Fishing for Something to Say

Mortimrr and Whitehouse

I was listening to Desert Island Discs yesterday morning and was struck by the way Bob Mortimer described himself as being shy as a child. He suggested that it had defined the first 30 years of his life. The comedian, the other half of Reeves and Mortimer, told Lauren Laverne that it’s a crippling thing to have something to say but not be quite brave enough to say it; to have something to contribute but to not quite dare do it.

What’s interesting is that shyness is about social anxiety, which in itself is about a fear of the judgement of others, which most of us have to a greater or lesser extent. It’s certainly true that social anxiety can be crippling, but often what is perceived as shyness starts off as an introversion preference. This is something that Bob Mortimer has possibly never given any thought to.

An introversion preference quite often leads to those with this particular way of being feeling as though they’re not quite ready to speak up in the moment during conversations. Typically introverts prefer to process their thoughts on a subject internally until they have mentally wrestled them in to a shape that they are happy to utter out loud. Conversely, those with an extraversion preference will tend to just blurt things out without too much thought and then fret about the fact that they perhaps shouldn’t have said what they just said.

And society has traditionally rewarded the extraverts. School children in Bob Mortimer’s day would have been rewarded for thrusting their hand in the air and pleading “Me Miss, Me”, and the introverts would have been ignored, which might well have led to some social anxiety if you weren’t quite ready to say your truth out loud when the teacher asked.

And I see still see it in the workplace too, with managers continuing to using meeting facilitation methods with their teams such as brainstorming; an exercise that is designed to get the best out of the extravert’s tendency to shout out and to filter out any ideas that the introvert’s might have that still require some processing.

Obviously, context is everything and an introversion preference doesn’t mean that an individual will never take the opportunity to speak up, but being more considered in the way they communicate is probably how they would like to be, something managers should be taking in to consideration.

I can’t begin to know the inner workings of the mind of a teenage Bob Mortimer and whether what he describes as shyness was just that, but I wonder, had his shyness been reframed for him more positively as an introversion preference, whether that would have made something of a difference.

Mortimer spoke of his life as it is currently and how he rarely goes out socially, maybe just two or three times a year, when he has to for an event. For the most part he just stays at home, him and his wife Lisa; behaviour which would seem to suggest an introversion preference.

Following heart surgery in 2015, Mortimer was persuaded by fellow comedian and heart surgery survivor Paul Whitehouse to take part in a television series about fishing, which was actually much more a programme about two blokes sat on the side of a river pondering life and the universe, with a very occasional fish thrown in to liven proceedings. I can’t really think of a pass-time more suited to introverts than fishing, sitting alone for the most part and not having to engage with anyone or anything.

Shyness or introversion, it depends on your perspective I guess. What thoughts do you have?

Holding a Losing Hand

Theresa May

I think Theresa May has been misinformed on the meaning of the word ‘negotiation’. She’s spent the last few weeks telling anyone in the UK who is prepared to listen that her Chequers plan is the only Brexit proposal that can work, that she won’t compromise and it’s either her deal or no deal. 

But of course the negotiations with the EU haven’t even started. If the EU were already happy with the Chequers plan then we could all save a lot of time and money by not troubling Michel Barnier to discuss it at all and just asking him nicely to please sign it off.

The whole point of any negotiation is to bring two divergent positions together to a point of joint agreement. 

So, some degree of compromise then. 

Unless, of course, you have an overwhelmingly strong hand with which to force those on the other side of the negotiation table in to submission. If Theresa May thinks that she is in that strong a position then she is surely as deluded as the Brexiteers who promised us back in 2016 that we wouldn’t have a problem exiting the EU on our terms because our European partners value our trade links so much. 

There are those that will say that this is all just pre-negotiation posturing; that both sides are being seen to take a tough stance and to drive a hard bargain so that at some point they can say that they fought for the best deal possible. But Theresa May is holding a losing hand.  Her proposed plan is already more or less unacceptable to parliament.  If she compromises and agrees to a different deal, it definitely won’t get the support of MPs, so there won’t be a deal, which is a disaster for the UK. If she plays it tough with the EU and doesn’t agree to their terms we end up without a deal, which is a disaster for the UK.

Maybe it’s time for Theresa May to stop playing a game that she’s not very good at. She has already provided the EU with a common enemy to unite against. The twenty-seven remaining member states seem very happy to enter the negotiations singing, in perfect harmony, from the same hymn sheet, whilst our own government can’t even reach a consensus on their own plan. 

