Why CEOs and directors, unlike Mrs May, should actively encourage dissent on their operating boards

Mrs May continues to present students of leadership with excellent material on the dos and don’ts of modern leadership.  Her speech this week announcing the General Election was another great contribution to that canon.

The strongest part of her speech, and one that CEOs would do well to emulate, was her absolute clarity of purpose. This is no “Theresa Maybe” as The Economist described her at the start of her premiership. Love her or loathe her, you can be in no doubt that she wants as hard a Brexit as she can negotiate. That’s her purpose. No maybe about it.

CEOs who don’t convey this level of clarity on their own purpose go on to struggle to articulate a credible strategy and as a result their implementation plans are weak and risk-rich from the outset.

But then Mrs May needlessly threw away this early advantage.  Had she been a client of mine, I would have insisted she maintain that level of clarity in all aspects of her speech because it pains me to see leaders score avoidable own goals and she scored a veritable hat-trick, all of which CEOs can learn from.

Her first own goal was when she said that the reason for calling an election was because “…there should be unity in Westminster, but instead there is division.” It is bad enough that this was a huge lie  – everyone knows she called it for party political reasons – but it was the underlying disregard for opposing views, so well known to directors who have to work for bullying CEOs, that will have done her damage.

Rafael Behr put it well in The Guardian: “The democratic process is being requisitioned not to air competing opinions but to dispense with them.”

She could easily have just stuck to the line that she wanted a stronger negotiating hand via a stronger majority. No one would have blamed her for that. But like many CEOs with low EQ she confuses dissent with an attack on her identity and so she attacked her dissenters, who are elected and one could argue, paid to dissent, just as NEDs are on  main boards or divisional directors and function heads are on operating boards.

Her identity, like many CEOs, is tied up with being right. Any questioning of that is forbidden because to question is to undermine and that casts you, in that most damning of all verdicts, as “not a team player”.

In my corporate career I experienced and witnessed brutal treatment of dissent on many boards and executive committees. On one ExCom I was warned on arrival that new people were easy to spot because they were the ones smiling. No one, I was told, smiled again after receiving their first humiliating and public slap down. So I didn’t smile. I still got slapped.

The reason this behaviour doesn’t benefit Mrs May or CEOs is that they, ultimately, are the losers. Mrs May lost many floating voters who share Rafael Behr’s views. In addition she lost her moral authority with Tory MPs who agree with Rafael Behr but are afraid to speak out. Later when she needs their support when things get rocky for her, as they surely will, she won’t have it.

CEOs lose badly with this behaviour because it negatively impacts the ROI on their wage bill, especially to directors who are usually highly paid.  This ROI is already affected by the standard behaviour of any employee – director or not – to leave, daily, a significant part of themselves and therefore their value at Reception because they feel it’s unsafe to bring it in.

No amount of HR sponsored “bring your whole self to work” campaigns will change this unless the “invitation” from the CEO is there to do so. But in situations where slaps are administered for daring to be yourself, CEOs and HR Directors should be under no illusion that their ROI plummets drastically and they won’t even know what they’re missing. This is one of those own goals that’s barely visible, because it happens so fast.

The well documented behaviour of advisers in The Oval Office during the Bay of Pigs fiasco is a good example of the dangers of not encouraging dissent. The problem was that no one spoke up because the agenda was controlled. Therefore there was no room for dissent. This contributed to what was an historic disaster for American foreign policy in the 20th century.

I believe CEOs should open every operating board meeting with the same announcement each time: “I need to hear people disagree with me and with each other, constructively. If you don’t you’re not doing your job and if you’re not doing your job you’re of no use to the business.”

If Mrs May had announced an election saying she wanted a stronger mandate and that she welcomed a stronger challenge within and without her party at this difficult time, then that would be a sign of courageous leadership and she, and we, might get not just what we want but need.  But to complete her hat trick Mrs May missed that too and she and we will suffer, needlessly as a result.

 

 

 

3 Steps To Better Negotiating

First published by The Law Society April 2017: http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/news/blog/3-steps-to-better-negotiating/

All solicitors are negotiators. But not all solicitors are good negotiators in all situations. One general counsel told me that many solicitors in his team struggle to see the bigger picture in negotiations, are too narrowly focused, and consequently lose the plot.

