Looking for Sally…

At high school, Sally was brilliant at pure maths. When the teacher raised a topic, she would research it in depth, she would learn complex proofs. She could create multi-dimensional worlds based on the maths that she read, she would play there, testing the work of geniuses.

Sally went to university to study maths. It was so boring! In her first exams, she came third out of 120. But she had done no work! She had soon realised that almost every lecture was about a topic she had already mastered, so why work? In her second set of exams, she came 10th, she had done no work and was still on course for a 1st but borderline.

Her third set of exams were a shock, 91st and borderline fail!

Sally was determined not to fail, her dreams depended on getting a doctorate, she needed to do research. What had she done for 3 years, had she day dreamed her future away?

Sally chose subjects she knew nothing about for her final year, that way she would be interested. She worked every hour she could until her final exams – 2:2 … borderline 2:1 – no doctorate for Sally.

The job market, Sally got jobs because she was clever. She lost jobs because she was too clever for her bosses. She belittled her colleagues by being so much faster and better. She was a maverick, her appraisals would say that she was “unmanageable”.

But she did learn. Sally learned about living in the real world as well as her dream world. She learned how to be patient and let others knowledge grow slowly. She learned how to be non-threatening. She learned how to be valuable to others. She learned how to help other very clever people give value to the world outside academia.

She saw an advert with the line “weirdos from William Gibson novels like that girl hired by Bigend as a brand ‘diviner’ who feels sick at the sight of Tommy Hilfiger“. She had never read William Gibson so she had no idea what this meant but she liked the sound of it. She wanted to be that girl.

Sally was that girl. She found herself in a place she had never dreamed of. The author of the advert was not clever enough to know what he would unleash…

Style vs substance

A major source of frustration of many professionals is the tragedy of the victory of style over substance. Many of us fail to get our key messages over to those that matter.

We fail to articulate our message in way that others understand:

  • Our message is too complex
  • We provide too much depth and detail
  • Our presentation skills are weak
  • We don’t connect to the concerns of our audience
  • We are blocked from communicating by others
  • The implications of our points are simplified and trivialised
  • We don’t understand the decision making process 
  • Our audience “gives up” before we get to the message

It is clear that we often need to work on our presentation skills. However, I want to make an appeal to our intended audience and those that block us from reaching them.

The key point is that we have a lot of important and sometimes critical things to say. By not hearing these messages you may be damaging your own organisations and your own careers. For this reason, it is worth hearing us out. It is worth helping us to get to the point. It is worth wading through the detail. It is worth joining the dots from our points to the key issues that you face.

Will we always have a message worth listening to? No! Should you persevere? Yes! Why? The professional mindset is generally apolitical. It is more interested in doing what is right. The underlying motivation will be sound. 

Compare this to the backstabbing cronies who have climbed the greasy pole by stamping on the backs of others. Compare this to the highly polished presentation of half truths and flawed logic aimed at gaining personal kudos rather than furthering the greater good. 

I would rather make the effort to understand the message from an inarticulate but competent person with the right motivation than try to deconstruct the motivation for giving me information of a slick politician with suspect capability.

Gravitas – my mother …

I failed the job interview. The recruiter told me I lacked the gravitas required to do the job.

A blank confused look came to me. What do I do with that? Where can I get gravitas? What is gravitas? I was told I will know it when I see it.

So I looked it up:

In the British education system, gravitas was seen as one of the pillars of the moral formation of the English gentleman during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. It is partly derived from the notion of aristocratic pedigree, indicating polish, grace in manner as well as dignity in outward appearance.

Wikipedia

There are other definitions:

seriousness and importance of mannercausing feelings of respect and trust in others

Cambridge Dictionary

I particularly like:

A hidden, invisible but extremely palpable, perceptible Dark Jedi Power

Urban Dictionary

I took an intense course over several weeks entitled “Gravitas” where I examined my motivations, I examined what it is to be me. It taught me a huge amount and helped me be myself at work. It also helped me leave my job when I found that being myself and working with that company with those people incentivised to act in those ways were incompatible. But I still couldn’t define gravitas in a meaningful way.

It took my mother to teach me!

I used to imagine gravitas embodied in a middle aged white man with a paunch dressed in a suit smoking a large cigar. His shirt would be starched, the suit would have chalk stripes, the shoes shiny. His face would be slightly red, his nose a bit swollen, may be he enjoys a glass or two of port. But he would command the room, his voice would boom and everyone would say “yes sir”. I remember this guy walking around my school when I was about 14.

A much better image of gravitas came to me when I saw my mother’s way with people.

