Saturday 31 December 2011

Space Invaders - a game to see in the new year

If you're staying up to see in the new year, here's a game you might want to try to while away the hours until midnight.

I was introduced to this game on Exercise Tenderfoot, the first week-long exercise in my training in the Royal Marines. One afternoon we were waiting for an instructor to arrive and one of our section leaders introduced us to this game to while away the time.

If you've spent the last few days sharpening your reflexes on a Nintendo Wii, PlayStation PS3 or Microsoft Xbox, you are probably honed and ready for this - it's a real-world recreation of a classic computer game - Space Invaders.

You will need:
  1. A supply of soft projectiles - foam balls, tomatoes etc
  2. A large room or rectangular space
  3. About 30 friends 
Now organise your friends. Their roles are:
  • 1 defender
  • 1 "special"
  • 28 invaders
  • 1 drill instructor - you
Next ask your invaders to line up in 7 rows (with 4 in each row) with an arm's length between each row, along one wall of the room and facing the opposite wall. The defender waits against the opposite wall with the supply of projectiles.

As the drill instructor, you need to manage the invaders. Take command! When you shout "One", they must snap to attention, with their feet together and their arms by their sides. When you shout "Two" they should step their left foot to their left, squatting down and raising their arms to the "I surrender" position. When you shout "One" again, they return to the attention position by brining their right foot up to their left.

As you command "One, Two, One, Two, One, Two..." the invaders will move to their left  (and the defender's right) until they reach the wall. At this point you give the command "Three" at which point they all take one pace forwards. Now they start each "Two" move with their right foot, moving to their right.

While your invaders begin their advance towards the defender, he or she attempts to stop them with the projectiles. Each invader hit by a projectile is knocked out of the game and moves off the playing area. The invaders win if any of them reach the defender's wall before being hit by projectiles.

The "special" runs along the wall behind the invaders wailing "Woowoowoowoowoo..." and waving their arms above their heads. If the defender is able to hit them they win the game outright.

Enjoy - and happy new year!

Thursday 22 December 2011

The Ten Principles of War

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training. Here is the full list.

In the British Armed Forces, all leaders are trained in the 10 Principles of War. These short principles - many of them only a single word - are distilled from centuries of studying conflict and competition. While they are designed for warfare, they are a great set of guidelines for life in general and business in particular.

The first principle is usually singled out as pre-eminent, with the second also considered to be special:
  1. Selection and Maintenance of the Aim
  2. Maintenance of Morale
  3. Offensive Action
  4. Security
  5. Surprise
  6. Concentration of Force
  7. Economy of Effort
  8. Flexibility
  9. Cooperation
  10. Sustainability
These principles were codified by JFC Fuller, a Major General and Military Historian, after the First World War, but they incorporate the ideas of the greatest military thinkers in history including Sun Tsu, von Clausewitz and Napoleon. They are at the core of current British military thought - as the former Chief of Defence Staff writes in his foreword to British Defence Doctrine (which also gives a detailed analysis of each of the principles in Chapter 2),

"[doctrine] is meant to educate the mind of the future commander, or, more accurately, to guide him in his self-education, not to accompany him to the battlefield"

So this is not a set of rigid rules - the principles are an educational tool that the leader can reflect upon before battle. As you prepare to face 2012 you may find it useful to reflect on how these principles can help you win in the new year and beyond.

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training. Here is the full list.

Sunday 11 December 2011

Leaders - How Games And Recognition Can Boost Your Team

Gamification - the use of game design techniques and mechanics to solve problems and engage people - is now a managerial buzz-word. A recent special report in The Economist explores how the psychology of video games is being used by employers and researchers to improve performance in teams from the military to molecular research.

Leaders often have to motivate teams to perform difficult tasks and expend considerable effort - both of which are also often required of game-players. So if you are a leader, you should study the motivations of game-players to see if some of those motivations can be harnessed in support of your team objectives.

Making work seem like play

If people believe that what they are doing is leisure rather than work, they may want to do more of it and they may even pay - rather than seeking to be paid - to do it. While persuading employees to pay to work is likely to be unsustainable, team-members are likely to be more happy, loyal and motivated if they are getting psychological rewards as well as material ones.

Wellington - a keen player
Getting the boot in

The idea that games are important in leadership and learning is not new. The Duke of Wellington said "The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton" and the language of game-playing pervades management-speak: "raise your game", "gamble", "player" etc. Chess - the archetypal game of strategy - evolved as an early war-game. It has been used both as a general learning tool and to focus strategic thoughts ever since.

While I was a young military officer I was required to study scenarios in which I talked through TEWTs (Tactical Exercises Without Troops) with senior officers. This was a kind of game, but without friendly forces, let alone an enemy, it lacked the interactivity that is the appeal of the most successful games. A friend of mine discovered Command & Conquer, a computer game which required exactly the same skills - a grasp of the relative performances of friendly and enemy forces and equipment, an understanding of the terrain and weather conditions and a tight grip of the resource and logistic constraints. Perhaps the training budget might have been better invested in sending all young officers to play Command & Conquer.

From urban design to corporate strategy, companies such as Codemasters and G2G3 are creating game-based services that help organisations achieve their goals by conducting low-cost experiments and simulations, training key decision makers and scenario-testing. But if you have a smaller budget there is a simple gamification technique you can apply in a wide range of situations.

Give recognition

A key feature of most games is that they involve winning and losing. In other words, they give results. Recognising relative, competitive performance is essential to game-play, and all sorts of managerial tools reflect this from the use of sales leaderboards used to motivate salesmen to the honours system used to recognise civil servants. And of course those selected by competitive process to join a club often recognise each other with some token of membership such as a club strip or the green beret of the Commandos. I recently posted about the use of symbols in recognition in How to Boost Team Performance Without Increasing Costs.

Leaders can give recognition in a wide range of ways from simple oral encouragement to elaborate displays - however it's done, recognition is a form of keeping score - reminding players of the progress they are making at times when the game is tough. And while that recognition may be costly in cash terms, it need not be. Many of the most highly prized rewards are virtually neligible in cash cost terms. The metal used to make Victoria Crosses (the highest award for courage in the UK) is scrap - recycled from guns captured from the Russians at Sevastopol.

ARRSE avatar medals
A still lower cost way to use medals to reward behaviour is demonstrated by the Army Rumour Service - ARRSE. The ARRSE website now attracts over 450,000 monthly unique visitors with its mix of news and views on defence and security topics and general interest. This social networking site was set up by some friends of mine who cleverly recruited a small army of moderators who manage the active discussion forums. These moderators and others who help with the running of the site are rewarded with medals that appear by their avatars on forum posts.

