Tuesday 8 November 2016

A Cheer for the Old Dogs

Do you remember the days when anyone over 40 was already on the corporate scrap heap? Used to be a leader who had lost his moxie was doomed to a netherworld of hoped-for and patronisingly-given exec directorships allowing him or her to eke out their days until retirement mercifully kicked in. “It’s a young man’s game,” we were told. There was just no room in the world, where youth was king, for those who fell from grace just too early, still clinging desperately to the success ladder with white, shaking fingers.

But lately, I’ve been hearing stories – and most importantly seeing evidence – that being on the ropes doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all over.

Last month, one of my oldest friends fell foul of their board and the other got shanghaied in a shareholder revolt. Result? no job, no title, just the pay–off for a job that had taken its toll over the years. Not wanting to admit defeat and say sayonara to a life of getting the golf handicap into single figures, they called some pals and the results were amazing. Within a matter of days, they were looking at job offers from all over the place. What was most interesting about the whole process was the variety. Private and public sector, plus offers of lucrative consulting and turnaround assignments. From an expected vacuum and a real struggle to get back onto the radar, the phone’s been ringing off the hook.

I chatted to both of them about their next moves. Mark is 55 and in good shape with a great track record as an inspirational leader. Joshua is 60, he’s led a whole series of big businesses, done start-ups, M&As the whole thing.

The one question that was on all their minds was the single word - “Why”? 
“I don’t understand Rudi,” Mark told me. “I thought we were supposed to be over the hill, dead and buried like yesterday’s news.”
“It’s incredible,” said Joshua. “I’ve been contacted by so many people; they all want me to sign on tomorrow.”

Talking with these two novices for a time, I’ve come to the conclusion that their career resurrection is down to one thing. Organisations crave experience and battle-hardened warriors. They need to feel there is someone in charge who has been through the ups and downs and come through, battered and bruised but with all flags flying.

It may be good to be a 20 or 30-year-old whizz-kid, hyped up on technology, but most of them are very, very short on street fighting techniques. The oldies offer experience, consistency and wisdom. Being calm in the storm is a whole lot easier when you’ve seen a lot of storms and survived them.
Mark and Joshua with their long track records across industry bring the kind of insight that only serving time can bring. And in a world that’s full of daily surprises, that is the new “we want” currency.

So what will they do? They have four rock-solid offers each. They also have no illusions that nothing is forever – recent history is there to keep them firmly planted in the real world, where there are few fairy-tale endings.
Mark will take on a leadership role with a commodity firm (his global contacts and long-time relationships are worth their weight in the very sizeable package they’re giving him). Joshua isn’t quite ready to step back in. He’s signed up to be a top level mentor to a group of start-ups, bringing sane advice and counsel where it’s needed most. He’s the den mother where his leadership skills will carry a lot of weight and bring about the repositioning of the firm and its culture as it grows.

I wish them well and hope they find satisfaction in the next chapters of their careers. There’s an old saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. My two friends, Mark and Joshua are out to disprove that statement. As uncertainty becomes the watchword all of us must lead and manage by, my guess is that those young rebels in the corporate suite will be ever more willing to listen to the grey hairs of their elders and until proven otherwise, presumably betters.

This column on leadership and organizational development is written exclusively for the IEDP by Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, the Brussels-based development organization. Have a comment or a question? Engage directly with Rudi Plettinx here.

