice, the woman next to him says:

“Before you tell that joke, Cowboy, I think it’s only fair, given that you are blind, that you should know 5 things…

  1. The bartender is a blonde girl with a baseball bat.
  2. The bouncer is a blonde girl with a Billy-Club.
  3. I’m a 6-foot tall, 175-pound blonde woman with a black belt in karate.
  4. The woman sitting next to me is blonde and a weight lifter.
  5. The lady to your right is blonde and a professional wrestler.

“Now, think about it seriously, Cowboy … do you still wanna tell that

blonde joke?”

The blind cowboy thinks for a second, shakes his head and mutters,

“No … not if I’m gonna have to explain it five times”

From Amie – my daughter in Melbourne.

Son asks his father. “Dad, what’s an alcoholic?”

Dad Says: “You see those 4 trees? An alcoholic would see 8” 

Son Says:  “But Dad, I can only see 2”

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

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Resolving Executive Conflict: Finding a Path Forward

Resolving Conflict is a key Executive Skill

“When Elephants jostle, the grass gets hurt” Swahili proverb

The Organization Development consultant JK Galbraith suggested that organization life has many elements of ‘theatre’ as there’s always some drama underway. So, lets take the following as a given.  Even two people under one roof is normally a recipe for friction (technically referred to as ‘marriage’). So, when you bundle a bunch of people into a single organization there’s likely to be tension, friction and conflict.

Always Negative? Conflict isn’t always negative. You know from your own experience that debates can lead to alternative ideas, even superior solutions. Indeed, several organizations have attempted to harness the power of internal friction e.g. ‘Constructive Confrontation’ in Intel has been widely publicized and ‘Straight Talk’ in Pfizer plays a very similar role. Yet while conflict in these organizations is respected, it’s not a license to be a jerk and has to be kept within boundaries.

Conflict Downsides: While conflict around ideas can actually be a sign of organization health, Interpersonal conflict can be enormously destructive to individuals, damaging productivity and lowering confidence. So, while conflict is inevitable, combat isn’t! The executive role (i.e. your job) is to navigate a path between legitimate conflict – around ideas –  and destructive conflict – around personalities.

Colds versus Pneumonia: Like bacteria, the germ of conflict is all around us but a level of immunity helps us cope with this. That level of immunity depends on the respect given to alternative points of view. While we can live with debates and tolerate disputes, we have to draw the line when issues become derogatory.

Debate: “Should we build a plant in Ireland or Israel?”

Dispute: “It’s going to be Proper governance from now on”

Derogatory: “Finance: where ideas go to die”

Taking Stock: The typical organization response to conflict is to ignore or avoid it. “Hey, that’s not my job!” Ignoring it may be driven by a genuine belief that the conflict will resolve itself over time. This may even have a specific Irish cultural dimension e.g. ‘least said – soonest mended’. While avoidance (“Nothing to see here, move along”) can be a form of well intentioned peacemaking … it sometimes ignores a burning, resentment that’s never fully extinguished. Case Study: I worked with a financial services client on a strategy project. There was a ‘heavy spat’ between two executives. I knew one of the guys from college; after one meeting, I asked him about it: “I’ll tell you about that guy” he said. “During a pitch to my European boss he highlighted a math error in one of my slides. It was really embarrassing.” My response: “I can understand why you were annoyed. When did it happen?” “I’ll never forget it. 20th February 1995.” The Point: An ‘unresolved’ conflict had damaged their relationship for 20+ years. If you think that’s nuts, don’t get me started on 50+ year disputes in my own family that have never been resolved.

To understand avoidance, we need to acknowledge that behaviour has a psychological payoff. In the case of conflict, the normal payoff = anxiety avoidance. People simply don’t want to go there! In one client organization where conflict avoidance was really apparent, a client said: “Real conversations are about as welcome as a diagnosis of bowel cancer.” He was not alone…

Full-Blown Avoidance: I was involved in a case which I label ‘“The Hunch-Back of Ballsbridge.” It involved a small team of financial specialists (from memory, 7 women and 1 man). The man had a body odour problem which could be measured somewhere on the Richter Scale. Believe me, it was bad. The women, severely annoyed, decided to do something about it. They kicked off by discussing a variety of anti-perspirants and kept returning to that topic at every coffee break: “24-hour Sure is the best. You can run through the jungle and you don’t produce a drop of sweat.” When that didn’t work, they decided to ‘up-the-ante.’ One of the women had recently undertaken a major home renovation and the topic of conversation turned to Power Showers. “We installed a Mira. Jesus, a power shower first thing in the morning gets your day off to a flying start.” (I’m not sure if she added: ‘You’d feel like a new man’).  Of course, the guy with the BO problem was completely mystified by all of this and rationalized that it was some sort of ‘women’s thing’ (he was only recovering from the anti-perspiration fetish when this power shower stuff kicked off). At that time I was working with the company on an organization structure project. The MD called me aside and asked for help to resolve this. “What have you got in mind?” I asked. The MD had figured out a ‘perfect solution.’ In the new organization structure, there was to be a stand alone department. She wanted me to suggest that this guy be ‘promoted’ to look after this. The old building which housed their offices had a ‘Dutch Hip’ style roof which meant that they had an enlarged attic. She suggested that the new department could be relocated there. And then, quite incredibly, she told me that there was a fire escape from the roof which ran down the back of the building. Her suggestion: this ‘newly promoted’ manager could “come and go as he pleases” (presumably as long as he didn’t walk through the normal offices leaving a scent trail). I told her this was a ‘Hunch-back of Ballsbridge’ solution and it was ridiculous. She needed to confront the guy. Explain the problem. Tell him the impact it was having. Ask him to fix it. And, explain the consequences if he didn’t fix it. Very, very reluctantly, that’s exactly what she did (about a month later).