It was always going to be a tough ask to unite a party behind a leader who just over two years ago was arguing against the direction that she’s now trying to lead the country in, and I suspect that she will, before long, be a leader without a party. There’s something to be learned there in terms of authentic leadership. Why choose to lead any organisation when you’re going to have to behave in a way that isn’t in line with your own values? Well, ambition and vanity are two reasons, but they’re not very good ones. 

My only hope is that Theresa May’s downfall and the failure to reach a deal in October will be enough of a wake up call for us all to be able to stop playing the game. It’s time to go back to the UK electorate and ask them to vote on the reality of Brexit rather than the fantasy that they were sold by Johnson, Davis and their like. 

The Spanish Culture Club

Spanish football teamIt’s been a couple of months since I wrote about culture and behaviours; the last time being the occasion of the sacking of several Australian cricketers for cheating. The incident had then gave rise to questions around the values that Cricket Australia had fostered in their players.

This week, I’m focused on Spanish football and the debacle surrounding the sacking of the Spanish national team’s manager, Lopetegui, just two days before their first match in the World Cup against their great rivals, Portugal. Lopetegui had agreed to take a new role at Real Madrid after the World Cup, but hadn’t bothered to let the Spanish football association know. They only found out about Lopetegui’s appointment five minutes before Real Madrid announced it to the world.

By coincidence, the day before the shock announcement of Lopetegui’s sacking, I was listening to sports psychologist Damian Hughes talk about the culture of another Spanish side, Barcelona, and their efforts ten years ago to engage the players in a culture and a set of behaviours that would give Barcelona a competitive advantage.

The three behaviours that have, since that time, underpinned Barcelona’s culture are ‘humility, hard work and putting the team above your own self-interest.’

Their philosophy was very much, “Your talent will get you through the dressing room door, but it’s your behaviour that’s going to determine whether we keep you or not.” When Pep Guardiola was the manager at Barcelona, he employed former water polo legend, Manuel Estiarte, as a technical assistant and one of his duties was to watch the bench, particularly when things weren’t going so well. Guardiola wanted to know who the players were on the bench that didn’t react when chances were missed. Guardiola interpreted the lack of reaction as sulking on the part of some of those who weren’t picked to play who were not putting the team above themselves.

Someone who didn’t ever fit the culture of Barcelona was Zlatan Ibrahimivich, who was bought for €69 million in 2009 and sold for €24 million just ten ten months later. Ibrahimivich didn’t understand the culture of Barcelona and lacked the humility that they demanded. Although given the keys to a club Audi and told not to arrive at the training ground in one of his flash cars, Ibrahimivich couldn’t help himself. When things weren’t going so well for him and he was dropped from the side, Ibrahimivich arrived at work the next day in a yellow Lamborghini, betraying one of the club’s cultural behaviours, humility.

The Barcelona culture is something that Guardiola has brought with him to Manchester City, where it is evident that the players have brought in to those three cultural behaviours. This is much of the reason for them having a record breaking season in the Premier League this year.

As for the former Spanish manager, Lopetegui, it is quite obvious that his behaviour lacked humility and was definitely not putting the team above his own self-interest.

What will be interesting to see is how the Spanish team respond and where the leadership comes from within the team. It is at times like this evening’s game when teams find out who among them has those leadership qualities that are not attached to a title.

Which of the players will galvanise the team to play as a cohesive unit without the man that has led them this far?

Australia’s Missing Values

steve smith

I’ve been working with a great leadership team this week. There has been much debate about the need for a set of team values that offers more than just a generic list of phrases that could be adopted by any other similar organisation; values that are actually going to mean something to all of the team members.

Then, last night, I found myself watching the former Australian cricket captain, Steve Smith, break down in tears during a press conference. During the televised statement, the cricketer reflected on the impact of his actions in the recent cheating scandal in South Africa on those around him. I’m not sure how sincere he was, or whether it had simply dawned on him that he’d just blown his vision of a golden future in the world of international cricket.

Following the interview, I was intrigued to understand what part ‘values’ play in the ethos of ‘Cricket Australia’, the national governing body of Australian cricket. I took a tour of their website and found myself drawn to the ‘Mission and Values’ page, where I found neither a mission statement, nor a set of values. To be fair, I did find a graphic, which contained the line, ‘Our Purpose: To inspire everyone to love cricket’. That’s working well then.

But there were no values. There was a link to the ‘2017/2022 Australian Cricket Strategy’ document, which surprise, surprise, doesn’t include a set of values. There’s lots of talk in the strategy document about elite performance, sustaining revenue and ‘Giving audiences what they want and growing the Big Bash’. There’s also a statement labelled ‘How we Play’, which reads, ‘Be real, smash the boundaries, make every ball count, stronger together.’ But nothing about values.

