Tag: leadership management

Self-Awareness Tools and How to Avoid The ‘Brent’ Factor

David_Brent_111For many decades psychologists and business leaders have observed, practiced and preached about effective business leadership. The result is a wealth of tools and materials to help guide the development of business owners and managers. Here LEAP’s John Raftery explains how freely available online tools can help you play to your strengths, and become a genuine leader as opposed to a David Brent-style caricature.

John, what does self-awareness mean in practice?
The key components of Emotional Intelligence are self-awareness, motivation, self-efficacy, empathy and social dexterity. But in order to develop the other four key factors in emotional intelligence you must start with the foundation which is self-awareness. Without self-awareness you won’t know what issues to address, you won’t know what your strengths or weaknesses are. So the key component in success is to build a high level of self-awareness.

The trouble is that’s not easily achieved; there is no formula or quick fix for building self-awareness. It is something that is developed over time. It’s about reflecting and understanding yourself at a deeper level and that can only be achieved through maturity and growth. We all meet people who have high levels of self-awareness and we meet people with very low levels of awareness.

How do you build self-awareness?
How you build self-awareness is a challenge. One thing you can do is to spend more time reflecting on your behaviour, your day’s output and trying to understand other people. The best way to do it is to devote more time to personal development. That means along with the technical skills that people learn on the job, you’ve also got to do some soft-skills training as well.

You have to look at personal development like communication, negotiation and listening skills, personality profiling and understanding the various personality profiles. There are lots of different tools out there. ; some are free tools and can give you information relating to your personality type. You can learn a lot from them if you reflect on the results and take things on board. If you complete a number of these tests you may begin to see a certain consistency which helps you to articulate who you are more effectively.

There are lots of good books out there too. A lot of good work has been done by Martin Seligman about authenticity and identifying what the drivers are in our personalities, and trying to achieve success in life and re-prioritise what we regard as success. His book is called Authentic Happiness and he’s been a big influence. Daniel Goleman’s book on emotional intelligence is also a very powerful one in terms of trying to understand yourself.

HR Managers and Profiling Tools
A lot of HR managers use Myers-Briggs for personality profiling. What I’m saying is that self-awareness is about reflecting on your behaviour and trying to understand yourself better, and there are tools and reading materials available to help you do that.

But business leaders and managers can take it to another level. Tools like performance management systems have in-built behaviours to help you develop your capabilities as a manager or leader. Tools like the 360 degree feedback can be useful in understanding how other people view you. Sometimes there is a disconnect between how other people view you and how you see yourself.  People often view themselves one way but present themselves to the world another way, and that indicates there is a problem. It indicates a low level of self-awareness.

Is there a danger of someone reading personal development books forcing themselves to act a certain way according to what they’ve read, but the ‘act’ is at odds with their authentic self?
Yes that’s a big issue. It reminds me of the character David Brent from The Office, that’s exactly what he represents; somebody who has a very low level of self-awareness. He has an image of himself as being very smart and clever. He has obviously swallowed all the management development books but it’s come out all wrong, and that’s why we find Brent so funny. He actually does represent that type of character that believes one thing about himself, but behaves in quite the opposite way. So that is a danger of course, we’ve all met those Brent types in our working lives.

But we also meet very genuine and authentic people. There is a difficulty here in defining someone who is authentic, orto give a formulaic answer to the question of what is authentic. But when we meet genuine people we know instinctively that they are genuine people. The greatest compliment you can pay someone is to say that they are genuine. One of the biggest insults is to say someone is harmless. It means they are ineffective, they have no influence or authority as they go through life.

Genuine and Authentic Behaviour
But in relation to genuineness, another word for it is congruence, where your behaviours fully reflect how you view yourself. So if you view yourself as trustworthy then you are absolutely trustworthy. But sometimes we behave in opposite ways to how we see ourselves. To be consistent in your behaviour, regardless of what situation you’re in, is really the sign of being genuine and authentic.

When the pressure is on you don’t suddenly revert back to type. You don’t dispense with proper behaviour, you don’t decide that manners are no longer necessary because you’re in a rush. Your behaviours have to be consistent irrespective of the environment, because the environment changes all the time. To be authentic means you stick to your beliefs and that your behaviours, and your view of yourself, are totally consistent. That’s how to build trust, you do what you say you will do. Self-awareness is key to all that.

John Raftey, executive coach, LEAP, leadership

John Raftery
Executive Coach



Is Strategic Planning a luxury in today’s business conditions?

Maureen Grealish director at LEAP

Strategic Planning

Strategic Plans normally addresses the business, and its requirements for periods of between 3 and 5 years. Given the recent turbulent trading conditions, many business management teams are reluctant to engage in a detailed, time-consuming planning exercise that many see as being out of line with reality and largely an academic exercise.

