CEOs and boards: how tension between directors can be put to good use to improve performance

Frustration in the boardroom

I constantly hear stories of tension between board members causing exhaustion, frustration and even depression. The bullied feel humiliated, the eager unheard and the anxious unsupported. Slights, real and imagined, are harboured; baseless assumptions inform action, or worse, inaction. Unconscious behaviour abounds.

My clients tell me that the most significant barrier to working productively together are “personality issues”. They feel hopeless that the conflicts, which frequently simmer under the surface, can’t be fixed.

Unacknowledged personality issues hurt the bottom line

Some directors I meet are blissfully unaware of these issues; others are not but shy away from these problems because they don’t know how to deal with them.

But the costs and opportunity costs to the business of not confronting behavioural issues are incalculable. I would be a very rich man if I had a pound every time a director said to me “If only we would do x, we could save y cost or avoid y risk or generate z revenue”. Why don’t you?, I ask. “He/she/they won’t wear it,” they assume. Delete as appropriate.

Behavioural issues are notoriously difficult to address. So, we avoid them. But what if there was a way to address them, incrementally, safely and with a high chance of success?

Least Likely To Say

Your business could outperform its targets, get more done and with happier employees if every director, without exception, improved their worst behaviour. Let’s call it their DWB – Director’s Worst Behaviour. No one I’ve worked with fails to understand what this means and what impact it has.

By worst, I mean that outstanding behavioural weakness that we all have and that drives everyone else on the board mad because it adversely affects them but which we struggle to acknowledge, let alone change.

I find that a good way to get an accurate list of the individual DWBs on a board is to facilitate an exercise, at a plenary session of the board, called “Least Likely To Say” preceded by a series of 1-1 sessions with each director to build trust.

In this exercise, each director tells each colleague what they are least likely to say. For example, the micro-manager is least like to say “Just get on with it, no need to check in with me”; the person who talks over people: “What do you think?”; and the solo player “How can I help?” And so on.

This exercise rarely fails to generate the embarrassed laughter of recognition which we are more familiar with in the company of true friends, who rarely let us get away with anything. In my experience, the degree of consensus on the DWB list surprises no one. If done with a light touch and kindly, the impact can be pleasantly cathartic.

Moreover, by avoiding the shaming language often used in board rooms directors can encourage colleagues to confront tricky behavioural issues which they otherwise would bury.

People don’t change, do they?

“This is all pie in the sky”, I hear you say. “Leopards don’t change spots. It’s dog eat dog in the boardroom. People just don’t change. This stuff won’t work on our board.”

Agreed, if you use traditional change processes. That’s because either they don’t work or if they do, they don’t last because, under pressure, everyone tends to revert to type.

But people can and do change behaviour if incentivised to do so. And what better incentive than knowing that if you change your behaviour, every other board member will do so too? It’s simple. It works. I’ve witnessed it.

Small Change

In my Small Change Programme, I focus on helping each director to acknowledge to their board colleagues their worst behaviour – i.e., their DWB. Then I support each to agree and implement, over a period of six to nine months, an unwritten behaviour contract undertaking to change just ten interactions in every hundred about that behaviour. That’s just 10% change, hence small change. But even small change is hard to do, and so my programme is designed to help CEOs and boards do it.

For example, one micro-manager I worked with undertook to micro-manage ten times less out of every hundred interactions.

The micro-manager, who proceeded to change his behaviour as agreed, courageously acknowledged that never being allowed to fail in his early years was probably the cause of his behaviour, and was pleasantly surprised at how more motivated his team was, how much more time he had and what new things he could do with the time released from his micro-managing. No wonder he did, given how much time he had wasted micro-managing.

Free Offer

I’m offering a free one-hour telephone or video workshop on my Small Change Toolkit to help you start the process yourself. The toolkit is a set of concepts and models which you can take away from the one hour workshop and use with your colleagues. I offer this as an incentive for you to engage in a conversation with me with a view to persuading your board to sign up for my Small Change Programme, but if you don’t, that‘s fine too, you still get your free workshop.

