Monday Calling…

I find Monday an exciting and engaging day. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Monday is my favourite day of the week, but I get up in the morning energised for what’s in front of me. Weekends are an opportunity to take stock on what is happening, and inevitably Monday is my first chance to test out some of those ideas. Some work, some don’t, and some I abandon the moment I mention them to anyone!

Last Monday morning I felt nervous. I had taken the day off work to go and visit my parents and my sister. In many ways it was like any other Monday – a series of important meetings. I didn’t know for sure what was going to happen. But I knew a positive set of outcomes was really important for me. I also knew I’d thought about Monday for most of the weekend. In my heart I knew I would be good whatever happened, but my mind was racing…and as it raced my nervousness increased.

I hadn’t seen my parents for a little while, and although telephone conversations are good, they are never as good as meeting in person. I also had heard a great deal from my sisters and brother, but today it was me.

It’s nearly a year since my father fell and broke his hip – a major injury for anyone let alone someone nearly thirty years older than me. My nervousness was unfounded. His recovery is so good. He was so much more mobile and so much steadier than the last time I saw him. A combination of rapid and quality surgery the day he broke his hip, plus medication, plus physiotherapy, plus his determination, plus good diet, plus hard work, plus love and care and affection.

I took him out for the morning. We went to a nearby football stadium – a team he has supported all his life. We signed up for the guided tour and museum visit. We had a great time together. The stadium tour was very interesting – everything seemed much smaller and more basic than I imagined for a top flight professional team. But hearing my dad’s stories of when he used to come and watch – and which players he used to watch – some seventy years ago was amazing.

We had lunch out together before I took him home. My mum was never into football. Instead we sat together through the afternoon and watched old films on TV, holding hands, chatting, drinking tea (well coffee in my case) and dunking biscuits. Totally different from my morning but still so enjoyable and totally memorable.

I decided it was time to go and visit my sister when I realised my mum and I were both falling asleep sitting there – warm rooms and old films have that effect. But before I set off I gave them each a big hug, a little kiss, and told them how proud I was of them both and how much I loved them.

My sister is amazing. She has made such a difference to my parents this year. My elder sister and younger brother are also amazing, but like me they don’t live as close to my parents. My younger sister has been there and is there. She has made such a difference to us all. She has helped, advised, supported, decided, cared and loved.

People always make a difference. Individuals make a difference. In any situation – in work, at home, with friends or in families.

Last Monday morning I felt nervous. But I wasn’t worried. They are my parents. She is my sister.

Cheers

Steve

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Weather Bomb…

One of the aspects of the pharmaceutical industry in general that has always amused and bemused me, is our propensity to combine two words – that individually have clear meaning – and to assume the new pairing means something as well. A classic example is ‘property’ and ‘intellectual’. Everyone knows what property means, and could give an accurate definition of intellectual. But what is Intellectual Property really?

In the Contract Research Organisation segment of the pharmaceutical industry there’s another prevalent dimension – marketing. To be successful as a CRO, we have to be contracted to carry out research for a customer, and marketing is the means by which we communicate the value of what we sell… value to our potential customers. And our success in our marketing is measured by our sales.

If I put these two things together then – marketing and ‘two word combinations’ – I sit back and marvel. Well in truth I sit back and wonder at my own ‘new found’ propensity to give things names…Operation QuickStart. Budget Chase. MarketPlace. Project SixPack. And worse still – as I see them written down – is an apparent unexplainable fixation with Capital Letters in the middle of words.

But we are not alone…although I am not sure if this makes me feel better or worse. This last week I realised that our UK weather forecasters have gone down the same path. Last week, from absolutely nowhere, we were introduced to the concept of a ‘Weather Bomb’. Even now I don’t really know whether I am confused by this term or offended. And I certainly have no real idea what sort of weather it is supposed to describe. But ‘Weather Bomb’ was everywhere in the UK media. And somehow this phrase caused more discussion (and more problems) than the actual weather itself. At least for me.

Wednesday evening I was due to meet – for the first time over dinner – an American leader from a partner company. Our companies have done some superb work together in the past, and we were meeting to celebrate what we have achieved and to begin to see what could be possible moving forward. We had interacted by email, but we had not met in person.

It was cold, wet and windy as I approached the restaurant and, for some reason, as I walked in and shook hands, I said something along the lines of …‘it’s so cold…we must have been hit by the weather bomb’. I immediately realised my mistake. My American friend gave me that look which immediately tells me that I have said something that means absolutely nothing and has confused enormously.