The whole document contains nothing about integrity, nothing about honesty, but plenty about winning. So, who sets the moral compass that guides a set of players, when the focus is on winning at all costs.

Well, then it is all about authentic leadership, and there has been a distinct lack of authentic leadership throughout the Australian team. There has been no-one on the ground with the team, who has been calling the players out on their unsportsmanlike behaviour. This is why the team coach, Darren Lehmann, ultimately had to resign. This was his culture.

When you have a team that is lacking leadership and a value-set that everyone has bought in to, rules get broken; people turn a blind eye; people start to collude and before you know it, it’s okay to tamper with a ball in order to win, or it’s okay to use doping as a means of gaining an advantage. A culture of winning at all costs is still a culture, and if that is what is important to you as a team it’s easy to uphold that culture and to train the next set of players that cheating is what is expected of you, if you’re loyal to the team.

Agreeing a set of values matters, in sports, as it does in business. Team values are what you stand for when all else breaks down. They remind the team members and the outside world who you are as a group of people. When it comes to making a decision that you think you might later have cause to reflect on, your values point you in the right direction.

The Australian national cricket team wasn’t the first professional team to be caught cheating and it won’t be the last, but maybe there are some lessons to be learnt from the lack of a set of values, and the culture that was built as a result.

The Personality Dance


I dance. Quite often in supermarkets, but mostly in venues more suited to such outlandish behaviour.

I have two different dance personas for two very different dances, modern jive and Argentine tango.

When I’m engaging in modern jive, I am energetic, full of smiles, expression and a general joie de vivre. It’s just an activity that draws out that side of my character. Hopefully I’ll be communicating my enjoyment to the person I’m dancing with. There is always the hope that they are enjoying the dance in a similar way and, mostly, that’s the case. Not always, but mostly.

When I dance tango, I’m much more restrained, more contained. There’s still the opportunity for expression, but in a more controlled way. The joy comes from the intensity of the dance. With tango I’m much more focused on the person I’m dancing with and how they’re responding to the dance. It’s all very subtle, very nuanced. The slightest movement from me results in a reaction in them and vice versa, and so the dance continues.

What’s interesting is that the two identities have echoes in my work life.

Much of the time I am delivering workshops, where I’m engaging, smiling and obviously enjoying myself, hopefully getting a similar reaction from the group I’m working with. There’s a joy in the liveliness of the interaction.

When I’m coaching, I’m much more reserved. I still aim to be engaging, but in a more restrained way. I still smile, and even laugh occasionally, but don’t really have a lot to say. I’m much more focused on the person I’m coaching and how they’re responding to the coaching session. It’s very subtle, very nuanced. The slightest movement from me results in a reaction in them and vice versa, and so the coaching continues.

I bring a presence to both dances and to both business interactions. A very different presence, but appropriate and authentic in each situation. Which all speaks of the situational aspect of personality. Context is everything, and personality changes with differing environments. I’m actually very comfortable with both facets of my personality and wouldn’t want to be be without either aspect of my work.

Having both personas allows me to flex and play a little. It certainly makes dancing more interesting. I often bring my tango presence to the jive dance floor, just to create a different mood, and occasionally I bring my jive presence to tango, just to shake things up a little.

In business, my coaching training and experience has taught me to ask more generative questions and to listen more effectively, and I definitely bring that persona in to my workshops. Facilitating workshops and running training has taught me how to engage people who perhaps don’t enter the room feeling engaged. When I’m coaching, if I feel that it’s appropriate, I occasionally bring in that workshop presence and engage in different ways.

I’m lucky to have the opportunity to flex and to explore different ways of being as I dance through the variety of this life I’ve been blessed with.

Long may it continue.

Connecting With a Purpose


I was out with my daughter for lunch at the weekend and visited a popular local restaurant, which was surprisingly quiet. We were waited on by a young man, (we’ll call him Jordan) who was obviously new and inexperienced.

Jordan was pleasant enough and probably pleased that the day wasn’t a hectic one. He was happily taking our order, when I threw in a curve ball and asked for the ham hock.

‘Sorry?’, Jordan responded.

‘The ham hock’, I repeated with a smile.

‘The ham, er, what was that?’ asked Jordan.

I repeated my request, whilst showing Jordan where the item was on the menu and, now satisfied with my order, he wrote it on his pad and wandered off to the kitchen.