It's not surprising that medals appeal to a community with such a strong military connection, and medals - virtual or real - will not deliver a sense of recognition for every team. But perhaps you can identify a comparable form of recognition that will resonate in your team culture. The UK Department of Work and Pensions has used gamification to improve its staff suggestion box, awarding contributors "DWPeas" - points that they can then allocate to other suggestions, both showing that their contribution is valued and recognising their role in crowdsourcing other good ideas.

His Captain's hand on his shoulder smote

Money, awards and fame all have a part to play in motivation, but great leaders motivate their teams with recognition. Sir Henry Newbolt summed it up in the first verse of his poem Vitae Lampada, an 1892 poem about gamification that motivated a generation through the horrible ordeal of the First World War:

There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night
Ten to make and the match to win
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play, and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat.
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his captain's hand on his shoulder smote:
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"

The sand of the desert is sodden red -
Red with the wreck of a square that broke;
The Gatling's jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed its banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks -
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"

This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the school is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind -
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"

So if you are leading a team, remember to smite your people on their shoulders from time to time - they'll raise their game if you do!

Friday 25 November 2011

iPhone 4S vs Galaxy S2 vs Galaxy Nexus - a Comparison

Galaxy S2
After nearly 2 happy years with an iPhone 4 I'm approaching contract renewal, so I've been checking out the options for my next phone. After a quick look at the offerings from HTC, Blackberry and Nokia, I've narrowed my search down to the Apple iPhone 4S, the Samsung Galaxy S2 and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

I've conducted a "survey of surveys" of these three phones and found that most comparisons focus on performance data charts - screen resolution, battery specs, camera resolution, processor speed etc. My aim is to clarify the decision based on some simple questions about how the phone fits in with the rest of life. If your phone decision depends on some of these considerations, you might reach the same conclusion as me.

Beautiful design and reliable performance

Over the last 4 years I've migrated from PC to Mac and now own a Mac Mini desktop, a Macbook Air laptop and an iPhone 4. My music is in iTunes and my photos are in iPhoto. I've become an Apple prisoner, captured by the seamless integration of their products and services. I've enjoyed their great design and reliable performance, and I'm a big fan of Apple as a company.

However, I've had two concerns about my reliance on Apple - the price premium and the limited (and pricey) integration of their services in the Cloud. Even with the introduction of iCloud, this aspect of Apple's offering seems to be behind the services provided by others - notably Google.

Security and redundancy

Even as I've moved from PC to Mac, I've also moved from Microsoft Office to a host of cloud-based software platforms for both work and leisure. Google is the lynchpin of my online life, providing Gmail, Google Apps, Blogger, Youtube and Picasa. All of these are free and more importantly from my perspective, they are hosted in the cloud, so if any of my devices are lost, stolen or broken, my data and content are secure, backed up in redundant systems which I can reach through a range of devices.

What is a smartphone for? Data or Voice? Entertainment or Business?

While the ability to make voice calls is still a qualifying requirement for a telephone, none of these three smartphones is marketed on the basis of call quality (which is anyway largely dependent on the quality of the service provided by the network operator rather than the handset manufacturer). For me the reality is that I make fewer voice calls than I used to, and use my phone much more as a data device - for capturing and viewing images, for finding information about places, contacts and opportunities. I'm not a gamer, and I don't rely on my phone to bring my personal music library around in my pocket.

As a result, certain features stand out. The Galaxy Nexus has a lower resolution camera (5 Megapixels, compared to the 8 Megapixels of the iPhone 4S and the Galaxy S2), but it does have an immediate shutter response, eliminating the delay associated with most phone cameras. The larger and higher resolution screen of the Nexus may appeal to gamers and video downloaders, who will also like the faster processors of the two Samsung phones (1.2GHz rather than 1.0GHz for the iPhone). For those of us with lower performance requirements, the lighter weight and longer battery life of the Samsung phones may be more appealing.

The importance of freedom

But for me the decisive factor is that after years in thrall to Apple, the Samsung phones offer the opportunity to break free into the more open world of Android. While Apple's strict control is central to their quality, Android offers a degree of freedom I'm finding irresistible. With better integration with Google's cloud services and the freedom to use my phone as a base station for my laptop, Android now fits much better with my needs.

As a keen photographer I'm drawn to the 8 Megapixel camera of the Galaxy S2, so when my contract renewal comes around, that is what I will be collecting.

And finally, just mentioning that I'm planning to switch from iOS5 to Android seems to be earning me credibility with my technically minded friends!

Wednesday 16 November 2011

How competitor analysis defines success - a lesson from a gamekeeper

If you want to succeed, you need to know what success looks like. Often we define success in relative rather than absolute terms. For example: "success is earning $100 a month more than your wife's sister's husband", "success is being the best...", "success is winning". But this puts our ambitions into the hands of others, since their actions determine whether we believe we have succeeded.

So if your definition of success involves a competitive comparison rather than an absolute result, it's very important to think about how you choose to define your competition. For example, for most of us it is unrealistic to aspire to be the best high jumper in the world, though we might reasonably aim to be the fastest swimmer in our local pool. More significantly, if you are setting goals for your company or team, it's useful to choose a challenging achievable target rather than a fantasy one ("we want our sales to rise faster than any other seller of x in our domestic market" rather than "we want to top the FTSE100 by the end of the year").

Not long ago, I was walking on a public footpath near Plymouth when a 4x4 drove up. The driver was clearly checking on me, and explained that he was the local gamekeeper. I took the opportunity to ask him about the local wildlife, including whether there were any deer on the land he looked after. He explained that there were plenty of fallow deer on the estate, especially now he had stopped the poachers. Since the estate was clearly very large, I asked him how he had stopped the poachers. His explanation was very simple.

He told me that in the past the deer on the estate had frequently been chased and killed by dogs brought by poachers based in Plymouth. One afternoon, he was out checking some pheasant pens when he saw a group of people with hunting dogs walking across one of his fields, away from the public footpath. The dogs were on long leads but he felt confident that they would soon be released to hunt. Considering his options, he decided that calling the police would be fruitless, since he expected that even if they arrived in time to challenge the poachers, there was unlikely to be any useable evidence and they would escape with a warning, and return at their convenience.

So he decided on a different course. He was 300m from the poachers and they had not seen him. He took his hunting rifle from his car and carefully lined it up with one of the hunting dogs. He shot and killed the dog, with the bullet passing close to the group of poachers, though he was later able to justify it as a safe controlled shot. In the ensuing fracas, the police were called, but by the poachers rather than the gamekeeper.

