Banjos, Passion & Persistence.What my dad taught me about business…

My father was a pilot.  He flew maritime patrol aircraft and spent his entire career (bar a few lost years when he was doing something else) in the Air Force.  Not content with flying as his day job, he earned his commercial pilot’s licence, and at weekends he taught other people to fly. You are probably wondering what, if any, wisdom he had to pass on about business.  Here’s what he taught me:

1. Do what you love

There is no point being miserable in a job you hate. As human beings, we bring the whole person to work, not just our working wardrobe or telephone voice. Since we also spend a considerable proportion of our time working – A recent OECD study clocks average working hours per annum at between 1,379 (Netherlands) and a whopping 2,193 hours (Korea) – it makes economic sense to enjoy what you spend most of your day doing. How so?  Well, work satisfaction has a direct effect on employee engagement and productivity. Workers who engage emotionally with their job/leaders/organisation are more productive and more likely to exceed expectations. They are also more likely to innovate and use their discretionary time to further organisational aims.  Productivity + performance = profits according to research published by the Association for Psychological Science. You can read more here.

2. Always do your best

My dad always used to say it didn’t matter what you did for a living, as long as you did your best.  Of course, your best may vary according to the resources at your disposal. My dad ran away to join the RAF when he was 21, and spent several months in Earl’s Court pumping gas to make ends meet while he waiting to be accepted for the officer’s training course. He made a point of being the best petrol jockey he could – because satisfied customers meant bigger tips. Bigger tips meant not having to eat baked beans for five days in a row. Working meant taking productive action while moving towards a bigger goal. In fact, setting goals can have real impact on performance by directing individuals towards productive (vs. non-productive) behaviour, and by incentivising persistence.

3. Never use the skin of your a***, to cover a banjo!

I know! That never used to make a lot of sense to me either. Actually, it was my dad’s rather earthy way of saying ‘have a Plan B’.  The best leaders I know always prepare for every eventuality.  Scenario planning – as it’s known in consultant-speak – is a strategic tool which allows organisations to make long term plans. It has it’s origins in military intelligence, but it’s business value is that is combines things you can quantify (and therefore predict) with things you can’t in order to formulate specific business strategies. Made famous by Shell, it allowed the company to ride out the OPEC Oil crisis in the 1970’s to become one of the largest in the world.  If you want to know more, the best book I’ve ever read on this discipline is by Kees van der Heijden.  Like I said, make sure you have more than a banjo to see you through inclement market conditions.

My dad may not have been a captain of industry, but I think he knew a thing or two about leadership.

What do you think?  What are your three insights about business?  Answers on the blog, please!

The Firing Line…

There are a few things in business life that make me come out in hives (metaphorically speaking).  One of them has got to be ‘The Apprentice’ – a reality show that seems to exist in a time-warp.  It advocates such an outmoded view of leadership, entrepreneurship & business, I don’t know whether to despair or laugh at the absurdity of it all. Machiavelli would be proud!

Apart from gender competition – boys v. girls, and the sycophantic ‘Lord Sugar’ crap – lets face it, he blows his nose and goes to the loo just like the rest of us – this is a programme that makes people think being a leader is about ego, bullying & blame.  As the utterly self-absorbed corporate hopefuls try to outsmart, out-talk and oust eachother they seem to have forgotten that good business is actually based on a few strong principles:

1) Relationships matter.  You might be the most brilliant brain this side of the solar system, but if you are unable to put your ego aside, it will eventually trip you up. There is a fine line between arrogance and confidence. Confidence will inspire people to follow you and clients to purchase your product or service. Arrogance will just brass them off!

2) Being a leader means that the buck stops with you. If you lead others, you accept that mistakes will happen. They are simply another way of doing things. OK, maybe the wrong way, but another way nonetheless. They are not an excuse to find a scapegoat for your own shortcomings.

3) Integrity is something you cannot manufacture. You have it or you don’t. On first inspection, most of the talentless twits on the show couldn’t even spell integrity, let alone recognise it if it happened to walk up to them and wiggle.

John F Kennedy said:’ Leadership and learning are indispensable to eachother’. I suspect Alan Sugar – along with his apprentices – is too arrogant to learn anything. Perhaps the lesson here is to change the channel!