Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Roll on Moscow!!

'One club man' Paul Scholes celebrates the goal that sent Man Utd into the final

Forgive my self indulgence.

My beloved Manchester United beat Barcelona 1-0 at Old Trafford tonight to reach the final of the European Champions League in Moscow on Wednesday on 21st May.

What a glorious night and how fitting that Paul Scholes – a man of great humility, modesty and seeker of zero publicity should score such a terrific winning goal.
Click here for the BBC Report

Well done Scholesey – you are an absolute legend - I can’t wait for the final.

Longfellow on Simplicity

I am indebted to my friend Sriram Kannan from Hong Kong who spotted this wonderful quote yesterday in FORBES 'thought for the day.'

"In character, in manners, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity." - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American Poet.

Amen and thank you Mr Longfellow - I'll drink to that!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Friend of Simplicity - Brian Ward

Brian Ward of Affinity Consulting, Edmonton, Canada

Today I'm launching 'Friend of Simplicity' a new feature on my Simplicity Blog. I intend to publish a series of interviews with people who have influenced my thinking about leadership and management.

I am delighted to say the first interview is with my good friend Brian Ward who is based in Edmonton Canada. Brian and I first ‘met’ about 6 years ago through a discussion board on Brian’s excellent leadership website.

TREVOR: Hi Brian – Can you tell me a bit about how an Irishman ends up living Edmonton, Canada?!

BRIAN: Hi Trevor. What a penetrating question to start with! I came to Canada mainly to afford my three daughters a better life, better opportunities. They are all adults now, and have graduated from university, and are well on their way to making a success of their lives. Dublin at that time, in the mid-eighties was in a bad state economically…not like now!

When people ask me why I emmigrated to Canada, I tell them that, but I also sometimes reply by saying ‘greed’. As you can imagine, this normally sets them back a little. But it also sets up the conversation to focus on the topic of motivation. This topic has always fascinated me. We all act out of self-interest, even when we are acting to help others. When others benefit from our self-interest, then we have what is often referred to as a win-win outcome. I believe that we need to be totally honest about our motivations, AND we need to pursue our goals in an ‘ecological’ way. By ecological I mean that we maintain a balance of fairness, we don’t play zero-sum games i.e. you must lose in order for me to win.

TREVOR: So tell me about what Affinity Consulting can offer online to folks here in the UK?

BRIAN: We work with leaders to help them and their teams achieve their goals. We help them get focused on what matters to them, and to maintain that focus. In organizations today there are so many distractions and competing entities and priorities, it’s very easy to get sidetracked and achieve mediocrity. To start with, folks in the UK can visit our articles website Excellence 2.0 at

TREVOR: I am very interested in the FACET model – can you explain what it is about?

BRIAN: Gladly. FACET is actually an acronym. It came about when I was coaching a senior leader, and we got talking about servant leadership. This resonated with him, but he was struggling to put the pieces together. So he asked me if I could come up with a 360 degree questionnaire that he could give to his staff, his boss and some other folk. We looked at a number of ‘off-the-shelf’ surveys, but none of them appealed to him. We had been using a customer satisfaction survey in a previous project with this organization, and he asked if he could just take that survey and give it to his staff, whom he saw as his customers. Well, it didn’t fit very well, but it did inspire the development of the FACET Model.

FACET stands for Focus, Authenticity, Courage, Empathy, Timing. You can read an article on our Excellence 2.0 website at
www.Excellence2.com which explains it more fully.

TREVOR: I have often used your quote ‘Leadership is a Decision, Not a Position’ – can you elaborate on that for me?