If you would like to arrange a free one-hour telephone or video Skype workshop with me, please email me on cfenton@ciaranfenton.com or call me on 07966168874. You can read more about me and my model on http://www.ciaranfenton.com

Three reasons why directors of UK businesses should change their leadership behaviour on the day Article 50 is triggered

CEO

On the day Article 50 is triggered, most likely 31st. March 2017, the context in which you lead if you are a director – CEO, COO, CFO, CIO, CMO, CRO, or NED – of a business trading in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, will change significantly and, probably, irrevocably.

You will not have experienced this context before. Nor will anyone else. At least this creates a level playing field. But on April Fool’s Day, only fools will deny that, as well as opportunities for some, the risks for all will be significant.

Competitive advantage will be with those who confront the leadership behavioural changes required and rise to the challenge. These need to be tried and tested before the 24-month negotiation period elapses not least because I believe a deal, acceptable to all, will not be in place at the end of the two-year negotiation period.

Why would any, or all, of the other 27 members of the EU not wait at least two years and one day to leverage maximum negotiating position?

For this reason prepare to witness, as Janan Ganesh recently wrote in the FT, Mrs May losing some of her “present swagger” as time progresses. In his view, and I agree with him, she has not managed our expectations well. Business leaders would do well not to replicate her error.

The Prime Minister has led us to believe, because she genuinely believes it herself, that we will thrive outside the EU and in the period running up to leaving it. If she’s wrong then your business, at worst, will die and at best will suffer, not least from enforced macro-economic change.

She has not prepared us for these possibilities. That’s why you should start reframing your leadership style now, for the times they are a-changing.

The first behavioural change I propose is that you should carefully manage, more than usual, the expectations of the people you lead.

It’s going to be a very rough ride, and you should spell out as starkly as possible the implications of the 24 month negotiating period and, separately, of Brexit itself on their lives and on your business, or the part of it, which you lead and in which they operate.

A lazy shorthand has entered everyday speech which conflates in the single word Brexit three related but distinct milestones: the outcome of the Referendum, the triggering of Article 50 and the day on which the UK leaves the EU with or without a deal.

Brexit means only the third of these scenarios. It’s not going to happen for another two years. Brexit, for the avoidance of doubt, has not already happened.

But the implications of the outcome of the Referendum on business have manifested themselves. Some have been positive and none, thankfully, as dire as the predictions.

But the negative impact so far has been very significant for many businesses and best summarised by the fall in the value of sterling which process, many people regard, as the only real oppositional force to Mrs May in the absence of a coherent Labour Party parliamentary strategy.

The fall in the pound is, as Mr Blair said in his fight-back speech, the market’s way of telling us we will be poorer after Brexit. Love him or loathe him as a leader, he is not wrong in calling out the fact that the media largely failed to cover a recent Ipsos Mori survey of senior executives, which found that 58 per cent felt last year’s referendum result was already having a negative effect on their business.

That sterling’s fall has been good for some businesses is no consolation to those for whom it’s a disaster. Even Mr Johnson’s infamous bus didn’t carry the additional strapline “ Vote Leave for a lower pound…”

This negative impact will significantly worsen from the day that Article 50 is triggered. Those who cry “Let’s just get on with it”, as if we are merely painting the spare room when in fact we are selling the house and leaving the neighbourhood, will find that “getting on with it” is not as easy as it sounds.

Your leadership task, therefore, is to create an environment in which the people you lead can thrive at a time of systemic stress, exacerbated by developments in The White House and the rise of the far right elsewhere.

The best way to do this is to allow time for people to talk openly at meetings about these issues. Why not put a “General discussion on Brexit and World Affairs”” on the agenda of your next board or team meeting?

Allow people to share and let off steam on these issues, irrespective of their voting preferences. They will thank you for it and will repay you with higher levels of performance than otherwise.

