Sunday, 16 August 2009

Sugar Party Hangover

I’ve had it with the barrage of packaged advice from business gurus, icons and stars – axioms and aphorisms on how to be successful: summary lists that pretend to make simple the complexities of human collaboration. It clearly sells business books, newspapers, seminars and fills the e-waves. But to little tangible effect that I’ve seen.

It’s not that the advice is bad. It’s more the way it’s communicated and consumed like candy for sugar hungry kid’s at a party: a lolly scramble, a sugar rush, a burst of high excitement, energy and frantic bonhomie, then back to normal.

The main learning’s how to scramble to win the most lollies; that the most lollies equals the most fun.

This was highlighted for me over the last couple of weeks beginning with a whole day of Jack Daly, the sales phenomenon extraordinaire (see my last week’s blog ). Then there was my colleague Stephen Lynch’s Business Growth Tip summarising New York Times 4th April “Corner Office” interview with John Donahoe, president and chief executive of eBay .

For me the key learning to be had from Jack Daly and John Donahoe isn’t in how they made themselves successful but in how others enabled them to be successful and how they in turn enabled others.

For instance, half of jack Daly’s seminar was about how to create a climate in which others can excel.

The main theme of John Donahoe’s reflection and the key to his leadership is what he communicates and the way he communicates it so that others can learn, and how he learned to do that.

He says that feedback from six monthly performance reviews was powerfully effective in his formation and development. He espouses and practices candid communication. He enables people to discover and play to their strengths and passions.

Jack and John didn’t make themselves, overnight. They didn’t just swallow the magic lollies that their audiences crave. Sure, they had a big hand in their own development but they were hugely fortunate to have wise others who guided, enabled and facilitated that slow learning process.

John Donahoe recalls that every six months or so he’d get a rigorous performance review (in latter years 20 pages thick) that included everything he could possibly do better. He came to regard the feedback as liberating; a gift, and wasn’t afraid of it.

He found that a third of the feedback would be no surprise: for his long-term attention and change - still an issue the next year and the year after.

A third of it would be insight into his blind spots for himself and others – new awareness of areas for change .

A third of it he would ignore ignore and keep doing what he wanted to do.

From that experience he learned to “try to do the same for the people around me, and give them open, objective feedback offered in a constructive way.”

The focus here is on manager/leader communication behaviour. There is no magic pill. These guys learned to communicate the hard way. Yet how many firms who heard Tom Peters’ fervent exhortation six months ago in Auckland to implement communication training, if nothing else, have done that? I’ll wager <3%. The audience craved sugar pills.

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