BRIAN: Certainly. I come across many managers who are in management positions and doing a reasonable job, but have not made the decision to lead. By that I mean they have become caretaker managers, with a focus on control. To be a leader, you must decide on a new destination where you want to take people. That’s where the FOCUS in the FACET Model comes into play. Examples include Jack Welch of GE ‘Be the No1 or No 2 in each of our businesses’; Sam Walton of Wal*Mart with everyday low prices; Fred Smith of FedEx with overnight parcel delivery. I’m sure you can probably add to that with UK leaders such as Sir Richard Branson, Sir Alex Ferguson…I’m quite certain that they didn’t get their knighthoods by being ‘managers’!

TREVOR: From your experience of both the UK and the Canadian business cultures do you see differences and/or similarities?

BRIAN: Yes, there are many similarities and differences. I suppose you could describe Canada as being ‘mid-Atlantic’ as far as its culture is concerned. There are many British ex-pats here, and they bring a tremendous work ethic to this country, which everyone benefits from. Of course we are also part of the Commonwealth, and any time members of the Royal Family come here they get a great reception! There is a proud British heritage in this country…we still have the Queen adorn some of our currency!

On the other hand, we have a lot in common with the USA. We drive on the same side of the road, for one! We have an open and vast country, with major cities and highways that draw a lot of their architecture and culture from the USA, who are our greatest trading partner.

So I think I see a blend of European and North American cultures here, with cities such as Toronto and Vancouver having a more cosmopolitan feel.

From a management perspective, US research and practice exerts a great amount of influence on us, especially in the field of marketing and sales management. We tend to have a more ‘hyped’ approach to marketing and selling, less than the US but more than the UK.

TREVOR: What do you see as the main challenges for business leaders in 2008?

BRIAN: Well, for 2008 and beyond, I see so many challenges. The biggest one for CEOs is how can they keep their jobs, and keep their integrity. In many instances they are under intense pressure to produce results that are short-term, and this can make them lose sight of some of the fundamentals to long-term growth. Foremost amongst these is trust. WorldCom, Tyco, Enron and Conrad Black being really clear examples of where greed (there’s that word again) results in a zero-sum game. I think it is critical for CEOs to focus on playing a win-win game, and being truly authentic.

TREVOR: When we met in Dublin a couple of years ago you were doing some voluntary work building homes – can you remind me what that was all about?

BRIAN: Yes, thank you for asking. When we met in Dublin, along with our good wives, Judy and Annie, I was a Board member for the Edmonton affiliate of Habitat for Humanity. Judy and I were visiting Dublin with a group from the USA on an international build, which they call Global Village. Habitat for Humanity is a cause that is near and dear to me, and this gave me the opportunity to work on building homes (and building hope) for low income families in Dublin, my city of birth. It was a wonderful experience. And of course we got to meet you and Annie for the first time and had a few pints of Guinness together!

TREVOR: Finally Brian is there anything you miss about the UK apart of course from Manchester United with whom we both share a passion?

BRIAN: Oh, yeah, Man. Utd. Come on the Reds! I miss the telly a lot. Game shows especially, such as Terry Wogan (a fellow Irishman)…the ones here are all about the money; the weather believe it or not, as we get long sub-zero winters here; and fish and chips…not the same here I’m afraid!

TREVOR: Thanks a lot Brian

Friday, April 25, 2008

William Wilberforce - A 'fanatic' who changed the world for the better

I’m sure the word ‘fanatic’ sparks different emotions for all of us.

‘Fanatic’ can be a description of an extremist, even a dangerous person … or not

William Wilberforce, the famous Member of Parliament (MP) was described recently by the Archbishop of Canterbury as the greatest Englishman of the last millennium.

As a Christian and an MP, William Wilberforce led the battle, for 20 years, to abolish the British Slave Trade. He was hated by many because slavery was big business and people ‘in the business’ were strongly against abolition because their livelihood would be threatened.

Nevertheless Wilberforce remained single minded and determined mainly because of his faith in God. Despite numerous defeats of his Bills to abolish the Slave Trade in the House of Commons he persevered.

Eventually the British Slave Trade was abolished in 1807. Wilberforce carried on for another 27 years leading the battle for slavery itself to be abolished. Three days after the abolition of slavery Wilberforce died.