As he sat in his car, calmly explaining this story to me, I asked him why he chose to do such a reckless thing. He pointed out that he realised he was not trying to compete with the poachers - he was trying to compete with other nearby gamekeepers. He needed word to get around the poaching fraternity that he was crazy, so that they would concentrate their activities safely out of his range. He regretted shooting the dog, but pointed out that hunting dogs were killing dozens of deer, and that after this incident, poaching immediately stopped on his land.

Choosing how you define your competitive set is not just a matter of identifying a recognisable set of peers - it may involve a different perspective altogether. It may be that the really important competition is not the obvious one. For example, perhaps rather than looking at the growth of profits you should consider the threat posed by specific skills shortages leading to competition for key staff with companies active in very different markets.

Of course while competitive pressure can help to motivate and drive innovation, it's perfectly legitimate to define success in terms of absolute outcomes too. While some teams define success as being the best, others may have a specific object such as curing a disease, or completing a project on time and within budget. Either way, wisely defining what success is - the goal of the team's efforts - is essential.

Thursday 10 November 2011

Sharing a joke - the vital role of humour in a team

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training. Here is the full list.

Standing on a wooden box at the front of the gym, wearing tight white vest and shorts, Sergeant Jordan demonstrated the first move in our physical training session, and in a deliberate falsetto shouted:

"Feet shoulder width apart! Except in my case where obviously that's not possible!"

To many, the stereotypical image of military training is a sergeant shouting at a bewildered recruit. My recollections are very different - my main memory of my training is the laughter, not the shouting. Jokes and humour have a vital role to play in forming a team's self-view, and add spice to the narrative that the team develops. If you want your team to gel, think about the role that humour plays while the team is together - does it reinforce a sense of shared identity and purpose, encourage a light-hearted attitude to challenges and reward efforts, or is it undermining motivation and alienating team members?

Among Physical Training Instructors (PTIs), the arts of entertainment and motivation are totally intertwined. As they push recruits to ever greater feats of physical achievement, they distract them from the pain with volleys of comical remarks that range from poking fun at stragglers to self-parody. A common feature of PTI humour is the humility that is inculcated into every Royal Marine recruit. As the guardians of the physical standards of the Corps, the PTIs deliberately play the parts of the peacocks among the camouflage of the other specialists. Two years after first hearing Sgt Jordan in the gym, I was back at Lympstone training recruits. One day they were trying on new uniforms and I overheard a familiar voice as Sgt Jordan joined them in the changing room -

"Don't be afraid men, but I'm about to take my shirt off"

Of course humour is often subversive, and most jokes have a victim. While it can play a useful part in team bonding, it can also embed a culture of exclusion or cynicism. The mood of a workplace is often most clearly expressed in the jokes people crack there. Sexism, racism and many other vices are often betrayed in jokes, and listening to the banter around the water cooler can often give the most informative insight into the real values of a company or organisation.
But humour can also play an important role in helping people deal with fear or discomfort. Studies of people in stressful roles in the military and emergency services routinely show that humour helps alleviate stress and protects people from psychological harm.

If you can't take a joke you shouldn't have joined

One of the most unpleasant topics we covered in training was Nuclear, Biological and Chemical warfare (NBC). Studying the effects of chemical and nuclear weapons is a shocking experience, since these weapons kill and maim in very brutal ways. As we donned our full protective outfits - known as Three Romeo (level 3 for the inclusion of rubber overboots and double layer gloves, romeo as the phonetic "R" in "respirator" - and practiced various military exercises peering out at the world through the small eyeglasses of the S10 Respirator (gas mask), it was certainly difficult to see the funny side. The only light relief came from our NBC instructor who introduced the concept of Zero Romeo - himself naked apart from the obligatory gas mask.

Without explicitly deciding that to master NBC we needed to be able to find its funny side, we continued our training and put thoughts of blister agent and secondary blast to the back of our minds. However, as our training approached its conclusion, we set about preparing a presentation for our families, designed to explain to them what we had been doing for the previous 15 months. We tried to cover all aspects of our training in a light-hearted but informative way. Just about everything from the bizarre equipment inspections and gym exercises to the competitive spirit of the group and the drama of our exercises at sea and on land had great comedy potential, but NBC was the unfunny exception.

A joke that bombed

We decided to tackle it head on. We would dim the lights, show a picture of a mushroom cloud on the projection screen, and one of our number would silently walk to the front of the stage and read from the publication "Survive to Fight", the nuclear warfare pamphlet. He would read the section explaining what to do when a nuclear bomb goes off nearby (lie down with your feet towards the blast and your hand under your body to minimise burns, do not attempt to stand up until the second shockwave has passed etc). We thought that with the right deadpan delivery, this would amply illustrate the futility of soldiering in a nuclear battle and raise some wry smiles. Unfortunately, senior officers thought that some of our families might not see the funny side, so the sketch was withdrawn from our presentation!

Always look on the bright side

One of the 4 Commando qualities is cheerfulness in the face of adversity, and humour is the bedrock on which this is built. A sense of humour is seen as a vital aspect of team membership. Not everyone is born a comedian, and not everyone finds every joke funny, but it is the steady accumulation of challenges laughed through and fears trumped by smiles that build the narrative that holds a team together. Whether your team is preparing to don protective clothing or launch a new product, humour can help you work together.

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training. Here is the full list.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Worthy isn't enough - the message has to be sexy