Suppose you saw a group of young people, late teens and early twenties outside your house apparently eyeing up the premises opposite, running in and out quickly, possibly looking to break in or steal a vehicle. What would you do?

Would you call the police? Would you call the owner? Would you confront them and warn them off? Would you be afraid? Would you be aggressive?

My mother was 5 feet 4 inches (1.62 metres) tall, in her 70s, slightly built, wearing a head scarf. She went out and spoke to them as the grandma everyone would want. She had a chat like she was chatting to her own grandchildren. She didn’t lecture them. She was calm. She soothed them. She respected them and they respected her. She was interested in them. She charmed them and made them feel that they should be respectful. I suspect they went away feeling they had been bewitched. They had changed their actions without knowing why and without being able to control themselves. She worked her special magic.

That is gravitas.

Slow!

Nish always takes it slow! He may be ten steps ahead of his audience but he is very careful to nurture their understanding as he tells his story. I had the honour to be present as he introduced some new ways of working to his colleagues.

We knew the answer. We had a plan. My natural approach would be to tell the world the plan and bask in the glory of my great insights and creativity. However, after too many failures to convince others of how to do things better, I have learned that others are better at getting ideas accepted than I am.

I have watched others and tried to learn. Where I can, I have adopted their approaches. I wrote previously about the puppet master. He had great techniques for getting things done. Then there is Don, he is Australian and the slight accent seems to charm people. But his greatest skill, in my eyes, is taking my injudicious statement, rewording it and making it acceptable to a potentially hostile audience. I did adopt, in my own clumsy way, a technique from a CIO that I used to work for. It was to use the phrase “I want to build on that” and then say what ever I wanted to say very loosely attaching it to the previous statement. I have got away with some quite outrageous leaps doing this.

Back to Nish. He would identify all the people who might have an interest and work out a message that they would accept. He would then very carefully work out the steps in getting that message over. He would then pace his communications to take just one step at a time. He would meet each group of people face to face or by phone and slowly and carefully take them through one concept, one change, one idea at a time.

I would sit and try to fade into the background. I wanted to speak, I wanted to accelerate the conversation. But I knew better. My natural confrontational approach does open up the discussion but sometimes it closes minds. So I continue to sit there, only speaking when asked to, partly frustrated and partly bored.

Nish would achieve his communication goal and close the meeting, no extended discussion. We would then review what had happened. Did I notice the body language, did I notice the voice tone, were any strange phrases used, did I notice any changes in posture? Nish wanted to understand if he had indeed communicated what he had intended. We would assess and revise our communication plan after this review. We would also assess and revise the changes that we planned. Nish emphasised that we should be learning from our communication not telling.

After our audience had time to adsorb the message but before they forgot it, we would take the next step in the communication plan. After some weeks or months, Nish would have convinced all the stakeholders that there is a useful change to be made and we would be given the go ahead to implement the changes. These changes were not ours any more. They had evolved through the conversations and now belonged to the group.

Why write?

I always wanted to write a book. I thought of writing a business book but I realised that “The Art of War” said it all. I started a project management book with a friend but the publisher didn’t want originality. A novel … No ideas.

I posted a couple of blogs on the internet to let off steam at the pointless nonsense that management gurus have conned our largest corporations to waste their time and money on. This made me realise that my contribution to the management arts would not be a great insight but the rant.

Most managers seem to be able to put up with the rubbish that management consultants often spout. They don’t just tolerate it, they act on it, without anyone noticing the irony, they demonstrate the utter stupidity of these notions. They don’t laugh when the inevitable failure occurs, no they collude in the cover up. Despite the obvious they continue to proclaim the beauty of the emperor’s new clothes.

What do I do? I point out of the emperor’s nudity. I point out the emperor’s hairy back. I rant.

It came to me, the rant is my great contribution to management. In fact, it is the foundation of my talent as a leader. I rant to demonstrate that you don’t have to put up with it. You can do what common-sense tells you. You don’t have to wrap an old failed idea in new terminology and pretend that it’s innovation. You don’t have to acquiesce. You don’t have to be a sycophant. You can be your own person, but there will be a price …

You may lose your job. You may not get promoted. You may be unpopular. You may find it stressful when senior management threaten you. But you will have integrity.

Is the blog the rant? No, the rant happens in real life. The blog records and explains the rant. In the heat of the rant, there may not be much logic apparent. The rant is caused by a clash of rationalities — my rationality and corporate logic. The blog is my post rationalisation.

a name

Why “mozog”?

Every company has to have a name.

We wanted something distinctive.

We have connections to Slovakia and Hungary and the word “mozog” came to mind.