He had battled for almost 50 years to rid the world of this appalling testimony in the history of mankind.

At the height of his battles Wilberforce was described as a ‘fanatic’ by his many opponents. In a speech to the House of Commons, William Wilberforce said;

“If to be feeling alive to all sufferings of my fellow creatures and to be warmed with the desire of relieving their distress, is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.”

What fabulous words from an incredible man.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Latest Simplicity article published

I’m delighted to say TrainingZone.co.uk has published my latest Simplicity feature article today and you can see it online by clicking here

I now write a feature article each month for this organisation which is the UK's most popular site for corporate training professionals with an online network of over 40,000 active members.

Hope you enjoy the latest offering.

Please feel free to make comments at the Training Zone site as well as here ..... and do tell your friends about TrainingZone.co.uk

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Wisdom of GBS

I wish I could have met GBS - what a great man he must have been. If only 'Doctor Who' was real.

‘Some men see things as they are and say 'Why?' I dream of things that never were, and say, 'Why not?' - George Bernard Shaw

‘The problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished’ - George Bernard Shaw

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Close to Home

The Parish church of St Michael's, Coventry Catheral, stands in ruins after the terrible bombings during the Blitz in November 1940

The magnicient rebuilt Coventry Cathedral

For the second successive Sunday Annie and I went to the evening service at the magnificent Coventry Cathedral. We live 6 miles from Coventry City Centre and as relative newcomers to the area we are still finding out about our locality. When I got home this evening I decided to do a bit of research about the dreadful bombing raids of Coventry by the German Luftwaffe during the Second World War.

During the war 1236 civilians of Coventry were killed in the bombing raids. It is believed the City was bombed in direct retaliation of the Allies bombing Munich – the birthplace of the Nazi Party and Adolph Hitler swore revenge on Britain. Coventry was the City that felt the wrath of the evil German leader. It is when reading stories like this about the suffering of innocent people like those in Coventry between 1939 and 1945 that the futility of war really hits home.

I am not a pacifist and sadly there are evil people in the world like Hitler and conflict is probably inevitable with people like that. I believe we should exhaust every last ounce of diplomacy and talking before resorting to a declaration of war to resolve differences. The website links below explain more about the almost total destruction of Coventry Cathedral and its magnificent rebuilding. The links also describe the wider story of the bombings in and around the City of Coventry.


This stuff is very humbling

Friday, April 18, 2008

Honest Guvnor - We are not stupid!

I have just started a series of 9 leadership training sessions for 37 employees who work in the ‘care industry.’ These are front line folks aspiring to be leaders and it has rekindled my passion for studying leadership.

I did my MA Management (Healthcare) at the University of Plymouth for 3 years from 1996-98 and my dissertation is called ‘Leadership in Practice’ which was the final 20,000 word piece of my qualification.

For those who enjoy reading I’m happy to share my dissertation. Just send me an email at

In revisiting my dissertation I came across discussions I had at the time with ‘followers’ of leaders and how most of all wanted they want their leader to be authentic.

This brings me to recent TV appearances of our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

I have been very fortunate to meet Mr Brown a few times in the last year or so in both small group settings and large gatherings. I liked what I saw. On each occasion one thing that comes across is his concern for people and his interest in them. I admit he does not come across as a particularly extrovert or charismatic person but that didn’t matter to me because he seemed authentic.

The image folks have so obviously been trying to ‘change’ Gordon’s image because I have noticed a few things:

*Gordon is ‘smiling’ much more - and the smile just does not look genuine – actually Gordon, let's be brutal - it looks less genuine than Paul Daniels wig. So contrived!

*Last week there was a TV news item showing Gordon talking ‘live’ to an American TV audience on some charity show in the States about a large donation the UK is making. Gordon looked like he was advertising toothpaste such was his wide permanent smile - it was so ‘cheesy’ it was embarrassing quite frankly as a British citizen. So contrived!