Huge Downside: The costs of conflict avoidance, while seldom measured, are very real. On the people side, damaged morale leads to absenteeism, labour turnover, stress and depression which all carry negative implications for productivity. Internally, there’s often collateral damage where chinks in the senior team become fissures lower down the organization. On the customers’ side, defections and poor word-of-mouth marketing damage your brand. So, while you might be ignoring this you are definitely not avoiding it. The negative costs of conflict pile up. And, while I’m at it, lets make a special mention of Not-For-Profits. My experience is that there’s an inverse relationship between the ‘nobility’ of an organizations mission and the amount of blood spilled on the carpet (I subsequently discovered that this actually has a name ‘Moral Licensing Theory’ – look it up). It’s in keeping with the famous Henry Kissinger quote about working in academia: “The tension is so high because the stakes are so low.”

Whoa! Halt: Some companies go outside and seek external help. The problem here is that the Cavalry come in all shapes & sizes, including cowboys – people who either don’t know what they are doing or have an ethics lapse. A common problem is process confusion – “Let’s just follow the legal model.”  The search for ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ – using fair procedures doesn’t normally fix relationships and investigations often end up as allocations of blame. They are costly, time consuming and result in ‘divorce’ rather than relationship building. Of course, a fundamental question is whether the particular relationship is worth saving and merits the investment of time and effort that needs to go into ‘repairing’ this. Sometimes, it’s simply too late to intervene:

“Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall Humpty Dumpty had a big fall

All the Consultants And all the King’s men Couldn’t put Humpty together again…

Appreciative Inquiry: History is not always correctable. Going back over old ground (he said/she said) doesn’t always add value. An alternative approach is to help participants decide what this relationship will ‘look like’ in the future. In my experience, the market for positive reinforcement is never saturated. Valentines work by getting people to focus on what they like about the other person (of course, this has to be sincere), stopping them spending all of their time thinking about what they ‘don’t like.’ The following story reinforces this: When Yen Ho was appointed as tutor to the Duke of Wei, he went to Ch’u Po Yu for advice. “I have to deal with a man of depraved and murderous disposition …. How is one to deal with a man of this sort?” “I’m glad” said Ch’u Po Yu “that you asked this question. The first thing you must do is not to improve him, but to improve yourself.”

 Final Thoughts:

Don’t Ignore: Conflict doesn’t normally go away on it’s own.

Don’t Avoid: Even if your boss is the source of the problem … deal with it.

Men Only: Executive teams that are 100% ‘male and stale’ sometimes avoid emotional disputes. Don’t reinforce the stereotype (anyway, it’s not just men that avoid conflict).

Culture Change: Leadership teams can learn to harness conflict rather than be destroyed by it, incorporating best-practices from well managed companies.

When you chicken out on awkward discussions, you run away from the job you’ve been paid to do. If conflict is something that you need to address in the workplace, have the courage and skill to tackle this before it leads to dysfunctional outcomes. Knowing how to resolve conflict is a key executive skill – and offers benefits across all areas of your life. Take it on.


 Lighter Notes:

 Q: What’s a mediators’ favorite food?

A: Anything as long as it is processed correctly!

Q: What’s the difference between a mediator and an astronaut?

A: An astronaut sits on top of a controlled explosion but has some idea of the direction it’s headed.

Heaven Versus Hell: Hours after the end of the world, a border dispute emerged between heaven and hell. God, invited the Devil for a conversation to find a way to resolve the dispute. Satan proposed a soccer game between heaven and hell. God, always fair, said to the Devil: “The heat must be affecting your brain, the game would be so one sided. Don’t you know all the ‘good’ players go to heaven?”

The devil responded: “Yeah, but we’ve got all the refs!”

Farm Dispute: The Collins family owned a small farm in Canada, just yards away from the North Dakota border. For generations, their land had been the subject of a minor dispute between Canada and the United States. Mrs. Collins, who had just celebrated her 90th birthday, lived on the farm with her son and two grandchildren.

One day, her son rushed into her room with a letter in his hand. “Mom, I have some news,” he said. “The government has come to an agreement with the people in Washington. They’ve decided that our land is really part of the United States. We have the right to approve or disapprove of the agreement. What do you think?”

“What do I think?” his mother replied. “Jump at it! Call them immediately and tell them we accept. I don’t think I could stand another one of those Canadian winters!”

From Amie Mooney: I went to the zoo yesterday and saw a baguette in a cage. The zoo keeper told me it was bread in captivity!

Q: What did the drummer call his twin baby girls?

A: Anna 1, Anna 2.

 Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

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Emotional Intelligence: Tuning into your ‘Inner Tapes’

Tuning into yourself is a key life skill

Where I grew up, a common rejoinder was: “If brains were chocolate, you wouldn’t have enough for 2 Smarties.” If the person in question was older/bigger – that observation would often be ‘shouted’ from a safe distance. It represented a light-putdown (most of the more robust putdowns are not publishable – in deference to your sensitivities).

Changed Understanding: Our understanding of what constitutes brains has moved on in recent years. We know about IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and we know about EQ (Emotional Intelligence). But, it’s a bit more complex than that. For example, in his book, Multiple Intelligences, Howard Gardner identified 7 different types of intelligence including (1) Visual-Spatial e.g. architects and sailors (2) Bodily-Kinesthetic like dancers and surgeons (3) Musical: sensitivity to rhythm and sound (4) Interpersonal: empathy for others & street smarts (5) Intrapersonal: in tune with inner feelings & intuition (6) Linguistic: using words effectively and (7) Logical-Mathematical: abstract reasoning & calculating. Some others have since added to this typology with ongoing debates around grouping and categorization. Bottom Line: our understanding of intelligence has broadened considerably.

Intrapersonal Expertise: Just recently, I had a savage dose of the ‘Man Flu.’ It went on and on and on – for a couple of weeks. But, there was no way I was admitting defeat AKA ‘going to the doctor.’ So, I battled on bravely, making life only marginally uncomfortable for Linda and the kids. Then I noticed that I was making small mistakes – an invoice calculated incorrectly, an email sent to the wrong ‘Tony’ and so on. Small stuff, nothing major. Then, on a quiet Saturday afternoon, there was a knock on the front door. The local police called to inform me that I’d pulled in for petrol at the Texaco garage on the Clontarf Road and had driven away without paying. With some embarrassment I had to drive down to the garage (to pay) and, later, drop a bottle of wine into the Garda station as an apology for causing the extra work.

Inner Tuning: At this point most people know that emotional intelligence is the ability to tune into other people – to get on their wavelength, to ‘pick up signals’ and respond appropriately. But, intrapersonal expertise, the ability to tune into yourself (see number 5 in the list above) is less well understood. Those ‘small’ mistakes are signals that all is not well. When you are functioning ‘under par’ you need to do something about it – before you get arrested for making a BIG mistake. Listen to your gut and respond accordingly. Before you continue with your mission to ‘save the world’ –  save yourself first.


PS Emotional Intelligence for Leading & Living: There’s an interesting leadership development program currently being offered by Cathy Buffini & Julia Rowan which essentially offers people ‘space’ to consider three big questions – Where you’ve come from:  Where you are today: Where you want to get to.  In a crazy busy world, these are questions worth addressing and it’s great to have an opportunity for someone to swim alongside as you work through these.  Contact Cathy on 086-8038583 or Julia on 086-8114481 for more information or check the following link:

Lighter Notes: Supplied by Aidan Cahill with his usual ‘sensitivity’ (decoded as follows ….”Hey, don’t blame me, I’m just taking the notes”).

Old Buddy: I called an old friend from Engineering College and asked what he was doing. He replied that he was working on “Aqua-thermal treatment of ceramics, aluminum and steel in a constrained environment.”

I was impressed. On further questioning, I learned that he was washing dishes with hot water, under his wife’s supervision.

Lunch Time: As I walked out of the deli shop with a roast beef sandwich, large chips, ear of corn & a jumbo sausage, a homeless man sat there and said: ‘I’ve not eaten for two days.’

I told him: ‘I wish I had your willpower.’

From Colman Collins: Three Dublin oul wan’s were discussing what they wanted from their husband’s for Christmas.

The first one said she was some hoping for some bangles and a locket.

The second one said she was hoping for a fur coat.

The third one wasn’t saying anything so the other two said “Maisy – what do you want from your fella for Christmas?’

“The Widow’s pension!”

From Cillian Mooney: “If I had a euro for every woman who found me unattractive, i’d have enough money now for someone to find me attractive.” 

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

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Want to be Happy? Then decide your ‘Purpose’

“Clap along if you feel that happiness is the truth”

Recently I met a person who, on paper, had pretty much everything going for him. Happy Family? Kids thriving? Career success? Solid finances? Not bad, eh? (as they say in Canada). Years ago someone said to me: “If everyone put their problems on the table, you’d soon take back your own.” So, with everything going swimmingly well, why was this guy talking to an Executive Coach? When he told me that he’d lost his passion for life, I was reminded of the title of Bob Geldofs’ autobiography: “Is that it?” Just for fun, let’s make a couple of assumptions about your life. All the day-to-day stuff is taken care of. For example, your mortgage is repaid (or well on the way). Despite your worst fears, none of your kids became full-time drug dealers in South America. And you like your partner, most of the time. But even with all this good stuff in place, is there another level of happiness to aspire to? Could re-discovering your core purpose/passion add more value? Before we address this question head on, lets take a trip down memory lane into the early history of psychology/thinking about happiness.

