Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The power of a push bike

Wadjda is quite honestly one of the most amazing films I have ever seen. It is the first ever feature film, directed by a woman, to be made in Saudi Arabia. Yes, you read that correctly. The film tells the simple story of young girl who falls in love with a bicycle and enters a school competition to win the money needed to buy it. But that is where the simplicity ends.

I know people films critics talk about films being 'richly layered'... but this one really, really is! Woven around the simple story is what is happening to her mother, the headteacher should have a film made just about her and there is the poignant love of the boy who just wants to help his friend.

This films inspires, educates, delights and entrances.. and more. This film will make you ache, smile, laugh and wonder. I saw it at the FilmPlace here in Buckingham (one of our town's hidden gems) last Friday night. I hope it is shown on TV soon or be available from one of the DVD distributors. If you get the chance, go see it. I will be watching it again as soon as I get the opportunity.

This is a film about hope, liberation and calm defiance. If the world could handle the fictional and true power of more girls like Wadjda and Malala, heaven knows what we could achieve. I think it is all of our responsibilities to do what we can to facilitate, step out of the way of and support this power from such girls and boys.

Leadership is ultimately all about letting go and enabling more leaders to do the same. Just like the job of a good classroom teacher is to just allow children to learn and show them where and how they can do this, the leader's first job is to give up any idea of controlling people.

There is too much controlling in the world. A good leader finds way to knit chaos by empowering and enabling emergence and creativity.

How much do you seek to control? 

How good are you at enabling, empowering, nurturing and facilitating new leaders?

This is the tenth of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Monday, 27 January 2014

SpeakEasy Moots

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Sunday, 26 January 2014

Ethical pizza delivery

I saw Delivery Man last week, possibly against the recommendations of several friends who are not wild about a) Vince Vaughn's acting b) schmultz c) remakes of already good films in a foreign language. I know a number of people who are very principled in their movie going habits. But now, especially with my unlimited cineworld card, I get to see whatever takes my fancy: even the films looked down on by some people.

And it was really good. OK. I am an old romantic and this film does deliver schmultz by the van load. But that is not the only reason. You cannot compare the acting in this to 12 Years a Slave, naturally. But the acting is authentic and believable. The characters mostly work (although I am not sure how a radical vegan ends up working in a butchers quite so quickly...) and the story is contrived but is an engaging thought experiment. How would a man react to being told he had over 500+ offspring? Of course there are many unanswered questions and consequences not explored but you know what... it doesn't matter. I just enjoyed the film because it has a huge heart. And it is about family bonds.

Go see it!

And what does this film have to say about leadership? For me one of the main messages of the film is taking responsibility. Vince Vauhgn's character David, is all about someone who does not take responsibility. The film is about his 'journey' (you know what I mean...) to stepping up and doing so.

Leadership though, is about knowing the difference between accountability and responsibility. People are routinely held accountable for that which they are not responsible: short sighted leaders conflate the two. If someone's performance (for which they are accountable) begins to slip, poor leaders lurch into holding them responsible without investigating just what is causing the reduced performance. It may well be due to several other factors outside the responsibility of the accountable person. In such an instance, punishing that member of staff for that which he/she is not responsible is at best pointless and at worst cruel and ineffective bullying.

In the film, David is confronted by his accountability and finds a way to be responsible for what he can be responsible for. A good leader who wants to improve performance finds the ways to help their staff recognise their accountability and take responsibility for that which they can. Good leaders help people narrow the gap between the two.

What are you accountable for... and what are your responsible for?

This is the ninth of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Wolves are beautiful creatures

Watching The Wolf of Wall Street is an uncomfortable experience. Don't get me wrong: it is a darn good movie and DiCaprio has deservedly received an Oscar nomination for his performance. It is a film that you should see.

But it will disturb you.

I am imagining that Terence Winter and Martin Scorsese stuck closely to the autobiography on which the film is based. It depicts a man driven by the hunger for money which in turn drives him to excess and over the edge. The lead character, Jordan Belfort, is not a man I would have around to tea: he is not a beautiful man. At times the film portrays an enterprise run with all the ethics of the dying days of the Roman empire. This is a desperate, avaricious and hypnotic story that will take you over and draw you in to almost as being as much in love with Belfort as his staff seemed to be. But steel yourself and go.

Essentially this film is a study in charisma. 

Often people think that without charisma you cannot be a leader. Without doubt, Jordan Belfort shows just what can be achieved with it: he inspires a loyalty amongst his followers that is almost unbreakable. But like the commander of the Light Brigade, he leads them into very dangerous and choppy waters.

But do you need to be charismatic to be a leader? 

In my view, charisma can sustain a bad (using both the ineffective and ethical meanings of that word) leader. A good leader can be boosted by charisma. But I think a person can still be good or excellent leader without charisma. Because in the end what sustains good leadership are ideas: ideas that people want to follow and build on. 

So what ideas have you had today?

