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…



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Formally Functioning…

I know nothing about architecture. I could just about tell you if I thought a building looked attractive…but even then I wouldn’t be confident either in my judgement let alone whether ‘attractive’ is a valid word to describe a building.

It will be no surprise then that I had never heard of a famous American architect named Louis Sullivan. But Louis is one of my heroes. Louis is officially credited with the phrase ‘form follows function’. It was a simple but significant concept. Prior to Louis, building design was based uniquely on historical precedent (this is what we have always done)

Luis recognised that that a new form for buildings was needed – he saw the problem and the opportunity.  His simple idea…his innovation and imagination…was that building form – what a building looked like, how it operated, how it was constructed, everything – had to be based on and derived from the function of a building. Form should follow function. And this simple truth created the modern skyscraper.

Impressive indeed…but that’s not why Louis is my hero. His heroics were more of an unintended consequence. Form follows function has made the leap into many other design concepts…internet web sites for example. Web site design was originally all about how the home page looked. Now it’s all about what is the site designed to do or deliver. Form follows function.

And that’s not all. Corporate structure, organisation design, business operating models – the most successful companies align with the concept of form follows function.

It sounds obvious. But it doesn’t not happen. Many a time I have sat in a meeting room where someone says ‘OK – now we are here and are all together – what are we going to do?’ This is Function following Form – the wrong way around. If we don’t know what that team was expected to deliver then what chance do we have of getting the right people in the room?

One of my first global assignments was to a team that of R&D scientists and IT Specialists. And the assigned leader’s first words were ‘what are we going to do together?’ My heart sank. My memory engrained. My personal commitment set.

Organisations change – big or small organisations…big or small changes. Organisations desire change when they realise they need to deliver or achieve something different. Their Function changes. Change in form inevitably follows. Or at least should do.

But the starting point should always be clarity over the function that is desired or required. And that is one of the major responsibilities of leaders – team leaders, project leaders, group leaders, business leaders or corporate leaders. To identify and clarify the opportunity (ideally) or the need (minimally) at the right time – to identify and clarify the function. And then to set the form to follow and achieve that function.

None of this is easy. Or if it is easy then it probably means we have identified the necessary change in function too late and will be having to catch up. In most businesses, function has to be focussed on customer need. An organisation or operation can only be truly successful if its customer base is somewhere between satisfied and delighted.

I was sat on a plane on the runway last week for 3.5 hours waiting to set off for a 10 hour flight home. Time to think. No time to worry. Not a time to rage. My hero Louis helped me pass time.

What is our function? Where has it changed? Where will it? When? Who is the function for? How do we best lead? Is it better to respond? To react? Proact?

Louis always helps.



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Semi Incorrect…

I was wrong. And I am happy to admit it, delighted in fact…and am amazed with the outcome of my incorrectness. The England team are through to the semi-finals of the World Cup. This then makes them one of the four best teams in the world. Who knew? Evidently not me!

Luiz Felipe Scolari was the manager of Brazil in 2002 – the last year Brazil won the World Cup.  He once said to me (and approximately 60 Million other people watching to same interview)…great players win games…great teams win tournaments. There’s a lesson there for sure.

Lewis Philips was one of my managers in 2002. He once said to me (and approximately 60 other people in the same room)…never use sports analogies at work…or military analogies. There’s a lesson there as well for sure.

I like to think that I learned from Luiz. I didn’t from Louis. Sports and military analogies have potential to alienate (at best) or irritate and confuse (at worst). Too much risk. Irritation and confusion are never good. So I try to avoid them.

Admitting when I am wrong in an assessment or a decision is also a good learning. One of my objectives is to be right more times than I am wrong. I avoid measures on that particular objective of course, not least since 51% of the time is easier to achieve than would be 81%. But when I am wrong then it’s important for respect to admit the error (self-respect as much as the respect of others). But recognising a wrong decision or action early is also important since it gives me much more opportunity to correct or redirect.

Another factor in that mythical metric – if I was into measurement of this aim – would be the denominator. How many decisions do I make? Put another way, the simplest way of not getting any decisions wrong would be to not make any decisions. The simplest way of not making any incorrect actions would be to not do anything.

But in reality though, in this gaming scenario, then presumably I would have to wait for others to decide and to tell. And therefore I would already have failed. If my first decision was to not make any decisions for myself…then self-evidently that would be incorrect.

And boring. And unhelpful. And disengaging.

I have experiences. I have beliefs. I have opinions…ideas…suggestions. I should offer them forward for consideration. Others should expect them from me…others maybe even want them from me.