I recently met up with a university friend who has become a marketing professional. Since he has been in Canada for the last 5 years we had plenty of catching up to do. He was the massive oarsman who used to sit in front of me in a rowing boat day in day out, so I've always felt we were pretty well in sync and I was very interested to learn what insights he has gleaned over the last few years.
Rolf is a fantastic communicator. He has worked extensively with Native American communities in British Columbia, helping maintain their traditions and develop and share the narratives that embody their culture. In fact, narrative was a central theme of Rolf's conversation as he described how we make sense of the world around us by storytelling. My last blog post was on the subject of storytelling, so I was quick to agree.
I've recently been studying several businesses that could be described as "good". They major on providing excellent value for clients while applying waste-eliminating techniques to traditional processes. All these businesses (in financial services, healthcare and renewable energy) have a common feature: they improve on traditional business models and pass most of the benefit on to their customers.
How to tell an ethical story?
I mentioned this to Rolf and asked his advice as a marketing expert. How could these businesses engage with their customers without increasing their prices to the point where they were no longer competitive with traditional incumbent alternatives? Perhaps the clearest illustration of this is in financial services where traditional banks are widely reviled, yet organisations like Zopa which match borrowers to lenders and reduce the spread retained by traditional banks struggle to be noticed. Their ability to advertise is limited by the modest fees they charge. In contrast in particular with payday lenders, some of which charge APRs of more than 4,000%, the media profile of Zopa, Ratesetter and others is tiny.
Good isn't good enough
Having myself built a business with a strong ethical message - maximising the impact of donations to charity - I have wrestled with this challenge for years. As Rolf points out, it's not always the ethical marketeers who win - he cites the US food market as an example in which obese consumers harm themselves while encouraged by barely regulated marketeers.
So the challenge is to avoid the trap of thinking that one is marketing to homo economicus, the mythical hyper-rational consumer beloved by traditional economists. Instead, we need to tune our messages to real people, taking note of behavioural economics - the irrationality and short-termism that characterises consumer behaviour. No amount of rigorous mathematics can overcome the primal decision drivers that really shape consumer choices.
Sex sells - almost anything
Rolf expresses it very simply: "Worthy isn't enough - the message has to be sexy." Whatever you are marketing, it's vital to appeal to the base of the brain. Transparency and economic justification are nice-to-have, and indeed they are essential in justifying the ethical business tag, but they are not sufficient on their own. The marketeer's magic is in adding a frisson of excitement to the subject which really turns customers on.
Rolf is living the message - as marketing director of a company that makes concrete additives, he has a far greater challenge than selling fast cars or designer clothes. Yet take a look at his marketing material with its beautiful images of towering structures and verdant scenery and it's clear that this is a man who can make concrete seem sexy!

Thursday 3 November 2011

Leadership as storytelling - how narratives bond teams

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training. Here is the full list.

Leaders as storytellers

If you aim to encourage others to follow you, it's worth studying the techniques of successful historical leaders. One common feature of great leaders is their ability to engage with their teams by involving them in a story - or narrative.

From Henry V to Winston Churchill, great wartime leaders are remembered for their rousing stories. They invited their followers to join them in making history, and pointed out how future generations would retell their exploits.

While few leaders face the French knights at Agincourt, or Hitler's armies across the Channel, every leader can apply the storytelling principles that Henry and Churchill brilliantly demonstrate. As a young Royal Marine I learned this lesson and I hope you'll find it useful too.

The fewer men, the greater share of glory

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

As one of the greatest leaders in history or literature, Shakespeare's Henry V is a fine source of leadership inspiration. In this speech to rally his troops for battle, he tells them that they will tell their sons of their exploits at Agincourt for years to come.

Henry's aim is to bind his men to him. He has already offered to send home anyone who doesn't have the stomach for the fight ahead, and even to pay their salaries before they go. He is not relying on discipline and threats but on aspiration to encourage his men to join him in battle. He even highlights that if anyone does leave then the glory of the remaining soldiers will only increase - he creates a sense of exclusivity among this band of brothers.

Focus on the prize

This lesson lies at the heart of leadership. Henry is plotting out the benefits of featuring in his story, and it works. His positive reinforcement of the roles of his lieutenants Warwick, Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester (all of whom get a name-check in his speech) binds each of them to their posts through the struggle ahead.

Critically, Henry focuses on the prize - the positive result, rather than the struggles that lie between his audience and their status as storybook heroes. He doesn't even mention the possibility of defeat, even though it's very real.

Getting out of dire straights

When he spoke to the nation on 18 June 1940, Winston Churchill faced the prospect not of imminent victory over the French, but of the imminent invasion as Hitler prepared Operation Sealion. Newly in post as Prime Minister, Churchill did not shy away from the harsh reality of the situation, but he offered hope was well as purpose, and above all, he set the struggle in an imagined historical context:

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.

I think many people would argue that it was.

OK - but we're not at war now

Churchill and Henry V were wartime leaders operating in extreme conditions, but storytelling still has an important role to play in leadership, even when the setting is not quite so dramatic.

In 1997 I was put in charge of a group of 60 Royal Marine recruits, and challenged to convert them from civilians to Commandos in 9 months. To succeed, I would need to ensure that as many of them as possible stayed in my troop, without resigning, being injured, or failing to pick up new skills at the required rate.

I knew that they were in for a tough time, and also that many would doubt their desire and ability to complete their training. Most of all, I knew that these doubts would be most damaging when the recruits were out of the reach of me and the rest of the training team. So I thought about how to ensure that every time they had a break and the opportunity to return to the familiar comforts of home and family they still wanted to return to the challenges and discomfort of the Commando Training Centre.

I realised that when they headed home, their friends would be asking them what they had been doing with the Royal Marines. And I knew that if their answer was good enough they would enjoy telling the story. So my challenge was to ensure that whenever my recruits went home, I could guarantee that they had the best story in the pub. Every week I was careful to ensure that there was at least one episode that  they could turn into a great story, and I noticed that they enjoyed rehearsing - the more dramatic, outlandish (and often uncomfortable) the episode the better.

As the troop prepared to depart for 2 weeks of Easter leave, I played my best hand - knowing that this was the most likely time for the comforts of home to tempt my men to stay away. As they waited for the train, I asked them if anyone knew what an "SSN" is. At first no-one volunteered an answer, but one recruit hesitantly guessed "Is it a nuclear submarine?".

I congratulated him on his answer and explained that on their return from leave the troop would embark on an exercise in and around Scotland which would include a reconnaissance phase involving covert insertion and extraction by SSN. This wasn't standard for recruit training, but I'd managed to get my troop on a special exercise with extra resources. Everyone returned from Easter leave keen to collect another great story.

The measurable result of this was that for the first phase of training, 736 Troop had the highest retention rate among recruit troops for 5 years. We lost no-one at all for the first 10 weeks, speeding the recruits towards realising their Commando ambitions and saving the taxpayer a small fortune too.

The best story in the pub

So if you are seeking ways to motivate a team, ensure that every member has the best story in the pub. As leader your role is to provide your team with the basis of the story and encourage them to take ownership of it and retell it in their own words. If your stories align with your values and objectives, your team will be loyal, dedicated and effective.

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training. Here is the full list.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Even superheroes need teammates

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training.  Here is the full list.

There can be few decisions more important than choosing the members of your team. Whatever you do, the people around you shape your world and can greatly increase - or reduce - your ability to achieve.

One night in Exeter, I was out with some friends. I was running short of cash, so I left one pub early and went to find a cash machine on the route to the pub we were planning to visit next. It was a dank night and as I waited for the ATM to authorise my request, I noticed a trio of shady looking characters who were moving closer making threatening noises. Something about me was upsetting them, and they clearly meant trouble.