Tuesday 4 October 2016

Running Scared Is No Way to Lead

Facing the fear of uncertainty that forces wrong decisions and creates low productivity and underperformance. 
Those of you who read these columns will know by now that I’m a pretty inveterate world traveller. Give me a comfortable seat, preferably in business class (‘cos I’ve got the air miles to do it) my trusty tablet, a cold drink and a half decent meal and I can put up with hours and hours in the sky, no problem. And often to while away the passing miles I get to meet the most interesting people. But lately, I’ve found in my travelling companions a new, disturbing phenomenon that doesn’t seem to have been there before – they’re scared. Not of flying, or of whacko terrorists, just plain old-fashioned scaredy-ness. There’s something deeply disturbing about this that has me wondering if we as business leaders are really doing all we should to take some of the angst out off the work equation.
In the past months I’ve been in Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East and Northern Europe.  On every flight, I’ve got into conversation over the plastic pap they serve you that usually begins like this.
We exchange a “hello,” swap names, explain what we do, who we work for and then one of us always asks THE question, “So, how’s business in the XYZ industry?” Depending how confident we feel (or how many aperos we may have had) we tend to bend the truth a little (bullshitting it’s called), usually giving the impression that all is right with the world and our business is floating along smoothly at 35,0000 feet like those clouds outside the window of seat 3A.
Normally, these chats with total strangers are a pleasant diversion (sometimes you even learn a thing or two from the experiences of some ageing corporate soldier like myself). Then the wheels hit the tarmac and you go on your merry way to the next client meeting and the same soulless hotel room (whoever writes about hotels as a “lifestyle experience” should be locked up in one of their own rooms for a millennium).
But recently these candid, virtually anonymous exchanges, have taken on a new, ever so slightly, sinister feel. Sure, people still tell you how good their business is, but behind the false bravado there’s a real, tangible frisson of fear. It’s not about under performance either. It’s about doubts. How long they’ve got until the dice rolls the wrong way just too many times? In simple terms these big deal, business-class travellers are scared that there is just too much uncertainty in the world. And it seems no matter how they try to plan for it, how many contingencies they’ve got up their sleeve, something big and bad is going to happen. And there isn’t a darn thing they can do about it.
Take Carlos, met him on a flight to Dubai last week. He’s got the jitters like a professional golfer with the yips that’s ruined his putting stroke. And he can’t say why.  Or Andrea, a hard-boiled vice president, who frets if she’ll be in a job by year end. And Frank who’s so worried that he’s has a tremble in his voice as he nervously describes his concerns about what happens tomorrow.
Seems to me they are all dealing with the one thing that all their training, experience and get-up-and-go can’t give them – UNCERTAINTY. It’s like a disease. It weakens you. Forces you into wrong decisions and creates low productivity and underperformance big time.
What to do? Well, we as leaders have to step up and just get good at fighting the big, bad, bogeymen that are pervading our workspace and workplace. We need to take the time to reassure our people and our top teams (tuck them up with a warm drink and a teddy bear and make sure they get a dreamless sleep, with no nasty corporate nightmares).

Of course, there’s plenty of people who will say we shouldn’t bother, we reward our people to be tough, resilient - they should just get on with it; but is that right? If we can try just that little bit harder to reassure our people that all will be well; if we can coddle them just a bit more, surely it will pay off in better performance and probably less anti-anxiety pill-popping, an epidemic that is now an established, de facto part of today’s corporate culture.
Leaders aren’t just supposed to know stuff. They are there to reassure the troops, be able to think the unthinkable and make their top performers feel better about the uncertainty in a world we have inherited.
Maybe a leader needs to face that uncertainty, admit it to themselves, then go and help the rest who are struggling. From my experiences, and the frightened confessions I’m hearing in seat 3A, I can vouch for that.

This column on leadership and organizational development is written exclusively for the IEDP by Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, the Brussels-based development organization. Have a comment or a question? Engage direct with Rudi Plettinx here.

Thursday 8 September 2016

Stop Asking For Feedback!

If I am asked to give any more feedback I will probably shout at someone! And I will probably shout at the managers who think that a good way to manage customer service is to insist that staff collect feedback every time they say hello to a customer. Know what I mean?

Here is my story:


During a recent hotel stay I was asked for feedback on the quality of service after my breakfast, then again after my evening meal. I was asked by the cleaner and chambermaid, and the floor manager. I even had a call from the gym within 30 minutes of my session to ask me about my experience!


Each staff member asked me “would you please give feedback on how I have helped you and how pleased you are with me’. In three cases, I was specifically asked: “if I get some good feedback then it means my job is going to be secure and helps with my rate of pay”. Each person stood in front of my exit with a full smile.


I felt I was being blackmailed, pressured into saying nice things, having my privacy invaded, and became very, very annoyed. The feedback I gave was ‘stop asking me for feedback’!