A Business Plan, in the traditional format, will still be required for businesses raising finance and/or where a major strategic decision needs to be made e.g. an acquisition or the purchasing of equipment. In a business that is not engaged in such strategic decisions, business strategy should not be reduced to short-term, fire-fighting decisions that are not aligned to any overarching plan.

The alternative is a Strategic Action Plan covering periods of 12-18 months.

The importance of goal setting is well covered in a litany of business management books. The reason for this is that goal setting WORKS! We all know that we have a goal, business or personal, and if we can really get motivated by it, then we can achieve great things. Clearly defining the goal, and having a picture in our head of what things will look like when the goal is achieved, helps us through the difficult days. Just talk to anyone that focused on losing a stone in weight so that they can fit into that special outfit, and got there, and you will know what I mean.

We can do the same for our business. The key is to set a goal, make it something we REALLY want to achieve, and keep focused on it.

There are two key elements in keeping focused on the goal. The first is to share the goal with those around us – our management team, employees, and anyone else that has a part to play in achieving the goal. The second is to put Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in place to help us monitor our progression towards the goal.

It also helps if we break down the goal into its component parts i.e. objectives.

An objective is the most important part of the Strategic Action Plan. An objective is a clearly stated, measureable target of how to achieve the goal. Key Performance Indicators help us define how we are doing in achieving each objective. A business should have objectives around business elements such as

–          Operational Costs

–          Staff Turnover

–          Client Retention

–          New Sales

–          Quality

–          Service Levels

–          Communication

The difference between a ‘good’ objective and a ‘bad’ objective is in how the objective is defined i.e. an objective to ‘Contain Support Costs’ is an example of a bad objective. An objective to ‘Receive ISO certification by next March’ is an example of a good objective. The more specific the objective is, the better it is.

Once the objectives have been agreed, plans can be developed to achieve those targets. These can then be used to motivate employees and enable the business to measure their progress towards the goal. One thing is true – businesses that can clearly define, articulate, and execute their goals are well positioned to compete and succeed.

So – do you have a goal?

Maureen Grealish

Sometimes Leadership Skills Means Knowing When To Say No

Maureen Grealish director at LEAPIn the highly competitive world of business, CEO’s require a variety of leadership skills and qualities. Some are obvious and you’ve probably heard them mentioned many times before – a clear vision, the ability to develop achievable business goals, a good communicator, excellent motivator, tenacious, innovative, a risk taker. But self -awareness is probably the greatest quality that any CEO can possess.

One way that this pays off is in the decision making process. For example, if a company is in the early stages of development, the CEO and senior managers must be aware of the capacity of their workforce and their operations. They need to be conscious of the fact that with a limited number of staff they can only produce so much output at any given time.

Know Your Limitations

It’s vital therefore that every business owner, particularly in the start-up phase, understands what the limitations of their business operations are. How many units of product can they realistically produce and deliver to customers per day, per week, per month? Setting Key Performance Indicators is a crucial part of this process.

The Right Response?

But what happens when a CEO gets approached by a new client with a potentially lucrative contract that is bigger than anything they’ve taken on before? It may be tempting for an inexperienced business owner to say yes to everything in the mistaken belief that he should never pass up the opportunity to do business. But is this the right response? What if the opportunity is simply beyond the scope of the business owner and he fails to deliver the contracted amount of product on time? How damaging can that be?

The answer will vary from company to company and the type of business you’re in. Some companies may fail to deliver on a contract and still survive. This may occur simply because the failure to deliver was not publicised widely across media channels. Others may not be so lucky and find themselves featuring in newspaper and internet articles for all the wrong reasons. CEO’s who fail to deliver may find the damage is irreparable and struggle to regain the trust of clients.

The most recent case of this was the failure of the G4S boss Nick Buckles to deliver the necessary security personnel for London 2012 Olympics. By his own admission at the subsequent inquiry in London, he simply couldn’t deliver because he had bitten off more than he could chew; a mistake that could cost G4S between £30 – £50 million pounds.

Maureen Grealish

“As a business advisor with LEAP I have worked with CEO’s in the small to medium sized sector for many years. I understand the temptation to accept all contracts but I also understand that CEO’s need to know when to say no. It is always tempting to accept the offer of work at any stage of business but particularly as a start-up, but if the contract is beyond the capacity, and more important the capability of the business, then they should say no.”

Sometimes Leadership Means Knowing When To Say No: Saying No As Part Of Your Brand Management

“It is true that a business needs to stretch itself and always try to achieve more than may seem possible, but it is important to focus on the type of business that brings out the best in your business, and your people. Saying yes, will normally be for cash-flow reasons, but you need to decide if the contract fits with your business, its strengths and with your future plans. The benefits of saying no are that you can focus your time and limited resources on building your business in line with its strengths and longer term goals. Another benefit is that you are more likely to meet and exceed customer’s expectations which is important at any stage of business, but especially when you are trying to build a reputation as a new business.”