It might have been that they wanted to take my money or card, but I didn't think so. It sounded as though they had a problem with the way I was dressed, and they were clearly drawing other conclusions about me from my outfit.

As I stood there wondering whether my card and cash would be released before they arrived, I understood why. I was standing in a pair of running shoes, tight lycra tracksuit bottoms with swimming trunks over the top, and above my tight T-shirt I wore a cape made of red crepe material. My face was covered with a red crepe superhero mask. This is not normal - or at least not in Exeter.

I had a few moments to consider my options - fight, flight, negotiate. I didn't want to abandon my card and cash - flight would be quite costly. On the other hand,  I didn't fancy my chances as a negotiator since I probably wouldn't get the chance to explain that my friends and I had found several meters of crepe and agreed that a superheroes "run ashore" (Royal Marines expression meaning "night out") would be a good idea. So that left fighting.

As the three menacing shapes moved closer I carried out a quick "combat estimate" - the formal process by which a military commander is supposed to weigh the relative strengths of his own forces and those of his opponent. I was outnumbered 3 to 1. I was wearing rather unsuitable clothes. My cape in particular could cause a lot of trouble tangled around my neck. Worst of all, if I was involved in a fight with civilians I would almost certainly lose my job.

I stayed by the cash machine, hoping it would yield my card and cash, but it steadfastly refused to do so. The trio moved ever closer. By now I could see their hate-filled faces and hear their abuse more clearly. They had clearly decided that I deserved some kind of corrective treatment.

As I watched their approaching faces, I noticed a sudden change. Hate turned to surprise, and then quickly to fear. They stopped in their tracks, hesitated and looked at each other, then turned and ran away.

Slightly surprised, I looked behind me. Approaching, illuminated by a street lamp and silhouetted against the shiny damp street beneath their feet, a band of about 20 superheroes were approaching. Their capes billowed as they strode towards me, shimmering slightly as lycra stretched over muscle. My friends had decided it was time to move on to the next pub.

For me the main reason to join the Royal Marines was the quality of the people I met who were already enlisted. I knew that whatever the circumstances they were a good team to be a part of. In dangerous situations, I could expect my colleagues to be courageous, determined, unselfish and cheerful, and in less dangerous environments I knew they would be good fun and not too serious.

If you lead a team then giving them a sense that they belong to a great group has got to be a top priority - here are some thoughts on boosting team performance without increasing costs. If you're in a team and you don't feel that it's a great team, it's time to make a change. Either find a way to make the team better - or if you cannot do that then leave.

We tend to become more like the people we spend time with, so it makes sense to surround yourself with people you can rely on and admire. You may not always fit in with the locals though.

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training.  Here is the full list.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

It's time for Google to retune its tactfulness algorithm

Suitable for brain tumour patients?
I recently posted about how reviews can boost Google rankings. Google does a great job of helping us find what we are looking for by incorporating third party information such as reviews and links, and it also crawls websites assessing content and context.

As a result the ads it posts on publisher sites like this one are usually relevant to the content of the site. The famous Google algorithm that matches content with ads is at the heart of their corporate success - but maybe it needs a tactfulness tweak...

Six months ago, shortly after I posted on the subject of headaches, Google started serving this advert on my blog (pictured left), in the advertising panel just to the right of this post. I don't know what the ad was for (clicking on it would be a breach of the Adsense publishers terms and conditions), but since my post was about my surgery and lucky escape from a brain tumour, it probably wasn't the most suitable ad to serve.

From time to time since, I've seen the ad appearing on my blog - you might even see it now if you look to the right. I hope it isn't causing any offense to people whose experience of brain tumours has not been as positive as mine. Perhaps I'm being unfair - perhaps the advertiser really can help you reclaim your brain, improve memory and increase brain performance. Unfortunately I'm contractually forbidden from finding out.

Monday 17 October 2011

How 3rd party review sites can boost your profile in Google results

Product ratings in Google results
At This Tribe, one of the areas we have been examining closely it the role of reviews. Following some initial discussions at the Ecommerce Expo last week and further online research since then, This Tribe is trialling Trustpilot as a way to gather reviews in a 3rd party environment where readers can be confident that what they read is not under the control of the site being reviewed.

Our view is that this independence is a key part of the credibility of the reviews, and it's interesting to note that Google is paying more attention to the review sites as you can see under "4. Reviews and lots of them".

Rob, one of the This Tribe team, set about examining some of the many review sites on the market and selected Trustpilot largely on the basis of its simplicity.

Seller rating extensions make it easier for potential customers to identify highly-rated merchants when they're searching on Google by attaching the reviews to the merchant's Google Product Search and AdWords ads.

These star ratings allow people to find merchants that are highly recommended by online shoppers like them.

To be eligible the merchant needs to have 4 or more stars and have at least 30 reviews in total. Once the merchant has achieved this, it still might take up to 4 weeks in order for Google to index the results.

Are you more tempted to use a service or buy a product if you can see independent reviews? I've just put the phone down after a conversation in which my request to talk to past customers was declined. Although the service on offer sounded great, the fact that the provider didn't feel able to put me in touch with any of their former clients drained my faith in them and their offering. I won't be becoming a client.

Thursday 29 September 2011

The darkest hour is just before the dawn

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training. Here is the full list.

Royal Marines training gives everyone the opportunity to confront their limitations. In fact, it pushes recruits to the point where they have to, and then encourages them to explore those limitations and learn how to exceed them. It's a raw experience, and while some of it is very private - for example the personal battle between a trainee and the notorious Endurance Course - at other times it can be an experience that is shared with others. The intimacy of reaching personal limits together in training means that Marines are pretty honest with each other - no-one can maintain a facade for long when they are in extremis.

One dark night on Dartmoor I witnessed the moment where a friend reached his own limit and contemplated resigning from the Corps - but then gathered his reserves and pushed on. His moment hitting rock bottom and bouncing back has always inspired me, and together we learned an important lesson that night - one which I think has uses far beyond Royal Marines training - that the darkest hour is just before the dawn.

Exercise Crash Action

Exercise Crash Action was designed to be the hardest exercise yet. It was the first major exercise of the 4 week long Commando Course, the culmination of 9 months of arduous training. The exercise began with a yomp up onto the northern heights of Dartmoor, and lasted for a week. The formula was simple: yomp all night to prepare for a dawn attack at some distant location, then grab a few hours rest between eating, replenishing rations and ammunition and preparing for the next set of orders and planning, then start yomping again.