Mental Health Problems: 100 years ago, Sigmund Freud, the so-called ‘father of psychoanalysis’, believed that mental health problems were driven by unconscious forces linked to our basic instincts (sex and aggression). Freud’s core thesis was that the repression of unpleasant or painful memories from childhood produce neurotic symptoms. These (unconscious) repressed experiences negatively influence our mental functioning. When they are brought back into conscious awareness and re-experienced (in hypnosis or psychoanalysis), they can essentially be ‘cleaned up’ i.e. we become free of this underpinning anxiety. While Freud’s views have been significantly modified in the intervening years, his genius was highlighting the importance of unconscious processes. Even those who debate his central thesis, acknowledge his contribution to understanding mental functioning and his realism when he said that the goal of psychoanalysis was to “turn neurotic misery into ordinary human unhappiness” (Freud, 1905). So, should ordinary human unhappiness become our aim point? Perhaps we can aspire to something a bit better than that.

Life Purpose: Roll that psychology clock forward by 50 years – until just after the 2nd World War. Following his experiences in Auschwitz, Victor Frankl suggested that a ‘higher purpose’ can literally be life saving, helping people to live through the most dire circumstances. Much earlier, the German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had made a very similar point: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Along with many others, for years I searched for this magic purpose elixir in my own life. There were some cul-de-sacs along the way….

The Zero Direction Conference: In the mid 1990’s, I attended the Leicester Conference run by the Tavistock Institute. Over a two-week period the goal was to consider Organisational Leadership. Other than beginning and end times, there were absolutely zero instructions or formal content. Our group (circa 120 participants) had ‘facilitators’ who sat in and listened as the group spoke about every topic imaginable (the killing of Jews; Paedophilia; why women don’t feel safe etc.). About 99.8% of the time when we were together, the course leader said absolutely nothing. He came into the room, sometimes made acerbic comments (“The next thing someone will ask for is the minutes of this meeting”) then walked out precisely on time at the end of each session. He was quickly followed out the door by a group of sub-leaders – none of whom had made any interventions into the group discussion. The group leaders didn’t eat with the students but dined in a separate room. Several times during the 2-week programme they suggested that the ‘students’ fantasised that the course leaders were having sex (presumably on the premise that they were our substitute parents for the duration of the programme; the comments were never explained and no-one challenged this). If you saw this group of academics in the flesh – let me assure you that they didn’t inspire too many sexual fantasies. Overall, it was bizarre, as if we were part of some hidden camera social science experiment. I was half expecting Ant and Dec to jump out of one of the Harry Potter styled rooms to explain everything. Did I learn anything from this? Yes, for sure. I learned never to put people through this form of undirected learning where the most persistent and troubling thought was that we were missing something mystical (I’ve since come to the view that it was a case of The Emperors New Clothes). While I personally didn’t find any purpose there – it was part of a journey. Ruling out certain things or areas is part of your exploration phase.

Self Discovery: In the same way that students need direction, sometimes people who come for Executive Coaching also seek direction, even asking the coach to co-select a purpose for them. The danger, of course, is that in offering direction, you are working on your own rather than their needs: “In environments where the onus is on ‘getting the job done’, it’s perhaps understandable that cutting to the chase with bold instruction is the management style of choice for many” (Keddy et al 2011: 13). You can’t hand someone a life purpose – they have to discover it for themselves. It could be something completely new e.g. joining the Board of Temple Street Children’s hospital and bringing your managerial expertise to bear in that forum. It might be something ‘old’ i.e. re-discovering that you are already 92% happy (recognising that it doesn’t get any better) – the old line is that happiness is wanting what you have rather than having what you want. Sometimes, people seek to embrace a higher order calling and embark on a journey (reading, travelling, working with a not-for-profit organisation, reflection exercises and so on) to discover or reconnect with their passion in life. Sometimes it’s simpler stuff – like reducing your golf handicap by 2 shots or winning the Prize Rose rosette at the garden fete.

Good Problem: Across the world so many people are consumed with putting basic stuff into place. Avoiding being shot in a war zone. Securing enough food to survive. Having somewhere to live. Getting a baseline education for your children. And so on. For those of us lucky enough to have taken care of the ‘bare necessities’, we may begin to suffer from what can be described as ‘middle-class angst’. It’s a different set of worries that, on one level, may seem trite (“I’m getting fat/going bald”; “My wardrobe is so ‘last season’”). But, it’s not trite. While your worries may not make the front page of the Irish Times, they are often front and centre of your own thought process. Not everyone will set out to resolve world hunger, but each of us can set out to resolve dilemmas in our own life. Having a clear purpose – a clear and compelling aim point – is the route to happiness for many people (assuming that you don’t have to worry about where the next meal will come from). It’s a privilege to help clients wrestle with this dilemma – but also a challenge to know what to do about it. Asking the question: “What am I passionate about?” is often the first step.

Have a good one.


PS: Lighter Moments: “They say a Freudian slip is when you say one thing, but you really mean your mother.”

The Driver: A renowned philosopher was held in high regard by his driver. The driver listened in awe at every speech while his boss would answer questions about morality and ethics. Then one day the driver approached the philosopher and asked if he was willing to switch roles for the evening’s lecture. The philosopher agreed and, for a while, the driver handled himself remarkably well as he’d heard the arguments so often.

When it came time for questions from the guests, a woman in the back asked, “Is the epistemological view of the universe still valid in an existentialist world?”