And worse still, I then found myself trying to explain what a ‘weather bomb’ was…what it wasn’t…why the expression was being used…who by…and why I had said those fateful words when we first met. Half way through – half way through my first sentence – I realised that I had jumped into a large hole and was rapidly burying myself. That my attempted explanation was not helping. And that I had to improvise. Quickly.

‘Well enough of that’ (I rudely interrupted myself)…‘it’s great to meet you in person at last’ (what I should have said)…‘this is one of my favourite restaurants in town’ (quickly changing topic on myself). It worked. Relief all round.

And we proceeded to enjoy an excellent evening. The restaurant was very good. We discussed business, families, work, children, customers…and marketing. Eventually I even managed to explain my ‘weather bomb’ moment. And in the process I managed to laugh at myself…always helps.

I am sure we will do more great work – and even better marketing – together…

Cheers

Steve

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Leadership Legacy…

I had lunch at work on Monday with an esteemed guest. It was great fun, thought provoking and invigorating. Most things that are both enjoyable and thought provoking tend to be invigorating. My lunch guest was one of the original scientists and leaders from our research location in the UK. He retired a few years ago – before I started – and although I have heard a great deal about him, what he had done, and how he had done…I had never met him before.

As lunch time approached, I wondered what we would talk about; what topics he would raise; what I would learn…about him, about us, about me. You never know in these situations…but in the end I learned so much, so quickly and so valuable.

His very first question was the ‘give-away’…followed by his second and third. They were all the same. He asked me about people by name. How were they doing? What were they doing? What did I think about how they were growing and performing? He didn’t once ask about business, or the impending Big Deal, or even partners we work with. He asked me about people by name – people he had recruited, appointed, or supervised.

Some time ago, on the day I was asked to take on my first significant leadership role, my new boss (who had just appointed me) gave me some great advice. ‘Think about your legacy in this role’ he said. My legacy? I had not even sat down in my new office and my new boss was talking about my legacy. And I had no idea. ‘Your legacy’, he continued, ‘will be your people. The people you recruit, reveal and re-train.’

I am not sure about legacy, but I remembered this advice as we chatted over lunch on Monday. As we talked about individuals my guest had recruited; about colleagues he had given opportunity for significant work experience, and people he had coached and developed. Yes, it was a notable list of names, and yes it was great to talk about them individually. But most of all I was just so impressed that his focus…his interest…his agenda in our conversation was his people. And yes, I felt pleased he was interested in hearing my opinions and assessments.

I found myself thinking again about my Monday lunch several times during the week…more specifically at times when I saw, or met, or heard today’s people. Colleagues who have created or taken significant experiences; individuals who have grown and developed; people who have moved to new roles, or have been recruited into our organisation.

I am still not sure about legacy, but I did recognise my own feelings of pride and pleasure this week – mixed with admiration and delight – whenever I interacted with today’s people. They are so impressive, have so much passion and such commitment. They partner and communicate…engage and innovate. All my feelings are reflective of them. All the growth, performance impact and leadership is theirs. Individually and collectively. I just have the pleasure of working with them.

So what of legacy then? Well I am confident that as individuals we don’t consider ourselves as the ‘legacy’ of our leaders. I certainly don’t. But perhaps that is not the right assessment. I wonder if the key is more about what a leader believes will be their legacy. How would a leader want to be remembered? How do we seek to influence and inspire? What do we value and believe in? What do we care about most?

My Monday lunchtime guest knew. There was no doubt what – and who – he cared about most. And he inspired me.

Cheers

Steve

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Twenty Seven…

It happens every year. Once a year. A couple of days before the end of November. It is not Thanksgiving…but it often overlaps with Thanksgiving. And it is not England winning at rugby (although that did happen this weekend this year). And it is not my birthday – that is still to come in December.

It is a time for celebration. And a time for contemplation. It is a time for memories and photographs…for stories, smiling and for laughing. Twenty seven years ago was the day we were married. I feel good and I feel happy.

Twenty seven is just a number. One more that twenty six and one less than twenty eight. But yet it feels like yesterday. It was sunny and warm in the UK for November. We had such fun with our friends and our families. We saved for months. We had nothing left. We planned for weeks. The speeches. The meal. The service. Everyone. Everything. My suit and tie. My wife’s dress. A friend taking the photos. Crossing the English Channel to Paris on the Sunday. It was sunny and freezing cold in France for November. I can remember it all.

My father took a detour to get a new car aerial on the way to the reception (don’t ask). My sister left early after a possible break-in at her home. My mother cried. My mother-in-law cried. Everyone laughed. We have all the photos…some on the wall and some in albums. From the day; from Paris, France. Such memories. Such a day. A day to celebrate. It is one of the most important days in my life. A short list – the day we met; the day we married; my daughter’s birth day; my son’s birth day.