If you’re worried that turning your meetings into political debates is a recipe for hot-tempered anarchy, consider for a moment the danger of not doing so.

Your board and teams will comprise a mix of Remainers and Leavers – both unhappy and insecure for different reasons. We live now in a divided society. Therefore your business is riven with division, more than usual. This constitutes a business risk; not one you want to push underground. Some consultants are now offering advice on how to manage this development.

My second leadership change behaviour proposal is that you should have no truck whatsoever with people “having to do more with less because of Brexit.” This approach is the last refuge of the desperate. Understandable but doomed to failure from the get-go.

There are three flaws in a “do more for less” campaign. First, it creates both and anxiety and frustration which is bad for morale and therefore performance; second, it’s meaningless because it’s imprecise – how much more? how much less?; and third, it implies that previously Finance, IT, HR, Marketing, Sales, Operations and Legal were all, merrily, doing less for more.

The right answer is to tear up your current business plan altogether and rewrite it. This is what a rookie MBA graduate might do. I know this because of the work I do with LBS.

I have been a mentor for the past ten years on The London Business School Summer Entrepreneurship Programme. They use Professor John Mullins’ book “A New Business Road Map” as their core text. I especially recommend it for the Brexit context because it has a pre-business plan template, which flushes out all contextual issues, especially macro ones. You can’t get more macro than Brexit, except perhaps a world war. I wouldn’t rule that out either.

My third proposal is related to the second, and it’s to do with the importance of reframing personal and business purpose in the light of Brexit. To what extent has your personal career and life purpose changed in the light of Brexit? Have you given it any thought? Are you putting security and risk management for you and your family higher up your list of priorities?

Since your personal purpose and that of each of your fellow directors are interdependent with the purpose of your business, should you not discuss these openly and reframe your business purpose accordingly and in the light of your revised risk appetite?

Your job as a leader is to create an environment in which people thrive, grow your business and keep stakeholders happy. Many of these stakeholders will be employees who won’t be as rich as you are. They won’t have the luxury of adjusting their risk appetites as you do. So they will be stressed. More than you will. You should take care of them. It makes sense. Not just ethical sense, but business sense also.

This blog will be published offline in the next issue of Digital Business Magazine.

Ciaran Fenton

February 2017

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Want to talk leadership? Contact me through my website or call me on +44 (0) 207 754 0335

“Narcissistic tyrants have long dominated the corporate world”: Why @NickCohen4 piece in The Observer (5 Jan) is a must read for #CEOs

CEO

Nick Cohen’s piece in The Observer (Jan 5) was mainly about Mr Trump but, to my mind, was also one of the best general essays on leadership I have read.

A flavour of the piece: “No one in the West has seen Trump’s kind of triumph…But look around your workplace…little Hitlers…They exhibit all the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder…less likely to engage in the hard work of innovating…”

The core of his premise is that “compulsive liars can create compulsive believers”. Their peers “believe the stories,” these leaders tell about themselves.

This is all true but I part company with Nick Cohen in one respect: I believe narcissism is on a spectrum and is not a fixed point.

“People are on a continuum — there’s a range of narcissism,” W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D., head of the Department of Psychology at the University of Georgia and co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, explains in a HuffPost piece. “Most people are sort of in the middle, though some are more extreme than others.”

In my programmes, I won’t deal with those on the extreme. I can’t fix them. But Boards whose membership includes those around the middle can respond well to exhortations to make small changes in their behaviour.

One of their key traits is that they make everything personal. “If you do something to [the narcissist] that he doesn’t like, it means you’re against him, or you don’t understand him” explains Zlatan Krizan, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Iowa State University in the same HuffPost article.

My advice to board members who are struggling to deal with someone behaving like this is to refer every issue back to organisational purpose.

Instead of falling into the trap of constantly flattering them and feeding their narcissism it’s best to appeal to their sense of shared purpose if they have one. If they haven’t then you have a case to oust them, if you can muster the support to do so. Usually commercial self-interest will force directors to come together to face down a tyrant.