Good negotiation is about securing a win-win outcome, not win-lose. This necessarily involves compromise and, above all, an ability to sell. Many solicitors achieve much less than they could because they hate the process of selling. They fear rejection, are uncomfortable asking for anything, and don’t know how to sell well.Good selling technique is essentially about needs analysis. This can be broken down into 3 steps.

Find out how the other side feels

The other side’s needs may not be logical or rational, but they are always driven by feelings.

Ask lots of open, ‘biased’ questions – Who? What? When? Where? How? Listen to the nuances of the feelings expressed in the answers. You must listen carefully, not just to catch someone out, but to understand them.

You can check that you have ‘bottomed out’ their needs by using two simple techniques. First, briefly summarise back to them your understanding of their needs. If you get it right, watch for a physical response – often a nod. This, as the psychologists tell us, is the involuntary sign people give when they feel heard.

The second technique, which I have used in negotiations and found works every time, is when you feel you’ve asked the last question, ask one more. This stretch will usually bring to the surface a deeper truth.

Demonstrate how your proposal will meet their needs

This step is short, because it’s straightforward, albeit difficult: demonstrate, rather than assert, how your proposal will meet their specific needs, as well as your own.

Close the gap between their needs and your proposal

Start by asking: ‘If 10 is having a deal, and 0 is not having one, where are we now?’. Unless things have gone horribly wrong, the typical answer is ‘7’. Next, ask: ‘What has to happen for us all to turn the 7 into a 10?’. And then, say nothing. This silence is crucial. No matter how uncomfortable the silence becomes, don’t break it except to repeat the question. They will fill the silence.

When you are clear on the points which make up the gap, address each point carefully in turn. There are various techniques you can use to close the gap, but the most important is to remind the other side about the shared purpose of the negotiation. This purpose can get lost in the heat of the negotiation. Unless there is a shared purpose, there isn’t a negotiation. It’s an imposition.

(Small) change your behaviour

Confront which part of the selling process you hate most, and why. Once you have isolated your fear and its origin, the final step is to become comfortable observing your process or, to use the current jargon, to be mindful. Mindfulness is about separating yourself from your thinking, as in: ‘There I go again not asking for what I want, just demanding it’, but in a manner which is not self-destructive.

Then you can to start making small changes in your behaviour – say, changing 1 interaction in every 10. That’s a small change, but it’s worthwhile, because it creates a virtuous cycle: the more you change yourself, the more success you will have in your negotiations.

Arsene Wenger’s leadership: a neutral perspective

I know very little about football, less about football management. But I’m surrounded by football fanatics, and I get regular invitations to games by business colleagues which I enjoy greatly. I hear a great deal of stuff about football from them, and it’s hard to avoid it on social media.

Arsenal and Arsene Wenger figure hugely in their discourse. Incidentally, am I the only one who marvels at the similarity in his name and that of the club?. “He’s lost the dressing-room” one of my contacts declared, rather pompously I thought. I ask him what that means. He gives me a withering look. “The team don’t see him as a leader no more”.

This usually erudite person lapses into faux Estuary English. Is this patois a prerequisite for football street cred I wonder. I avoided asking him why he didn’t say that in the first place but instead asked him what had Mr Wenger done wrong? “Done wrong! Done wrong!” he roars as if I’d expressed sympathy for an axe murderer in the dock. “He’s not won; that’s what he’s not done” he almost added “mate” but stopped short, suffused with emotion.

He shook his head and added somberly: “Tis time, t’is time to go”. He was trying to sound “more in sorrow than in anger”, but he just sounded angry.

Is it that he has not invested enough money in better players I ask, now feeling in more familiar business territory. “Well, Arsenal’s not as rich as some of the other clubs, that’s for sure”.

You mean the ones that win? “Well being a great football manager is not just about throwing money around” in a tone which suggested that he felt I couldn’t possibly comprehend what it took to be a great football manager. All he knew was that Wenger was not one, “no more.”

I saw a chink of hope here: if he’s lost it that must mean he once had it so, forgive me, but I can imagine how a footballer might lose greatness because it’s in the body as much the mind but how does a great football leader lose greatness? I was going to add that I could understand how any leader might get a bit stale after 20 plus years and could easily freshen up by doing my Small Change Leadership Programme. But I thought better of it. Instead I told him, hoping to impress and by way of academic support, that I had read Alex Ferguson’s first book.