Why do I care? We know that managers do not usually give their direct reports enough feedback. We know that most of the feedback people often hear is negative. We also know that it is good to receive positive feedback. Feedback should not be used out of proportion. It should not be used as a tool to breed fear into junior people who feel they will be rebuked or disadvantaged unless they proactively seek out volumes of the stuff.

The rules for feedback are simple. Make sure you notice when people do things well and give feedback on it. Make sure you notice when people need to be corrected and give feedback on it. In other words, get better at spotting when feedback is appropriate and give it. Don’t ask staff to go and chase guests around the hotel. Feedback should be personal and specific, and given at a time as close as possible to when it was observed.

Train the people who need to give feedback to look for the behaviours, actions, words or voice that results in good work, or, a need for improvement. Do not fall into the trap of giving vague and imprecise feedback. I can guarantee that the hotel manager in my example will give feedback something like ‘I expect better from you’ or ‘you’ve done a great job this week’ – very imprecise.
These scenarios leave the receiver very unsure what they did wrong, or correctly, and no clearer about what to do next.

Finally, remember to C.A.R.E. about the people to whom you give feedback. I do not believe the managers in my hotel experience really cared about the team; it was simply a technique to collect a quota of feedback for performance records.

Feedback with C.A.R.E. is effective if you follow a few simple rules:
  • Give the CONTEXT where the event occurred.
  • Talk about the ACTIONS you observed or heard.
  • Describe the RESULTS on your feelings or thoughts.
  • EVALUATE yourself. 
    Why did you notice the event and why did it matter to you?
Feedback is an essential management skill, use it skilfully and not as a ritual each week. Give it when it is needed, and as often as you give feedback, ask for it in return.

I am looking forward to the online version of feedback that I will no doubt be asked to provide next week from my recent hotel stay. I will probably tell the hotel to take a lesson on how to give feedback.

Feedback using the C.A.R.E principle is a central component of several core MCE Leadership Courses.

About the Author:

Nigel Murphy supports is Director of Portfolio and Capability Development at MCE and he has a background in management in manufacturing, education and training. 
For the past 10 years he has worked on leadership programmes across the globe. He is interested in the mentoring of new managers and leaders, and leading remote teams of people in today’s globally dispersed businesses. 

Friday 12 August 2016

Working Better is Working Smarter

Larissa Hämisseger
Based in Switzerland, Larissa Hämisseger, has a background in the business working in the fast-paced startup environment, where she is constantly in contact with people that work long hours on a daily basis. She is also a yoga instructor, teaching about, different health practices in the workplace. She is convinced that we are able to change everything in our lives that doesn't serve our highest best interests.
That's why she, sees a huge value in applying these practices in the business environment. Because both, organizations and individuals, have to play their part in creating stronger organizations with healthier and happier people.Here she gives her views of being healthy in today’s work environment.

MCE : There is so much being written and talked about stress at work. Do you think that we need a new approach to looking after ourselves better in our workplaces?

Larissa Hämisseger (LH) : There are so many approaches out there. Instead of coming up with a new one we just have to become more disciplined in following the existing ones. For example, the very simple one of taking breaks to find a balance between tension and relaxation within the working hours is a very valuable approach.

However, let's look at one of the still most mentioned approaches: work-life balance. Let's be honest, that one just arose because work was perceived as too negative (stress, pressure, too long working hours, etc.). So suddenly we came up with the idea of taking clear breaks from working in the evening, during holidays or weekends. However, this concept does not take into account making the hours at work less painful and even fun.

We gained more knowledge about what creates a healthier work environment though a strong and healthy company culture. Policies and exemplified behavior by the leaders such as no internal emails, not having to be reachable at any hour of the day, and especially supporting the employees in taking brakes do help.
Yet, we all choose for ourselves how we are living our lives and the organization is limited in supporting the people. If you are unwilling personally to change something about your stress level, it will be much harder for the organization to support you and vice versa.

If you had a choice what would you say are the three most important things to get right about looking after yourself at work?

LH :
guess it's the same you do in whatever area in your life.
First , being very conscious about your stress level is crucial yet many of us lost this ability. Get to know your body and don't ignore the signs that make you notice when a short break is necessary, or when a situation needs to be changed. Interpersonal relationships, for instance, need to be healthy, everything else makes you sick. So never ignore these signs and unhealthy situations but act on them. They arise for a reason.
Second, very basic but very important: get enough sleep, eat healthy and drink a lot of water.
Finally , Remember you always have the choice. Having piles of work to do is less stressful if you stop thinking about it and just focus on the task you are working on.