*Yesterday when he met the 3 US Presidential candidates he had exactly the same time with each of the 3 and the walk he did along that corridor was identical even down to the hand gestures and the eye contact with each of the 3. So contrived!

This is not leadership – this is ACTING – and Gordon, sorry to say, you are not a good actor. Please leave that to the folks from Equity. Sometimes it is better to be told the truth by people who like us – even if the truth hurts.

Dare I suggest Gordon is trying hard – and failing miserably – to become as charismatic as Tony Blair? We just don’t ‘become’ charismatic – we either are or we are not – and it doesn’t matter if we are not - as long as we are authentic

It reminds me of the days back in the 1980's when Mrs Thatcher was 'worked on' by the image people to try and make her come across as a ‘caring’ person ….. That was just as impossible and silly as it is to make Gordon Brown appear 'warm' and 'cuddly.'


The most annoying thing about politicians as far as I’m concerned is that too many of them lose their authenticity and therefore credibility when they allow the image folks to take over. I’m sorry to say it appears Gordon Brown is now more concerned about his image than his authenticity.

Sorry Gordon – this does not fit with you I’m afraid and I am sad about that ‘cos actually, I like you!


Maybe I have misread the signs and Gordon really has had an epiphany!!

I fear not …..

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Race for Life

Cancer touches all of us in one way or another.

On Wednesday 9th July my darling wife Annie will be running the 5 km 'Race for Life' in Coombe Abbey, Coventry. This will be the fourth successive year Annie has run the race.

'Race for Life' is an all women’s race dedicated to raising money for Cancer research. Thousands of women all over Britain take part every year and millions of pounds are raised.

If any Simplicity Blog readers feel inclined you can sponsor Annie - and thereby Cancer Research - by going to this page to make a pledge. Or click on the 'donate' word on the 'just giving' notice in the right hand side panel. I know we are all constantly asked to give to good causes and I hope you don't mind me plugging this brilliant charity on my Blog.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Front liners know best yet again!

I think it is timely for me to say I feel honoured to have so many fabulous readers who make outstanding comments to Simplicity Blog. Thank you all so much.

Among many comments on my Simplicity posting on Wednesday this week, my friend John O'Leary said this:

“I was working with frontline workers to redesign workflow in an Ontario sawmill. When we solicited cost-saving suggestions from one worker and learned of a simple and quick fix that would save the operation millions of dollars, we asked him why he didn't mention it before. He replied, "I did 10 years ago, but my supervisor told me to just stick to my job, so I did."

Everyone who reads my Blog, my articles or my books will know I have a passion for enabling front line workers to just get on with the job with no interference. I also call for the obliteration of petty, silly rules and the 'control' attitude of some managers.

John's powerful comment reminded me of one of my favourite quotes from the great management guru – perhaps THE greatest – the late Peter Drucker who said;

“Ninety percent of what we call ‘management’ consists of making it difficult for people to get things done.”

Sums up the supervisor in John’s story perfectly wouldn’t you say?

Amen to Mr Drucker's words and thanks again to John – I just had to make a special posting of this one!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

‘Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing’ - Albert Schweitzer

I remember my first week in the first senior healthcare management job I ever had. I was 22 and had got this job at a relatively young age in those days. Any ideas of pretentiousness were quickly dispelled by events.

I discovered that I had walked straight into something of a mini crisis in the Transport department. The Transport department consisted on one van driver and a relief driver who covered in the absence of the full time driver. My arrival coincided with a long spell of sickness for the relief driver and then after I had been in post for less than a week the full time driver went sick. I was assured this was not linked to my arrival!

Although my job was of course much wider than merely managing the transport it was nevertheless a small but important part of my duties and so I was immediately on the spot.

I had numerous demands from all the other departments who had been awaiting my arrival as the new hospital manager and yet there was a mini crisis in one small department.

