David Neal discusses the power of narrative and its links with leadership, culture and relevancy.
Leadership and Communication – Where Both Intent and Delivery Matter
David Neal discusses the power of narrative and its links with leadership, culture and relevancy.
Leadership and Communication – Where Both Intent and Delivery Matter
We talk to David Neal about the nuances of good leadership. David Neal has a decade of experience in the Australian Army, with most of his experience in leadership roles. He is currently a Director at Eighth Mile Consulting.
1:39 – from enemies to best mates.
6:12 – there is nothing noble about being harmless.
7:06 – avoiding or engaging with conflict.
7:27 – what makes a leader?
8:50 – good leadership looks different in different contexts.
11:40 – the leadership style in the military.
12:59 – how values and beliefs impact team performance.
15:12 – navigating the conflicts that arise from having a diverse team.
15:35 – definition of leadership.
16:30 – diversity is contextual. What are you trying to achieve?
18:43 – are you trying to be right or correct?
20:36 – leaders represent people authentically in forums where they cannot represent themselves.
22:18 – trying to be right disengages people around you.
23:41 – it’s better to lose the battle and keep the relationship, especially with your kids.
25:07 – extreme ownership and admitting mistakes.
27:28 – where the name Eighth Mile Consulting came from.
29:18 – owning our mistakes turns our weakness into a strength.
31:39 – owning your faults increases your credibility and your ability to influence.
32:55 – steelman and strawman debating tactics.
36:01 – influence starts by listening, not speaking.
38:14 – it takes discipline to shut up and listen.
41:55 – I don’t have time to listen.
44:02 – why boundaries give more freedom.
52:14 – boundaries with children.
54:46 – just do what makes you happy is terrible advice.
56:46 – the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.
58:18 – sometimes leaders only have bad options to choose from.
1:00:14 – leadership is not about you.
1:02:44 – a leader’s reputation is their influence.
1:06:1 – making an unpopular decision that you believe will be best for the long term.
1:10:49 – reputation is based on your character but not fully in your own control.
1:12:57 – how to become more self-aware as leaders.
1:15:30 – everyone is a leader.
1:16:11 – how to create a safe space for people to speak up.
1:18:55 – empathy saved the world.
1:24:7 – our ego can be our greatest enemy.
1:26:12 – connect with David Neal.”
You can find more detailed show notes with links to references at: https://candourpodcast.com/david-neal/
“Humbled to have been identified in LinkedIn ‘s top 20 voices in JobSearch and Careers.
My team and I will endeavour to continue supporting people in their career and personal development.
Congratulations to the other candidates. Learning your short stories and hearing your messaging makes it evident why you belong on the list.
“Being the leader…..and the new guy in an established team is a tough gig. David shares what he got wrong and what went well on Episode 57 of the #podcast.
I only got through half of the questions, so we will need to catch up for round 2. One of my favourites.
Podcast Link – https://lnkd.in/gs3ysgc6
I have always had a healthy admiration for comedians.
For me they have always been the bearer of uncomfortable truths and the representors of the silent majority (or silent masses). Whether it is Ricky Gervais shamelessly applying public head shots to actor elites on the Golden Globes, or The Monty Python crew explaining ‘what have the romans ever done for us?’ I have always been intrigued as to their role in society and teams.
When I was a new Lieutenant, I had a soldier in my platoon who we will call ‘Steve’. He was an older soldier and an experienced troublemaker. He had a natural charismatic aura and had come from a tough background. Other soldiers gravitated to his energy. Arguably his most redeeming feature was his ‘rat cunning’ and his ability to read the room, and the people within it.
We used to make a distinction between ‘three types’ of soldier:
The ‘Barracks Soldier.’ Very rarely in trouble with the law, thus rarely requiring disciplining or corrective actions. A professional in the barracks in the environment. Often highly educated and industrious with a good response to order and convention. Generally very career focused particularly with regards to promotions and courses.
The ‘Field Soldiers.’ Often in trouble in the barracks environment (legal, relationships, investments, career, etc), but a natural fighter in the field environment. They often had very little career ambition but just loved the thrill of being at the pointy end of their profession. They often made up for their barracks transgressions by demonstrating their skill on the battlefield.
The ‘Unicorn’. The soldier that was excellent in and out of the field.
Steve was a field soldier of the highest order. The soldiers respected and looked up to him, so much so that he socially asserted himself as their representative. A tricky position to hold in an organisation which is intensely hierarchical, and order driven.
The mechanism by which he achieved this effect: Comedy.
He had an innate ability to crack a joke and break the ice. But not just any meaningless and useless joke. No, it was far more surgical than that. His jokes were of the right balance to be able to call out the elephant in the room. The one no-one else wanted to, or could, address.
As a leader it was incredibly valuable.
1. The fact that the important message was delivered as a joke meant it was done with good intent (we will talk about offence being taken, not given later).
2. The frequency of his jokes meant that no-one was safe, and everyone could expect to be ridiculed, even himself (by himself) at some point, thus removing the officialities associated with the hierarchy.
3. The content of his jokes was always etched in some level of subjective truth. He was most often reporting the obvious or blinding inconsistencies in our messaging or logic, the ones that everyone was thinking, but no-one was speaking about. This allowed us to answer these concerns publicly and address the concerns of the masses without the need for complaints.