MCE : We all seem to complain about so-called ”digital overload”. Any tips for dealing with that or should we just make a rule to switch off once or twice a day ?

LH : First of all, don't complain because it's always a choice.
It's a challenge to wake up and not check your phone immediately, or wait for the bus and not reading the newest posts. But why bother to take a minute of doing nothing? Well if you are a 100% healthy, completely happy, not stressed, have great sleep and are doing what you love, then don't bother.
During the day switching from and tuning into different channels in a short time creates sensations of stress. Focus on one device and one channel at a time and keep breathing.

I would say the most important thing though is to set the rule to not check your phone as the last thing you do before bed and the first thing you do after waking up. If you manage to have a more healthy evening and morning ritual, without rushing and without any brain stimulation, you are doing a pretty good job. If that is hard, choose one day in the week where you apply another ritual than checking your phone.

MCE : Give us an example of a “good way” to switch off and the kind of benefits you get : e.g. better ideas, more creativity, happier employees ?

LH : As mentioned before taking conscious breaks from your task does not only help your stress level but fosters your creativity, thus your ideas and your solutions. By stubbornly staying at a task for hours you will most likely not deliver the best solution, it's frustrating and you had no time for human interactions. There is two ways of taking breaks: one is moving completely away from your task, having a chat with your colleagues, play some foosball or even go for a run or read a book. It helps you to look at your task from another angle and maybe more inspired.

Yet you can also take a break by becoming very conscious about the situation you are in and all that is related to the situation by centering yourself and looking at everything objectively, called mindfulness. Taking a few moments every day to just observe your breath (basic mindfulness exercise) can make a huge difference if practiced on a regular basis. It brings you back to the moment and helps you to act consciously instead of out of rage, tension or any other sensation. Not to mention all the other even scientifically proven benefits, mindfulness meditation has, such as more focus, better creativity, and healthier relationships.

Thursday 11 August 2016

Leading in a Disruptive World

The tragic trail of events, that seem to permeate our day-to-day lives, has become a sad, yet all too real, defining trend to the start of this new millennium – an age that promised so much. Looking back through the blurred and bloodied lens of recent history, it doesn’t seem that we have very much to hang our hopes, dreams and aspirations on. In fact, for many of us the opposite is true, fear becomes replaced by defiance, rhetoric is reduced to often hollow phrases as we find it hard – perhaps impossible – to comprehend what’s going on (or going wrong) with our world.

It is then that we need our leaders more than ever: individuals who have the innate ability to make us feel better about ourselves and safer in our skins. Despite the terrible events of recent history, we must not forget that we live in what has been termed a VUCA world.

A world that is by turns Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous

It is a most unforgiving place, where seemingly anything and everything can happen and really does. It is a world where disruption is the order of the day.

It is Volatile: Because at any moment the box of tricks called ‘life’ can explode in your face. Just when you thought you had all the loose cannons tied down on the deck, a storm appears out of nowhere.
It is Uncertain: Whatever you think will happen won’t – and just when you least expect it.

It is Complex: There’s no doubt that a techno-driven web of super-complexity and connectivity drives our world and we cannot get away from it – not even for a nano-second.

It is Ambiguous: The rules we grew up with just don’t apply anymore. It is almost as though doing the opposite from what logic tells you is the right response.

There’s a lot of utter rubbish talked and written about leadership, that’s what keeps the consulting industry gainfully employed. But what seems most clear to me is that every CEO or so-called world leader has one thing they need to do and take responsibility and accountability for recognize that the world is, as I’ve just emphasised, unbelievably complex and no single person, no matter how much a genius they may be, can run it effectively. 