“That is an extremely simple question,” he responded. “So simple, in fact, that even my driver could answer that, which is exactly what he will do….”

Valentines Day: For the past 20 years I received a Valentines Card from a secret admirer. I was sad when I didn’t get one this year. First my Gran dies, now this!

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

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The 4th Industrial Revolution: Avoiding Vanity Innovations

The Technology Revolution is coming – but don’t embrace everything

When I grew up, AI stood for artificial insemination. Something to do with cows. No more. Now Artificial Intelligence is slowly moving across a continuum from assistive to augmented towards autonomous. So, please enjoy the fact that this blog has been typed by … a human!

According to M.I.T (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) there will be more technical change in the next 20 years than there has been in the past 200. Impact: Robots will replace a lot of jobs that are completed today. Hey, it’s not all bad. Trinity College has developed a Robot called Stevie designed to help the elderly. Might be an idea to hook up with him on LinkedIn; it’s important to be on good terms with Stevie and his autonomous mates when you get a bit older.

Technology Denier: I’ve always been a bit of an Ostrich around technology. About a thousand years ago I attended a conference when a so-called futurist predicted that my credit card would open up hotel rooms and car doors. All mine has ever done since is be responsible for bills with an outrageous 20% APR. We’ve been oversold on ‘tech’ so many times that it’s hard not to be skeptical. Perhaps some of the pushback against technology was spurned by Hollywood’s Terminators or Margaret Atwood novels about the worst possible human future societies. While there’s definitely comfort in pretending it’s never going to happen, this time around it seems a bit different.

PWC Conference: All of these thoughts were generated during the PWC annual business conference (November 2017) where one key messages was hammered home: stay open to new ideas. We all need to demonstrate curiosity and embrace innovation as a personal mission – rather than a corporate slogan. It was reminiscent of the Benjamin Franklin line: “Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.”  In darkened auditoriums, you start to think about how this stuff applies in your own life…

All Fans? Now, not everyone is a technology fan: “People were created to be loved. Technology was created to be used. The reason why the world is in chaos is that technology is being loved and people are being used.” It’s certainly a quotable quote and reminded me of an earlier insight by John Naisbett (Megatrends) who stated: “The more the world becomes high tech, the more people require high touch.” When you ring your bank and get run-through the 72 different dial-in options, you know that this is a sector that has downplayed the customer experience. So, in a re-engineered world, can you ‘embrace’ both technology & customers?

Priority Actions: The two central questions in any organization are as follows: (a) What’s our promise to customers? (b) Are we delivering against this? Everything else is just noise. Sometimes your job is to stop the boss from chasing shiny new things. Do a horizon scan. Then pursue technologies that progress the 2 questions posed above. When technology is used to enhance that customer promise and you get it right, there can be huge gains. And it takes time to figure that out. Rona Fitzpatrick in PWC said: “Most of the time we’re too busy mopping to turn off the tap.” It’s a good point. But, in some cases companies mistake newness for solutions. They stumble through the complexity of installing enterprise software (or some other new piece of kit) and become disconnected from the main purpose of business – to define and meet customer needs. Hey I’ve mentioned this before but it’s probably worth repeating. Some things are shiny on the outside; like Donkey droppings!

Suggestion: Go back to basics and ask: “What’s the exact problem we are trying to resolve here?” In embracing new technology, avoid vanity innovations. And, may the future be with you!


PS Lighter Notes: From Amie Mooney in Australia:

An Irish daughter hadn’t been home for over a year. Upon her return her father cursed her: “Where have you been all this time? Why did ye not write to us? Not even a line. Why didn’t ye call? Can ye not understand what ye put your poor mother thru?”

The girl, crying, replied: (sniff sniff) “Dad…. I became a prostitute.”

“Ye what!! Out of here ye shameless Harlot! Sinner. You’re a disgrace to this Catholic family, so ye are.”

“OK Daddy, as you wish. I just came back to give Mammy this luxurious fur coat, title deeds to a 8 bedroom mansion, plus a cheque for $385,000. For me little brother Seamus, I have a gold Rolex. And for you Daddy, a sparkling new Mercedes SL500 limited edition that’s parked outside, plus membership to the Limerick County Club….(takes a breadth)…. and an invitation for everyone to spend New Year’s Eve on board my new Yacht in the Caribbean.”

“Now, what was it you said you’d become?” says the Dad

Girl, crying again, (sniff, sniff) “A Prostitute Daddy.”

“Oh, be Jesus. Ye scared me half to death girl. I thought ye said PROTESTANT. Come here and give yer Daddy a big hug.”

From Cillian Mooney: I keep thinking about an ex-girfriend who was obsessed with counting.  Wonder what she’s up to?

At the Sink: My wife gets really upset with me for hiding kitchen utensils. But that’s a whisk I’m willing to take!

In School: My son’s Maths teacher called him average. I think he’s mean…

Breaking News: Sad news just in from the Nestle factory. A warehouse worker was crushed to death beneath a case of chocolate that fell 20 feet from a storage rack. While apparently he repeatedly called for help, every time he shouted: “The Milky Bars are on Me”  his colleagues just cheered!

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

Posted in Crafting Strategy | Leave a comment

10 Ways to Improve Your Organisation

Keep moving forward or get left behind!