One time however, during a period of weakness I lashed out at Steve who was cracking jokes at a time when I was severely sleep deprived and carrying a burden of responsibility which I didn’t feel comfortable explaining to my men at the time. The result of this lapse in judgement was a temporary break in rapport with Steve, who abruptly retreated into his metaphorical shell.
For a period, I was blind to the needs and feelings of my men. The section commanders did a good job in allaying their concerns and ideas, but even they were separated to some extent due to their hierarchical positions.
We had lost our court jester…
Steve was wise enough to know it too (otherwise he wouldn’t have been a very good reader of rooms). Slowly but surely, he regained his confidence and began demonstrating the much-needed behaviours which would characterise our Platoon team dynamic.
Over time as his confidence grew, he became a reliable source of information about what was happening to the other teams within our organisation. The other team jesters would speak to each other and ground truth information we could not, or would not, receive via other means.
The term ‘Jester’ is drawn from Anglo-Norman (Old French) Gestour or Jestour, meaning storyteller or Minstrel. Older terms for the same role included Fol, Disour, Buffoon, and Bourder.
The role provided an important function and has been present the world over for ages past.
In Ancient Rome, Balatrones were professional performers for the rich. Often covering political topics, relevant at the time. This was particularly true during periods of carnival.
“The Court Jester had the right to say the most outrageous things to the king. Everything was permitted during carnival, even the songs that the Roman Legionnaires would sing, calling Julies Caesar ‘Queen’, alluding, in a very transparent way, to his real, or presumed, homosexual escapades.’
The Aztecs and Chinese employed cultural equivalents to the jester, to the same effect.
In France in 1340, when the French fleet was destroyed at the battle of Sluvs by the English, Phillip VI’s jester told him the English sailors ‘don’t even have the guts to jump into the water like our brave French.’ In doing so, he was the first to break the bad news to the King, when no-one else would dare (Beatrice, O, 2001)
In Poland, a politically focussed jester by the name of Stanczyk would later become a historical symbol for the Polish people (Pelc, J, 1989).
In an example which pushes the boundaries, a Jester by the name of Ferrial (AKA Triboulet) went too far by insulting the Queen. The King responded decisively, sentencing him to death. Due to Ferrial’s long service with the King, he was provided with the opportunity to choose his mechanism of death. His response “Good sire, by Saint Goody Two Shoes and Saint Fatty, patrons of insanity, I ask to die from old age.” So brazen was his response, the King reconsidered his order, and banished him instead (Historia, 2008).
“Satire must accompany any free society. It is an absolute necessity. Even in the most repressive medieval kingdoms they understood the need for the Court Jester, the one soul allowed to tell the truth through laughter.”
– Joe Randozzo –
Shakespeare identified the important need for jesters. He often used them as a means of incentivising attendance at his plays of different classes within society. The jester was used a mechanism of commonality and a means of building rapport within the audience, regardless of their status.
In the ‘Twelfth Night’, Feste the jester is described as “wise enough to play the fool” such was the high regard for which the position was held.
In ‘King Lear,’ the Jester is used as a means of communicating the perceptions of the masses, adopting a consultative or advisory role for the Monarch.
In essence, the Jester is, and has always been, the last line of defence in the battle for common sense. They have forever been the pressure tester of ideas, and the illuminator of idiocy. They are the identifier of hypocrisies and inconsistencies. They are the social pattern finders, with the courage to communicate their observations. They are by their very nature incredibly intelligent and observant.
But what has caught my eye in recent years is a concerning shift in language and expectations. There has been an ever-increasing tendency to compel speech and censor language to escape awkwardness and avoid offence. It seems to have accompanied a social redirection to ever improve our collective safety, without concerning ourselves for the accompanying responsibility to increase one’s own strength.
In a recent example, SOAS University in London attempted to pre-censor Konstantin Kisin (comedian) as a prerequisite to his comedic performance. The list of banned topics included: “racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamaphobia, anti-religion or anti-atheism.” A tough gig for any comic. Needless to say, Konstantin didn’t take the job.
During my time in the Infantry, it was the class clowns that really bonded the teams. Their jokes new few limits, and no-one was exempt. An Officer that could demonstrate they could take a joke on the chin and walk it off, demonstrated a strength of character which would be highly valuable in other more challenging environments. If they couldn’t take a joke, how would they respond with the pressures associated with a real enemy who seeks to kill them? It might seem a bridge too far to connect taking a joke and being shot at, but they are more similar than they are different.
The teams with the most developed sense of humour were the ones that survived the greatest hardships, plain and simple. The leaders who ignored the value of humour within their teams, or were too uptight to take a joke, were the ones that experienced fractured teams with poor morale.
In the movie Deadpool, Wade Winston finds strength through his torture by relentlessly cracking jokes to assert his only freedom on his captors. Later in the movie his comedic rants only escalate further, demonstrating a powerful strength of character. It is as if his ability to crack jokes is his strongest superpower of all as it links with his resilience. Across the two films Deadpool makes endless jokes about his emerging team members, and they return the favour. The exchanges are shrugged off by each participant as they pressure test each other relentlessly. Slowly but surely their teams grows cohesively, glued together through comedy and the observational humour of their central jester.