It is short, hopefully memorable, means nothing in English and was free as a company name.

In Slovak, “mozog” means “brain” which is apt because what we do is based on thinking.

In Hungarian, “mozog” means “move” which is also appropriate because we help organisations move themselves to better places.

Leadership Principles

Introduction

Manager’s are often under pressure to compromise and deviate from what they feel is right. A manager, project manager, or any other leader needs a baseline of principle from which to base his actions. Managers need to know when to stand firm.

The Principles

These principles of leadership are based on my understanding of “Tough Minded Leadership” by Joe D Batten. The “traditional” approach to management is based around a steady state with well defined projects to make incremental changes. It concentrates on budgets, objectives, and timescales. This approach fails dismally in times of rapid change. It fails the individual and the organization generally due to its attention to the invalid goals of budget, schedule and objectives. A far more dynamic approach to management is required. It is more challenging. It recognizes that budget, timescale and objectives are in flux. The principles ensure meaningful deliverables and keep managers sane.

So what are they principles?

Create Expectation

Create a common understanding of project, corporate and personal goals. Develop plans cooperatively as a team to achieve progress on personal goals through achieving project and corporate goals. Create expectations of each person fulfilling their role. Create personal moral contracts between team members to help each other achieve personal goals.

Expectation := Results

Open honest supportive expectation become results. You create a moral obligation that is far stronger than threat or authority because this is personal.

Don’t order, direct, instruct or tell team members what to do or how to perform. This is hard to achieve. The corollary, which is more difficult, is to get those above you in the management to act in the same way.

Integrity

“… what’s on my lung is on my tongue. I will always stand up for myself and I won’t toe the line. I won’ t play the game if it’s not an honest game and an honourable game. There are a lot of people who don’t make waves and don’t speak up. I can’t be like that.” — Alan Sugar

If you don’t know, then say so. If a schedule is slipping then say so. If quality is low then say so. If you screw up then say so.

Always be open, honest and vulnerable. If someone takes advantage of that vulnerability then that’s life! Integrity is more important than a job. It is important to accept that the truth is often risky in the short term. However, messing with the truth is more risky, especially in the long term.

If you’re dealing with suppliers, then be honest and open. You may say, “What about negotiation?” I would reply, “What about partnership?” A good negotiator can reach a fair deal by being honest and open. If you reach an unfair deal then you open yourself for the same treatment later. In technology, you must accept that the supplier has some aces because technology is not a commodity.

Expect the Highest Standards of Yourself

Give 100%. Don’t be above the team. Don’t be a hypocrite. Encourage and accept criticism from the team — but make sure you can handle it. Make sure you know enough about the jobs that others are doing to know what they are facing. Also to gain their respect, to contribute to their work, and to understand their progress or otherwise
Guts and determination are an essential expectation.

Enthusiasm

It’s that can do, positive thinking thing. Most objectives are near impossible when they are served up by management. You have to be positive to be able to work out how to achieve something useful. There will be plenty of negative people in the team ready to accept failure from the start. Your enthusiasm and ability to find solutions will win them over so they can make a constructive contribution. There will be plenty of people outside the team ready to pull you down. You’re determination will prove them wrong.

See the Positive in Everyone

You need to see the positive in everyone, particularly in the team when often you have no choice over the members. Everyone has strengths that can be used to support the work and others in the team. Sometimes they hide them well — maybe that’s their strength!

People are People

Try to understand why people act as they do. It is often down to their conditioning, their background, and the environment that they are or were working in. The only way you will understand how people think is to get to know them. If you think badly of them then they probably think the same way of you. Is that how to do a good job? Give them a chance. They might give you a chance when you screw up!

Tell The Truth

“I have only two eyes and ears: there are other eyes and ears on the pitch and I am always prepared to listen.” — Lawrence Dallaglio

Tell your boss the truth. He can’t make sensible decisions without good information. Managers are idiots because no one tells them the truth!

Don’t wait until you have the full facts, it might be too late. Give your boss the pieces of the jigsaw that you have. Between you might be able to see the full picture.

Please, Thank You and Help!

It is simple courtesy to say please and thank you but how many managers say it? It’s also important to act on it. In an appraisal, a good rating or a pay rise says you meant it. Asking for help is a great compliment to someone and rarely an imposition. It also recognises that you are not perfect.

Fun

No job is worth it if there is no fun. The fun should be during the work as well as socially. Don’t do stupid hours.

Some managers and users won’t like to see your team enjoying themselves. You need to protect the team from the “Victorian” work ethic, it’s destructive. Why should anyone work for you if it isn’t fun?