My daughter smiled at me and reminded me of the time when she was of 16 and started working in a restaurant. She reminisced that in the week before she started her new job she had taken a menu home with her and learned it off by heart. That would seem to be a sensible move if you don’t want to be caught out on your first day, but also a sensible move if your purpose as a waiter is to provide an excellent customer experience. As I’ve said Jordan was pleasant; we left a tip, but I wondered whether he had a sense of purpose in his role. Maybe he’d not got to think about that just yet.

The following morning we had breakfast in a well known restaurant chain and, once again there was little sign of hectic activity as we entered. We were greeted by a member of the team, (we’ll call her Florence) who didn’t smile, or offer anything other than a sullen ‘Hello’, as her opening engagement, She then showed us to a table, but her demeanour didn’t really change.

We were late to be having breakfast. It was more of a brunch really, and maybe Florence had been there since the early hours; maybe it had been a manically busy morning, but that first impression of her and the restaurant wasn’t great. Again, I reflected on what Florence might have felt her purpose was, in being front of house, greeting customers.

In contrast, we went on later that day to a sofa shop, the one with the sloth as a brand image. We were greeted, as we walked through the door, with a bright and cheery ‘Good morning!’ from a lady, (we’ll call her Elsie) who was standing ten yards away. Elsie approached us with a smile and asked if it was our first time in the store and when we said that it was, she offered to show us a few ways in which their store was different.

Elsie engaged us in conversation, made some recommendations, tapped a note of the sofas that my daughter liked on her iPad, promised to email her the details of them, and after half an hour waved us off with a smile. No sales close. No pressure. No awkwardness. Just a really positive customer experience.

There was actually no way my daughter was going to buy a sofa from anywhere else after her her encounter with Elsie. Elsie sold herself and the business in a way that so few people seem to think worth botching with these days.

I’m often accused, by those around me, of being negative when I talk about receiving a disappointing customer experience; that I expect too much; that I shouldn’t care.

But I care, because I know that it makes a difference, not just to me as a customer, or to the brand that is being represented, but to the Elsie’s of the world, who engage with people in a genuinely interested way and make a point of connecting. I don’t know whether Elsie has a sense of her purpose; maybe she has no desire to work in a sofa store at all, but for the time that she’s there, she’s present, she’s engaged and she’s making a difference to those that she encounters, just in her way of being.

The fact is that that way of being is in everyone’s gift.

We all have a choice with how we engage with the world and with those whose paths we cross each day. And it benefits everyone. Us as customers, the business and for Elsie, the half hour that she spent with me and my daughter was fun. We laughed, we talked, and I’m sure that the connection with her customers made Elsie’s day a better day.

For me and my daughter, we went away and talked about what great customer service we’d just had.

R+B+C+A×M = Performance


I’ve been reading ‘Legacy’ by James Kerr recently. It’s his account of the culture that sits behind the success of the All Blacks rugby team.

Kerr, as you might expect, contemplates performance in the book and in doing so cites an equation used by Owen Eastwood, a lawyer for the All Blacks and a consultant to NATO.

Capability + Behaviour = Performance

Eastwood suggests that the way you behave will bring out the best or worst of your capability, and also suggests that it’s a leader’s role to create the right environment for the right behaviours to occur.

Which all makes perfect sense, but reading it reminded me of another equation that I’d read some years ago in Bob Thomson’s coaching book ‘Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There?’

Awareness + Responsiblity = Performance

The premise of Thomson’s equation is that if, as a coach, you raise the awareness of the individual about what changes they wish to make, and if they then accept responsiblity for making those changes, then they will perform.

Which again makes perfect sense, but begs the question, are both equations right?

I tried playing with the two equations and came up with the following equations of my own.

Capability + Behaviour – Awareness = Potentially continuing to do things in the way that you’ve always done them and never adapting, because you don’t know you need to.

Awareness + Responsiblity – Behaviour = Having plenty of good intentions in the moment, that then leave yourself and others feeling disappointed when things don’t get done.

Capability + Behaviour + Awareness – Responsibility = Going through the motions because someone else wants you to.

Awareness + Responsibility + Behaviour – Capability = Time spent working at something that you know you’re just not suited to, but won’t quit on.

Maybe it’s not too complex. Maybe it’s just the sum of all four.

Awareness + Capability + Behaviour + Responsibility = Performance.

But then where does motivation fit in?

Actually this could end up being quite complex after all. Or, maybe just the start of an interesting discussion, You do the maths.

What’s your equation for your own performance?