Wednesday 25 July 2012

Prepare for the Unexpected?

One summer, I took the Eurostar from London returning to Brussels. It was one of those hot summers day, sometime in the middle of the afternoon. As the train got closer to Brussels, it started slowing down, until eventually it grounded to a halt perhaps 30 km from its destination and then the engine turned off. It stood there for a while as the sun was shining through our windows. After approximately 10 minutes an announcement came on ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, we are sorry to inform you that the local electric power supply is out on this part of the track. We have no further information to give you for now, as soon as we get some, we will inform you’
The air conditioning and the lights were switched off and another announcement came on ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, we are sorry to inform you that we are obliged to turn out all power in the train to conserve our limited batteries’

As the sun shone even more brightly through our windows, the heat in the train was rising. Another announcement,  ‘Ladies and gentlemen, would you be kind and to turn down the blinds in order to reduce the sunlight coming through the windows’

We in turn pulled our blinds down. The heat in the train was beginning to rise considerably. We had no air supply and it was perhaps 30 degrees outside. Inside, it would have to be a lot more not helped by the baking sun directing her sunlight through the blinds.  We waited for another announcement and after around 30 minutes we heard the following  ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have just been informed that there is a Deutsche Baan train in front of us which has also broken down due to no electrical supply. We have radioed the main station in Brussels Midi our situation and are awaiting an update. We do not know yet how much time this will take. Meanwhile water will be distributed to all passengers.’

The heat in our compartments was reaching 40 degrees centigrade, if not more as there was no oxygen supply. We were unable to open any windows as that was just not possible and to the doors what with no power supply they were firmly closed. I saw people beginning to perspire quite a bit. An hour went by, and no further announcement as yet. People were beginning to look nervous and some were agitated.

Another announcement came. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have just heard from Brussels main station that they are sending an extra diesel locomotive to attach themselves to us, and pull us into Brussels. We are not sure how long this will take. Again, we are very sorry and we will keep you informed’

As I pondered the situation, it was easily 40 degrees and fast climbing perhaps to 50 degrees. I don’t know. How much longer can the human body take this kind of thing.  Another diesel locomotive? No doubt they would have to toe the Deutsche Baan train in front first. How long will that take? Another couple of hours!  My mind wondered off what the human body would sustain. Dying through asphyxiation. This means the body has a lack of Oxygen due to excess Carbon. Without sufficient oxygen to sustain life, people will act normally at first but will then abruptly feel dizzy and black out in a matter of seconds as the remaining oxygen in the blood stream is consumed. I pondered how this would be an interesting way to go.

As almost 120 minutes came in this situation, an announcement came. Ladies and gentlemen, the diesel engine has arrived. We will shortly be moving slowly and into Brussels. We are very sorry about this delay.’ As the diesel engine attached itself to our train, finally after two hours of being stuck we were able to move. Of course with the power still out it was easily now perhaps 50 degrees and rising. People’s clothes were drenched in sweat but amazingly they were very calm.  I myself, just sat there breathing normally and slowly without moving. I was ready and prepared to look after people if there was a need. As the train was moving at 30 to 40 km an hour, still there was no supply of oxygen. Again I wondered again how long the human body could take this. I looked around, some people were quietly fidgety. Others were making jokes on their various mobiles about how they were trapped inside an oven. Yes, asphyxiation was a form of death that could catch people by surprise especially when in fact, in retrospect we were trapped inside an oven.

Another announcement came. “Ladies and gentlemen, we will shortly be arriving into Brussels station, please be aware that due to having no electrical supply, it is possible we may incur a problem opening our doors automatically. Please be patient for a few minutes upon our arrival, if the doors do not open, we will be obliged to open them each manually.’