Therefore, as we wade ever deeper into the mire and slime of our self-inflicted VUCA world, the ability for our leaders to build effective teams of people around them are going to be what defines our organizations (and governments) of tomorrow. Equally, the ability of these leaders to inspire their teams to go the extra mile to try and navigate the storms of tomorrow is going to be paramount.
If we are to succeed and prosper in a world defined by ongoing disruption, where our world can be instantly turned topsy-turvy by a single, terrible act, then we must be able to feel that those who run our organizations have access to the best advice and counsel they can get. 

This is no great time to be a CEO; a toxic climate marked by markets in turmoil, geopolitical tremors and zealous stakeholders finding new agendas to prosecute. All this takes the attention away from providing fulfilling work experiences, not to mention the small matter of turning a profit. Little wonder then that many of the best and brightest prefer to take a back seat rather than face the cut and thrust of daily life in the spotlight.

My message to leaders is, take it on the chin. Surround yourself with the best and brightest you can get (a few battle-hardened old war horses aren’t a bad idea either). Then when all hell breaks loose (and all the signs indicate it will do just that sooner or later) be as ready and able as you can. There’s not much more we can expect, but being ready to act is giving yourself an even chance, which is not a bad outcome when the odds are stacked against you.

We didn’t deal the cards, but we can dictate how we play them.
Real leaders know, intuitively, what’s in their hand all the time. Think about it for a moment. A suit of cards is not unlike a team of people; all have their uses. You just hope you don’t get dealt too many Jokers.

This column on leadership and organizational development is written exclusively for the IEDP by Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, the Brussels-based development organization. Have a comment or a question? Engage direct with Rudi Plettinx here.

Monday 18 July 2016

The Legacy Man

Avoiding the folly of corporate self-aggrandisement

I’ve a new client. Great guy, been around forever, one of the all time great survivors. He’s been through a lot, but always seems to keep on the success-side of the street. Kurt, his name, Scandinavian background, big built, big presence and big, big ideas. I saw him last week in his new role as CEO of a packaging firm and, since I’m trying to get his business to develop some of his key people, he kindly laid out his current strategy.

All was sounding good until he mentioned the “L” word. “I’ve been in business a long time Rudi,” he said, “achieved just about all I ever wanted, but there’s a few things I’ve left to do. I want to retire in
about three years when my contract is over and leave something, behind me, something lasting.” Kurt hesitated or a moment, leaving the word he was about to say unspoken.

I steeled myself, to say it, knowing I’d regret it the instant it popped into my head.

“A legacy, “I ventured, “ almost whispering the word.

“Exactly!”, cried Kurt, jumping up his seat, his blue eyes flashing with passion and obvious, pent-up emotion. “A legacy, that will last for years to come. Something that they’ll always remember me for.”

Oh dear, oh dear, I thought. What have I gone and gotten myself into this time?

You see, I have a thing about this sort of stuff. Attempting to leave a legacy behind you, is not the icing on the cake, but the poison on the pill - it just doesn’t work. It’s tantamount to committing professional suicide. Time after time I’ve seen business leaders, pour thousands of dollars, dinars and dalasis (*) funding chairs of learning (my goodness where would our B-schools be today if not for misguided -or should I say misgifted- CEOs), that they vainly hope will preserve their name long after the pages of corporate history have curled up and faded.

Sadly, there was a dilemma for me. Should I tell Kurt the horrible truth; that trying to leave a legacy will open him to ridicule and worse, as he joins a long list of misguided, swollen-headed leaders? Is it really worth losing a good friend, not to mention his business, just because he’s got a little above himself?

As our eyes met, it took just a nano-second to transmit my look of doubt (was there a small smidgen of disdain in there too?), and I knew that I’d scored. Looking back on it some hours later, I realised that I didn’t actually have to say anything, he knew what I thought. And he was smart enough to know - without missing a beat - that what I thought was exactly the reaction that everyone else would have: the board, the team, the employees the clients, customers the whole kit and caboodle.

The moment was over. He sat back and looked at me, drained his coffee cup, sighed and said, “You know Rudi, being a leader isn’t much fun really, too much to think about, too many responsibilities.”

I nodded eagerly in agreement. “Yes, but a good leader has to know when NOT to do stuff too.” Again our eyes met. I knew that he knew, that he’d made a fool of himself. But he knew I’d saved him from making a massive mistake, a folly of corporate self-aggrandisement that would be difficult to ever live down – just the legacy you DON’T want. My one look of horror, well mixed with disbelief, was sufficient.