Ambulance Chasing: Most consulting assignments are ‘ambulance chasing’ jobs i.e. something is obviously broken. Consultants are then tasked with coming to ‘fix’ this. There’s nothing unethical about this (a) the client has an issue where they need support (b) a consultant delivers the required support (c) assuming that the job is completed satisfactorily, they both live happily ever after. But…

Wider Menu: Problem solving is a very limited part of a wider menu that organization development consultants bring to the table. Many more proactive approaches are potentially available. In general terms, there are two possible drivers of organization change (1) vision inspired e.g. an effort to create a better tomorrow or (2) pain driven – focusing on more immediate performance issues.    In my experience circa 95% of organization development projects are ‘pain driven’ e.g. they are directed towards resolving immediate problems. So, why do executive teams constantly eat from a limited menu? John F. McDonnell suggests the following: “Without the spur of a crisis or a period of great stress, most organizations — like most people — are incapable of changing.” To use a musical analogy, it’s as if managers only know one scale and continually repeat this over and over again. Here’s a wider list of options for you to consider…

Option #1: Perfect Plc: The core idea here is to develop a Perfect Organization…Perfect Foresight (what the future will look like): Perfect Place to Work (for staff): Perfect Partner (for customers/suppliers): Perfect Place to Invest (for the parent company).

Advantages: Building a better tomorrow is a central idea in all successful change programmes. Under this heading you develop the future strategy with the leadership team and staff. Executives craft a clear future vision of the organization which is emotionally appealing to all stakeholders. And it’s not just about clarity. We need to ask: How inspiring or exciting this is and if it addresses WIFM? (“What’s in it for me?”).

Disadvantages: Because this is a somewhat unusual approach it can be viewed cynically (internally) and needs careful communications. It’s useful to have a positive prize for staff to aim towards e.g. to demonstrate how some of the savings made could be reinvested in the people.

Option #2: The BIG 6: Run the ruler over the entire organization. What’s working well and what’s not? What needs to start? Come up with a small number of key projects (e.g. 6) to work on. There’s an upper limit to what can be done. Therefore, you have to be confident enough to take things off the list, focusing on the big bets that will really make a difference. A change strategy implies choice. You can’t fight a battle on 57 fronts simultaneously.

Advantages: All organizations have a range of presenting issues. But only a tiny minority are shark issues which will really improve performance. Your job is to unearth those key issues. Priority issues jump out (they don’t get lost in the noise of everything else going on).

Disadvantages: Depending on the exact method deployed, can take some consulting time/is costly. Caveat: Focus some communications on the good news (what’s working well) alongside what needs to be fixed. 

Option #3: Strategy Review: Structured time out to consider the overall strategy for the organization. How clear is this? How well communicated – internally and externally? Do you have the resources to deliver on this?

Advantages: The fundamental element in developing high octane performance = Fog Clearance. Strategy reviews can be run at different levels of detail – but the end goal is always to make the road ahead clear and allow fast progress towards this.

Disadvantages: Depending on the design, it can be too abstract for some participants. Usually needs a drill down analysis into competitor offerings and sufficient time to consider a range of possible futures. Not cheap (if done comprehensively). Sometimes the process can be too-complex (you end up with a 50-page strategy manual that no-one pays attention to).

Option #4: CEO/Executive Coaching: Executives are the engine of the business and need to be functioning well. Provides access to authentic models of leadership along with a range of diagnostic tools to determine the current state of play. It can incorporate an Executive Audit i.e. getting underperforming leaders out of the business.

Advantages: Helps the CEO/senior executive to fully understand their role. What do they need to do? How should they deliver this? Can be a useful private forum for personal development or more general life issues. Executives normally welcome this (not hard to understand as it’s focused on their individual needs).

Disadvantages: Effectiveness depends on 2 things. Can you find the right coach? And does the individual executive really have an appetite for this? Impact tends to be slow (several months at best). Can be a tough personal journey. Not for the faint hearted.

Option #5: Management Teambuilding: How well is the senior team functioning vis a vis best practice models of executive teams? Sometimes this approach is combined with Executive Coaching.

Advantages: Good opportunity to shape how the senior team work together. Lays down strong ‘groundrules’/sets the CEO’s expectations for the future. Can lead to a common understanding around how to manage the organization. Avoids conflict degenerating into combat among the senior team.

Disadvantages: Addresses both the ‘hard side’ of the agenda (how we want the business to run/perform) along with the ‘softer stuff’ (how we will behave). Not every manager is up for robust conversations.

Option #6: Staff Engagement: There are a plethora of ways to engage staff in the effective running of the organization. Often the best approach is to focus on ‘real’ problems and engage people in the resolution of these.

Advantages: People don’t resist their own ideas! Can be quite powerful/radical. There are a wide range of approaches (some quite creative) to this particular agenda.

Disadvantages: Time consuming and somewhat disruptive to the organization (unless you narrow the focus to specific topics). Requires heavy up-front investment. Sometimes completed as a ‘once-off’ rather than being sustainable (and falls off the radar).

Option #7: Organization Scorecard: Groundrules or values approach to changing internal behaviour. Few organizations follow this approach really well and maximize the impact. Looks simple – but can be difficult to implement. You have to really believe in this.