I was beginning to wonder if people were going to react or anything would happen. There was quite a lot of grumbling; at least they took some comfort in knowing that they would get to their destination. About 2.5 hours into our ordeal we suddenly arrived into Brussels station. The final announcement came ‘Our apologies for this delay and discomfort, we would like to inform you that you may access our website for passenger refunds for this delay etc’

As it came to a halt, naturally we had to wait a further 10 minutes before all the doors had to be opened manually. We calmly waited until finally the doors opened and we walked outside feeling utterly relieved to be breathing in the fresh air after enduring a heat that probably reached 50 even 60 degree for easily over two hours if not three.

Now, I wanted to tell you this story of what happened to me back in the summer of 2011, which may have little if not nothing to do with my business at Time MCG but intriguing nevertheless. It describes a scenario that regardless of which responsible business or company you are responsible for, be it in financial services, retail, manufacturing or transportation & logistics clearly the unexpected may occur.  There are certain contingency  or ‘back up’ plans that can be put in place made when it comes to the responsibility of employees, customers and/or clients if certain ‘predicable’ scenarios may occur when related to our business. Shock waves related to slower growth for example. Perhaps more ‘thinking’ and investment by firms in this area will be required for the future.

In this case it is seemed clear that Eurostar’s contingency plan in such a situation was totally inadequate and it almost felt that they had none. The only fix they had was ‘A refund’ and thankfully there was a diesel locomotive at hand. To have a loss of local supply of power on a track line whereby a train losing all its power, could happen at any time. There was no backup plan particularly in the heat of the summer. To be unable to open any windows and not then able to supply oxygen with another battery was unacceptable. What if there were no Diesel trains, or suddenly a loss of supply of diesel to run those locomotives? How were we supposed to open windows or doors if we had to? What if we were further away from Brussels and more time was needed?  A refund? Is that it? I would rather our money re-invested on a clear guideline if such a situation occurred again as this one was not acceptable. The company put their passengers in an incredibly high risk and dangerous situation that Monday 4th July. I was amazed by the patience and calmness of all the passengers and that incredibly no one was harmed.

Incidentally, some days after that incident I was looking for my ticket and I couldn’t find it. I thought how silly of me, I must have thrown it away. In case any of you are asking I did not make this story up !

Are we still at a crossroads?

In our work it is often the case we come home and feel frustrated or unrewarded. It can turn out that perhaps we do very little and in the end view our work as what we can get out of it and as a way of feeding our families and providing security. We may feel a lack of fulfilment and make up for it in our own free time where we can pursue our own hobbies, enjoy our families or other pleasures.

I believe there is more we can do in our careers so let’s raise the bar a little. We need time to look at the nuts and bolts which require a certain re-examination of ourselves as that is where it essentially begins. I will try to summarise as follows as to what is in fact is a vast subject of which Steven Covey has a better grasp.  The human body consists of the mind, the body, the spirit and the heart. Let’s ask ourselves some questions from this whole body paradigm, which applies to our work just as much as to our home.

• There is our mind or our mental intelligence. Do I have time to think? Am I able to reason well? How is my memory, and my sense of logic? How creative am I? Do I have a vision and a strategy?
• The body and our physical intelligence.  How healthy am I? Do I possess the energy, discipline and work ethic? To have the physical capacity to execute what is required? How competent am I?
• There is our heart and our emotional intelligence. How much passion and or compassion do I have? Can I love? Am I emphatic enough? Do I think, help and understand others?   Do I listen and have the ability to put myself in someone else’s shoes? Am I sensitive, socially aware yet at the same time courageous?
• There is our spirit and our spiritual intelligence. Am I in touch with my conscience? To have an innate understanding of what is right and what is wrong? Do I possess humility and have the capacity to forgive? Do I lead a life in business compatible to my life at home?  Do I act according to my conviction, in good conscience and with integrity, respect and fairness?