This is the eighth of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

12 Years a Slave: the myriad of small acts

12 Years a Slave is destined to be one of those films that clings to your soul and becomes part of the way we see the world. It is a stunningly courageous film is so many ways: unflinching in its depiction of slavery and tireless in its cinematography. The intensity and depth of the acting from every single person in the movie is humbling. Even though like the Titanic, we all know (roughly) how it ends, the narrative grips you in a way that made me hear my breathing and that of everyone around me. I spent the film wishing, so wishing, this had never been true: the same way that I watched Schindler's List.

There are moments in the story of extreme brutality. In a way, I was more saddened by the smaller, almost casual, acts of cruelty & inhumanity that filled the gaps between the larger excesses. It was the myriad of these smaller acts that I think did much to enslave the minds of the slaves.

So (with a bit of a handbrake turn, I know) as leaders, we may think that we only have to get right the big set pieces: where we can showcase our good leadership.  Of course, leaders need to be able to front staff meetings, set strategy that draws on key influences and so forth. But most leaders are known by and remembered for the small acts of listening, enthusiasm, kindness and courtesy. It is also in the myriad of 'small' actions that leaders take which evidence the leadership that counts.

What small acts of leadership will people remember you by today? Will they feel liberated (and emancipated?) to innovate and deliver superlative results as a consequence?


This is the seventh of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Dancing on the Glass Ceiling

Ten years ago, I was beginning to plan a series of Open Space events with the Metropolitan Police. I led the team from the Office for Public Management to work with Denise Milani, Carole Howlett, Catherine Crawford, Des Stout, Martin Wilson and (now Sir) Bernard Hogan-Howe (among others) on the design and process of the events.

The 4 workshops were held on four corners of London and involved over 800 women. There were one hundred and fifty seven separate discussion groups held over the four events.

You can read all about the events here in this archived entry from the Metropolitan Police Authority. You will see that a number of key points are summarised under various headings including:
To address the macho culture, which consists of a range of norms and behaviours from working long hours to tacit acceptance of sexual harassment and assault, sexist language and behaviour and the use of gender specific language.
So that was ten years ago. The question I have now for women and men from the Met is: have things improved for women working in the Met Police since then? (I really hope so.)


Personal note: It is an odd and poignant coincidence that I happened to be thinking of this piece of work today. I dug out the information because I am looking into bidding to do some similar work for another client. The link to that tender arrived to my inbox this afternoon. My colleague and good friend Kate Dixon was part of the OPM project team. Indeed Kate, as "event historian", led on producing the report of the events.

It is with the saddest of ironies (the events were also about the service provided by the Met to London women) that Kate was a victim of domestic violence last year. She was killed by a former boyfriend who appeared in court today to plead guilty to manslaughter. (Time will tell as to whether he is finally convicted of that or murder.)

Kate was simply the most amazing person and touched the lives of many people. Her funeral was attended by the leader of the council, the Chief Executive, the night security staff and everyone in between. Islington Council (where she was working) have planted a tree in memory of her. She is very sadly missed by her family, partner, friends and colleagues. RIP Kate.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Railway reconciliation

I saw The Railway Man last night. It is a poignant, harrowing and uplifting true story of one man's quest to end his own personal war. The acting is superb: understated and authentic. This is not a film for a fun night out. But it is a film if you want to reflect on what war does to people, and on how those effects last years and decades afterwards. It is a film about heroism, brutality and despair. Go see it.

I have visited the war graves in Thailand and been to the war museum at Kanchanaburi. I have also travelled for 3 hours on the train from one end to near the Burmese border. It was a memorable day for me. To cite the wikipedia entry:
Forced labour was used in its construction. About 180,000 Asian labourers and 60,000 Allied prisoners of war (POWs) worked on the railway. Of these, around 90,000 Asian labourers (mainly romusha) and 12,399 Allied POWs died as a direct result of the project. The dead POWs included 6,318 British personnel, 2,815 Australians, 2,490 Dutch, about 356 Americans and a smaller number of Canadians and New Zealanders
The film brought back many memories of my visit to the 'death railway'.

The film is brimmed full of leadership, good and bad. I could write about anyone of a number of themes. The one I will highlight is that becoming a leader is a personal journey that no one can do for you. But (and this is a huge but) you are wise not to do it alone.

Being a leader is, almost by definition, a lonely job. You have to make decisions about your own fate and those whom you lead. And deciding not to act (and allow...) is as much a decision as deciding to intervene and how to intervene. These are decisions that a leader can only make alone. But some leaders interpret that as having to do everything alone. And what the film shows us is that Mr Lomax can only make his lonely journey with the support and love of his wife and friends. He is both alone and never alone.

So as a leader, who helps you to be both alone and not alone?


This is the sixth of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

The Ron Burgundy approach to innovation

It would be very easy to dismiss Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues as a schlock & corny comedy which employs its 1980 setting to excuse some sexist and racist humour as ironically funny. But many of the anarchic threads can be traced back to Mad, Python and Rowan & Martin's Laugh In. There is a good pedigree here. The film made me laugh and cringe in almost equal measure.

But actually what I think the film is really about: the necessity for courageous innovation. There is the oft quoted phrase: if you're in a hole, stop digging. In this film, this command is turned on its head and says: keep digging because you never know what you might unearth!