When I transitioned out of the Military there was an adjustment period. The most significant adjustment I experienced was the censoring of speech. I had never experienced censorship of this level and I had worked in Top Secret environments for many years! It was as if there was an unspoken rule, governed by an unseen presence, dictating that one could not (or should not) say anything that could remotely offend someone else. This for me seemed like madness at first. I attempted to rationalise the problem in the first instance, ‘offence is subjective, how could someone possibly govern that?’ Or ‘don’t they realise that a team that cannot joke about itself will never get through tough times?’
Gabrielle Union’s quote echoed in my mind at the time, “drama can feel like therapy whereas comedy feels like there’s been a pressure and a weight lifted off of you.”
Nonetheless the censorship was there, and it was real. I trod on some toes initially, I was then ‘corrected,’ until I too started to adjust my speech. In most cases I didn’t even know I was doing it. To some extent, I drank the Kool Aid. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that I was avoiding problems by not addressing them. My avoidance was prompting regret due to my lack of personal courage and convictions. After some time, the regret morphed into resentment towards individuals themselves, and also towards myself. This continued until one day I was answering someone’s question about Leadership as part of a workshop.
Their question: ‘What do you think is the most important function of a leader?”
My answer: ‘Good leaders are those that can articulate and contextualise the truth’.
It hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew then and there that I had let myself down. I had shied away from having courageous conversations and I was resenting people unnecessarily because of it…
“Those who make conversations impossible, make escalation inevitable.”
I hope that most people would agree that comedy is important. The distinction lies in what is deemed acceptable and unacceptable, and the challenge emerges when we acknowledge the nature of subjectivity; what someone finds offensive will be perfectly acceptable to another. The complexity that exacerbates this further, is that we are seemingly creating a culture that avoids conflict at all expense, even if it is healthy and delivered with pure intent.
In expanding this topic I think there are some important distinctions that need to be made:
Bullying vs Banter. Banter is not Bullying. Banter is ‘the exchange of remarks in a good-humoured teasing way.’ Bullying is ‘seeking to harm, intimidate, or coerce (someone perceived as vulnerable.)’ The difference lies in people’s intent. Most would remember the early days of romantic dating when banter really meant flirting…
Problem vs Person. A good jester can delineate between the problem and the person (the individual). They are often different things. Subtle changes in language can change the trajectory of a joke into an attack. Another expansion might include the distinction between a ‘joke’ and a ‘jab.’ Experienced comics traverse this razors edge with expert skill. The most proficient jester is one that can talk about the elephant in the room without leading the conversation to the conclusion that it was someone’s fault for letting it in.
‘Time and Place’ vs ‘In Your Face.’ There is a time for jokes and banter and there is a time for seriousness and decorum. Get the balance wrong and a jester can find themselves in hot lava. Some people are terrible readers of the room and extend way too far.
But what of offence? Are we so fragile that differing opinions can damage us? I would hope not. I would like to think that people have become stronger over time, enlightened with more information and the lessons from our forbearers. But alas, I do not think this is true.
I think over time we have become increasingly secular and tribal, forever terrified about what people might think of us. Our fear has now turned towards those ‘jesters’ that are brave enough to communicate what they see. To explain their truth whilst revelling in the awkwardness of it all.
“He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool.”
In true Jester fashion Ricky Gervais was coined saying “Just because you’re offended doesn’t mean you’re right.” He was of course indirectly speaking about the truth, and the role the jester plays in communicating it.
In full transparency my personal concern is towards the censorship of speech. I would hate to think that language itself was censored or as a minimum distorted under a guise of ‘protection’ and ‘tolerance.’ The idea terrifies me and George Orwell’s 1984 springs to mind, “In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”
So moving forward be very mindful about attacking and silencing the jester, particularly if they might be telling us something we need to hear.
If you have a jester in your team or organisation, be glad. Because whilst they are talking, you might be kept aware enough to not drink your own Kool Aid. Who knows you might learn something and become stronger for it.
If you see the jester being targeted and removed, start asking yourself who will provide the ‘common sense’ perspective?
If you look around and see no jester, be worried. They have either left and moved to greener pastures, or their satirical spirit has been crushed. Neither are good options for the longevity of healthy, resilient and capable teams. A workplace without humour is a sad and unsustainable place.
These are my thoughts, what are yours?
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Many of the people that have arrived at this article have already entered this environment postured for war. Please lower your shields and spears, I come in peace.
I recently ran a poll where I braved the question: “Has political correctness gone too far?”
Honestly, I knew I was opening a can of worms, but at the same time I have grown weary of tip toeing around issues. As I grow older and better define who I am, I also grow in resilience and thick skin.
What is it about this topic that polarises people so greatly? I have invested some significant thought into the topic and I feel I might have stumbled upon some insights.
Both parties are mostly saying the same thing, but in a different way. The reason for the confusion stems from the definitions we subscribe to and the frame of reference we use to contextualise the topic. Moreover, going through the extensive comments a number of patterns have emerged.
For the purposes of this article let’s break the poll into the two groups. The YES and NO groups.
YES group (those who believe that political correctness has gone too far). The emergent themes in the comments were:
NO group (those who believe that political correctness has not gone too far). The emergent themes in the comments were:
What was immediately obvious were the consistencies in language associated with respect, communication, labels, and oppression.
Both sides assumed ill intent.
Generally speaking, the YES category made the assessment that the other parties were deliberately trying to silence and suppress the objective truth, often because it was felt they couldn’t handle it. The NO category assumed that the yes voters were deliberately trying to change the system in an attempt to get away with doing the wrong things. This was not an isolated observation either. There were hundreds of comments across the breadth of conversations attributed to shares from the original post. In essence, both parties assumed the worst of each other.