I searched around and asked people what were the contingency plans for such an event. There were no plans as this had never happened before.

I suddenly became aware that I was alone here and had to do something. The only solution I could think of was to 'become the van driver' for a week until the regular driver came back to work after his sickness. And so my new smart office clothes that I had been proudly wearing for just three days were hung up and I donned the overalls and tunic of the van driver. I read the shift duties and asked around to become familiar with the duties. I was loading dirty laundry and unloading clean laundry I was a courier service delivering post and blood samples between hospitals and health centers. I was a 'people carrier' transporting nurses back and forth to the neighboring town for their training sessions. At the same time I was trying to fit in learning about other and bigger elements of my exciting new job.

Although this was not exactly how I had envisaged starting my career as a manager I still remember it well and I think it stood me in good stead for future challenges.

Having ‘been there and got the tee shirt’ I felt in a good position when challenged about the efficiency of the department – I was speaking from an informed position.

Over 20 years later when I was managing mental health services we had a staff crisis owing to industrial action and a work to rule.

I was telephoned by the Manager of a residential unit for Older People with mental health problems to say that the weekend coverage was stretched to breaking point and there were concerns that patient safety may be at risk unless we could approve overtime.

We were not allowed to pay overtime and so I offered to work two 12 hours shifts on the Saturday and the Sunday as an unqualified Nursing Assistant if it would help. The manager of the unit was grateful if a little suspicious about my motives and agreed that I could provide a pair of hands for two shifts to help cover the immediate crisis.
Those two days were as informative and instructive for me as any in my whole career and I learned so much. Working alongside the front line staff in such difficult circumstances was a profound experience that I will never forget and although I had always prided myself in how much I felt I could empathise with front line staff, this experience proved to me that we never truly know what it is like until we do it.

Moving on another few years I started a job as a Locality Manager and I wanted to get a feel for what it is really like to work as a District Nurse or Receptionist or Health Visitor and so I planned to spend at least one day working with a member of each of the professions I was accountable for. I planned it in partnership with the professionals concerned and there were a few cynical people who again were presumably suspicious of my intentions and motives. On the whole though I was received very well and again I found the learning to be very special. I felt privileged to be able to share the time with those staff and I am convinced it gave me much greater awareness of some of the things they have to deal with in the everyday sparring that goes on. There is simply no better experience than ‘doing the job.’ When circumstances dictate you have to ‘get your hands dirty’ and remember where you came from and why you are there.

I feel it should not be something we only do as leaders when there is a crisis. I would suggest all leaders or aspiring leaders would be well advised to build into their regular regime some time spent alongside their front line staff.

Leadership Lessons

‘Walking the talk’ means getting your hands dirty. You never lose the responsibility of making sure the job gets done. Your credibility is linked to how dirty you are prepared to see your hands become.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Journey Through Change

Many times I see reluctance to accept change – including my own. I decided to summarise the typical story:

Stage One – Some research is done to indicate we need to change.

Stage Two – We rubbish the data and ask for more evidence of the need to change.

Stage Three – More evidence gathered which confirms the need to change.

Stage Four – We rubbish the data again but say that we are prepared to discuss it but make it clear we do not intend to change.

Stage Five – We reluctantly discuss proposed changes but remain unconvinced this is a positive way forward and complain that the old ways are better.

Stage Six – We gradually accept that changes may be required as we see others seemingly accepting the need for change.

Stage Seven – We get involved with others in implementing the change.

Stage Eight – We begin to see benefits in the new way.

Stage Nine – We start to promote the new way to others less happy with it.

Stage Ten – We become champions of the new way and start persuading others this is really the way forward (and, by the way, we supported it all along really)

Stage Eleven – Someone suggests changes to the new way.