But it doesn’t have to get to that stage, and I propose you use three steps in arguing your case:

Step 1: Frame your challenge to the leader regarding wider purpose: “Do you still agree that our organisational purpose is x and our strategy for achieving it is y? They will struggle to push back on this without looking stupid and are likely to agree.

Step 2: “If our strategy is y then do you agree that our behaviour, in broad terms, to implement it should be z?” If you keep your description of the desired behaviour unthreatening in tone, they are likely to agree, and if they don’t, then you can legitimately challenge their logic.

Step 3: This is the tricky step: “Since you agree to purpose X, strategy Y and behaviour z can you see why those of us, including you, who behave contrary to that agreed target operating model need to amend that behaviour?
I agree that this is like walking on eggshells but many clients I meet spend many exasperating hours doing precisely that.

It’s no way to live. Nick Cohen believes that the solution to dealing with narcissistic people is to work hard on converting the people who support them. Once they are starved of that attention only the seriously ill will resist. And in that instance, you have a choice to quit and find someone less damaged with whom you can work and find fulfilment. Life is too short not to.

Ciaran Fenton

February 2017

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For more information on my behavioural change programmes see my website , call me on +44 (0) 207 754 0335 or fill in the form below and I will be in touch shortly.

David Beckham’s gentle Desert Island Discs interview was chilling in one respect and one that CEOs and boards might note…

Hit the cross bar

Last weekend David Beckham was the special guest on the 75th edition of Desert Island Discs, a popular BBC radio programme in which guests pretend that they are being cast off on a desert island and choose their all time top favourite piece of music and book for company. This format lends itself to revealing moments.

There was one such moment, chilling in my view when he was talking about his father who he described as “a bit of a taskmaster”.

From an early age, David would practise football in a local park with his father and a goal with no net. “Hit the cross bar, hit the cross bar,” his father would say “for hours and hours”.

David played for a local youth team on Sunday mornings, and his dad would pick apart “every single detail” of his game afterwards. He was only seven years old. On one of these occasions, he recalled blurting out “I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean it”.

Chilling

The chilling moment, for me, was when he said that the first time his dad told him he’d done really well was when he got his 100th cap for England. “It made me emotional.”

I bet it did. One hundred caps it took, rendering taskmaster a very generous epithet indeed. David Beckham didn’t criticise his father. In fact, he defended him using the classic “tough love” defence.

He did this using the same, consistent and gentle tone of voice he used throughout the interview except once, when referring to his father’s approach to child-rearing he said: “if [children] can do better…they need to know”. His voice cracked on the word need, betraying less belief in his father’s methods than perhaps he let on.

It was the first hint of acknowledgement that there might be a mid-point between being brutal on a child in the service of a greater need and acceptance of impact of that brutality. I use word brutal deliberately. Let’s give bad things bad names.

You may well argue that the end justifies the means and you may be right. David Beckham has done very well indeed, by any standards. And he credits his father in particular with building in him “this work ethic”. So what’s not to like and what is the connection to CEOs and Boards?

The issue here isn’t about passing judgement on David Beckham’s father. Armchair psychologists may wonder about the connection between his father’s “failure” to succeed in professional football himself. They may make a connection between this and his obsession with David’s success.

If David feels this is true, he certainly doesn’t betray it. In fact, he said on the radio programme that he believes his father “gave it all up for me”. No greater love…

But who’s to know what his father’s motives were? And why wouldn’t we take him at his word? It doesn’t matter. What matters is what we can learn from him.

Leadership lessons

As students of leadership, the only reliable lessons we can take from this story is that success comes at a cost, decisions taken in formative years impact later years and it’s probably best not to take exceptional examples as role models.

Even David Beckham went further than hints in the interview as to the personal emotional cost, even if reluctantly: “At times it is upsetting for any child…to be pulled up…I’m a lot softer [with my children] than my dad was with me.” I found these understatements quite moving. My guess is, and it’s only a guess, that he suffered much more than he concedes. I’ve always held the view that tough love is an oxymoron.