Other days are significant and other events are memorable. Moments with friends or with our families. At home or at work. Big days and sad days. Momentous days and happy days. But family is first. My wife. My confidante. My mentor. My love. And my children.

We always celebrate. We were married eight years after we first met. I remember the exact moment I first saw her. I know where and when. I don’t have a picture…but I don’t need a picture. We have grown up together. We have become a family together. I feel happy and excited. We celebrate and we feel good. I love and I feel loved.

And looking forward is always so exciting. We don’t know what…or where. But we do know who with. It will be amazing. Not matter what and no matter where. We will do it together. She is always there for me and everything I do, I do for her.

There is always change…more than we recognise. Change at work and at home. We all cope with change. We all handle change. Support and care, friendship and love all help. Family and true friends are unconditional. Family and friends are there for us…just as we are for them. Whatever happens and whatever we do. They help me no matter what we see in front of us. All our biggest decisions we made together. All our hardest choices. All our successes.

We can’t predict our future. We know it will be different, but it will be even better and even more remarkable. Unpredictable, remarkable and better because those moments and memories start from unexpected. We will create our own future because we always create our own future. Choices and decisions we make and take together. How we adapt and how we evolve.

Year twenty eight has already started. It will be wonderful, unpredictable and extraordinary. And we will be together.

Cheers

Steve

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Smile Please…

I was communicated to last week. Much more communication than normal. More spoken. More emailed. More teleconferences. More instant messages. More individually. And more in groups. I thought more, listened more, and learned more.

But as I sit and consider, it seems as if much more of this week was about us and – for me – was about me. In the first two weeks since our big news announcement, most communication I experienced was information giving. Who the new company is. What they do. How they do it. What they stand for…believe in, care about…value. What they – and we – want and need, hope for and dream about, as we look to a new future.

Against that backdrop then, it makes sense that more of my time this week was internal. Our company and our people. Our partners and our work. My friends and my family. My team and my self.

I have been through a number of big changes during my career…in fact many more than I ever expected, predicted or wanted. The most amazing aspect of any big change is that those involved always come through it. In hindsight I know I have always come through change and I believe I found myself in a better place. And when I look around, I see others who say the same. It can be harder to evaluate of course, but that’s what they say. And that’s what I have experienced.

Because of big changes in companies I have worked for, I have found new friends, new science and new opportunities. And I have learned new things about myself. I would not go so far as to say that I would have chosen to instigate these changes…but when I look back…I have found change to be good.

As I have asked and listened this week, I have also observed and considered. It is never possible to truly assess how anyone else is doing – all we can do is compare what we see and hear to what we have previously seen and heard. But what I do know is that the most stressful aspect of my week was a close call at the end of the week with a reckless driver. My most exciting moment was the start of a global teleconference with more than 100 people waiting to be engaged. My most rewarding moment was an ingenious idea I heard one morning from a colleague. My most intriguing moment was a conversation with a new potential partner company. My most proud moment was my son receiving another university place offer.

All of which was a normal week. I didn’t need to be asked to stay focussed on my work – there is so much going on at work it just pulls us in. And despite so much change apparently going on, I continue to come to work each day and it looks and feels the same. My family haven’t changed. My apartment is still cold in the morning. My exercise bike is still calling my name. Yes there is change…but no, nothing seems to change.

But I do find myself think at times about how I am doing. How I am coping. Perhaps that is the only real difference. I don’t normally self-reflect (that much). I always tell myself I am doing well. I congratulate myself unconditionally. I reward myself with another coffee. I know I work harder. I explicitly look for opportunities and challenges to seize or solve. I find more colleagues to talk with and people to listen to. I listen more carefully…ask more open questions…praise more often…encourage more explicitly.

I find reasons to smile.

Cheers

Steve

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Two CEOs…

I once had opportunity to have dinner with two CEOs. They were both CEO of the same very large company. One was the current CEO…the other was the ex-CEO. It was a few years ago now, but I remember driving home after dinner thinking that had been a special opportunity. Both CEOs were open and amicable – to us and to each other. They talked business, strategy, decisions, people, stock price, growth, families and work.

Their vision and belief was compelling; their insights and understanding was impressive; their assessments and analyses were absorbing. As I sat and soaked it all in, I kept having to remind myself to enter into the discussion rather than simply sitting, eating, listening and learning.

That dinner feels like a lifetime ago…although it is only really a new career ago. Back then, I couldn’t imagine when I would ever again have chance to spend time with two CEOs…especially two CEOs who had such good relationship.

And yet, last week I had a second opportunity to spend time with two CEOs. Last week I was in the UK. It was foggy, grey and very wet. Last week two CEOs came to visit.