The assertions they made about each other force fed the narrative of evilness and divisiveness which helped to alienate the other group. It also allowed people to stay comfortable exactly where they were, self-assured in the realisation that they were right, and the others were wrong.
I think if everyone is truly honest with themselves, they will realise that most people’s intent is pure. Most people I know are trying to make the best of their situations with the knowledge and resources they have available. This is not to say that there are not evil people out there, there most definitely are. But I would suggest they are not as prevalent as we would like to convince ourselves of, particularly when we are trying to make generalised assertions about political sidings and viewpoints.
Acknowledgement of this is a great start because it allows us to focus on the problem, not the person.
“Assume the worst about people and you get the worst”
After looking at the results I think bias is one of the central issues. Not only about the topic of political correctness, but about most divisive topics in society today.
There is a term called ‘confirmation bias’ which explains the “tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values.” This is not a small issue. In fact, it is an incredibly dangerous and divisive issue in society today. Quite simply, what you are looking for you will find. The cumulative effects of this bias leads people to polarise. It acts in a manner that is similar in its characteristics to feedback in a microphone and speaker arrangement when the sound transmitted from a speaker is picked up by the microphone which sends a message back to the speaker to increase the volume, with the cycle ever-repeating. It is a viscous and escalating cycle that if left unchecked results in damage to the system.
Similarly, confirmation bias prompts someone to look for information that proves their existing narrative, then guides them towards finding information that proves it, then repeats the process. The repetition pulls the person further along the spectrum each time.
In this sense, we must always ask ourselves whether we would rather be right, or correct. They are fundamentally different things.
“I think it’s outrageous if a historian has a ‘leading thought’ because it means they will select their material according to their thesis.”
A commonly overlooked issue with people is our tendency to filter out information. Not just a little bit of information, but nearly all of it! Our brains are geared in such a way that they are trying to make sense of the world around us and navigate the incredible complexities it provides. The result of which is our inability to measure the world objectively and accurately.
No better example of this exists than in the unreliability of ‘eye-witness testimonies’ in court cases. “Although witnesses can often be very confident that their memory is accurate when identifying a suspect, the malleable nature of human memory and visual perception makes eyewitness testimony one of the most unreliable forms of evidence.” Greg Hurley, National Center for State Courts.
Our brains have managed complexity by attempting to reduce the scope of our focus. Our senses spend most of the time trying to remove the white noise and focus on the things that are deemed more important. This is a great function when used correctly, but without constant and careful attentiveness it can rapidly spiral into a stasis of bigotry, ignorance, and misinformation.
At the grass roots level, it results in ever extending separation of groups who in reality have many similarities or consistencies. What is scary is that the basis of our information, claims and opinions are most likely grounded in minimal truth, or as a minimum an absence of context.
When we delve ever deeper into the specific details of issues, we learn the utility and applicability of context. What might be true in one scenario is categorically wrong in another. To make matters even more complex is when we consider that someone might be right and wrong at the exact same time, depending on the frame of reference and context of the scenario. What is more challenging is when we consider that neither party might be right at all, and we may not have even stumbled across the correct answer yet as a collective.
If we fail to get into the detail and rely solely on the information provided by our senses, subjective experience and filters we are doomed to miss opportunities afforded in understanding context and truth.
Do not be so sure that what you have experienced is the truth.
“What you see is filtered through your beliefs. You rarely see “reality.” You see your version of it.”
So where do we go from here? How can we start finding common language and understanding in order to have an amicable meeting of minds?
I think the path forward lies in our understanding and distinction of values and beliefs.
Values are guiding principles that overshadow our understanding of the world. They largely remain extant throughout our lives. They assist us in prioritising our efforts, altering our behaviours, and defining our identities.
Beliefs are different. They are an acceptance of something being true, often without proof. Beliefs can and do change throughout the course of our lives as our understanding of the world becomes more refined and higher resolution. Beliefs are also often used to help navigate specific situations, scenarios, or schemas.
This distinction is highly relevant. We often place too much weight on beliefs as opposed to values. We form allegiances with those people who hold the same belief system as opposed to those with the same values, and this works up until the point where our belief system is disproven or is made irrelevant due to context or additional information. Then the person is hit with an existential crisis that directly challenges their ego and core identity. People will then do one of two things:
The former option is the most often to occur, resulting in further separation from the truth and a regression from personal growth.
The highest performing individuals and teams make a deliberate attempt to surround themselves with people who have like-values but different beliefs. The diversity is what fuels innovation and creativity, but it comes at a cost – awareness and accuracy.
The chaos and uncertainty that is inevitably created as a result of breaking down and rebuilding people’s belief systems is subsequently glued back together with the power of the values they all subscribe to. In the first instance, it is terrifying to be proven wrong, but knowing it came from an angle of love and was triggered by the pursuit of truth is what ultimately confirms its importance and relevance.
When implemented correctly the relationship survives and thrives, and a new cycle of growth is formed. A belief system is challenged, the relationship is re-glued by values, everyone grows, then the process is repeated.
I would like to take the opportunity to share some advice (for what it’s worth) from my experience as a leader, learnt mostly from my mistakes.
If you are a leader you should not choose to be offended. The moment you become offended the dialogue stops. The moment the dialogue stops you lose your influence. The moment you lose your influence the person drifts in the other direction.