But it’s the connection between decision making in formative years and later behaviour that CEOs and boards might find useful in their assessment of their success and their leadership of others.

While not on the same scale, many CEOs and board members that I have worked with over the years share David Beckham’s core storyline: utterly driven to march to, or against, the drumbeat of their formative years.

I advise CEOs and board members how to confront early decisions, assess the extent to which they are still marching to that old drumbeat and then to decide whether they want to fashion not just a new beat, but a new drum and sticks – the whole drumkit. Then they can create an environment in which the people they lead can do the same.

One CEO acknowledged that because he was never allowed to fail as a child, he trusted no one, and that was why he had a reputation as a micro-manager. One of his directors acknowledged that he never took responsibility for mistakes probably because he too suffered from the silent killer of peace of mind: shame.

Guilt means I did something wrong; shame means I am bad. The latter is a pestilence, which stalks our boardrooms. Shaming language at board meetings is ubiquitous and is the enemy of business growth. How can people be what they can be if they are made to feel ashamed?

The CEO I mentioned committed to my small change programme and agreed to reduce his micro-managing behaviour by 10% – that’s just a reduction of ten interactions in very hundred. That’s small change, but it’s very hard to do, and it requires a stretch. This CEO was so competitive that, true to type, he reported that not only had he micromanaged ten times less but that he had “doubled that to 20% less!”.

And I believed him because he said that his team were happier – no kidding; and he said had more time – surprise, surprise. I asked him what was he going to do with all this recovered time previously spent micro-managing? He didn’t answer, but my guess is that now that he could trust more, he could risk more, and business growth is all about managing risk.

The great names in sport, music and film achieve greatness because of specific drivers and behaviour. We can learn from these. But we shouldn’t forget that their greatness is exceptional and their behaviour not necessarily the best model for ours.

That said, I wonder if David Beckham’s interest in and his dogged creation of his own fashion brand was his way of taking back control of his life. If so he deserves to be called a great model in more ways than one.

Ciaran Fenton

February 2017

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Want to talk leadership? Contact me through my website or call me on +44 (0) 207 754 0335

Three reasons why #Boards should consider an informal behaviour review alongside their Board Effectiveness Review #governance

boardmeeting

Board Effectiveness Reviews are now commonplace. Their outputs are included in annual and other board reports.

But are they designed to assess underlying behaviour – good and bad? Will they flush out a tyrannical board member or a culture in which it’s difficult if not impossible to “call out” unacceptable behaviour? I doubt it.

There are three reasons why #Boards should consider an informal behaviour review alongside or after their standard effectiveness review.

First, a behaviour review will deliver a higher return on the investment in the Effectiveness Review process because it will address underlying behavioural cause, not just symptoms. Even a small change in behaviour is likely to lead to better commercial and sustainability outcomes.

Second, on a divided board – which is more common than often acknowledged – the effectiveness review is a good excuse to sort out damaging board conflict without further fuelling discord.

Third, behaviour reviews are not just about dealing with the bad behaviour but replicating the good. Since effective reviews are strongest in their highlighting of er, effectiveness, then a process which captures, replicates and enhances that behaviour must be good for the business.

Many boards carry out formal Effectiveness Reviews because they feel they must. A bit like CSR. Of course many do so for the right reasons but they are likely to be the least in need of remedial action.

So, hard-as-nails CEOs are unlikely to welcome any scrutiny of their behaviour which might suggest that they should change it. Unless of course – psychopath CEOs aside – they might welcome an excuse to do so, especially if they can see a link between their behavioural change and improved commercial and personal outcomes.

In my experience even those CEOs and NEDs who exhibit low EQ often secretly harbour a desire to improve it but don’t know how.

The process for an informal board behaviour review – note lower case and the importance of informality – is straightforward:

Step 1: one to one interviews by an external party with each board member. They would be invited to comment on the best and worst behaviour of each of their colleagues using real examples.