We never spoke of it again – not ever. The business school that would have been the recipient of his largesse, went unfunded. No matter. Another poor sap is always only too eager to have a tablet cemented above the door lintel as a tribute to their – and their shareholders - largesse. They don’t do a chair in corporate stupidity yet – maybe they should think of one.

(*) I didn’t make this up, its the national currency of Gambia, but it rhymes nicely !!!

This column on leadership and organizational development is written exclusively for the IEDP by Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, the Brussels-based development organization. Have a comment or a question? Engage direct with Rudi Plettinx here.

Tuesday 5 July 2016

Take-out in a Takeover

The MD of course!

There’s a lot going on in that big bad business world of mine. Most prominently is the present penchant by ambitious leaders to leave a lasting legacy by taking over someone else’s business. It’s sort of like a leader’s right of passage to pay through the nose to gobble up a rival’s business, do the macho media thing, and then sit back and watch the whole thing collapse.

It is a known fact that more than 80 percent of mergers and acquisitions fail within three years. B-schools are packed to the rafters with tragi-comedic case studies. Yet, still otherwise sane, successful CEOs persist in giving it a go.

My old friend, Charles, has done more mergers than anyone I know and he seems to make them work. Has a practically unblemished track record. So what does he do, that others don’t? Why does he get away with it every time against the odds?

We were sitting in the departure lounge in Frankfurt airport, (the one place where it is odds on if you pass through enough times you’ll eventually meet everyone you know) waiting for a plane that seemed reluctant to take flight.
I settled into my comfy chair hugging a Virgin Mary, (vodka can wait ‘til I get airborne) and asked Charles the secret of his uncanny success.

He thought for a while, then turned to me and said. “Really it’s very simple; it’s all about who you fire in the first 24 hours. Stick to that formula, no matter what and you’ll be fine.” Then he smiled, and added, “There are four people who’ve just got to go right away. In fact, the first 60 seconds isn’t a bad idea.”
“Four?” I said, isn’t that a lot of disruption, so quickly?”
“Yes, F-O-U-R” he countered, with added emphasis.

So who are they?” my curiosity peaked.

Charles held up his fingers. “ONE, The President, MD or founder, goes right away. His or her attachment to the business is just that, bad for business. Remember, you bought this company for its potential, you can’t be all goo-goo about history and people that want to leave a legacy.”

“OK, so who’s next?” By this time I was getting into the spirit of the game, brutal as it all sounded.

“TWO, is the marketing guy. Why? Well he or she wanted to be the next president, so they will be a major barrier to anything you want to do. Get in there and get them out, day one, then we can all get back to doing business with a clear sense of purpose.

THREE, the CFO, he can just mess you around, if he’s bitter can screw you with the analysts and the rest of the financial community. You don’t need him, do you?

“FOUR, and this may come as a surprise, the head of sales. Has to be at the top of my list always,”

I was surprised by his choice, and told him so. “But don’t you need the top sales guy to be on board? Isn’t that about retaining continuity?”

“No, you keep the second best sales guy, but always fire the best one otherwise he’ll tell your customers and suppliers the wrong stories.” Charles looked about him and added in a whisper, “Sales people always know everything because they are out of the office every day talking to everyone. You want them talking UP the business, not talking it down.” Then he quickly added, “Scratch a great sales guy and under the surface they always want to run the business, think they can do it better than anyone else. Have in-built zero loyalty as a default setting, “he sighed, sounding like he was recalling past encounters.

Anything else, I queried?

“Well if you are still into killing off potential troublemakers you can throw in one more. Your legal counsel will always revert to type and be more loyal to their profession than the business. They love building barriers and explaining why you can’t do things. So do you need them?”
Just then my flight was called. I made my excuses and got up to leave. “Sure about those four on the list?” I said as I walked out.
“Absolutely,” said Charles, waving me goodbye, “that’s what I’m doing first thing tomorrow morning.

This column on leadership and organizational development is written exclusively for the IEDP by Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, the Brussels-based development organization. Have a comment or a question? Engage direct with Rudi Plettinx here.

