Week End…

My weekend is nearly over. Today I took my son back to college. I packed, I drove, I unpacked, I assembled and I helped. Well OK – that last one may not be quite right. I tried to help. In truth he doesn’t need that much help these days. My son impresses me. I am biased I know of course…but I am still impressed.

Yesterday was my wife’s birthday. We were all there – the whole family. She received cards, gifts, cake, candles and a wonderful sung rendition of Happy Birthday. Well OK – that last one may not be quite right. I tried to help with the singing. Suffice it to say my singing was passionate and loud. Actually there isn’t really much else to say about my singing than that.

We took my wife out for a boat ride – punting to be precise – with a guide…in our local city. On the river and canals that pass through and around the town. It was wonderful. Relaxing, peaceful, interesting, fun. And all of those are right. We even discovered some things about the city that we never knew…as well as seeing parts and views we hadn’t seen or experienced before.

It was a superb and relaxing weekend with my family at the end of a week. It is what week ends are supposed to be. Family and/or friends – people you care about and who care about you – relaxation and/or enjoyment. Any weekend. All weekends.

And this weekend in particular. I wanted this weekend to be special of course – it was my wife’s birthday…but I also felt like I needed this weekend to be special. I needed that reminder of the importance of our family and friends. I wanted to recognise the pleasure of their unconditional love and affection. We all need balance not just between our lives in work and our lives out of work…but we also need to balance how much of our time and energy we devote to both.

Last week felt like big news every day…and that was just at work…and Monday was a vacation day in the US! There seemed to be news about people, about roles, about leaders, about change, about challenge and about opportunities. Many weeks include some of this information…some weeks can even feature a little on all of these. It’s not often that any of us get a lot of news about all of these areas in one week.

Whenever a person leaves an organisation I am part of, it always has an impact on me…whether their reasons for leaving are good or not so good…and even more so if the person leaving is someone I know and have worked with…respect and admire.

But I know that people leave. People leave for good reasons, for personal reasons or for business reasons. But people leave. All I can ever do is to wish anyone who leaves the absolute very best. I know from experience that there isn’t often anything I can do to help…but I also know that it isn’t often that anyone leaving ever really needs my help. Good people always find – or create – great opportunities to be both happy and successful…however they chose to define both happiness and success.

And organisations move on. New people, new roles, new leaders…change and challenge and more opportunity. Someone once said that challenge always follows change. I think that’s true. But – more importantly – opportunity always follows challenge.

My weekend is now over. My family are happy. I am happy. I am relaxed and recharged. I am ready. Ready to embrace whatever next week has to offer…

Cheers

Steve

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Weak End…

Friday felt like a tough day. I was tired anyway. I had been on the East Coast for client visits and meetings. Massachusetts and New Jersey. A lot of talking, introducing, flying and learning. All exciting and energizing. But also a lot of energy and focus.

I flew back home Thursday evening. I always fly back with a UK airline. On a UK airline flying back to the UK, the majority of people tend to be UK based…and on the same time zone as me…and want to sleep on the night flight.

This does not always happen of course…and Thursday it did not happen. I slept badly…and found myself thinking a lot (when I should have been sleeping) about the meetings and discussions of the week. In some ways this is good – it suggests I had lots of mental stimulation. In many more ways it is not good. I arrived at Heathrow avoiding mirrors! I managed some sleep on the way home from the airport – some good news.

I have long since realised that I can be less objective and more instinctive (in what I do, say and write) on these days back from the US. It’s not complicated – it’s simply because I am tired. But it means I tend to be more emotional in all its senses. Anything that is funny really amuses me. Anything that is irritating really annoys me.

I have to work harder on these days. Whenever possible I avoid more complicated situations and decisions. I avoid writing emails on topics that I know I feel strongly about. I keep myself hydrated with lots of water and caffeinated with lots of coffee. I try to get to the fitness center sometime in the day and get some exposure to natural light.

All sounds great in theory. But of course stuff happens. It’s the nature of things that ‘stuff happens’ when you least want it to. Either at home or at work or just in general about something or someone you care about.

So Friday was a long day. Looking back it’s not that there was anything too much out of the ordinary. There were just several topics and discussions and events that occurred in those few hours. One is manageable. Two is difficult. Three or more just seems to get exponentially harder.