I certainly know areas in myself where I can improve. I am touching on but a few and on some pretty fearful questions particularly the latter ones. We just don’t know what we could find. It might be a murky world under there. Human beings are often fragile and fearful.  Nevertheless the most important of them all I believe is the spirit or our soul. This is what makes us human beings different to every other living organism on the earth. This is the source and the driver of the other three where your alertness becomes more acute together with your talents and skills. This is the great mystery of being alive. It acts in stark contrast to our ego or pride. It takes some serious channelling of a band of frequencies out of a World War 2 radio, in which many people require guidance; you can create a synergy in you as a person, build character and change.  You can create a sense of higher worth and a purpose. You can create in yourself a powerful force and be prepared to face challenges better equipped than ever before. You can perhaps grasp the wider issues and then begin to do something about it. You can feel and become unique.

When I worked as a head hunter, a lot of us were talented and in many ways it was a fun business but somehow in the 4 person paradigm something was missing. It became a dog-eat-dog world in other words there was a lot of competition, both internal and external and we would do anything to get something. Note ‘we would do anything to get something.’ It rapidly became a world of takers and no givers. Many of us including myself lost our sense of worth. Many often had their egos which got the better of them. There were persons who camouflaged their fragile selves with possessions and money as an expression of power, and status. There was some delusional aspect that the pursuit of wealth was an innate right that somehow made us masters of ourselves. We would never ask ourselves why except felt awe for ‘the haves’ and brushed aside ‘the have not’s. We hardly changed the way we did business except only to ask ourselves how we could get more. It was never, how can I change in myself, in order for me to better contribute to the needs? Or if there is a problem, how can I make a difference? As a result the industry itself lacked creativity and had lost much of its credibility and integrity.

I for one had lost my sense of self (In truth I was already in the Goby dessert and was busy searching) Imagine I applied this to my home life? It would be all hell bent lose. (I confess I was in a muddle there too) In the end we would lead a life as a form of duplicity; we were therefore not being true to ourselves. In short most people could not bear the why’s’ which simply gave meaning to our lives let alone all the ‘how’s’. Some people might argue that business is not for thinkers but for doer’s. I beg to differ. The great recession has taught us that we need both. Business has become a ‘force majeure’ in our society and with it should carry responsibility, reason and purpose.

Victor Frankl said ‘This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love’

Thursday 5 July 2012

Are these traumatic times in our Leadership?

"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."
One of Churchill’s most famous quote 72 years ago straight after the Battle of Britain.

What an era that must of been. We live in a totally new era now. I believe in a very different and potentially more troubling time. The Banking industry in Europe, the UK and the US has done us a lot of damage over recent years. The European debt crisis is also driving the EU into the total unknown.

This brings me back to the Barclays saga. Bob Diamond the ex CEO has called the behaviour of some of the minority of his staff as reprehensible. We know that this minority were making a gain for their own personal need through a poor code of conduct. What we don’t know is how many others are out there like that.  Clearly we understand that everybody needs to make a living and at the same time life is becoming more and more expensive. We must try to get the message across that we can also make a living by maintaining strong business ethics and personal code of conduct.

Mr Diamond has now been offered £22 Million in his lay off package by Barclays. This is going to be a true test of his character to see whether he accepts. Let me try to enlighten a little more wisdom here by adding a little EQ. The banking industry (as well as some other service sectors) in the last decade has caused so much harm to the wider society by so few what with our debt crisis, austerity measures, higher taxes and pension contributions for persons such as Mr and Mrs Jones who have worked very hard most of their lives.

Mr Diamond has already made £105 Million from working for one of the largest banks over this last ‘lost’ decade. Now he has been offered £22 million (€27.6 Million) ! Does he actually need it? Accepting it is surely going to hit big headlines. Is this not making a gain for his own personal need? This could be seen as no different to the reprehensible behaviour of some of his ex-employees.

I am certain other CEO’s from other sectors are aghast at the behaviour of some of their peers in the financial sector and would find these figures reprehensible and will certainly question its principle. The board in my view should never have offered this amount (they may have had no alternative as they must have been contractually obliged.) Mr Diamond has been presiding over large elements of a culture of greed and crookedness that requires change. He did not change it. He finds some of the behaviour of his ex-employees as reprehensible. He and his COO did the right thing to resign and waiving their annual bonus. To maintain your honour I would advise that perhaps waiving their own pay off package and perhaps to go as far as pay some money back to where it came from or forward it to where it is most needed.