We return to Stage Two …… and start again

Ok I accept that is very simplistic - what else would you expect from me?
However I honestly believe there is a lot of truth in this from my experience in management for over 3 decades so do you agree broadly this journey through change is fairly typical or am I way off mark?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Lucy Johnson

In the words of Lucy's parents;
''Buried under bandages, wires and tubes galore,
lies a fighter of unmatched strength'

Through my Simplicity Blog today I am asking anyone who reads this to remember in your prayers a little girl fighting for her life in the US.

I’ve got to know Dick Field in the last couple of years through my writing and through Simplicity Blog. Dick works in healthcare in the US military and so we have things in common, not least we are both Grandfathers.
Dick’s Grand daughter Lucy Johnson is currently fighting to survive a double lung transplant. Little Lucy is 8 months old and been awaiting a double lung transplant since December.

After the diagnosis of Lucy’s rare lung disease her family were informed shortly after her premature birth that Lucy’s only hope of survival is bilateral lung transplant, and this was performed at St. Louis Children's Hospital just a few days ago. Lucy continues her battle and as Dick says ‘I believe this little girl is being saved for something special.’

There are many people throughout the US and beyond who are now praying for Lucy. Regardless of religious beliefs I ask all readers of Simplicity to find some time to pray for this little girl and ask your friends to do the same.

You can read more about Lucy at this link http://www.carepages.com/AboutCarePage?id=125313 where you can register
for updates on Lucy’s condition. Once you have your registration you can search for LucyGwendolynJohnson and you will then be able to access a message board and updates as well as many photos of her short life that has been spent entirely in hospital.

We may not be able to offer hands on practical help for Lucy at this time but we can all pray - and God of course hears us.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Fun at the Zoo

Annie and I had a trip to Devon last week to see my three children and two Grandsons Sebastian and Reece. We went to the Zoo and I was able to generally act in a very immature way. This included playing in the ball pit with Sebastian and getting told off that adults are not supposed to climb on the apparatus! .... I hope I never grow up. Annie took lots of great pictures .... A few are shown here.

It must have gone into junk mail .....

Forgive me but I am returning to an old chestnut of mine for a Wednesday rant! I know I will feel better after this!

The oldest excuse in the book in the good old days was; ‘It must have got lost in the post’

In our new electronic age it didn’t take long for new excuses to be invented did it?

The 21st Century version is: ‘Your e-mail probably went into my junk mail folder’

As I have said many times on my Blog I plead guilty to being obsessive about this – some might say I’m a pain in the backside.

Firstly I get mildly irritated when people do not reply to an e-mail; then after a chaser I still get no reply – I get frustrated and angry; If I still get no response after a third attempt I get flaming mad.

Then I calm down and realise I have to tolerate low standards of professionalism and courteousness - and that there are far more important things to worry about in life.

I am sorry to say there are a minority of individuals who display ultimate bad manners by not replying to e-mails.

The reason I refuse to lay down and meekly accept this ‘bad manners culture’ is because some fantastic people - who one would think are far too busy to find the time to reply – are able to do just that. That is what gives me hope and proves to me I am right to demand high standards in this issue.

One example I highlight again is Tony Benn who is surely one of the busiest 83 years olds in Britain with a massive correspondence intake daily both e-mails and hard copy letters. I have had the great pleasure to correspond with Tony a few times by e-mail in the last couple of years and he ALWAYS finds the time to reply in his ultra-busy schedule. A few words is all it takes.

Almost every person/organisation I deal with have great manners, fabulous integrity and are always courteous in replying. It seems, for them and me, a totally natural thing to do. We clearly have a sense of professionalism, responsibility and respect.

Those few individuals and organisations that don’t feel the same about their standards lack both integrity and courteousness as far as I am concerned. I see no acceptable excuse.

I’m sure all of us can tell when we are being conned by the excuse ‘It must have gone into junk mail’ – we are smart people – we have not just fallen off the Christmas tree – please treat us with some respect. I am very proud to be a forgiving person … but not when it is just down to plain bad manners.

And yes … I do feel better now.