This kind of exercise is surprisingly challenging. Unlike hillwalking, yomping is designed to maximise tactical options - so routes are chosen not for comfortable conditions underfoot or beautiful views, but for protection from observation. Each man walks alone, with at least 10m between him and the people ahead and behind so that if the line ahead is attacked those behind are free to manoeuvre to a position where they can counter-attack. We zigzagged back and forth across Dartmoor through bogs and over the notorious "babies heads" - ubiquitous tufts of tough grass that twist ankles and make walking at speed - especially with a heavy pack - arduous and uncomfortable. At one point the man in front of me collapsed into the darkness amid muffled swearing having walked into a shin-height stone forming part of an ancient stone circle. The "Troop Snake" extending over a quarter of a mile also had to cross obstacles from the roads and fences that cross the moor to the fast flowing leats and occasional bogs. And in addition to our personal equipment we were also carrying heavy communications equipment, including a Clansman 320 High Frequency (HF) radio weighing over 20lbs - an unwelcome and indivisible addition to someone's bergan.

The darkest hour

On the fourth night of the exercise at about 4.30am, we were heading south and crossed one of the few roads on the moor. As I approached a stone wall on the other side of the road, I met a friend who had stopped beside the wall before crossing it. We were moving in almost total darkness and there was no-one else nearby. He was exhausted, and faced with the prospect of continuing onto the southern part of the moor for yet more yomping, he told me quietly that he had had enough and was going to resign.

I knelt down beside him and pointed out that he would regret the decision to stop now - and that we would all be very sorry to lose him because he was a very capable guy. We knelt in silence for a few moments in the darkness. Slowly and painfully he stood up and climbed over the wall, setting off across the moor. Shortly afterwards, on our left hand side the dawn began to rise over the moorland.

We never discussed the incident afterwards. My colleague has gone on to a very successful career, and I'm very proud that I might have helped in a small way at what could have been a turning point in his life.

One step at a time

My colleague resisted the temptation of the road and stuck to his chosen difficult path. Each step on that yomp took him one step closer to his green beret. As I watched him tramp into the darkness and began to settle into my own walking rhythm 10m behind him I reflected on how although our ordeal was overwhelming we could get along perfectly well by breaking it down into single steps and enjoying every glimmer of light that shone on us on the way.

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training. Here is the full list.

Monday 19 September 2011

Spoof - a training tool for cool, calm leadership through uncertainty

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training. Here is the full list.

The essence of leadership is managing uncertainty. Leaders assess their environments with incomplete information, and then make and communicate decisions with confidence and charisma. For many people the hardest challenge of leadership is accepting that uncertainty and incomplete information form the base from which they have to advance.

This is especially true in military leadership where the ratio of uncertainty to certainty is exceptionally high. Enemy action, environmental factors and changing higher commander's intent are just some of the factors that can challenge the premises of a military leader.

Throughout their training, Royal Marines are constantly challenged to make decisions on the basis of limited information, and then challenged further with disruption after disruption. Like leaders in any field, they learn to improve both their analysis of uncertain situations and their ability to communicate effectively despite this through practical experience. Royal Marine training, lasting 9 months for recruits and 12 months for young officers, provides ample opportunity for this, and after basic training, exercises and operations both develop and test the ability of marines and officers to function despite the "fog of war".

While certain factors such as the weather are non-human, many of the uncertainties faced by a Royal Marine result from human factors such as enemy action, changes in the dispositions, actions and priorities of other friendly forces, changes in orders from above and changes of performance within the team. And of course this is true for leaders in non-military situations too, where competitors, regulators, suppliers, customers and colleagues can all increase uncertainty and produce surprises. So leaders both in the Royal Marines and beyond need to become as comfortable as possible in managing uncertainty by reading the behaviour and intent of other people.

While the huge resources available for leadership training in the Royal Marines are rarely provided by or available to civilian employers, there is one simple tool which I first encountered while in Royal Marines training, and which I recommend as a quick and easy way to practise reading other people and managing uncertainty. This is "Spoof". Spoof is a simple game, and unusally for a game, it has no winner, only a loser. All that is required is 3 coins or items of a similar size per player, and a consequence for the loser. Often spoof is used to decide who will buy the next round for a group of drinkers. As a result, it has a rather disreputable image, but I suggest that it's a great training aid.

In spoof, each player puts one, two or three coins - or none - into their right hand, and then each in turn guesses how many coins are in play in total (between zero and three times the number of players), choosing a number that has not yet been chosen. When all players have guessed, all reveal their hands, the coins are counted up and whoever guessed correctly (if anyone did) leaves the game. This continues until only one person is left, and they are the loser, buying the round or whatever the forfeit may be. You can find full details of the game in this article by a Professor of Physics attached to the Complexity Centre at the University of Warwick. As you can see, spoof is of academic as well as social interest.

So if you want to practise and develop your aptitude for dealing with the unpredictability of other people, I recommend taking every opportunity for playing spoof. Whether it is for the next round of drinks or to choose who undertakes some unwelcome but necessary task, it spices up the process of finding a loser and gives some great insights into how other people think. To add an extra lesson in maintaining an unflappable exterior, I recommend the "non-emotional spoof" variant in which anyone displaying any sighs of relief on guessing the correct number of coins is put back into the next round.

Spoof is a simple game but with many permutations. As well as providing insight into the behaviour of others it also offers a means to distribute bad news without someone having to make a choice. The loser is the person left in the game, not the person chosen by anyone else.

In my own favourite game to date, I went out for a meal with 11 Army officers and before ordering we agreed to spoof for the whole bill. As a result, each of us ate and drank everything we could, reasoning that there was only a low chance that we would have to pay. After a huge meal, we played 11 rounds of spoof to decide who would pay the bill that amounted to a month's salary. I was lucky; I came out in round 7. With each successive round the pressure mounted until two men faced each other. One guessed correctly and impassively thanked his opposite number; the other, with no trace of emotion, picked up the bill. Both unflappable in victory and defeat.

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training. Here is the full list.

Friday 16 September 2011

The Loyalty Effect - a further interview with Sampson Hall

Following my interview with Phil Sampson of Sampson Hall, I met up yesterday with Phil and his co-founder Dave Hall.

The Sampson Hall team brings plenty of leadership experience to bear for clients, but there is nothing rigid about their approach - in fact they highlight that success is most likely for those who can adapt most rapidly to the ever-changing environment. They present against a backdrop of contours, the lines on a map that indicate the shape of the ground which every traveller must adjust to.


Phil points out that empowerment is the best possible response to this dynamic environment - delegating responsibility to the lowest level at which it can be exercised. Whereas hierarchical organisations struggle to adapt, those that empower their members harvest the full potential of their teams.