Thursday 2 June 2016

Who needs talented employees anyway?

Source: Mirror Online
One current HR trend is to compete to acquire and retain talented employees. Agreed?

So, how come Leicester City Football Club won the 2016 Premier Title? They have, and I hope they forgive me, an average bunch of guys who were fighting to avoid relegation from the Premier League last year. People had good betting odds that they could win the Premiership. 

There are a few very rich people in Leicester today! Leicester have few players regarded as world talent, so how did it happen?
Where does this leave the view that we must buy talented employees, if we are to be competitive? What did Leicester’s Manager, Claudio Ranieri, do to take this team to the top of the league?

Let’s spend a moment putting things into perspective. Look at the relative cash values spent on each squad. Leicester are worth a fraction of other great teams; at £72m they are easily the least expensive club by a long way.

Squad Cost £M
Leicester City






Man. City
Man United
Source: Skysport Review 2016

We cannot always hire the most expensive talent. If you do, then you must be able to justify how this talent has added to the bottom line of profit. 
My guess is that you cannot do this (except in a few obvious sales-driven roles). My other guess is that most of the real value-driving work of meeting client deliveries, getting prototypes to market, solving client problems and making improvements to products or processes is achieved by the more ordinary people in the engine-rooms, getting on with their jobs to the best of their abilities.

So, I am now questioning why we spend so much time and effort on recruiting talent, when good management and leadership of the ‘ordinary’ people who are already in the business would produce a much better result? 

Claudio Ranieri who took an ‘ordinary’ bunch of guys higher than anyone, thought possible. Some of you will say: “oh this is a once-in-a-lifetime event”. In December 2015, you were saying ‘they-will-never-keep-it-up’, well they did, and in what style!

The real question is, if you cannot afford to buy talent, what can you do to lead and manage the resources you already have, to achieve more than anyone thinks they can?

Let’s explore some of the features of Claudio Ranieri’s approach, according to the Leicester supporters I met when on a home visit.

Talent is not always where you expect to find it.
  • You have to look in unexpected places, trust your instinct, and have faith in who you find. Take James Vardy, the leading goal-scorer, he was released by another premier side as a junior, and played in local town soccer until Leicester signed him in 2012 for £1M! (source: Daily Telegraph, December 2015). He played with them for the past four years and is still not a household name when compared to other leading strikers.
Resilience is worth more than ability.
  • One thing Leicester sport is good at encouraging is determination, no compromise, grit and resilience. This does not mean to say that ability and skill are not important, but what Leicester do well is keep playing, keep players on the pitch and keep coming back. This quality is also seen in Leicester Tigers Rugby, known for tough, combative, tenacious play.
Impending failure can build strength.
  • Leicester were almost relegated. The lessons of avoiding defeat can give a sense of relief, but also of confidence that anything is possible, if you stick at it. Ranieri is known for instilling a belief that anything can be achieved and to enjoy playing for that.
No individual is bigger than the team.
  • Ranieri builds a culture of serving each other. A big player has a bigger duty to produce results for the others, and nobody is worth more than the others. Ego is not of use, interest or relevance at Leicester.

Build tactics around current strengths.
  • Ranieri recognised a fear of different tactics. It can be good to introduce changes, but not if players are unconvinced they have the skill to deploy. Build around what people can do well, and the rest will follow in time.

Let people have a break.

  • Leicester have a small squad; they would easily tire out if they played each week. So players were given rest days to help them survive the long season. Often we keep relentless pressure on people, so they never perform at a peak, and get hurt, angry, lonely, tired.
Train at intensity.
  • High intensity training sessions build the capacity to work and think at speed. Other sports teams use this idea; often it is not the core skill that is a problem – it is the ability to use core skills at speed.

And nowhere is there any mention of buying in
expensive highly talented players to fill gaps or make a difference. There is a lot of talk about using what you have to the best of their ability. And that is leadership.

About the Author:

Nigel Murphy supports is Director of Portfolio and Capability Development at MCE and he has a background in management in manufacturing, education and training.
For the past 10 years he has worked on leadership programmes across the globe. He is interested in the mentoring of new managers and leaders, and leading remote teams of people in today’s globally dispersed businesses.