I have no assumption of being right. My mythical objective is only a measure of outcome…it explicitly does not exclude others from involvement or influence over those decisions or actions.

And that – I believe – is how teams work. Every member contributes to the collective decisions, actions and outcomes. To the team success. Individuals contribute to the team. Individuals acting alone may occasionally show individual brilliance. And undoubtedly there will be moments when that is enough. But it does not equate to real, long term and sustained success. Or engagement. Or enjoyment.

So I was wrong about England. Delightfully so. And the reason was simple. Previous English teams have never been a true team. They have said they were but at best they were a collective of individuals – individuals who were able to give the impression of caring more about themselves and their own brand.

This year’s England are a team. They contribute and work for the team. For each other. For the outcome. They are there for each other. They are enjoying everything. This team is different. This is a different team.

I want to be right on Wednesday.



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Leadership Matches…

I hope I am wrong. I hope my every instinct is false. I really don’t want to be right. But my fear…is real and large. And it’s my own fault.

My fault because of my decision. More accurately my lack of will-power. I had opportunity not to get involved. To prevent myself from being enticed in. Not to allow myself to be engaged. I have to take personal responsibility and accountability for where I am…

Back to leadership basics…leadership is making and taking decisions…and being accountable and responsible for those decisions and how they play out.

My decision – my bad decision – was to allow my emotions to override my experience…to overrule rational thought. I should have known better. But I failed. And now I am in a position of uncertainty. I want to blame someone else…but I know I have to own this one myself. For myself.

I am often asked about differences between leadership roles in CRO research and Development and leadership roles in Large Pharma R&D. Needless to say, there are more similarities than there are differences. But I think the biggest difference is cycle times.

So much in Large Pharma was measured in years…after all it can easily take at least ten years for a new product to reach the market.

So much in a CRO is measured in months or quarters. After all, a successful new product can take weeks to reach the market.

CRO performance is measured daily and is reported every month and assessed – internally and by investors and analysts – every quarter. Momentum is vital. In Sales. In work done. Quality delivered. Partnership cemented. Revenue generated. In operating profit earned.

Second quarter 2018 finished last week. This week will show if we have improved…how much we have progressed. How much better than last quarter. Have we generated momentum? Momentum of performance is pivotal. Momentum engenders confidence, energy, enthusiasm, engagement, emotion. Momentum erodes uncertainty.

So why the long face? Why am I feeling so anxious? Why so miserable? What was my bad decision?

Sport. Every four years England are able to qualify for the football (soccer) World Cup. Performance being measured once every four years…there’s a thought. And every four years I tell myself that I won’t get excited. I will keep my expectations minimal and low. And every four years I fail. Miserably.

But this time round it was different (honest). England Football Team has a new Manager. Someone who many observe as lacking in charisma…but although it may help… charisma is not an essential quality of good leadership. England qualified for these finals in Russia and at times we played very well.

And when the tournament started our leader demonstrated skill, good judgement, excellent team management, made good decisions…even showed a sense of humour.

In our first two games the team played well (first match)…really well (second). They pulled me in – despite my experience of hopes raised…hopes dashed…hopes destroyed. England had that precious momentum! This looked and felt different. I had reason to be optimistic. Other teams had reason to worry.

And then last week we saw a bad leadership decision. For the third game the coach chose to rest our star players. We fielded a reserve team. England were poor. They played as well as they could, but they lost. They lost the game…lost the match…lost the plot. Lost me. Lost momentum. Our next opposition – Columbia – will be confident.

And now, the leader is discounting. Rationalising. Explaining. Justifying his decision. None of these discussions are good discussion to be having. My instinct is that it was just bad leadership.

I hope I am wrong…



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Tuesday Morning…

I first met with my father-in-law nearly 40 years ago. He had no idea at our first meeting that I was going to become his son-in-law. I wasn’t thinking that either. I was just nervous about meeting him. It was Easter in my first year at University. He was there to pick up his daughter and to take her home for a month.

He was protective, so caring and so proud of his daughter. He was ‘pleased to meet me’, but it was obvious that he was the father. I remember a very firm grip as he shook my hand…and that look he gave me.

I last met with my father-in-law just over a week ago. He had been unwell with several significant conditions for a little while. I remember a less firm grip as he shook my hand…and that smile he gave me.

He complained about something – we smiled. He told a story – we laughed. And then told me about something I needed to repair or move or set up for him. It was a very hot weekend. He needed a ventilation fan and he needed it in that corner pointing in this direction. He was right. Your father-in-law may not always be right…but he is always your father-in-law. I smiled again. I told him I would take care of it.