Phil provides an exceptional example of empowerment - the NASA cleaner who when asked what his role was as he swept the floor replied "to help put a man on the moon".

Expectations and Boundaries

Sampson Hall helps teams to improve communication. Phil points out that many problems arise when team members do not share a common understanding of their expectations and boundaries.

Dave recounts how providing free tea and coffee can mean much more than a pay rise in motivating and engaging some employees - often disjointed expectations between different strata within a business can end up costing more and achieving less.

The Loyalty Effect

With proper empowerment and clear expectations and boundaries, the scene is set for a fulfilling relationship between employees and their employers. Phil underlines the value of this for everyone involved by citing a PwC report that the total cost of replacing a typical employee is approximately the same as one year's salary.

In fact, I believe that the value of cultivating loyalty extends beyond employees to every kind of stakeholder, including customers and investors. For a very good analysis of the value of loyalty, I recommend The Loyalty Effect, by Frederick Reichheld

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Understand, Decide, Communicate, Motivate. The NHS takes on the Army

I was invited yesterday to observe an Introductory Briefing of the NHS Staff College, following a presentation I gave on the subject of Perseverance on August 9th to a previous course. The aim of the briefing is to introduce groups of senior leaders in the NHS to a leadership course provided at The UCH Education Centre in partnership with Philip Mostyn Associates (PMA).

For me this was a great opportunity to see a thorough assessment and analysis process at work. While the delegates were being introduced to the course and invited to explore various aspects of leadership, their syndicates and group activities were filmed in readiness for detailed debriefing which is being delivered today. The assessment and debriefing methodology are based on techniques developed over many years by the British Army, who prize leadership development beyond all other forms of personal development. Those delegates that opt / are selected for the rest of the course will attend separate modules addressing
  1. Self Awareness
  2. Self Management
  3. Leadership and Teamwork
As an organisation employing 1.3 million people, the NHS dedicates a relatively low proportion of its resources to leadership development when compared both to public and private sector employers, and this course is one of a number of initiatives designed to raise the quality of leadership in the healthcare sector.

To start the day, the directing staff led the delegates into a room with an instruction to say nothing. In silence they read further instructions on a flipchart and circulated around the room examining each other, restricted to non-verbal communication. They were then invited to separate themselves into various "Tribes". Separating factors included age, level of involvement with patients, gender, childcare responsibilities and style of dress. Having recently co-founded, I was pleased to see tribes used to describe the way people see themselves and their groups.

After this the delegates explored how leadership could benefit the NHS and patients in particular. One factor that was a common subject of discussion was "Silos". Delegates explored the challenges and opportunities posed by the co-existence of different tribes such as doctors, nurses, managers and physiotherapists. Communication and the need to coordinate the activities of teams made up of professionals from the different silos were key issues, and delegates considered the dangers of "Dysfunctional Tolerance" - the process of accepting poor performance out of a misplaced sense that challenging it is futile.

John Mackmersh provided a valuable distinction (following Grint's Leadership: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)) between leadership and management. He described "Tame" and "Wicked" problems. Tame problems require the application of known processes, whereas wicked problems require the asking of questions and the development of new methods. Tame problems are the domain of management and wicked problems can only be addressed by leaders.

Philip Mostyn Associates specialise in the leadership assessment techniques that were first introduced by the British Army in the dark days following the crushing defeats of 1940. As Philip Mostyn explained to the delegates, these techniques were gleaned by studying the leadership of the German Army, and in particular its use of psychological profiling to identify leadership potential in recruits. The British Army Officer Selection Board (of which Philip was President for several years) has developed and refined these techniques over the subsequent 7 decades, and they have also been widely adopted by private sector organisations in the UK and the US. An early adopter in the US was the Office of Strategic Studies, the forerunner of the CIA.

PMA applies these techniques previously used for selection to leadership development by sharing the perspectives of the directing staff with the delegates. By replaying video clips of their group behaviour, the directing staff help delegates establish an objective view of their role and behaviour within the team. Each individual is assessed - and invited to self-assess - according to their ability to
  • Understand
  • Decide
  • Communicate
  • Motivate
As Philip pointed out to the delegates during his presentation entitled "How leadership can help the NHS", it is usually easy to spot the absence of leadership by asking the question

"who is responsible to whom and for what?"

If you are unable to answer this question in your team then it's time to find, or give, some leadership. I'm very glad that the NHS is taking the opportunity to apply such well-tested leadership development techniques to its formidable clinical skills portfolio.

Friday 2 September 2011

Reputation management - are you cherishing your integrity?

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training.  Here is the full list.

The two most important resources a Royal Marine has are his rifle and his integrity. From the very start of training, recruits are taught that these two assets must be cherished so that they never fail.

Both also require constant checking and cleaning. If a recruit doesn't know what state his rifle is in, he presents a danger to himself and his colleagues with potentially fatal consequences. Likewise, a breakdown in integrity can destroy trust within a team and do untold damage.

The British standard issue rifle, the SA80, is a complex and carefully engineered automatic weapon, with dozens of components that must be carefully disassembled, checked, cleaned and reassembled each day to ensure that it will operate without jamming when required. Cleaning is a laborious challenge involving careful scrubbing of the many parts of the weapon that are covered in the residue of burnt gunpowder, and then the application of a protective layer of oil. Each Royal Marine always carries a cleaning kit that includes a variety of tools to assist in this process. The kit includes the regulation issued oil that protects the metal from corrosion and lubricates the action.

Oil be damned

Early in our training we discovered that while the issued oil was great for protection and lubrication, it was no help with cleaning the powder residues in the first place. Fortunately we discovered that WD-40, a light spray oil with a very distinctive smell, did a great job of cleaning the powder residue away.

On our first field training exercise, which involved a week living under the stars on Woodbury Common, I packed a small can of WD-40 together with my rifle cleaning kit which I used to speed the cleaning process and shared with the rest of my section. I was always careful to keep it out of sight when our equipment was inspected since I suspected that deviating from the cleaning process we had been taught could be frowned on.

The golden rule was to apply the WD-40 well before we were inspected and then cover the areas involved with the issue oil in order to mask the smell of the WD-40. Unfortunately, one morning, one of our section forgot to add issue oil, and during the inspection Colour Sergeant Inglis asked him ominously if he was using WD-40, an unauthorised oil, to clean his weapon. The Colour Sergeant explained that use of unauthorised oils and tools could damage the weapon - a very serious offence. My colleague denied that he had used any WD-40.

Confess or conceal?