Control

If the personal contracts are in place then the team control themselves. Communication within the team is established to deliver the contracts. Reporting is automatic. Exceptions are reported as potential failure to honour a contract. Regular reporting is automatic to help you fulfil your role.

Be Bold

“Its not what you predict but what your imagination inspires. It is aspiration that creates the future.” — Zurich Group advertisement.

Work is about realizing a vision. That vision must be communicated and understood by the team. A bold plan is an honest plan. It doesn’t say more than is known — you can’t commit to a date until you’re on top of it. The management or client won’t like it but you have to tough that one out.

When you have information, create a plan that uses it. Don’t ignore the facts because they don’t fit.

Live the Plan

You have to believe in the plan for others to take it seriously. If others are to take it seriously then it must be credible and your belief in it must be credible.

Conclusions

The principles are simple but effective –

  • Create expectation
  • Integrity
  • Expect the highest standards of yourself
  • Enthusiasm
  • See the positive in everyone
  • People are people
  • Tell the truth
  • Fun
  • Control
  • Be bold
  • Live the plan

The danger of passion…

Like many enterprise architects, I am extremely passionate about my work. I like to work with and employ passionate people. But the passion that creates drive, which causes them to push through when others would stop, is dangerous. It can override sensitivity to other people’s feelings. It can mean poorly thought through action prevails over a considered plan.

If you are about to employ a passionate person then think it through. Get them to work through tough scenarios. When they miss out on a promotion or pay rise because they upset a key person who doesn’t understand passion, how would they deal with it? When a colleague actively obstructs them, how will they handle it? When the strategy that they have worked on for six months is rejected by the board, what will their reaction be? Can you help them think things through without stifling their power? Can you protect them? How would they avoid the situation? How would they reduce the damage caused to other people and themselves? How will you look? How will you deal with the problems that a passionate person can cause? You need to understand how you will use and direct this passion for positive effect. You need to understand how you will manage the risk to yourself and your passionate employee.

As a passionate person, you need to understand that how ever much your employer talks about wanting people who are passionate, this is usually a myth. The job adverts and person profiles are mostly written by “dry old fish” who wouldn’t recognise passion if it came up and kissed them. They are writing to attract staff, they may be half copying someone else’s work, they are selling. You are buying, you need to make sure it is not a con. Can your new manager cope with you? Will they protect you? Is the political situation one where you will be easily provoked into rash action?

Take a walk around the office — it is easy to spot passion — there should be raised voices, there should be people standing around talking animatedly about work. If there is quiet, if people are huddled in their own cubicles with little interaction then there is no passion. A passionate person communicates and shares. If there is quiet then you will be a misfit. Are you willing to be a pioneer and create some, at least initially, unwelcome noise? Does your new manager really want you to disrupt the current peaceful working environment? Is your new manager prepared to take a risk? Is your new manager prepared to have some fun?

Good performance?

Most architects that I know pay very little attention to their reputation and visibility within their organisations. They typically consider such activities with contempt.  It is playing politics, it is putting style over substance, it is dishonest.

Dishonest? Yes, dishonest! Why? Because every success is a team effort. Any one person taking credit is disrespecting the other team members.

So what do you do in a culture that recognises and rewards those who glister rather than those who just get on with their work and do an exceptional job. Your choice is stark – play the game, move on, fight or accept it.

If you play the political game then you earn the contempt of your peers and sometimes yourself.

If you accept then you will see those with little talent prosper, they will advance and perpetuate a political system that creates a kakistocracy – rule by the worst and all that this entails.

As one who has fought many times, I cannot recommend it. It is stressful. It will damage your reputation. And support is hard to find among managers who are just trying to survive themselves. A little passive aggressive resistance may be in order – be humble, retain your integrity, give valid praise in public to those who deserve it, counter any undeserved criticism of others and help those with unrecognised talents to find places where they can excel.

Your remaining option is to move on. This may take time since there is little point in moving on to a similar environment. You need to find the right people to work with. In particular, the right manager…

A manager of mine, when he understood what was happening, said “perhaps I am looking in the wrong place”. He realised that he could not rely on the grapevine to provide an accurate picture of performance. The news spread by others is biased, it is politicised, it carries the advertisements of the carriers. He had begun to realise that the formal performance reports of project managers, clients and others were often biased.

He worked out that he needed to get out there and continually and consistently look for himself. He started to take a deeper interest in the capabilities, aspirations, working environment and efforts of his team. Only then did he start to get an accurate picture of the performance of his team. And only then was he able to help them. Only then did he start doing his job as a manager. Only then did he discover the excellence in his team. With this knowledge he was able deploy the team better, grow their capabilities and to start to repair the reputations of his team.