Advantages: Potentially useful if implemented well (i.e. it is a sustainable system that doesn’t need a lot of TLC). Can build on work already completed internally, ensuring that this becomes part of the way you manage the organization.

Disadvantages: Often part of a jigsaw – rather than a single, stand-alone piece of work. Where there are disconnects e.g. the organization leaders saying one thing and doing another – this can lead to cynicism and detracts value.

Option #8: Process Reengineering: To what extent do you need to smarten internal processes? The focus is on critical performance factors (the key processes in the business). While there’s some genius in the detail around how this is actually done, the basic idea is simple. Key processes are mapped (historically on paper – now using specialized software). A review of these maps indicates the most likely areas of cost savings (through process redesign, simplification or both).

Advantages: There are several upsides. Firstly, the gains made are completely measureable/quantifiable. It’s easy to see a ‘before’ and ‘after’ shot of what has happened (as distinct from a management development programme where it’s more difficult to measure outcomes). Secondly, the process is relatively short. Process re-engineering gains can normally be achieved over a 12-week period. Finally, if set up correctly, this can be highly engaging.

Disadvantages: Some of the other approaches to change could be described as ‘revolutionary’. They are BIG BANG changes, radical overhauls of existing systems, the organizational equivalent of the TV programme ‘Extreme Makeover’ where a house gets knocked down and completely rebuilt.   In contrast, a Process Re-engineering/Workout initiative is typically a series of small evolutionary steps.

Option #9: Cultural Change: The shorthand definition of culture is: “The way things are done around here.” Assuming you have solid ideas about the new culture, several levers are available to push people towards this (Performance Management; Engagement; Rewards; Rituals and Storytelling are probably the most potent).

Step 1: Culture Mapping: The concept of organization culture comes from anthropology. A consultant attempting to understand the culture in Google is on a similar mission to an anthropologist looking at the Fulani tribe in Nigeria. Goal = establishing the key beliefs in the existing culture (usually less than 6).

 Step 2: Future Proofing: Sometimes organizations are clear on what they want to ‘change’ but less certain about what they want to become. What will a better tomorrow look like? It’s not possible to change the entire culture (that doesn’t make sense). Culture is built over time. It’s normally either the shadow of a strong leader (Hewlett Packard & Ryanair are great examples) or the result of the organization learning to ‘survive’ in a particular environment over time.

Step 3: Behaviour Modification: The final stage in a cultural change programme is to modify people’s behaviour. The term ‘Behaviour Modification’ may sound like a social science experiment – but isn’t that what all leaders are engaged in?

Disadvantages: This can be quite a difficult ‘approach’ to explain to both managers and staff. Cultural issues are normally deeply embedded into the DNA of the organization and can’t simply be thrown overboard. In reality ‘changing’ an organization culture is an effort to identify elements to ‘change’ and elements to keep.

Option #10: Cause Marketing (CSR): Some companies choose a Corporate Social Responsibility agenda in order to ensure that the company ‘stands for’ something positive. This can be a simple ‘sponsorship’ arrangement (e.g. RSA Insurance & the Irish Cricket Team; Guinness sponsoring Hurling with the GAA).

Advantages: In more recent times, the issue of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is often linked to the core product e.g. the Dove campaign for Real Beauty is a way for normal women (not supermodels) to identify with the company’s products. Closer to home, AIB sponsored the Better Ireland awards – which gave them a presence in local communities (a good fit with a business located in local communities). Some of the German discount supermarkets are now going down this route. Normally, this idea is not comprehensive enough to build an entire change plan around it – but it can be ‘part of’ a wider programme. One of the upsides of CSR is that it allows employees to feel that the company stands for something noble – not just profitability.

Disadvantages: May not provide a fully comprehensive solution – but can be part of a jigsaw of events. Some companies allow staff to ‘choose’ a cause – often related to something internal e.g. someone may have a child or a family member with a particular medical condition. Key Point: This is not about cheque book support – but about developing real staff engagement – a physical demonstration of the company beliefs in action.

Execution = Key: ‘Having just a vision is no solution, everything depends on Execution.’  Ideas are always interesting, but results pay the bills. At some point all the boring stuff (plans, timelines, clear ownership, progress chasing, dealing with underperformance) come into play to ensure that this stuff doesn’t fall by the wayside.

Why not consider some of these wider approaches to Organization Development? Don’t limit yourself to what you have always done before. Organization Development offers a world of possibilities. As  Jack Welch reminded us: “Change before you have to.”


PS Lighter Notes:

Bumper Stickers from the USA.

 Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

 As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in public schools.

Sometimes I wake up grumpy; other times I let him sleep.

 When you do a good deed, get a receipt, in case heaven is like the IRS.

 If we aren’t supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?

 I souport publik edekasion.

There are 3 kinds of people: those who can count and those who can’t.

Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘Nice doggie!’… till you can find a rock.

Never raise your hands to your kids. It leaves your groin unprotected.

If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy her friends?

I intend to live forever — so far, so good.

Shin: a device for finding furniture in the dark.

How do you tell when you run out of invisible ink?

Join the Army. Meet interesting people. Kill them.

Laughing stock: cattle with a sense of humor.

Wear short sleeves! Support your right to bare arms!