So it is a film about letting go of convention, weighing anchor(mans) and embarking on a voyage of creative discovery. It is a story which is based on the idea that innovation inspiration can arise from desperation, exasperation and perspiration!

As a leader, how often do you put yourself in a situation where you simply have to come up with something new that could be about saving your business, or just be about making that improvement that really needs to be made? Do you put yourself under pressure so that you have to innovate? Or do you procrastinate since innovation is something to be done… tomorrow.

And, as a leader, how do you create these same conditions for those whom you lead? Can you ‘steam cook’ your team without over cooking them? How do you find just the right temperature that will produce al dente innovation and not a splodgey mess of exhausted, angry and demotivated staff?

In an odd way, does Ron Burgundy have something important to say about the leadership of innovation? Watch the film and let me know what you think. 


This is the fifth of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Bilbo's performance review (SPOILER ALERT)

So Bilbo, you are two thirds of the way through your project (or quest as I think you might prefer to call it). As team facilitator & journey adviser, how do you think you are doing?
Well, it has not been easy. We have had a whole heap of orcs, elves, dwarves and a wizard that keeps going off piste to contend with. You may say two thirds in but in actuality, it feels like I have hardly left the Shire. 
That is in fact the issue I wanted to pick up with you. Whilst I commend your enchanted ability to stay alive, given the odds sometimes stacked against you, what would you say that you have really achieved?
I have lots of material for my book! Indeed, probably more than I will manage to fit in to what will be a children's book. I have found a rather useful ring.
Yes. The ring. Found?
Not exactly found... I managed to procure it from a non-traditional source but I would say that it is very much mine now. 
Any ethical issues here, Mr 'Burglar'?
No. None at all. The ring is mine. All mine. 
So, back to your achievements. Tell me more.
Truth be told, everything has been a bit of train wreck really. There are quite a few people who are pretty unhappy. Darkness is enveloping the world. Smaug was darn unreasonable. Gandalf has disappeared who knows where. Team work has not been brilliant. Thorin's project leadership style is very hard to predict. I have tried talking with him but he seems overly focused on this stone. And as for the elves, I thought they were meant to be helping us! So we haven't got very far really. Sorry. 
What are you plans now? How do you intend to improve things here on in?
Well, I am going to step up. I will start with Thorin and sort out his leadership. Then I will find Gandalf and remind him of our health & safety, lone worker and risk management policies. We may have to let Smaug go. And then a bit of team building between the dwarves and elves. And maybe somehow we will manage to sort out this darkness thing..? It is not looking good though.
And the ring?
What ring?


This is the fourth of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. 

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Frozen out

I would like to be able to say some really warm & positive things about Frozen, the Christmas offering for children from Disney, but it is difficult. I agreed to go on the recommendation of the 15 year old daughter of some friends of mine who adored the songs in the film. And the songs are good. But I am afraid that Disney's attempts to create new fairy tales, never really work for me. Frozen was another example.

The people at Disney do best when they interpret and re-craft old favourites, in my view. I know I am not in the demographic that the film is pitched at, but there was very little in there for the parents who take their children (in the way that there is with the Shrek oeuvre, for example). Some of the characters were irritating (Olaf, the snowman) while there were a couple who were adorable (Sven, the reindeer and the head troll). I could say more, but I do not want to spoil the story too much!

And the leadership message? I asked my 15 year old friend what she thought it was. She said it all about families sticking together. And this is certainly true, the film's narrative pivots on this point. Good leaders certainly need to invest in creating a feeling of family loyalty to a business. And this is not easy.

I would like to highlight another feature of the film however. Like many films, Frozen is about the journey to finding your true self and being at ease with the person you find. To say this is a cinematic cliché would be cliché itself! So I won't say that...

But the leadership thought that this film left me with was that if leadership is a journey, then how well do we recognise the various nodes along the way? Is your leadership journey like crossing the arctic: it just goes on and on? Or is it like crossing London, with lots of interesting stops along the way?

What was your last stop... what will be your next?

This is the third of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks.

New Year: New Words

Happy New Year! The fresh new year of 2014 dawns and I trust that you, dear reader, had a couple of weeks of festive fun with friends and family, full of the wealth of good cheer and the warmth of great conversation.

However, it has come to my notice that certain words are being overused. The BBC has helpfully put together a list of said words here. So I thought it was time to offer you some replacement and additional words to use in the coming year.

Optional historic word
The 2014 word?

And half a dozen new words for 2014:
  • Tecknowledgist: someone who uses technology to build knowledge for all in an accessible and inclusive way
  • Wickivist: someone who takes action to address 'wicked' social problems (rather than just analyse, moan or sign online petitions about them)
  • Honetitian: a politician who answers question honestly, personally and authentically, unshackled by dogma, being 'on message' or fudgey finagling 
  • Vervacious: having the quality of intense life affirming confidence that makes others feel confident too (Beyoncé is vervacious)
  • Paxic: an approach to change & disturbance which looks for common ground first (second, third...) and finds points of agreement on which to build peace and community integration
  • Frission: the power, warmth and energy that happens when friends come together face to face and talk (rather than just remotely text/gram/chat)

What is your new word for 2014?