This presented me with a problem. My rifle was certainly clean, but I now had to decide whether to:
  1. keep quiet and risk later discovery
  2. admit that I had some WD-40 and face the consequences
I realised that now we had been specifically told that WD-40 could be damaging I should come clean, but this would also implicate my colleague for lying (which he had done in part to protect me as the source of the WD-40).

Another part of the calculation was whether showing initiative and inventiveness (in bringing the oil) would mitigate against the crime of using a potentially damaging substance on taxpayer property (the rifle). I decided that although we were clearly encouraged to show initiative, this case was probably different since I knew that weapon care was a sacrosanct priority.

I had a quick chat with my colleague and explained that I intended to tell Colour Sergeant Inglis that I was the WD-40 culprit. He agreed that this was the best thing to do - he knew that his loyalty would count for more with the training team than the lie he had told when questioned.

Coming clean

I left the safety of the pack and went looking for Colour Sergeant Inglis. I found him nearby and said "Colour Sergeant, I have a can of WD-40 which I have been using to clean my rifle. I thought it was a good idea since it removes the powder residue very well, but I now understand that there is a possibility it might damage the rifle. I won't use it again."

Colour Sergeant Inglis glowered at me and said "Get out of my sight!" I considered this a very good result considering the alternatives I had expected, and quickly obliged!

But the subject wasn't closed. A few minutes later, Colour Sergeant Inglis called 3 Section together and led us through some gorse bushes. We suspected that we would soon be running through the gorse simulating an assault, diving into the prickly bushes to "take cover". But it didn't turn out that way. He stopped in a clearing, asked us all to sit down around him, and congratulated us: "I see real integrity in this section. Well done gentlemen." And there the matter rested. And from that time on, Colour Sergeant Inglis always seemed to trust me implicitly. Although we were often congratulated for physical effort and achievement, that was the first time that I felt I had built a little reputation for trustworthiness with a Royal Marines Senior Non-Commissioned Officer. Building on that trust (and keeping my rifle in good condition) was the most important theme of the rest of my career as a Royal Marine.

I no longer have a rifle to keep clean, but I believe that the importance of cherishing a reputation for speaking plainly and truthfully is as vital in civilian life as it is among Royal Marines. Without your reputation you are truly powerless and disarmed. It's worth being prepared to pay a very high price to protect your reputation for integrity.

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training.  Here is the full list.

Wednesday 31 August 2011

Leader interview - Alex Jacobs on goals, performance and listening

Alex was the founding Director of Mango, a UK charity that is the leading international provider of financial management services to NGOs. He has played a leadership role in aid work on the ground as well as in efforts to improve the accountability of aid agencies. His blog,, provides expert commentary on managing the performance of NGOs. Alex is about to take up the position of Director of Programming and Effectiveness for Plan International, the UK's largest aid agency.

1. What is the key to great leadership?

Setting ambitious but realistic goals and knowing - or working out - how to achieve them. Bringing people together behind the shared endeavour, making sure each person's contribution is valued. Living the values you want to encourage in others: commitment, compassion, customer service, listening, considered judgement and an endless desire to understand and improve.

2. What is the secret of motivating a team?

Making sure everyone believes in what you aim to achieve together and knows what is expected of them. Creating personal incentives that are aligned with overall goals. Providing people with the space to get on and do their jobs. Constantly creating opportunities for communication across the team. Celebrating good performance and dealing with poor performance.

3. What is the most important lesson you have learned?

Listen first. As a leader, resisting the temptation to start a conversation by offering advice or jumping to conclusions. Listen carefully to what people have to say and demonstrate that you value their views. Then take a decision, considering what they say but not necessarily bound by it.

4. What are the key ingredients of success in business development?

Develop great products that your clients want and set stretching strategic goals. Recruit people who share your goals and values. Nurture the team. In the charity sector, build alliances and collaboration with others working in your field, not enmity and opposition.

5. What book(s) would you like everyone to read?

The Elements of Styleby Strunk and White. It's a bible of how to write clear English.

Friday 26 August 2011

Leader interview - Phil Sampson on communication, trust and being speedy

I have asked a selection of successful leaders to share their insights on leadership and motivation.

Phil Sampson has learned leadership the hard way as an officer in the Royal Marines for 32 years. He has lead organisations on operations and has been involved in leadership development and coaching as a trainer throughout his career. Now a partner at Sampson Hall, he has delivered to conferences nationally and internationally.  He brings a wealth of leadership experience and some novel leadership perspectives to business along with the Sampson Hall Gordian Model.

1. What is the key to great leadership?

I am a firm believer in empowerment as the speed of life increases. So for me the key is listening in order to gain understanding. For if you know where you are and who you have, you can set out a credible vision for the future that wins buy in and understanding from all your team. After all it is vision that differentiates leaders from managers. Vision cannot be imposed it has to be voluntarily owned by every member of a team as they build their trust in their leader.

“Nothing energises an individual or a company more than clear goals and a grand purpose. Nothing demoralises more than confusion and a lack of content” Tony OReilly, CEO Heinz

2. What is the secret of motivating a team?

For me motivation is about ownership and when it comes to the team, group ownership of the outcome. For if people own something they take pride in it and feel responsible for the delivery of that outcome and therefore they will try their utmost to deliver above expectation. “People who produce good results feel good about themselves” Ken Blanchard said and when a leader enables that they have created an environment of continuous improvement.

“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work” Aristotle

3. What is the most important lesson you have learned?

Most problems in terms of leadership and followership come about through a lack of clear communication. When boundaries and expectations are not communicated then inevitably something falls short. Trust is key in the dynamics of leadership and if someone is perceived to have let either the leader or the follower down that trust is eroded. If it continues that way the relationship breaks down. I learned early in my career to always gain mutual understanding of expectations and boundaries when contracting an individual to perform a task.

“The biggest problem with the communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished” George Bernard Shaw.

“The best leader is the one who has the sense to surround himself with outstanding people and the self restraint not to meddle with how they do their jobs” Author unknown

4. What are the key ingredients of success in business development?

Modern business is about speed and efficiency for in this information age, if you study paradigm shifts, it is not the big that eat the small but rather the speedy that consume the plodders. The days of authoritarian leadership and tight control are passed. Modern businesses have to trust their people to deliver through empowerment. To do this they have to select, train, develop and talent manage their people and be prepared for the odd mistake. For empowerment is about investment and it is about progress and not maintaining the status quo. Progress is about pushing the boundaries to continually develop because if you don’t someone else will and who gets left behind?

“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Thomas Alva Edison

5. What book(s) would you like everyone to read?

Given the theme of empowerment I am going to say Make Your Workplace Great: The 7 Keys to an Emotionally Intelligent Organization by Steven J. Stein.