Innovation – yes, but don’t forget the basics

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Innovation: out bosses look for it and encourage it; our customers want it. It can consume a great deal of our energy and resources. Yet, what people really want is a good service or product that works.

Windows phones have not grown market share the way it was hoped. Why? The software does not work or deliver against i-phone and android.

The telcos have suffered for years, despite all the great technology and products, they have been lambasted because of hidden costs in contracts and lousy response to customer problems whether technical or service related. (They are on the improve).

We go to fancy restaurants that look great and have innovative menus etc – but they do not sustain themselves – why? Because the service is not there.

So whilst innovation is important and we should always challenge ourselves to do something new, particularly if what we are doing currently is not working, we should not forget the basics. If we go back to the fundamentals and invest the time and energy in getting that right, then there is a far greater chance of success.

Maybe that will be the new innovation – service and products that work!

What do you think?

Expectations – don’t forget the important question

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It makes it easier if we sit with people and clearly explain what we want and expect from them, but there is a question that we have to make sure we don’t forget.

How often have we heard people complain about being a bit lost and not sure what is expected from them. Job descriptions are often the default reference, but even with very clear job descriptions people want their leaders to explain clearly what they want from people as individuals. It just makes it so much easier if we sit down and explain to people as individuals what we want from them.

Many do not have these conversations, in fact when asked many leaders find it hard to express what it is they want from their people. Others are good at it and make a point of being very explicit so that they can hold individuals accountable.

It is certain the conversation has to be thought about and you have to be clear. However, in the rush to generate clarity and accountability – don’t forget to ask “….and what do you expect from me?”

This is perhaps the most important part of the discussion that can lead to some powerful insights that make us better leaders.

The Second Little Book of Leadership

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The Second Little Book of Leadership A great little presentation from Phil Dourado, pulling together a lot of wisdom and insights into a 10 minute slide show.

Be sure to share it.

Don’t forget to get a good night’s sleep

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We often spend our time looking for new ways to help us be more productive at work. There are a myriad of elements to look at including the physical elements of exercise and diet, how we set goals, plan and prioritise, and how we manage others, to name a few.

In the rush to find the silver bullet, we often forget about one of the most important activities in our lives - sleep. 

You may ask “How does sleep affect my performance as a leader on a daily basis?”

Sleep is essential to our overall well being and ability to function effectively over a sustained period of time. Tony Schwartz in his book “The Way we are working isn’t working” dedicates the fifth chapter to sleep. The title says it all – “Sleep or Die”.

If we don’t get enough sleep the risks are:

  • extreme fatigue
  • reduced ability to think clearly
  • emotional instability
  • lower productivity
  • greater susceptibility to illness
  • more likely to gain weight
  • less able to respond creatively to problems and opportunities
  • less likely to generate new ideas

Schwartz believes that “No single behaviour . . . more fundamentally influences our effectiveness in waking life than sleep”

Interested and want to know more? 

Russell Foster, a circadian neuroscientist, tells us more about sleep and the influence it has on our lives
Arianna Huffington sets out her big idea in an entertaining 4 minute case to a group of women why sleep is the secret to more success.
How much sleep do we need? Various bodies recommend 7-8 hours of unbroken sleep.
The correct amount of sleep lifts your resilience so that you feel better about yourself, think more clearly, deal with challenges and be healthier. So what to do?
The first thing is to be aware of how much sleep you are getting. If you feel you need to sleep more, here are some things you could try:

  • go to bed earlier or get up later
  • 30 minutes before you want to sleep switch off TV  - read a dull book (watch out for LED screens they stimulate the brain!)
  • alcohol is a stimulant – if you like a glass of wine with dinner – have it early. Nightcaps not recommended
  • go to bed and get up at the same time 7 days a week (one lie in disrupts your sleep patterns)
  • exercise regularly

Sleep well!

Getting back into the swing of things

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After the festive break, or any another holiday for that matter, it can be a challenge to get back into the swing of things and build momentum again. Here are a few tips on how to ease into things and not lose the benefits of the holiday too quickly

1. Take a step back – “what ? … I hear you say, “I have been on holiday for two weeks I want to get ripped into things and get going.” Yes you can do that, or you can take a step back and remind yourself of the main goals, strategies and plans for the year, where you and the team are at and use this review to build a clear picture of what your priorities should be.