It takes significant courage, fortitude, and discipline to listen to people intently, absorbing their entire message. All this, whilst trying to find the context for why/how they arrived at that conclusion. It is a well recorded communication skill to be able to accurately and honestly depict another person’s opinion (in all its detail) without manipulating it into a narrative that suits our own purposes. This is an incredibly powerful skill to foster and maintain enduring relationships.
Our egos are ultimately the trap. They encourage us to cut others off and impart our opinion over theirs. The moment we choose to become offended we have decided to focus on the person, not the problem, and this does not work.
The other thing to consider is that the loudest people in the room very rarely hold the greatest influence. Be careful when the ‘squeaky wheel’ individual claims to represent the interests of an entire group, rarely is this the case (in my experience). It is quite often to find a silent majority who hold relatively consistent opinions. This group are sometimes reticent to communicate because it is perceived to be too hard to deal with the louder more dominating individuals, and is therefore fraught with avoidable dangers.
This is a shame because it speaks to the fundamentals around communication, openness, and honesty which professedly scaffold our communities and cultures. Maybe more important to recognise is the lack of dialogue and communication leads to regret, which subsequently morphs into resentment. I see this happening with the two groups in the political correctness debate, as people routinely mention their inability to speak out without being attacked.
If you think the damages associated with offending people are bad, wait until you see the results of drawn out resentment. They are quite literally the worst.
So, has political correctness gone too far? The answer is yes, no and it depends (very politically correct I know, but it is true).
The answer is case specific to individual societies and cultures. It is in varying levels in different places throughout the world, all of which hold different political structures and systems. A generalised answer about the topic or the people that voted is arguably unhelpful and only serves to fuel bias.
One could reasonably say that 84% of people saying something has gone too far is an objective indicator to consider that there is likely something amiss. But if it is to be fixed it requires further analysis and contextualisation to find those root causes that are triggering this answer. It also needs people to leave their egos at the door. It is important to note that had I asked the question in a different way, it is likely I would have received an entirely different result. The frame of reference is important and cannot be overlooked for the sake of convenience.
All this considered, the incredible sway in one direction (based on the way I asked the question) might trigger some people to reassess the way they communicate with others. It might challenge preconceptions that individuals previously had on the topic. It might pressure test some people’s beliefs – and that is good thing. Hopefully, it might have shocked some people to delve further into the topic in a manner that might challenge their own belief systems, or the way they interact with others.
If it has achieved this, then we have collectively taken one small step in the right direction and that is a better place than we were previously. Sometimes that is all we can hope for.
Safe travels, and best wishes.
I hope you have enjoyed this article
In 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released The Wizard of Oz. Towards the end of the film the protagonists finally arrive at their desired location, in order to meet the great Wizard of Oz. Confronted with the ominous presence of the great wizard, Toto the tiny dog casually makes his way over to a concealed curtain in the corner. Next, he slowly pulls aside the curtain, revealing an old erratic man frantically pulling levers, and twisting dials whilst yelling into a microphone. And thus, the Great Wizard of Oz was revealed in his true form, warts and all.
This is a great analogy for the emergence of data in the corporate and commercial worlds. In 2006 Clive Humby coined the phrase ‘data is the new oil,’ and the growth of Google, Amazon, and Facebook (to name a few) are all testament to the lures associated with this largely misunderstood resource.
The temptation for many organisations is to ‘collect data’ and present it on sexy dashboards with various graphs, presentations, and tables. This is often done in response to:
The creation of these tools is expensive, distracting, and without focus and prioritisation can be dangerous rabbit holes in which to get lost in.
In 1978 The Hitchhikers Guide to Galaxy was released by Douglas Adams, originally presented as a radio comedy broadcast on BBC4. A comical scene exists whereby an alien race develops a supercomputer called ‘Deep-thought’ in order to answer the ambiguous questions to ‘the great question – of life the universe and everything’. After 7.5 million years of processing time, it comes back with the disappointing answer of ’Forty-Two’.
Deep-thought goes on to explain,
“I think that the problem is that you have never really known what the question is…You have to know what the question actually is, in order to know what the answer means”
So herein lies the problem. So many organisations are frantically collecting as much data as they can without any coherent understanding as to why, or for what purpose.
Strategy should underpin everything that we do with our teams. The link between operational efforts and our strategy direction should be strong, coherent, and measurable.
As a minimum our organisational strategies should include:
Our organisational strategies need to deeply influence our decision-making. Data serves the purpose of reinforcing decision making by:
But in order to achieve all this, data must be used as a surgical weapon, not a blunderbuss/shotgun approach. Failure to do so will only cause more problems than you had originally.
Data is not the silver bullet people often choose to rest their projects and careers on. Any statistician worth their salt will describe how information can be manipulated to tell the desired story. Moreover poor or lazy collection of information will lead to terribly unreliable outcomes. For example:
Before diving into data-collection we must know why we are committing to it.
The questions must be geared towards answering an overarching concern or opportunity and should directly link to our project scope or organisational strategy.
The questions must be geared towards refining and tightening the scope of the collection in order to narrow the ambiguity of the project.
To get started you could ask:
The list of human shortfalls that affect data are too lengthy to mention. But here are two very important ones that are often overlooked, bias and subjectivity…
Bias comes in all different forms including everything from ‘confirmation bias’ where we actively look for information that confirms our original hypothesis or stance, through to ‘selection bias’ when data is selected subjectively, and everything in between.