Step 2: a facilitated plenary session or sessions addressing organisational purpose, strategy and behaviour and how it fits, or not, with the personal purpose, strategy and behaviour of each of the members of the board.

Step 3: the facilitation, mediation and supported implementation of behavioural change agreements between board members as well as, gently, legislating for their breach.

For some readers the likelihood of their CEO agreeing to such a process might seem laughably remote. In which case the weakness of their formal Board Effectiveness Review is already exposed.

Ciaran Fenton

January 2017

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Want to talk leadership? Contact me through my website or call me on +44 (0) 207 754 0335

#CEOs, #CXOs and #NEDs: consider three New Year #smallchange resolutions, especially as the UK will trigger #Art50 in Q1

The “Phoney War” will end in Q2

I don’t buy The Times leading article argument (Jan 2) that “the triggering of Article 50 will be followed by more phoney war” because Brussels’ attention will divert to the elections in France and Germany and the Brexit negotiations.

On the contrary, I believe the mood in the UK will change, icily, on April 1st, 2017, the day after the UK legally commits to Brexit. Once you agree to another’s deadline in a negotiation, you are as we say in Ireland, fecked. People will feel this reality acutely on April Fool’s Day, especially in business.

Brussels will play out the negotiation up to and past the deadline in 2019. Why would they do anything else, unless they are incentivised to do so? Either way, since the UK is selling, not buying the UK, not Brussels, will have to make the bigger concessions.

Meanwhile on January 20th. 2017 Mr Trump will become President of The United States of America and its Commander in Chief. I don’t concur with those who say our worst fears regarding his Presidency will prove groundless. They will prove conservative.

It’s against this grim background that CEOs, boards and non-executive directors return to work this week and prepare for their January board meetings. Any time is a good time for them to consider changing their behaviour to reduce risks and maximise opportunities.

But this is an especially good time for them to do so even if only 50% of my gloom is warranted and even if you are one of those who believes (and you may well be right) that there will be short term pain and long term gain by these changes.

I, therefore, propose Boards adopt three resolutions at their January meeting:

Resolution §1: The Board prioritises behaviour over performance

The default behaviour of most boards under stress is to cleave to “the numbers” which measure performance against plan. The problem with this approach is that it ignores the fact that behaviour drives performance not the other way around.

Performance is an outcome, behaviour the route to that outcome. It follows that behaviour trumps performance as a priority. Therefore the Board should map the behaviour required of everyone which is most likely to maximise the probability of success and minimise risks.

Resolution §2: The Board expects continuous behavioural change

In every human endeavour, constant improvement is key to success. This truth is most obvious in sports where the link between behaviour and performance is painfully evident.

Last week Manchester City lost 1-0 to Liverpool after a run of three wins. City’s coach Pep Guardiola made no attempt to hide his pain in the post match interview. All excuses aside, it was individual behaviour which led to their loss and Liverpool’s win.

Andy Murray’s open and tortured relationship with his behaviour is further proof, if proof needed, that our main competitor is ourselves.

Yet Boards rarely put out a message saying that it will do all that it can to help the people who work in their organisation to be what they can be by helping them to change continuously.

Resolution §3: The CEO, CXOs and NEDs will model continuous behavioural change

Many CEOs, Boards and NEDs believe that behavioural change must start beneath them. They forget that even small change by them as individuals, with each other and in their role as leaders has an exponential impact on those who work for them.

By small change, I mean changing a minimum of ten actions in every hundred from default behaviour, just 10% change. That’s small change.

• If, as CEO, you have a tendency to speak over colleagues at board meetings, try doing it ten times less.
• If, as CXO, you have a habit of pointing, not fixing – notice your behaviour and then try to make a small change.
• If as a NED you sometimes fail to call out issues you know you should, notice why you don’t and then try to do so ten times more often.

If the CEO, CXOs and NEDs all change ten interactions out of every hundred, the aggregate impact within the Board and throughout the business will be bigger than the sum of the changes. But small change is hard. That’s why it’s worthwhile in sport, business and at home.