Taking over…

A long time ago, I took on my first “real” management position with a responsibility. I was to lead a product development department of about 20 people. I didn’t know what leadership was. I had this vague concept that it was about a guy standing in front of a bunch of folk waving everyone forward over a parapet. The group would then charge forward joyfully into battle. Miraculously we would come out with minor cuts and bruises and no casualties ready to fight another day.

Why would they follow me? Perhaps I because I had said some rousing Shakespearian words. Why were there no casualties? I can’t fathom that one.

I had great optimism and incredible naivety. The result of this was a two year nightmare of making mistakes as my team meandered with no direction in some other field.

I eventually left that job to my great relief and probably my team’s. I had been the boss but not the leader. The two are not directly linked. Being boss gives you control over people’s pay and prospects. But they have a much greater level of control — the boss’s success lies in the hands of his team. This is the first great realisation. It doesn’t help directly because it only tells what not to do.

When I joined the software company as head of product development, I spoke to the directors. I learned what they expected of me and how it would benefit the company. Then, on my own, I decided how my team would deliver it. I stood up in front of them and told them what we were going to do. I got blank faces. I got shrugs of indifference. I got folded arms and frowns. There was a growing low hum of chatter in the background. Anyone observing would have realised that I had failed to convince and the team had moved from neutral to being against me.

I struggled on for a year with an ineffective team who just about kept me in a job but no more. Performance was lack lustre. Our year end bonus was pitifully low. I had a member of staff complain about my performance to the CEO and a salesman too. The CEO had appointed me so he called me in. He gave me a simple piece of advice, “ask for help”.

I asked for and followed the advice tentatively and finally left the company without really stepping up to the job. I had three months off before starting a new job. The separation and the break gave me the opportunity to reflect and learn from the experience.

The first lesson was that that being the boss does not make you a leader. The second lesson was that people chose to follow leaders. Leadership is earned over time. It does not come with the position. It is not a result of authority. A job described as a “leadership position” is one where you are expected to earn leadership quickly. I recruited a soldier into a team of mine who brought this home to me, he said, “the officer may be the boss in peacetime, but when we get on the battlefield, he relies on his men to keep him alive, it focuses the mind”.

The third lesson was that in most situations there are already leaders in place. There are people who are followed by the majority of the staff. They may not be in management positions. They may lead in a direction that contradicts the organizations objectives. But they are there. They are a route to establishing your leadership. You need to build relationships with them and get them to bring the rest of the team along. Since that first disastrous management role, I have always looked for these leaders and very quickly told them that I am putting my trust in them to help me make the team more successful.

I went through a number of transitions in my thinking:

Tell to Listen

I to We

Being above to Being on the level

Arrogance to Humility

Authority to Vulnerability

Being in front of the group to Being with the team

Driving the team to Batting for the team

This is what we are going to do to How can I help you?

Company goals to Individual goals

Boss to Servant

Going through these transitions is simply good management. Practicing good management earns the manager the leadership role. This was the fourth lesson.

The fifth lesson was that you have to defend your team. I have “been into bat” for my team over pay, grades and conditions and won most of the time. I won because the case for change was good and I followed through. Other managers who had similar situations but who didn’t have the guts to fight were not happy. I have had stand up shouting matches, attempts to discredit me, threats as a result of this. The weak manager is dangerous when cornered — this was the sixth lesson.

I, and the team as a whole, have expectations of each other. We will always aim to be professional. We cover for one another. We deal with problems in the team. We are like a family. What about the organization? This is tied up with being professional which implies delivering the organization’s objectives — this is the only reason for the team to exist. Failing to meet these objectives is the team’s biggest internal threat. The team will not protect a member that threatens its existence. It expects the leader to either change that team member’s behaviour or to remove them. The seventh lesson is that the leader protects the team from internal threats.

There are times when the organization’s existence and the current form of the team are not aligned. This may mean moving people out. In one role had to fire 12 architects because we were restructuring. My approach was to talk to each one and find out their aspirations. They were clever people, they knew what was happening. I eventually placed 11 of them in alternative roles within the organization; every move was a good move. Only one person left and went on to another organization. The eighth lesson is that the leader “bats for the team” even when managing them out.

There is a difficult balance in all of this. With the team on a day to day basis, you are a team member whose responsibility it is to represent the team to the organization. The organization sees you as the boss in control of a set of resources with a set of objectives to achieve. These views will come into conflict and it will be tough. You have to recognise when changes need to be made. You must not be seen as a wrecker who is just protecting his team — if that happens then you will lose all upward influence. This is the ninth lesson.