Needless to say, that our own personal biases completely undermine our ‘objectivity’ if not cross referenced against other sources or mechanisms.
Examples of this occurring include (source: Cmotions):
· Poorly articulated questions in questionnaires
· Choosing people from a demographic that will support our claim or stance
· Breaking people into poorly defined or irrelevant groupings
· Measuring things incorrectly
· Non-random selections
Everyone is experiencing the world in very different ways. Moreover, the way we feel at a certain time can have significant implications on the way that we collect information, engage with participants, and interpret information.
If you want accurate and useful data you need:
· A plan (the right tool for the right job)
· Structure (sequencing and staging)
· Objectivity (multiple sources of data, and quality checking collector’s activities)
· Quality assurance
· Professionalism and Discipline (stick the plan and don’t jump to assumptions)
If you do not have these things as a minimum, your efforts are likely in vain, and you are likely wasting everyone’s time.
Data is a new fad.
It sounds cool, but most of the time it doesn’t mean anything or serve any purpose because we don’t give it the respect or attention it deserves.
If you are collecting data without knowing why. Stop. Reassess. Fix it.
I would suggest that if you are looking for data that prove to yourself that you are doing great work then you are likely using it for the wrong reason.
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So today I woke up angry, frustrated and pissed off. Sue me, I’m human.
The trigger was due to the accumulative effects of numerous issues which arose the day before. It was just one of those days that progressively got worse and worse until the point where it was nearly laughable.
The day involved everything from technology blow ups, being let down unexpectedly by others, losing important leads, communication blunders, losing the rugby, to not sleeping through the night. It was one thing after the next. No sooner had I put down the phone did it call with another problem. We have all been there. Just one of those days…
So, I woke up this morning with a unique idea. I would walk people through the way I was going to re-frame and get back on the horse. This would document how I forcibly slap myself off of the victim bandwagon and get on with life. This is as transparent and honest as I can be about something that is happening real-time.
Whenever someone gets ‘spooled up’ like I did the day prior, it is usually following a number of assumptions or assertions that have been placed into the narrative.
1. In my instance it is very easy to assume that the ‘attack’ on me from multiple fronts is due to a higher and more insidious attempt to break me.
2. That the people who let me down did so in order to deliberately annoy and frustrate me.
3. That the leads we lost were a complete and utter waste of time.
4. That the technology mishaps were entirely preventable
5. That the rugby game we lost was the universe’s way of putting the ‘cherry on the cake.’
When you say it out loud one immediately starts to realise that it is a massive list of thoughts generated by self-rationalisation.
A narrative that directly places me in the cross hairs of a victim mindset.
Instead let’s look now at what I know to be true:
1. I had a crappy day with a whole bunch of unrelated but equally frustrating events.
2. The day prior was quite good and if I choose I could average it out and come out on top. Or better yet I could reinforce the fact that what happened one day is very unlikely to have full effect on the next.
3. It is very unlikely that the interpersonal disappointments were malicious in any way. More likely it was how I chose to interpret them.
With that detailed, let’s move onto the next step…
If you are interested in learning more about the distinction between facts and assumptions, read this article I wrote previously.
My personal values are below. Let’s see how I can use my values in order to make better choices. In doing so I need to be 100% honest with myself and leave my ego and pride at the door. I need to ask myself some challenging questions.
1. Whilst I am wallowing in self-pity and anger, am I providing service to others? No
2. Would the mindset I am currently demonstrating align with my reputation of service to others? No
3. Are there better ways I can demonstrate service to others? Yes
4. Will what I experienced recently redirect who I provide service to in the future? Partly Yes
1. Is there a more productive way of using my time in order to provide service to others? Yes
2. Am I currently being forward leaning or reactive? Reactive
3. Can I make a deliberate choice right now in order to demonstrate initiative of thought and activity? Yes
1. Did I have a part to play in the proceedings that happened the day prior? Yes
2. Could I have responded in different ways that would be more resourceful? Yes
3. Is this an opportunity for self-learning? Yes
4. Are we now more informed about the realities with the people, technology and markets? Yes
5. Will this allow me to adjust my style and approach in the future? Yes
1. Did you demonstrate integrity in the way you responded to stimuli? Yes, but I could have done better.
2. Do you have a choice to demonstrate integrity moving forward? Yes
3. Did we learn about other people’s integrity throughout the process? Yes
4. Will this help in allowing me to better allocate our time to people with like-minded values? Yes
These questions, and others like them are the result of personal discipline to stop oneself getting worked up. It has taken me many years to realise my limits and personality flaws to the point where I can ask myself questions like this in order to snap myself back into the person I would like to be remembered as. In this way our values can become powerful circuit breakers.
Moving forward I have to make some choices. The first is a choice as to whether I will whine like a little child and play the victim, or whether I choose to act like a mature adult that accepts their part to play in the events, learns from it and makes better choices in the future.
The second is whether I contextualise what I am experiencing with the real world.
1. Is anyone dead or dying? No.
2. In ten years time will I remember or care about the shit day? No.
3. Have I personally dealt with worse? Hell yes!
Then get off your high horse and get back down to reality where you belong….
My decisions and choices moving forward:
1. Today I will act in a way that acquits my values positively
2. I will make more informed choices about the people I invest time in, the technologies we use, and the markets we service.