I recognised I was having to work hard. I felt the need to explain to anyone I was talking to about the challenge of big or important things when jet lagged. I didn’t have to tell my wife. She knew.

The good news is that these sorts of days don’t last any longer than any other. And more often than not, those big or important things generally only feel bigger and more important on those days…and at that time. Saturday morning comes round soon enough and (after re-reading any emails I sent on Friday) I was left more with a feeling of excitement and enthusiasm about the people I had met last week and the discussions we had together.

I also realised how important people are to me – people who I work with and people who care. People who bend and stretch and adapt around these sorts of days. But more importantly those are the same people who are there for – and with – me every day.

No matter what happens – no matter how good and exciting, not so good and disappointing, big or small. The only thing that really matters is what we do next. What decisions we make and steps we take – ideas, options, projects, plans – together.

New understanding and next opportunity. Today and tomorrow.

Cheers

Steve

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Ice Cool…

I can’t remember the last time I went ice skating. I do know I have been ice-skating before – I still have an occasional ache in my left elbow from when I fell. It is undoubtedly true what they say that the hardest part of ice-skating is the ice!

I went ice-skating last week – Thursday in fact. Thursday is the US holiday in celebration of Thanksgiving…and I have long since recognised the benefit of being able to take a vacation day when the US – especially those colleagues who I do most of my work with – has a Public Holiday.

It was an artificial skating rink of course – there are very few times or places when it’s cold enough in the UK to allow lakes or rivers to freeze that deeply. But at this time of year ice-rinks appear all over the place. That having been said, it was still my wife’s idea…and it did give me reasons to think and plan.

The thinking was about how long ago it was since I slipped and landed on that elbow. The planning was what I was going to do to prevent any repeat occurrence. And sure enough I did find my supply of elbow, knee and wrist protectors hidden away in a box in the garage.

The second piece of planning was what I was going to wear. Not so much as to look the part on the ice…more to try to disguise the fact that I had all these joint pads on from the other skaters.

In many ways of course I needn’t have worried. It was obvious as we arrived that no-one as taking any notice of me – everyone was either too excited – or too worried – about themselves. My other immediate observation was that the skates I hired were new…and the blades were sharp. I thought both of these augured well…on what basis I have no idea…but I was looking for any reassurance at this point.

We started. I stood motionless as my wife disappeared off on her first circuit. And then I shuffled. The closest resemblance my shuffling had to skating is that both words begin with an ‘s’. The good news was that I had zero chance of falling as I never let go of the side of the rink. And I quickly learned that polite smiling was the best approach when anyone – aged between 4 and 74 (approximately) – passes you on an ice-skating rink. Survival rapidly takes over from pride. Fear overcomes vanity. In the blink of an eye.

And then something strange happened. My second, third and even fourth circuits were just as slow and just as poor – in fact worse – than the first one. I was showing zero progress. At this point I stopped by the entrance…looked longingly at the adjacent coffee bar, and the comfy seats…and made my choice.

Suddenly my wife was appeared by my side. ‘You are doing really well’ she said. ‘You are getting better each lap’. ‘Come on, let’s go again’. And she was off.

That was all I needed…that and the realisation that the coffee bar wasn’t open yet. So off I went. Back into the fray. Uncomfortable. Ungainly. Uncool. But I did it anyway.

And by the end of our hour, I was even lapping the circuit without touching. I still looked (and felt) unsteady – and people still seemed to get out of my way very quickly when they saw me coming.

But we had so much fun – most of it at my expense mind you – but who cares. I tried something new – or virtually new.

I didn’t fall…or fail…I flourished…almost.

Cheers

Steve

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Mandate Card…

I have a mandate. More specifically I have a Mandate Card. It is not a real card of course, but rather it is one I made myself. I cropped and scaled a photograph to the size of a playing card and printed it off. It only has two words. Leadership Mandate.

Arguably my mandate would be clearer if it was longer. Leadership is either the collective of individuals who are leaders in an organization or it is the actual action of leading an organization.

Mandate is either an official order to do something (a noun), or it is when we are given ability to act in a certain way (a verb). Either way, I have a mandate card. I can look at it. Use it. Or I can share it with others.

