Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Humour in a cold climate

In these austere times, despite moments of relief and joy for many, it is very hard to remain positive and act progressively. It is all too easy to retreat into a reactive bubble and just live from day to day, doing only that which is absolutely necessary to keep your head above water. Creativity flounders, working relationships are put under huge strain and leadership can descend into the emaciated hell of just following procedures.

One thing that remains though, despite all this gloom, is humour. Our ability to take a wry slant on the world and grimly laugh at the situation can be majestic. Humour is the warmth that keeps our home fires burning - or at least the embers glowing, ready to spark into flame when more fuel is found. Humour can make even the coldest places seem warmer and more hopeful.

Some years ago, I made a point of collecting a few examples of workplace humour which I share below. I do this for several reasons. Firstly I hope the statements below make you laugh and even if it is only through gritted teeth, I hope the small shot of endorphins helps. Secondly, if you come across any other examples that you would like to share please do so - you can add a comment below or email me. And thirdly, I hope this small smattering of humour helps you stay in touch with your ambitions and assists you in keeping on keeping on in these difficult times.

Some years ago in one senior police managers office, I came across this simple statement, pinned up on his notice board:

The only difference between this place and the Titanic is that 
they, at least, had a band.

Pinned up on a general notice board of a financial services company I once worked with, I saw:

The Management regrets that due to the current economic climate, it has been necessary to make certain economies. Therefore the light at the end of the tunnel has been switched off until further notice.

In a well known consumer campaigning organisation that I once did some work with, the following posters sprang up overnight like a blanket of bluebells:

Meetings: the practical alternative to work
Are you lonely...?
Do you work on your own...?
Do you hate having to make decisions...?
Then hold a meeting!
You can get to see other people, sleep in peace, off-load decisions, feel important and impress your colleagues.

And then in another organisation, I saw this:

The Curse of the Pyramid
I will never forget the time when we entered the 
final chamber of the biggest pyramid. 
The endless variety of furnishings, the sense of absolute stillness... 
of action long ago abandoned... the incomprehensible symbols 
written for no living person to read...

And I turned to my companion and said "it's just like head office really, isn't it?" 
But he disagreed as he couldn't see a coffee machine.

(For 'head office' insert your own suitable place, of course!)

And finally, I would offer you this to indicate that I can laugh at myself as well:

The Consultants Promise
We may not succeed in answering all of your questions.
Indeed you may feel that we have not answered any of them.
Nonetheless, you can be assured that the answers we do give will only serve to raise a whole new set of questions
And so, in some ways, you may feel as confused as ever.
However, we promise, that you will be confused on a much higher level about far more important things.

Naturally, I would like to thank all the people who penned or posted these pieces of humour. I don't know their names, I am afraid, but I am most grateful to them. And like I say, if you know of any more items that made you laugh, do please share them. Thanks.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Is your leadership compatible with coalition government policy?

Here is a link to a Guardian Public article of mine - just published today:

It is a check list of 20 questions to prompt reflection on whether you are a free, fair and responsible leader...

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Heathrow: a breathtaking failure of leadership?

There is an old saying (and some dispute about who coined it first): Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

This got me to wondering about leadership. Should leadership be breathtaking or breathless? It seems to me that many managers spend their time trying to be everywhere, support everyone, monitor everything and so forth. This is breathless leadership. Whilst this may give the leader a warm feeling that they are a ‘hands on’ influential leader, the chances are that others will not be as impressed.

I suspect that London Heathrow, which is currently wrapped for Christmas in very sticky snow, is full of breathless leaders right now, all seeking to make something (anything, dammit!) happen and get passengers moving again. This is commendable and necessary given the circumstances. But what were these breathless leaders doing in the Summer? Were they still running around in a similar fashion? (Latest news as I write here)

Perhaps what London Heathrow needs is a lot more breathtaking leadership. This is the kind of leadership that listens, that empowers, that connects, that plans, that waits, that assembles, that includes, that challenges, that invests, that innovates, that focuses... that inspires.

Breathtaking leadership is easy to spot. It is the kind of leadership that we have all felt once in a while when someone says or does something that makes us do a mental or real double take. We hold our breath as we think about what the person has just done. If it’s an exceptional moment of leadership, we may even forget to breathe until our body kicks in and we take short intake of breath.

My challenge for 2011: how can you make your leadership less breathless and more breathtaking?

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Seasonal greetings: a time for prosperity

At this is a time of year, a good many people take a moment to remember the riches they have.

These are not the riches that can ever be measured in £ or $ signs. These riches are far, far more valuable than that. These are the riches in the smiles from neighbours, the gleams in the eyes of our children, the kind words of old friends, the courtesies of strangers or the laughs of our family members. These are the riches that make us feel truly warm, solid and human.

Although sadly, not everyone has these riches in abundance, happily we can all take action to spread more of this wealth around. Whilst I do try to do this wealth creation as much as I can, I will admit that during these austere and recessionary times, I have sometimes become just a tad too focused on the lesser (financial) riches. My resolution for 2011 is to remain resolutely focused on building true prosperity.

With this in mind, I have adopted the word 'prosperity' for the next 12 months. (The 'I CAN' charity in association with Collins Dictionaries allows you to adopt words in exchange for funding action to ensure that no child who struggles to communicate is left out or left behind. You can adopt a word yourself by visiting here: And you can see a copy of my adoption certificate below.

So I am sending you my seasonal greetings: I sincerely wish that 2011 will be a truly rich and prosperous year for you, your families, friends and communities.


Followers do not a leader make: relationships count

On twitter, at the time of writing, I have 1452 followers. Does this make me a leader? True, all of those people have actively clicked on my 'follow' button and will (until they choose otherwise) see my 140 character pearls of wisdom and comment. But I don't think this makes me any kind of leader. Just having followers does not make anyone a leader.

Certainly, if you claim to be a leader and no one is following you, then your claim may not stand up to much scrutiny. But just because you can look around and see people following you does not necessarily make you a leader either. You have to wonder, why are these people following me? Are they doing so because they are contractually obliged to, or it is just in their interest to do so, or because someone they do respect has told them to follow you?. Even if they have chosen to follow you - are they doing anything different as a result? And so forth...

The relationships between leaders and their followers are ultimately what count. Do the followers respect and trust the leader, do they want to emulate the leader's actions or beliefs? Does the relationship have an impact at all on how the followers conduct their lives - professionally or personally?

Moreover, do you, as a leader, do things differently because you know that your followers will observe what you do? Does that responsibility inspire or restrict you?

So the next time, you hear someone talk about leaders having followers (I saw a presentation recently which featured this insight just recently), I would urge you to ask them a question or two about the relationship between leaders and their followers.

As a leader or follower: how are your relationships?