It is a serious matter when we talk about re-instilling integrity and moral values. It is our duty as responsible citizens to erase the culture of greed where profit has become for personal gain and individualistic rather than the mentality of serving or contributing for others; this example has to start from the top. This is where people look to. They look at their leaders like they did when Winston Churchill was around. Gosh don't we miss him. An influential CEO must lead by example and also if need be resign by example. We must eliminate double standards. We must stop these mind boggling types of remuneration figures and extortionate pay off packages for discredited leadership even more so whilst the general public is suffering and making genuine sacrifices. There is a real danger of a general backlash. The public are not in the mood. This is how human nature works. We have seen this throughout history.

It seemed ironic the other day as I was asked by a normal good citizen what I did. ‘I help experienced people in training and their career direction with particular attention to the Banking and Financial services industry.’ I replied.

‘Oh yes’ she said. ‘They need help. They are so blind. Some of these persons with a lot of money can be so ignorant.’  She apologised for using such language as she did not really understand the technical aspects of what they did. I felt she totally grasped the issue at hand. Such simple language at times can send such a powerful message.

Never in the field of human existence has so much harm been done to so many by so few

How do I deal with redundancy?

In these troubled times of cost reduction, squeezed profit margins, lack of long term strategy and focus. Not to mention corporate human error, poor judgement and general lack of integrity. Jobs can go. The question is what do you do when you are asked to leave?

After a company has looked at all exhaustive measures then asks someone to leave. This could be a pretty traumatic experience. Let’s think of a common example. You receive an email for an urgent appointment with HR. The Director of HR argues that due to cost cutting measures they would like you to leave with immediate effect. ‘Our people will ensure that you receive a good pay off.’ ‘Thank you for your good work.’ ‘We will ensure you get good references.’ ‘We are sorry, Harry, but the decision came from the top, don’t take it personally.’ These might be common answers. You argue, you reason and battle but to no avail.

You then walk back to your desk; the company security officer is standing next to you. You take your personal belongings. There is no time to down load anything personal from your computer, contact emails, private letters that you have accumulated over the years. You hand in your company mobile, laptop etc. All company access and computer codes are blocked with immediate effect. You might have a chance to shake hands with a few good colleagues who have become friends over the years. He or she then walks you out of the door. You are out on the street. And that’s it.

What happens next? Well, you may become disorientated, try to reason and rationalise in your mind. Why me? You hardly understand anything. You go to the pub and might have a few. You may panic or become depressed. You may fight it. It hardly sinks in. You don’t know how to tell your friends or persons close to you and your pride and ego may have been severely damaged. It could be a huge relief as you were not happy in any case. I just don’t know. Again this would be a case by case situation. Each case is different as each person is different.

My advice here is that I believe that everything in life happens for a reason. In most cases a few years later, you will look back, and it was the best thing that had ever happened. I say this because over time, you would have got your act together and got over it. Human beings are generally resilient and certainly adaptable. My guess is that you would have sat down and really put some time in yourself to really understand your own ability, talents and added value. Possibly ask ourselves not what I can get out of life but more along the lines on how I can contribute. Something you had failed to do when you were working for your ex-employer.  Life can be full of pleasant surprises.

Nevertheless, if your new situation continues to trouble you in that you still find yourself unsettled; Time MCG can guide you out of it and into your future. Time MCG will give you time to understand your capability whereby rediscovering and tapping into your hidden talents. Think out of the box and re-discover yourself. To re-instil your inner belief and courage whereby offering you the right career counselling on a new path or even change. Out there, there could be many opportunities for you that you were totally unaware of regardless of this tight market. In the end it is not all a ‘dog eat dog’ world or a world full of takers.

‘You have not done enough; you have never done enough so long as it is still possible that you have something of value to contribute’
Dag Hammarskjold.  Nobel Peace Prize winner 1961

Let us wake up this career of yours!!