Tuesday last week I was in Germany – part of a week-long trip. We were just reaching the end of a morning meeting when my cell phone rang. It’s always a bit of a surprise when that happens since most people I know also know me. And most people either text or email me before they call. It was my wife. I knew. I knew immediately. I knew before I answered.

Her dad – my father-in-law – had died. He passed at 10:30 that morning. She was in tears. I was in Germany. I wasn’t in Boston but I wasn’t there. My plans changed. I needed to be home. I wanted to be home. For her. For him. For me.

My wife was on her way to be with her mother. I had to call my son and my daughter. The hardest calls. Every instinct screams at you to be there to hold them and protect them and make them feel better. But you are not there. I was in a meeting room in Germany.

I called my sister-in-law. She was shocked and distraught. She was on her way home.

He was 89. He had been unwell for a little while. He had been stable these past few weeks though. His old self. Smiling, recounting, complaining, requesting and laughing. We had all been to see him. He wasn’t always happy, but he was always so pleased to see us.

He was so proud of his daughters and loved them so much. He was in love with his wife. He had been in love with his wife every moment of every day since they first met nearly 70 years ago. He loved his grandchildren. He was ‘pleased to see me’. It was obvious he was their father, her husband, their granddad. He was my father-in-law. I told him I would take care of them.

I admired him and I respected him. I loved him. I was in awe of him. At times he made me feel nervous (I remember that handshake and that look nearly 40 years later). At times so happy. That hug (and a different handshake) the day I married his daughter. That smile whenever he spoke about his grandchildren. His face whenever he saw them.

We will always remember him. I will miss him.



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Father Forward…

I have come to the not surprising conclusion that I am just like my father. More precisely I am just like my memory of my father. More precisely again I am just like all the amazingly positive memories I have of my dad.

I am a little biased of course – or maybe guilty of a little self-aggrandisement – but I would say that my sense of humour is better than his was, that I have more hair than he did, and that I can sing better than he could.

More truthfully I aspire to be more like my dad was. More truthfully again I aspire to be more like all the amazingly positive memories I have of dad. My memories of my dad are real and clear. And although it is now some sixteen months since he passed away, those memories remain vividly real and crystal clear.

They are better as well. Better since my strongest memories are all the good ones. I remember him coming back home from a business trip rather than him leaving. I remember him laughing when I passed my driving test rather than those more stressful moments as he taught me to drive. I remember him cheering when I graduated University rather than him suggesting I re-write my school chemistry homework.

I have other memories and moments of course, but it is interesting (and good) how much more we remember the positive memories, the funny ones, the significant ones.

And how we move on…or start to move on. It seems impossible to conceive of at the time…but it is true. We do move forward. We never forget…I have not forgotten. I frequently find myself thinking of my dad –  what I think he would do or say…or not do or not say…in a particular moment. But it is more often in moments when I am looking to move forward, or do something or am trying to make something happen.

That we can move forward is good. Good because we all have people around us who need us to be there for them. Our friends, our colleagues, our partners, our children. We are also parents. I am a father. Every day – not just on Father’s Day.

This is either our human nature. Or else it is our human nurture. Something innate, or something we have experienced and learned. Ourselves, or from our teachers, or from our parents, or from my dad.

My dad was always present. He may not have always said very much, but he was always listening and thinking. And always had suggestions or insights or experiences to share. He facilitated situations, improved scenarios and helped people. He helped me.

My dad was always accountable. When he said he was going to do something he always did. Or make something happen, it always would. We knew it. I knew it. He made good judgement as well – he wouldn’t offer to solve insurmountable problems or promise to impossible commitments. He knew what he could do – and not – and he would say and he would do. He inspired me.

My dad was always caring. He cared passionately for his friends, devotedly about his work, and intensely about his colleagues. Everyone knew they could rely on him. That first and foremost he would be thinking about them, what they wanted and needed and deserved, as well as what any situation required. He cared for me.

My dad was always loving. He loved my mother, he loved his children, he loved his grandchildren I know this. I knew this and I could see this and I can feel this. He loved us unconditionally. He loved me.



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First Slides…

I remember my first Chief Executive Officer. I guess more precise would be that I remember the first time I interacted with a CEO. I had been asked to make a presentation. And to wear a suit. I didn’t have a suit. I had to buy one. I still have that suit somewhere. It doesn’t fit of course. And I wouldn’t wear it anyway. It was a style and colour of its day. Neither of which are today.

It was only the CEO. Not the Board of Directors. My first Board interaction was many years later – and I agree – I don’t know if that was a good result or no. I recall the preparation. I remember the rehearsals – word by word. I recall been given advice on my slides. I remember realising it was not advice – it was required.