3. Today I’ll re-frame with a chosen phrase of ‘shit happens’. Sometimes you have crappy days. Get over it.
4. I’m going to start looking for opportunities and gaps and regain my hunt for ‘good people.’
It is time to execute on the promises, and implement the lessons learnt.
No excuses. Get it done!
Getting these things done is what we will define as success and winning.
I hope by walking people through this internal discussion and dialogue they can see some opportunities for their own personal growth. Either that or you now think I am a loony madman.
I trust that the importance of personal choice and accountability rings through and this resonates with the people who are currently ‘spooling up’.
I am confident that there is at least one person out there who might gain value from this article.
In closing I would like to quote Viktor Frankl:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
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If you would like a discussion about personal and professional development opportunities. Reach out and we can have a chat.
Author: David Neal – Director – The Eighth Mile Consulting
We have all heard someone say, “I’m not a pessimist, I am a realist.” It is a phrase that has many different layers to it, and it is definitely a topic worth discussing.
There are many that would argue that the world is a terrible and chaotic place characterised by suffering, confusion, and destruction.
I recently posted a number of content pieces that explained ‘The Principles Of War’, a set of broad and overarching guidelines that acted as a filtering system for the operational and strategic efforts we conducted within the Military. In response to these posts many asked me to collate the information in a central source so that they might apply more reasonably to their businesses and teams.
There is no point in providing a set of principles, guidelines or considerations unless we build a context behind them that establishes relevance. This is my shot at doing that for the Principles of War in a corporate context.
The Principles of War are a set of guiding principles that act as considerations for military planning and strategy. It has become apparent that there is some utility in using them in the corporate environment. In this article, we look at the analysis and interpretation of the principles with that concept in mind.
Simply put, the principles exist to help frame ‘how’ to think and not ‘what’ to think. This means that we are free to explore whatever is needed to solve the problem. However, we must be careful to balance our priorities and resources to enable the best possible outcome.
These are the principles in order but not in importance. Each plan or initiative will see a different prioritisation of each of these principles in order to achieve a different effects or outcome.
The situation will see each principle being utilised differently and should be weighted depending on the circumstances, what needs to be achieved and the priorities set out by the planner. As an example, when developing a concept for client focused service (aim) we may need to bring in another organisation to cover an identified need (cooperation) which we could only build ourselves at a much higher cost (economy of effort). This joint venture may necessitate an exchange of restricted information (security) to ensure the team is established, trust is built, and we can be demonstrating our ability to adjust to our client’s needs (flexibility/aim).
For this scenario, the client focused service has primacy. It may look something like this.
Note – ‘the doctrine’ comments are excerpts from Land Warfare Doctrine 1 – The Fundamentals of Land Power 2014 – The Principles of War
The doctrine – Once the aim has been decided, all effort must continually be directed towards its attainment so long as this is possible, and every plan or action must be tested by its bearing on the aim.
“ Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future ” – Walt Disney
In broad terms, it means to keep the object/ end in mind at every level of the operation. The creation of the aim (end state/ outcome) takes time, energy, and some serious thought. This is true for military and corporate action.
When selecting and maintaining the aim:
Know where you are heading before you start. It allows you and your team to align to a common outcome and make decisions as well as maintain momentum in your absence. From CEO to a jobseeker, selecting and maintaining your aim provides the purpose to make sound decisions.
The doctrine – Concentration of force is the ability to apply decisive military force at the right place, at the right time and in such a way as to achieve a decisive result.
“ The talent of the strategist is to identify the decisive point and to concentrate everything on it, removing forces from secondary fronts and ignoring lesser objectives. ” – Carl von Clausewitz
To be successful we need to be able to concentrate our capabilities, at the appropriate time and place, to achieve success. This means knowing what we have, what it can do and where it is going to have the most impact. Then doing it. This principle is about be deliberate and even more so, decisive.
In a corporate context this would mean:
We cannot spend everything on anything. Prioritise those actions that will have the highest impact and align to the strategy. Then build up the required resources, staff and capital to seize an opportunity. This is a deliberate and defined process.
The doctrine – Cooperation within joint combined arms interagency teams, allies and coalition partners is vital for success. Only in this way can the resources and energies of each be harnessed so as to achieve success.
” It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed. ” – Charles Darwin
Vital to success is the ability to bring together multiple agencies to achieve an overall effect. What this means in a practical sense is to build teams that cover each other’s gaps. We cannot know or be great at everything, so we join forces with others to create something better than our own individual capability.
What cooperation looks like:
Combining efforts takes a great deal of trust, authenticity, and respect. It may be for a short period or an enduring strategic partnership. The vulnerabilities of your joined team must be protected at all costs.
The doctrine – Economy of effort is the prudent allocation and application of resources to achieve the desired results.
“ The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency. ” – Bill Gates
Economy of effort. This principle deals with ‘playing smart’ and making the full use of available resources. It is in this space that we create a balance in priorities and what we can realistically achieve and sustain. Appropriate allocation must be nested with the strategy as they are finite. Priority allocation must go to the main effort that and supporting efforts will be created to enable it.
In a corporate setting this might look like:
A changing environment requires adaptability and if the main effort/ supporting efforts evolve then the priority of resourcing will change. At all times maintaining your economy of effort must be nested with the other principles like sustainment. Appropriate allocation of effort can mean the difference between success and failure.