A look of pure contempt mixed with irritation crossed his face, and he just said: “It’s not that simple”. But a bit weakly, I thought. Feeling I had him on the back foot, I pressed my advantage and asked if it wasn’t just like that bloke at Leicester City? “Claudio Ranieri” he mutters, disgusted that I couldn’t remember his name. “Proper order too, Claudio had to go just as Wenger will have to go. It’s the way it is. The fans want wins and if the manager isn’t delivering them – well, on yer bike”.

But I said isn’t there a place for doing the best you can, given your resources and that winning isn’t everything? “Au contraire mon Vieux” he replied suddenly and weirdly switching languages and tone, from angry to patronising, “eet eez aaaall about weeening”.

But didn’t I see somewhere that Wenger encourages young players to make mistakes just like a good CEO would and he actually says: “winning isn’t everything”. And I added, having looked it up, Arsenal is always in the top four and other teams have not done well after leadership changes. I finished off with: that background puts the minor issue of the thirteen fallow years and the inconvenient truth about the Champions League into perspective, doesn’t it? I felt well pleased with my punditry.

“I give up’, he said in disgust. “You know nothing”, almost saying “nuffink”. He’s probably right, but I hope Mr Wenger stays to the end of his contract because he sounds like a good CEO who cares, knows how to develop people and delivers reasonably good results, consistently. What’s not to like?

[Note: every attempt has been made to hide the identity of the other party using liberal poetic licence and some suppleness with the accuracy of the quotes]

What CEOs and Operating Boards can learn from Mrs May’s #leadership in executing #Article50

In management speak, Mrs May has “executed on her deliverables”. Were she a CEO she would be claiming her bonus or at least the part payable on delivering the Article 50 milestone.

Although she is not a CEO and government is not a business, she is nevertheless a leader and shares that role with all CEOs and members of their Main Boards, Operating Boards and Executive Committees. For that reason her behaviour and that of her team in these historic times is akin to a live daily seminar on the dos and don’ts of leadership under intense pressure. There’s much to learn.

Mrs May has, in terms of my leadership model at least, intangible assets and liabilities. Her assets, according to observers, include an ability to focus, analyse and keep her word. The same observers note her liabilities as a tendency to make decisions on her own, her “Pinteresque” silences and not always building close relationships. Whatever the truth of these observations her role and any leader’s role is to understand what the people they lead need to thrive.

Leavers think she knows what they need and that she’s delivering it. Hence her polling numbers are still holding up. But there’s a danger that she’s delivering what they and her back benchers want, not what they need. Leaders must deliver what’s needed not what’s wanted. That’s why leading is lonely.  Leavers say they want “control back” but their need is to feel in control. There’s a difference. Mrs May is about to deliver the former because, almost certainly, there will be a hard Brexit. But they still won’t feel in control because total sovereignty in a globalised economy is a mirage. The control regained will be lost again in the essential compromises of international trade.

But the problem she faces is one shared by many CEOs which is that getting people to sign up to a shared long-term purpose which informs short-term strategy requires patient influencing skills and gentle persuasion over time – winning hearts and minds. This would involve a clear statement of shared British purpose over the next five to ten years. But no such purpose which addresses the needs of the vast majority of the people – not just the 37% of the population who voted Leave – has been articulated, nor will it. I have sympathy for her in this. It’s a big ask. But it can’t be ducked.

The lesson for CEOs and other leaders on boards from this scenario is that you must articulate a purpose which connects with the majority of your workforce. It’s surprising how many members of the boards I work with cannot articulate a shared purpose and strategy besides making money, which is neither. Making money is not a purpose, it’s an outcome. “Taking back control” is a slogan, not a strategy.

If you want to avoid the possible pitfalls that face Mrs May if she does not find a way of bringing people together – not just talking about it – and changing some of the behaviour of some members of her “operating board”, you might start at your next operating board meeting by going around the table and asking each member to articulate their understanding of the purpose and strategy of the business. Then ask them their personal purpose and strategy and how these are all interdependent. It should prove a useful exercise.

The question remains whether or not Mrs May will pick up the second part of her imaginary bonus in two years time. She still could. All she needs to do is to access her undoubted hidden asset, and one which most emotionally intelligent CEOS share but struggle to exploit, an ability to trust others more.