My own view is that mandate as ‘an order’ doesn’t work anything like as well as mandate as ‘given ability’. Orders are normally given to elicit action. This tends to work best in more ‘command and control’ environments – the military is a good example, or even some sports teams. The leader or coach, or commander or captain mandates a way to act or play and the unit or team performs accordingly and dutifully to deliver their goals.

In most organisations our actions are based on our beliefs and our beliefs in turn are based on our experiences. In effect then, this hierarchy means that in any given situation our actions are based on what we believe to be right. We believe intrinsically that our actions are correct…and we assume our actions will deliver the desired or expected outcome.

This beliefs system would go some way to explain why requests alone to act differently are seldom successful.

To change our actions we need to believe in something different or believe in something better. And ideally these beliefs will be based on our own experiences. But this is not easy to achieve. At least not at any pace.

Leaders frequently want their teams to change their actions, but they know it will take time for us all to gain new or different experiences on which to change our beliefs. But great leaders also know (from experience) that simply demanding that actions are changed seldom works.

And this is why I believe in the second definition of mandate – giving permission or authority to act in a certain way – can be so successful.

The fundamental assumption is that in any organisation there will always be individuals and groups desperate to change or to lead change. People who know that the current course (of action) will not work, will not work well enough or will not work fast enough. People who already believe there is another way, but who have not yet had opportunity to experiment.

A Leadership Mandate empowers these individuals. It gives us ability or even permission to act…to act in a different way from how we have felt obliged to act before. Empowerment can be as awesome as it is inspiring. And it will be successful. Rapidly.

So back to my card – mandate – the act of inspiring people to perform and engage in achieving a goal. I use my mandate card to motivate myself. And I have shared a copy with several colleagues. Operating differently from the norm can sometimes feel lonely and even challenging. But this is how creating and seizing opportunity can feel.

A leadership mandate – to act differently in order to create and deliver more opportunity more rapidly. For ourselves, our teams, our respective organisations and our partners.

It won’t necessarily be easy…but absolutely it will be exciting…

…engaging, inspiring and empowering.

Cheers

Steve

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Two Stories…

There is a famous optical illusion where you are shown a black and white picture and asked what you see. There are two answers – a not very attractive man or more sophisticated lady – neither is right or wrong. Both are visible and apparent. The illusion is the question of which do you see. And strangely enough once you see the one…it is nearly impossible to see the other.

I was once sent the link to illusion by a best friend at work with the simple question – what do you see? And last week, some three years on, we were still having conversations based on this drawing and her question.

Her message – as I interpreted it – was that in any situation we either have a perception or a choice. Or maybe a perception and a choice. We can see the good or the bad. The beautiful or the ugly. The positive or the negative. The excitement or the worry. The challenge or the opportunity.

And this can be a perception – our view from where we sit or how we feel. Or it can be our choice – we can decide to look at our environment and our future in a positive way….or not.

And there is a second, even more important component to the puzzle – what stories do we tell about what we see?

There is a widely held philosophy that one of the best ways to change a culture – any culture anywhere – is through telling and sharing of stories. I know this is true for me – I listen to and learn from people’s stories all the time…stories about events, scenarios, experiences and other people. And I tell stories all the time.

Stories work because they allow us to share our experiences. It’s not possible for us all to have had the same experiences as everyone or anyone else. And neither is it desirable or beneficial. We benefit and grow from diversity…individually and collectively.

But our experiences create our beliefs, and our beliefs drive what we do. And culture is – at its simplest – how things are done around here. So I believe that stories share our experiences and thereby adjust our beliefs. And as our beliefs adjust, so how things are done around here will change. Stories change culture.

But the best stories are positive stories. The exciting ones. The amazing ones. Full of opportunity. The aha moments. So when we tell positive stories…when we chose to look at situations and scenarios in a positive way…when we adopt a positive outlook – the stories we tell are similarly engaging.

Stories of how we overcame, succeeded, enjoyed, helped, supported, laughed, benefitted. These are the stories we remember. These are the stories that we start to share. These are the stories we retell as if they happened to us. They almost become our own experiences. And in doing so they recreate what we believe and change our choice of actions.

So back to my best friend at work and our optical illusion – she wasn’t just asking what I could see. She was helping and advising me….encouraging and motivating me (which is what friends do for each other of course). She was telling her story to me about choices she makes.