Succession Planning Within a Family Business

”They f**k you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were f**ked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.”

Philip Larkin

Family Business

The dynamics of family life is complicated enough but when you add the complexities of business to the mix then you have the potential for a really explosive situation. When your work colleagues are also your brothers and sisters, or your boss is your father or mother then the appeal of a family holiday isn’t quite so attractive. One of the most amazing facts of life in Ireland is that over of all businesses are family owned and account for 50 of employment in the economy . Despite these numbers there is little attention paid to this sector by the political classes, policymakers and state agencies. In fairness, this may be as a result of the fact that this is an extremely complex area and it is difficult to know where to start.

The most startling statistic of all is the high failure rate of family businesses. Only one in three family businesses survive the first generation. In turn, one in two of the businesses survive the handover to the grandchildren. So how can we lessen this rate of failure? One of the problems is that many families turn to accountants and tax advisors for direction in how to best hand over the assets to the next generation. It is understandable that the advice they get is focused on the numbers and there is a natural reluctance to stay clear of the tricky stuff. By “tricky stuff” I mean the relationships between some of the family members may be fraught. In some cases the parents maybe separated, sisters don’t get on, brothers aren’t talking and inevitably there is a black sheep in every family.

Business Assets

Problems become worse when there are grandchildren. The business may not be substantial enough to support the growing needs of the family. The assets of the business might be more valuable than the business itself so that some family members might want to sell out. Every family has differing tensions that can spill out into the wider family and sometimes succeeding generations. So what can you do?

From my experience of working with family businesses there are four reasons why the business fails. Firstly, the business is not viable. In this case there is little that can be done and the inevitable takes its course. Secondly there may be reluctance for the founder to hand over the business to the siblings. This is understandable in that the skills required to start up and build a successful business are completely different from the ability to stand back, plan and develop the next management team to take over the leadership role. Business founders are not known for their ability to delegate.

Different Generation With Different Needs

The third reason for failure is that the children of the founder may have no interest in continuing the business. In some cases, when the children are old enough they can’t wait to get away from hard graft that they may have had to put in after school or during the summer holidays. Or very often the children’s education is paid for from the business and the next generation are qualified in an entirely different field, therefore may not only lack the interest but they may also not have the necessary skills to run the business.

Planning Failure

But the primary reason for failure is common to all businesses….the failure to plan. The difference here is that the family business requires a different type of plan than a standard business plan. LEAP is a company dedicated to developing leadership in Irish businesses. During my time with LEAP I have gained a lot of experience in working with family businesses. I take a holistic approach that combines the needs of the family with the needs of the business.  Through its work with business owners, LEAP identified that there are particular problems in dealing with family businesses and as a result has developed a specific programme for this sector.

The approach covers four main areas:

1. Good Fences Makes for Good Neighbours
This is essentially a strategic plan that has a short-term and long-term requirement. In the short-term we need to establish Key Performance Indicators for the business. There must be clear divisions between the various strands of the business and individual accountability. There must be a well-defined organisational structure and roles and responsibilities assigned so that each individual’s contribution can be measured. This element of the programme can go a long way to reducing the tensions between family members and helps to clarify who is really contributing to the success of the business. Once this portion of work is completed it will help to lay the foundation for the long-term plan for the organisation. It is only then that we can address restructuring, leadership and ownership issues.

2. Family Planning
Now that your family is maturing you begin to realise that “family planning” is more than contraception. A plan is needed to maintain a healthy and successful family unit. For example it may include each individual developing their own personal plan that meets their own wishes while at the same time dovetailing their plan with the overall family business plan. It may also cover the entry and exit policies of the family members working in the business.

3. The Crown Jewels
The transfer of wealth and property can be a cause of major stress for family members. A plan that covers the legal and tax implications of the restructuring of the business will need to be developed. How to determine the most effective transfer of the ownership the business, the division of the proceeds of the sale of the properties etc. will require sound professional advice.

4. Succession Planning
There are lots of examples in history of family dynasties succeeding through the generations. There are some very bad examples also. The difficult subject of succession planning must be addressed in an open and frank way. Very often the only way this can be achieved is by having an outside person facilitate the process. Someone who is fair-minded and has no vested interest in the succession plan is the best option. I believe that the underlining danger to both the business and the family can be avoided by taking a methodical and structured approach in developing the above plans. If the problems are addressed in a professional manner, and a structured facilitated approach is adopted, then there is great potential for positive outcomes for all concerned.

Families, or more importantly, family businesses don’t have to f**k you up! The message is, don’t leave things to chance, get some professional help and plan your way through this potential mine field!

John Raftery
Senior Partner, LEAP