The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already.
It's springtime in 1991 and I am standing in the kitchen with my girlfriend. Since meeting a year earlier we had moved in together and had each celebrated our 30th birthday. On this particular day, she starts saying something that both surprised and impressed me.
She spoke from the heart about where she was on her life journey. She was feeling ready to settle down and whilst she felt that she could do that with me, she said that I needed to decide what I wanted. If I wasn't really feeling ready, she would understand but she would need to move on to create the life she wanted.
As Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, put it:
"Your brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room."
Of course, these days many of the conversations about people are not just happening face to face. The exponential growth of web-based communication has led to more and more conversations happening anywhere, at any time.
Social media is a powerful way of passing information around more widely and more quickly. You can reach more people with the words and images that you want to share.
This opportunity is paired with a danger.
As I sat down with my family to watch the often amusing and sometimes inspiring TV programme, Britain's Got Talent, there was clearly a very new dynamic on the panel of judges.
Head judge and creator of the show, Simon Cowell was back along with regular, Amanda Holden, and new judges, Alisha Dixon and David Walliams.
Previous judges have included Piers Morgan, David Hasselhoff and Michael McIntyre, but none have made Cowell seem much less cool and powerful, and more ordinary in the way that Walliams did last night.
He got away with it for three reasons:
In two organisations (both in the oil industry) I have also been asked to hold the rail while walking on the stairs. Like covering the coffee, it seemed like “health and safety” gone mad!
I thought to myself, “I’m not a child; I don’t need to be told what to do!”
It was the attitude of a defiant teenager.
Then last year, I finally got the lesson. I was a bit slow to learn. In fact, it took me TWO injuries to REALLY get it!.
The very next day, I was having lunch with a friend and former client, Will Freeborough. Will is the Managing Partner of Orchestra (www.orchestra-agency.com), a fabulous marketing and advertising agency in central London.
Now, I’m well aware that what we see on TV isn’t the whole truth about the individuals, their personal qualities and behaviours. However, what we did see can be used to illustrate certain points.
Lesson 1. Fancy talk is not enough
"Chooka" James Parker lives on a farm north of Melbourne (the same environment I grew up in!). (For you non-Australians, "chook" is our word for hen!) 16 years old at the time, he stunned the judges with his self-taught, "make it up on the spot" piano virtuosity. To be similarly amazed, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uE1xsuEywQ
What makes Chooka extra fascinating is his unassuming nature. He seems unaware of just how talented he is!
For everyone of these amazing people we get to discover, think how many more are hidden away from our view?
Having committed myself to accelerating the development of the next generation of leaders, I find it helpful to either reinforce or extend my existing knowledge on the subject.
His comments did both.
We agreed that some things have changed since his days as a young leader stepping up into big roles in his 20's and 30's, compared to today's new generation of leaders. These include:
Francois Moscovici, an expert in retaining talent in business, points out that we are heading towards a shortage of 30 - 44 year olds. As more senior people start to retire or scale back their hours, the next generation of leaders will need to step up quite quickly. In many cases, they will be managing people older than themselves. This can lead to conflict as the younger leader is typically more ambitious and driven. Moscovici points out that will be essential that they acquire coaching and influencing skills to be effective.
Recently I met with a client who recruited a new team member with a view to this person being a potential successor. What appeared to be a great "marriage" has thus far proved to be a disappointment for all concerned. There are many reasons for this but it highlights why a successful marriage (whether to a prince or to an organisation) requires a bit more forethought and attention than the fairytales would suggest.