I saw beauty and I can only see ugly if I try hard. I chose which stories I tell and I chose how I tell those stories. It is partly my perception but it is also my choice. We all have our moments – of course we do. And that is where best friends at work and at home come into their own.

But excitement and positivity are infectious…as are good stories.

Cheers

Steve

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Revolving Evolution…

Another week. Another exhilarating week. A tiring, busy, engaging, thrilling, disappointing, funny, frustrating and enjoyable week. All of the above at different times. But overall excitement and learning dwarfed any momentary negativity.

I am proud and pleased about what we achieved together this week. What we delivered and how we delivered. The ‘what’ is always important – we always tend to measure what we deliver. The ‘how’ is as important – together, supportive, stronger, better. We don’t tend to measure how we deliver…but we know…and we care.

I was in the UK all week. We had visitors – important visitors. We invested time and we received real value back. We were asked lots of questions and we asked lots of questions. Good questions and better answers. We are naturally inquisitive. We want to understand and we want to learn. The more we learn, the more we evolve and the better we get.

Any successful organisation continually changes. That’s not the question – the question is more appropriately whether our change is evolutionary or revolutionary!

People (and politicians) often talk about evolutionary and revolutionary change – they look and sound similar (the change rather than the politicians) but what is the difference? The answer is in the derivative verbs – “to revolt” vs. “to evolve”. To revolt is clearly a very different activity than to evolve. Revolt is dynamic, sudden and uncomfortable! Evolve is more passive, gentle and measured.

American Revolution? Dynamic, sudden, uncomfortable. Human Evolution? Passive, gentle and measured.

In reality then I think that most times we hear descriptions of revolutionary change, it will almost always be evolutionary change – change that takes us to the next logical step.

Evolutionary change is undoubtedly a very good thing – but where or when could we see real revolutionary change in an organisation? Change that re-writes the rules ….what would be our equivalent of digital photography….or driverless cars?

And these moments do happen. But we don’t tend to make them happen ourselves…they happen to us. I look at myself. My biggest learning opportunities have come about when significant change was impacted on me. Major company acquisitions or mergers…decisions to close down locations…new leaders being appointed.

New leaders are nearly always appointed because they have different experiences and different beliefs – and because they drive major change.

I assess major change as being good for me measured solely by what I have learned about myself, how I believe I have grown, and how much satisfaction and enjoyment I have experienced. Not that change has always been enjoyable – we can experience enjoyment without every moment being enjoyable.

Does this mean I cope well with change? I don’t know – I am not even sure that is my judgement to make. I think though, that it means I have experienced much more major change than I ever expected. And so when it happens again I am ready.

I ask lots and lots of questions. I think in advance of what I want to know and understand personally and about people, professionally and about business. I write my questions down when they come to me and I revise and review. And I ask. And I ask again. The same person or different people – the same question or different questions.

I focus on my routine and my balance. I never miss my morning work-out and I ensure I make space for my family and friends. This is seldom easy at any time – but it is most important at these times.

I work hard to stay positive. I always assume positive intent. I never worry about unintended consequences.

Change is coming – it always is. Change is good!

Cheers

Steve

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Time Waits…

Last week was tiring. I was in the UK all week but was sequentially South, Central, South, North, East and then South again. I met strategic partners and colleagues and friends and visitors and family…and I even went to music concert (the son of a friend). It was an exciting and energising week…but it was also exhausting.

And strangely enough UK clocks switched to winter early Sunday morning. Strange because I should have gained an hour. Well of course I did gain an hour…but it doesn’t feel that way. It’s Sunday evening and we have just driven back from visiting my son at college. It is dark already and it feels late. But it’s not. And to add to my disconcerted state of mind, I know that our US colleagues don’t end daylight savings for another week…and so my calendar for US-UK meetings next week will be all over the place.

It almost feels like jet lag. But it’s hard to imagine jet lag when the time only moves by one hour. That having been said, I do find it tougher to go to mainland Europe (plus one hour vs. UK) than I do visit the US. Whenever I am in mainland Europe I inevitably find myself wide awake at 1:00am local (only midnight to me). And then worse still…I have to get out of bed the next morning at a time that says 6:30am on my hotel alarm clock, but at which my body is screaming 5:30am.