It may even reduce your risks and maximise your opportunities and fulfillment in 2017.

Ciaran Fenton

January 2017

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Want to talk leadership? Contact me through my website or call me on +44 (0) 207 754 0335

CEOs: top job but still feeling unfulfilled? Tis the season to reflect…

stressed-businessman

…on why, what can be done about it and how.

The level of human misery at the top of business and the professions is one of the best kept secrets of modern life.

The happiness statistics on those in the middle are well documented. Pressured from the top and bottom their stress levels are high for obvious reasons. Their distress comes as no surprise.

But surely CEOs, CFOs, function heads and top lawyers and accountants must be scoring high on the fulfilment scales? Surely, having worked hard (oh so hard) to get to the top all is tickety boo?

I haven’t seen any credible studies on this. I’m not sure they are possible. Having worked with scores at close quarters I feel that many are in denial, most are getting by and a few love what they do.

The good news is that their plight is remediable – at least for those not in denial. The deniers are in a tricky position. They’re stuck. They’ve got to start by unsticking themselves. Most will need help to begin that process.

Let’s say 20% are stuck, 10% feel truly fulfilled and 70% are getting by. To the latter I recommend the following steps to help them reflect.

Start by confronting all, not just some, of the negative feelings about your role and dig deep. For example: When “he”, “she” or “they” behave like abc, I feel xyz:  I wish my role encompassed X as well as/instead of y:  I feel constantly exhausted. Or is it something else?

I use an intangible income and expenditure account process with clients to help them pin down, precisely, what they want from work and what they’re getting and not getting.

They want intangible income ABC and are willing to expend effort DEF to achieve it – usually hard work and reasonable travel. But the income side varies considerably from leader to leader.

For some it’s about autonomy, for others it’s about teamwork or success. Whatever the requirements I find that the happiest are those who are in surplus about three quarters of the time. That’s as good as it gets.

About quarter of our work is mundane unless you’re lucky to make a living from your hobby. Sadly, a significant number of senior people are in deficit in intangible income. Certainly some feel they should be paid more money but it’s not the main driver of dissatisfaction. I find that it’s usually the intangibles that hurt the most.

The advantage of pinning down your intangible income and expenditure needs is that it forces you to address what you want from work and why you do what you do.

For some it will be the first time that they really address why they do what they do. For others they have completed this task, are happy that they’re in the right job but feel they are in the wrong role. For those who have not addressed their purpose it can come as a shock to find that they are driven by factors which originated in their formative years.

Some are still playing out the pressures put on them when they were young and haven’t come to terms with the fact that they are now adults and can do what they want to do. These dynamics are well documented in psychology and research into emotional intelligence.

Wherever you are on the continuum of clarity of purpose it’s important to realise that you have no hope of true fulfilment unless you figure out why you do what you do. Where are you now, why and where you should go to make the best use of your unique talent?

Clients are initially dismissive when I talk about their uniqueness. But when I help them to connect with the reality that they are unique there is usually a brief flicker of recognition quickly dimmed by the realisation of the chasm between that truth and the relentless experience of work which appears to respect nothing other than lowest common denominator.

I encourage them to work on protecting the flicker from extinction by connecting with what politicians call their “ism”. We’ve had Maoism, Thatcherism and Mayism. Why not you-ism? And for benign not malevolent purposes?

You-ism is about bringing your whole personality, backstory and dreams to your leadership. Sounds corny? If it does maybe you’re stuck. But all you have is your story. Once you are clear on this it’s surprising how easy it is to decide on your personal purpose, and thus your strategy and behaviour for achieving it.

Do that and you will be in grave danger of being fulfilled. Help those you lead to thrive and as a collateral benefit grow your business better than you would otherwise. Because your business is made up of you, them and your respective “isms”. Nothing more.

Ciaran Fenton

December 2016

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Want to talk leadership? Contact me through my LinkedIn profile or call me on +44 (0) 207 754 0335