“Anytime 4 New Yorkers get into a cab together without arguing, a bank robbery has just taken place.”
- Johnny Carson

Irish Jokes: Paddy says to Mick: “I found this pen. Is it yours?” 

Mick Says: “Throw it over here and I’ll check.” and then starts writing with it.

“That’s mine all right” he says.

“How do you know?” asks Paddy

“Look. It’s my handwriting!” 


Non PC Joke from Kevin Griffin – look away now if you are easily offended…

“I Just got back from Thailand and had a lucky escape with a Ladyboy. She looked like a lady, walked like a lady, even kissed like a lady. It was only when she drove me to her place and reversed the car into the garage first time – that I thought to myself: “Hey, hang on a minute here….”

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

Posted in Managing Change | 1 Comment

What do the ‘Best’ Managers do?

Sometimes … you have to be the enemy!

I was recently asked to make a pitch to an executive team @ a Dublin hotel. They wanted a quick recap on what the ‘Best’ Managers do. The pitch had to be ’15 minutes or less.’  While most of us know this stuff already – the key is putting it into practice. If you were on trial for being a great manager – based on the following checklist, would there be enought evidence to convict you?

Allocate Time: Most of us have 2 elements to our role. We have a specialist element e.g. Client Servicing or Engineering and a ‘management’ piece e.g. helping the people who report to us to service clients or complete engineering projects. The trick here is to avoid the gravitation pull into doing (which is often more personally satisfying than managing). To make sure that you are investing sufficient time in managing – you need to diary this. This can be both formal (e.g. planned ‘Monday Meetings’) and informal (e.g. walk abouts).  Superquinn issued badges to managers with the tagline YCDBSOYA – you can’t do business sitting on your arse. Key point: Every manager decides how to do this; but they shouldn’t decide if it gets done or not. There are no spectators on the managerial pitch. It’s part of the set menu. If you don’t have an appetite for this, why not get another job?

Leverage Performance: What % of your personal ability is being used in the job? Not just long hours, but your real potential? Now ask that same question of everyone who works for you. The managerial job is to get ‘all the troops’ into 5th Gear – Turbo-Charged teams of staff. This doesn’t somehow magically happen. On a collective basis – people need to know that they are working for an organistation that stands for something. They need to have challenge in their role. The goalposts need to be clear. They (and you) should use feedback as the game progresses – don’t wait till the final whistle to figure out the score. Managing is an unselfish task. It’s about them not you. Give up your Red Adair complex (wanting to put out all the fires yourself) and let others don the Firefighers suit. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you don’t need to take credit for it.

Great Communication: Great communications isin’t a question of becoming a raving extrovert. We all have our own style (which is pretty difficult to change e.g. there was a lot of consulting money spent on Hilary). It’s about 3 things (a) setting up a system to do this – see point 1 above (b) becoming a great listener – a much underrated communications skill  where introverts already have a head start (c) overcome the Cardinal Sin of Communication i.e. being boring! Taking a few risks around how you deliver messages can really pay off. But, ultimately, great communication is not about tricks. It’s about sincerity – a sincere wish to improve your own and others performance.

Embrace Conflict: Most of us have a hardwired need to be liked which is part of the human condition (sociopaths can skip this section). That’s great provided … it doesn’t get in the way of managing. Being a manager inevitably pushes you up against tough decisions. Underperformance is an obvious example. Feedback is like a ‘growth hormone’ for people (when it’s handled well – and is constructive rather than destructive). You have to learn to give both positive and developmental feedback, even when this is personally uncomfortable. The good news is that this gets easier as you practice.

Sometimes the best ideas are simple. But, don’t confuse simple with simplistic. 2+2 = 4. The math is simple. It’s also correct. This stuff delivers. So should you!


PS Lighter Note: Oh, to be a Manager

An Indian walks into a cafe with a shotgun in one hand and a bucket of buffalo manure in the other. He says to the waiter, “Me want coffee.”

Waiter says, “Sure Chief, coming right up.”

He gets the Indian a tall mug of coffee, and the Indian drinks it down in one gulp, picks up the bucket of manure, throws it into the air, blasts it with the shotgun, then walks out.

The next morning the Indian returns. He has his shotgun in one hand and a bucket of buffalo manure in the other. He walks up to the counter and says to the waiter, “Me want coffee.”

The waiter says “Whoa, Tonto. We’re still cleaning up the mess from the last time you were here. What the heck was that all about, anyway?”

 The Indian smiles and proudly says: “Me in training for management. Come in, drink coffee, shoot the shit and disappear for the rest of the day.”

Q: Don’t you just hate people using those selfie sticks? People who use them should take a long, hard look at themselves!

 Great reasons to go to work naked..

  1. No-one ever steals your chair.
  2. Gives ‘bad hair day’ a whole new meaning.
  3. Diverts attention from the fact that you came to work drunk.
  4. People stop stealing your pens after they’ve seen where you keep them.
  5. Stops those creepy programmer guys looking down your blouse.
  6. “I’d love to chip in… but I left my wallet in my pants.”
  7. Take advantage of computer monitor radiation to work on your tan.
  8. Your boss won’t say, “Get your ass in here by 8:00!” ever again.

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.


Posted in Management Practices | Leave a comment