Apparently jet lag is a real medical condition, well to be more precise it is a real sleep disorder recognised by the medical community. The thing about jet lag is that you never really know how bad you’ll get it. Sometimes it is worse than others. Sometimes the impact on me seems to last no time at all and other times it goes on for days. One fact I do know is that jet lag is worse travelling west to east than it is east to west.

I have read (and tried) many suggestions about what to do to avoid (or cope with) jet lag – everything ranging from not drinking alcohol, to drinking lots of alcohol; from sleeping on the plane to forcing myself to stay awake.

A pretty good description of jet lag would be…“a disorder resulting from crossing time zones too rapidly for the circadian clock to keep pace.” That link to circadian rhythm, though, suggests that at least a component of jet lag may be due to unscheduled exposure to sunlight or darkness. A bit like how I feel this evening now it is darker earlier. Presumably, our bodies just don’t know whether to be asleep or awake.

If true then this theory would explain the best way I have seen of apparently avoiding jetlag – wear sunglasses when you land to lessen impact of daylight. I don’t know whether this actually works, but maybe it would help me look a bit cooler (and less shattered) when I arrive at back in the UK!

Back to the real world then. Next week is another important week. Visitors and strategic partners and friends and colleagues and family. And it’s an important time of year as we move through the final quarter of 2016.

I know I will feel better in the morning. I feel better now than I did an hour ago. Everyone I met or interacted with last week was outstanding. Everyone I meet or interact with next week will be as good if not better.

I enjoyed myself last week. I learned a great deal. Next week is about to start.

I can’t wait…

Cheers

Steve

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Intent Emerges…

Maybe the reality is that all strategy is emergent? Or evolving and developing? We all like to believe that things are better if we have a strategy (at work at least) and there are a myriad of quotes from the wise and the wonderful that seem to confirm this.

“Your strategy should define what you do…as opposed to what you do defining your strategy.”

At its most simplest, I have always thought as strategy being how we get from where we are today to where we want to be. But of course nothing is ever quite so simple. In most organisations, although it is vitally important to have a view of- and aspiration for – the future…it is also essential to deliver value today. So as well as getting us from where we are today to where we want to be, our strategy has to ensure we are successful along the way.

“In real life, strategy is actually very straightforward. You pick a general direction and implement like hell.”

And it is this essential focus on implementation that makes me think all strategy is emergent. The moment we start to implement things start to happen. Good things, not so good things; Expected things, unpredictable things. Especially in research. We do research because we are investigating the unknown. No-one knows what will happen until we do the experiment. In an emergent world, the key is to be able to respond to events. To understand, adapt and adjust. Quickly and correctly. At least until the next event happens

“That should have been my strategy! By the time I’ve worked through the emotions of surprise, admiration, anger, jealousy, and frustration, I’m watching that reddish mane of hair disappear into the trees…”

Conversely, this would suggest that our overall goals or objectives would stay constant…as would our major strategic themes. We make choices about where and how we operate – for example therapeutic areas or commercial opportunities in business. But we always have to implement superbly well and we have to be adept and agile at responding.

I thought strategy this last week as I had opportunity to participate in two external meetings with colleagues from within our organisation and from our partners. In both cases it struck me just how much was happening. How may events we were all responding to today that none of us could have predicted last month let alone last year.

Some of these changes were very exciting and engaging – the energy and enthusiasm in the discussions was palpable. And others were startling and even disconcerting. Some were people…some were scientific…some were business…and some were personal.

“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”

And what matters was what we decided to do next, and why and above all how. Success would be based on our collective opinions and ideas and how well we implement them. Not my ideas or yours, but our collective. Not a long winded open ended consensus but equally not one dominant view to override everyone else.

Everyone in both meetings understood what our objectives were and knew they were aligned – even if different groups may have had different versions of the same objectives. There was trust (of each other) and confidence (in each other) – both of which started high and have been developed further though investment in relationships. We felt good when we were able to track back to prior meetings and identify how we had previously responded to emergent events, solved problems and seized opportunities

We won’t succeed because of these discussions – we all know that…but we will fail without them – of that we are certain.

“Intended goals and emergent strategy.”

Cheers

Steve

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