One of the requested slides was what everyone called the CEO slide. The first slide – the first slide after the title slide of course. The was the Executive Summary – or more literally the CEO Summary. ‘You may only get opportunity to present that one slide’…‘so make sure it says everything you want to say’. I had 30 minutes on the agenda – and a new suit – my assumption was I would have my time in the spotlight.

Sure enough on the day, my ‘time’ became my ‘moment’. My one slide. He had ‘read it in advance’. I was in and out in less time than it had taken me to knot my tie. ‘You did well’ was the general feedback I remember. I recall a feeling of total anti-climax. All that effort and energy for next to nothing. Well nothing really.

Everyone asked me how it had gone. I didn’t really know what to say. Everyone seemed so much more excited than I was. More impressed than I was…more energised. My expectations were high – arguably too high. I was disappointed. I assumed it was me.

In due course I learned it wasn’t me (unless everyone was being nice of course). For years I used to include a ‘CEO slide’ in every presentation I gave. I even told the story about why a CEO slide…everyone would laugh. I used to laugh. I never thought it was that funny.

Since that day I have had other opportunities to present to CEOs and to Boards of Directors. Although to be fair (or honest) it was a long time after that first experience before I had a second.

CEOs and BODs have changed a lot since then – for the better. I have probably changed a lot since then as well (hopefully for the better as well). I don’t use a CEO slide any more. I do tell stories about CEOs and BODs. Sometimes I laugh…more often I reflect and admire. Repeat the insights. Share the learning. Remind about the suit and tie (for the BOD at least).

I still concentrate on that first slide…my opportunity to make that big statement. To grab attention and steer focus. I always seek help and advice on that first slide from people I know and trust. I normally take full heed of the advice offered. Sometimes I inexplicably totally overlook great advice.

My goal is always the same – to leave a presentation – whether to a leadership team last week, a CEO next week, or a Board of Directors next month – with more or better. More ideas, more focus, more support, better priorities, better clarity, better objectives. More or better.

What I share, say or ask…and how…is important. How open I am to hear, listen and absorb advice, experience and insight is more important.

And valuable…



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Deciding Memories…

I decided not to do something last week. I can remember exactly what and why and when. It was a good decision. It was a proposal for an investment that was too much, too risky and too soon. It was the right decision at the right time. It wasn’t just me either. We made the right decision.

I definitely remember this decision not to do something from last week. But what about the week before? I am sure I made some good decisions not to do some things – big things small things work things, family things, financial things, personal things – I definitely decided not to do some of these things two weeks ago. I am sure…

Last month? Well presumably I did. We all make lots of decisions on what to do or not to do all the time. So yes – it must be true. Last month I made some great decisions on things not to do. Honestly. I did. Just let me think a moment…I can’t quite remember what they were today…

Last year….

I definitely remember what I decided to do last week. Those important decisions I put into action. And last week; last month; last year. In fact when I sit and give it even a moment’s thought…I can recall big and small and important and interesting decisions of what I will do or what I am doing. And where I was and with who. And even why.

I recognise that negative decisions – deciding what not to do – is very important. Essential in any business, any family or any day. It just that negative decisions are nothing like as memorable…personally or professionally.

I remember deciding to buy our last car, or first house, vividly. I remember deciding to leave my last job and take on my current role as if it was yesterday. I remember the moment I knew I was going to spend the rest of my life with one special person.

It can feel easier or even safer to decide not to do something. It is more comfortable to retain the status quo.

Deciding to do something…something different. Deciding to act differently. To change. To make change happen. This can be harder…this is harder. For all of us. But positive decisions. Decisions to do. This is what defines us. Who we are.

We have an important set of discussion next week on strategy. The simplest description of strategy I have heard? Strategy is ‘making decisions’. And so good strategy. Positive strategy. Has to be making decisions on what to do…to do next.

What we decide to do – and then do – will influence our future. Strategy. Implementation. Influencing implementation is more powerful than owning strategy. In most cases strategy is words on slides. Strategy can be engaging and insightful. But it’s hard for words on slides to make an impact. Impact only happens when we start to implement. When we start to implement decisions we have made – decisions on what to do.

And once we implement – as soon as we start to act – things happen. Good things, not so good things, expected or surprising things. This always happens. The key to success is how we implement and what we do. The key to successful implementation is how we adapt.

Personally, professionally, organizationally, family. It may well be more difficult to decide what we will do. It may be more complicated – or even risky – than not doing.

But we are defined by what we do…and how we do it. What we decide to do and how well we execute. More difficult yes. But more exciting. More impactful.

And more memorable…



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