Two CEOs visiting together can happen when the planned combination of two companies is not hostile. Our visit was part of tour of multiple locations. Meet and greet. Hear. See. Watch. Listen. Consider. Assess.

It wasn’t a long visit. Although most of our time beforehand was spent working to ensure we would impress two CEOs, I recognised it was also an important opportunity for them to impress us – everyone they met; everyone who heard them speak. I knew it was a moment for me…I wanted to be inspired.

We planned for a short breakfast before, and a fast site tour after. A group for breakfast. Pairs of presenters on tour. Common messages of partnership and value. Common themes of energy and excitement. Common concerns about too much rain…and not enough time. But the main event – in the middle of the visit – was the ‘Town Hall’.

We knew the conference room would be full. We wanted other groups to be able to connect by telephone. In the days before, we had thought about who would be present in person, how the telephone connections would work, the PA system, the Q&A process, the seating lay out and even whether we needed a dress code.

And then we were there. Town Hall about to start. I had been requested to make my introduction brief. I went for ‘short and sweet’. As I sat down I thought to myself “sweet enough, but maybe too short”, but still, no-one was there to listen to me! I relaxed. I waited.

Ninety minutes later we had finished. It felt like ninety seconds. It was compelling. I was enthralled. Every word. So much information…so much inspiration. I was amazed. I had expected a focus on our future. But we also heard two ‘real-time’ descriptions of the deal being done. Two CEOs describing one story but from their own unique perspective. They told us so much – they can’t have held anything back. I understand so much more. The drive. The desire. The options. The intent. Their passion. Their excitement. Their emotion.

Two leaders. Two different styles. One message. One voice. Their vision…for our future. Opportunities. Challenges. Potential. More than I expected. Everything I needed.

As I drove home at the end of the day I remembered we had planned to record the session. I hope it worked. I have to listen again. Like my first time, two CEOs together had been special. I knew how important. I felt how impactful.

Cheers

Steve

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Last Week…

I was tired on Friday. I was driving home…missing my wife, missing my family and missing my sleep. I still had work to do; a business meeting over lunch with old (and new) friends; an evening partner leadership teleconference. I worked hard to concentrate on the road as I drove.

Last week was a week like no other. But in many ways last week was identical to every other week. I came to work each day. I met colleagues. I spoke with partners. I met more colleagues. I received and sent many more emails than I normally do. I missed my wife, my family and my sleep.

My week started with briefing meetings late on Sunday – more precisely it was very early on Monday. Big news requires different routines. Anything to do with corporate acquisition or takeover is incredibly regulated. Big news is kept confidential until the last minute. Everyone has to be communicated to at the same time – internally and externally.

My calls finished around 3:00am UK Monday. I had to get some sleep before the actual morning. My mind was racing. My 6:30am alarm came around very quickly. My mind was still racing. I called my wife when I woke. I had to talk…even in general terms. I needed her to tell me we would be OK. I knew that of course. I needed to hear it.

Monday was amazing. A blur. Exciting & energising. Adrenaline and caffeine. Checking emotions…my own and everyone else’s. Listening to everything. Reading everything. When change happens information is essential. I like to read, hear and see as much as I can. I pass on anything and everything I receive. Change is not the time to hoard information.

We all crave certainty. We can handle good news or even bad news. It is uncertainty we struggle with. No matter how much experience we have, and what we say. Uncertainty is a challenge. And yet change always comes with uncertainty. By definition. We never know for sure how things will play out – how can we? But yet we still seek certainty. It’s far too easy for us to worry about what we don’t know.

Our work is certain. The people we work with and the people we do work for – they are relying on us to be there for them. To meet our commitments. To achieve our goals. It is not necessarily easy…but it is absolutely true. And this is something we can control, influence, and succeed in.

My family is certain. They are unconditional. My friends are certain. Friends at work. Friends at home. Friends who reach out to chat. Who tell me they are there for me.

When change comes I keep my routines. I don’t give up my exercise time for email. I always have lunch. I talk to my family and my friends all the time. I focus on essential activities. Sleep is an issue. But only if I don’t get enough! I had to try to catch up from Sunday night. It can be tempting to keep going longer. I know it doesn’t work. Or help.

Personal calm can be elusive at the best of times. Personal calm is so valuable in changing times. By definition I can control how I feel. That’s why it’s called personal calm. The opposite helps no-one – personal panic? I don’t think so.

We do great, valuable and important work. We do that work together and we do that work with partners. We rely on and we support each other. We deliver as one. We succeed as one.

I am with my wife and my family. I still miss my sleep

Cheers

Steve

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