The doctrine – Security is concerned with measures taken by a command to protect itself from espionage, sabotage, subversion, observation, or surprise. It is of basic concern during any campaign or operation. Security is required to operate effectively with minimal interference from the enemy.
“ Protection and security are only valuable if they do not cramp life excessively. ” – Carl Jung
To be able to continue to operate and/ or obtain opportunities we must first ensure that our own capabilities are as secure as required by the strategy. Now in times of need, sacrificing security for speed may be that strategy but it must be a planned, deliberate, and precise decision. Offensive strategies can also be a method of security as we stay mobile, maintain momentum and aren’t targetable.
In a corporate context, this could mean:
Security of our businesses in physical, financial, strategic, operational and resource-based decisions is important to enable us to operate effectively with minimal disturbance. This principle allows us to analyse risk and mitigate it before crisis occurs.
The doctrine – Military forces take offensive action to gain and retain the initiative. This has often taken the form of building momentum and fueling it to snowball the opposition. In most circumstances, such action is essential to the achievement of victory.
“ A little deed done very well is better than a mighty plan kept on paper, undone. Wishes don’t change the world; it’s actions that do this business! ” – Israelmore Ayivor
We need an offensive action (read, a bias for action in this case) to either regain or maintain initiative, or in a corporate context; maintain your competitive advantage, be first to market, launch on a project or create and seize opportunities. This action must be deliberate and decisive and must be driven towards achieving the established aim.
To effectively implement offensive actions, we should:
In a military context this may necessitate combat however, it can also be the use of information actions and achieving influence as well. Overall, it is important to understand the importance of having a bias for action as it creates momentum, speed in decision making and advantage over your competitors. This bias will ultimately allow you to create opportunities not just be reactive to them.
The doctrine – Surprise can produce results out of all proportion to the effort expended and is closely related to security.
“ In conflict, straightforward actions generally lead to engagement, surprising actions generally lead to victory ” – Sun Tzu
In a military term this might require deception or simply being able to disperse and concentrate rapidly, concealing your activity, appearing weak when you are strong etc. The idea is to be where you are unexpected or where you are expected at a time when you are not, in forces that weren’t planned for. In a corporate context, this may mean the release of a new strategy, software, market entry, product release in a time and manner that is not expected so that your competitors can’t mimic or get the inside track.
To achieve successful surprise:
This list is ultimately endless but, in a nutshell, utilising surprise not only keeps you and your team excited about new plans, it also enables you to capitalise on opportunities before others know you are even looking at them.
The doctrine – Flexibility is the capacity to adapt plans to take account of unforeseen circumstances to ensure success in the face of friction, unexpected resistance, or setbacks, or to capitalise on unexpected opportunities.
“ It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change. ” – Charles Darwin
This is your ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment (your AQ). I would also include your resilience to setbacks, ability to deal with friction, chaos and complexity and to make decisions in uncertainty. The aim of flexibility is to maintain dynamic decision making across multiple lines of operation and still be synchronised.
To build flexibility:
Giving your team and organisation the confidence and capability to accept risk and seize opportunities is a deliberate process. As leaders we have a responsibility to create the environment and set the conditions for success. Build and train your teams to be able to understand intent and feel confident to take risks knowing that you have their backs. Ultimately, gaps and opportunities will be found by them. If they feel confident and capable, you will be able to pivot early and often.
The doctrine – Sustainment refers to the support arrangements necessary to implement strategies and operational plans.
“ You won’t find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics ” – General Dwight. D. Eisenhower
The new executive with the grand ideas will often forget about the sustainability of a project or strategy. Logistics and sustainability don’t just happen and can underpin an entire campaign.
Deliberate planning of time and resources for both offensive and defensive strategies should be a priority if you want an enduring impact. The sustainability or logistical elements of are also those things that are easily targetable by a competitor who can bring more support to the game.
To be sustainable we must:
Sustainability of our initiatives is the life blood of enduring impact. In change management, fatigue and obstruction are the result. In projects, loss of capability occurs or a failure to meet scope.
Be clinical and decisive in your application of resources.
The doctrine – Morale is an essential element of combat power. High morale engenders courage, energy, cohesion, endurance, steadfastness, determination and a bold, offensive spirit.
“ An army’s effectiveness depends on its size, training, experience, and morale, and morale is worth more than any of the other factors combined. ” – Napoleon Bonaparte
For those that know and understand the power of good morale, it is understood that this can be the power that turns the tide and make the unachievable…achievable.
Teams with high morale based on being highly trained, determined people with a shared value set, cohesion and trust will outperform even the best ‘qualified’ teams (on paper) with low morale. This is the secret force multiplier that changes the game.
Morale is built on:
If you have worked in a team with high morale, you will understand the power and addictive nature of it. You feel indestructible and associate the impossible as the possible. However, it takes work and commitment to being a part of something bigger than yourself.
The principles of war have been developed over the years as a set of factors and considerations for successful planning and implementation of strategy.
Depending on the environment, the adversary, experience, available time and any other amount of identifiable conditions will determine what weight is applied to each principle. We cannot achieve every principle perfectly every time. Sometimes we may have to sacrifice one to achieve another as a priority of circumstance. That means that careful consideration and analysis must be applied to each strategy and plan. The consideration itself will lead to a better plan than had it not been done at all.
Ultimately, having a set of principles that can help aid in planning and decision making helps you to create better outcomes. The principles of war are one such set.