2. Talk to people – check-in with your boss and team to ensure that your priorities and thoughts correspond with theirs. (Don’t forget to ask them how the holiday was and take a genuine interest in how they are.) Agree expectations and set follow-up meetings

3. Make a to do list and prioritise. Based on the above write down the things you have to get done each day and prioritise – A, B, or C and then number A1, A2, B1, B2 etc. This should mean that you are starting to work on the most important and/or hardest things first – it will be hard, but you will feel so much better when you have started on them and get them done. When the big things have been done, the smaller things are easier to do.

Be sure to break your big list into small chunks for each day at the beginning of the week; you can’t do it all in one day and looking at a long list just gets you down. A short list gives focus and you feel good when you tick things off as done.

Procrastination Alert - do not start with the small things first, they will consume your day and the important work will be continually deferred!

4. Schedule time in your calendar for your priority work. Before others take control of your week, book 1.5 to 2 hours in the morning and afternoons for priority work. As far as possible let other meetings and work fall around these times unless they relate to your priority work. It is amazing what you can get done with dedicated interruption free time.

5. Give yourself a break. You want quality concentrated effort with the job done first time. So if you feel concentration dropping off, don’t push through as you will likely make mistakes and end up doing the work again. Take breaks, keep yourself fresh. If you have done the hardest things first when the fatigue sets in you can work on the low priority and generally easier tasks.

Go easy on yourself, some things may have to be done over a few days or even weeks. You have been away, it will take time to get back into it. Accept this and use it. Fighting it will tire you out even more.

6. Prep for meetings and phone calls. Be clear on what you want to get out of them and prepare. This should always be done anyway, however after being away for a few weeks you need to do a bit more work to build focus. Do your preparation and you will make sure you use the time well and not miss opportunities.

7. Be smart with you e-mails. At some point you will have to confront the dreaded in box; whether you get to all those e-mails first thing, in small batches or later in the day, here are a few ideas to make it easier:

  • Sort your in box by alphabetical order to go though them. This way you can look for e-mail trails so you only need to read the last e-mail in the trail – delete the rest. Same for reports that update automatically. You can quickly find the messages from the people that you know are a priority and will see the spam mail much more easily this way.
  • Be unrelenting with the delete – where a mail does not relate to your work objectives and you can get the information at another date delete it. If once you have read a mail you do not need it again, delete it.
  • Where you have a major task to start in the future related to the message or need to look at it later, the e-mail to tasks and set it with a reminder date to come back to you when you think you will be ready to do it. This will remove the e-mail from your inbox.
  • Don’t reply to the mail if you can. The less e-mails you send, the less you will receive. If there is a need to contact a person, think about whether a phone call will be more productive and avoid another round of e-mails.
  • Delegate the work within the e-mail as appropriate making sure that you state clearly what you want done and by when. Be sure you have a follow-up system so you can track the work – again tasks can be useful for this.
  • File it – if you do need the information file it somewhere – the main thing is to remove it from your in box.

8. Go home at a reasonable hour. Really an extension of point 3; working long does not relate to quality. At the end of the day review your to do list, create a fresh one for the next day and go home with a clear mind and enjoy your other life. (This may have been something you promised yourself for the New Year, so start as you mean to continue!)

9. Don’t forget your body. Give yourself the right fuel, exercise and sleep to build and maintain your energy at work

Any other tips that you have found useful and would like to share?



Leadership lessons from Nelson Mandela

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As South Africa and the world celebrates Nelson Mandela’s life, now is a good time to reflect on the life of a great man and what he has taught us.

Mandela gives us a sense of where we may start:

”The first thing is to be honest with yourself,” he said ”You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself. Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.”

In his blog from earlier this year Phil Dorado quotes from Richard Stengel’s Time magazine article titled “Mandela: His 8 Lessons of Leadership”.

A short but powerful read that gives us some great questions to ask ourselves and pointers on the examples we should be setting.



The leadership conversations you have to have

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Susan Scott wrote about changing the world one conversation at a time in her book Fierce Conversations – we all know them, the talk we should have with someone but it sits there unsaid. 

In this TED talk she turns her attention to leadership. Her 19 minute talk  is humorous but with a deadly serious message for all of us about the need for radical transparency.
She explains 3 apostrophes she had (you have to watch it to understand!)

  1. Careers, companies, relationship succeed or fail gradually then suddenly one conversation at a time
  2. We have an abnormal fear of the truth – we hold within us what we really think and feel and pay the price for it
  3. The progress of the world is dependent on the progress of individuals showing leadership and talks about how some of our best practices just don’t stack up.

If you are pressed for time, the first 5 minutes will still entertain you and challenge your thinking.
I cannot recommend this one enough and I hope that you are moved to start changing your world one conversation at a time!

Planning projects – getting the critical path right

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Understanding Critical Path - A great reminder from Seth Godin that when dealing with complicated projects we have to be really clear about what has to be done, by who, by when and make sure we are supporting the people who are delivering it and not getting in their way.


The secrets to long term success – Sir Alex Ferguson

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Sir Alex Ferguson was the most decorated football manager in English football history winning 38 domestic and international titles. He managed Manchester United for 26 seasons.  In the October edition of the Harvard Business Review, a Harvard Business school professor, Anita Elberse, collaborates with Ferguson to discover the fundamentals of his highly successful approach to management. 

I was struck by how complete a manager and leader he was working to build long term future success for the Club not just get short term results on the field (it took 3 years to win his first title with Manchester United). Throughout his tenure as a manager he invested heavily in his youth development programs to ensure that when needed the team had a steady stream of young talent coming through. He also knew when to make the hard decisions and cut someone when they were not performing and he would not tolerate individuals who thought they were more important than the team.

Whilst we have seen the tougher side of him in the media, he highlights that you have to take different roles and approaches at different times highlighting the power of telling someone “well done”. He set high standards and led by example, trusted his support team and spent a great deal of time observing what was going on and looking for changes good or bad. Success was important for him, never resting on his laurels challenging himself and the organisation to change and develop to ensure that success was sustained.

His track record speaks for itself!

Here are the main elements of his methods identified in the article with some statements from the man himself relating to them.

Start with the foundation

“The job of a manager, like that of a teacher is to inspire people to be better….make them better people and they can go anywhere in life.”

“If you give young people your attention and an opportunity to succeed, it is amazing how much they will surprise you”

Dare to Rebuild Your Team

“..we tried to visualize the team three to four years ahead and make decisions accordingly.”

Set High Standards – and Hold Everyone to Them

“I had to lift players’ expectations. They should never give in. I said to them all the time; ‘if you give in once you’ll give in twice.’ “

Never, Ever Cede Control

“It’s important to have confidence in yourself to make a decisions and to move on once you have”

Match the Message to the Moment

“… for any human being – there is nothing better than hearing ‘Well done”. Those are the two best words ever invented. You don’t need to use superlatives.”

“You have to pick your moments. As a manager you play different roles at different times. Sometime you have to be a doctor, or a teacher or a father.”

Prepare to win

I think all my teams had perseverance – they never gave in. …It’s a fantastic characteristic to have, and it is amazing to see what can happen in the dying seconds of a match.”

Rely on the Power Observation

“I don’t think many people fully understand the value of observing. I came to see observation as a critical part of my management skills. The ability to see things is key – or, more specifically, the ability to see things you don’t expect to see.”

Never Stop Adapting

“Most people with my tack record don’t look to change. But I always felt I couldn’t afford not to change. We had to be successful – there was no other option for me – and I would explore any means of improving.”

The contradiction: intitiative vs. script and control

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A great blog from Seth Godin.
The closer you get to the front, the more power you have over the brand

For me I really read in it one of the contradictions often faced in hospitality and the way we run our businesses.

We want out people to serve guests and take initiative, but we put controls in place that limit their ability to do this. In the worse cases when initiative is taken outside of the “rules” there can be negative consequences and all future initiative is dead in the water.

Once more it is about trust and if we can create a more trusting environment with engaged employees we just need to get out of their way while they deliver great service. It is not easy, and of course there are some basic rules that have to apply, but as Godin points out if it is controlled too tightly in an effort to avoid mistakes, it is self defeating and we restrict the ability of our people, who are our brand, to serve the guests.

So what is the answer? Godin says “Hire better people. Trust them more. And be prepared to make it right when they don’t.” He certainly gives us something to think about.



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