Daily Paradox - Written by John Bittleston on Thursday, April 19, 2012 22:44 - 3 Comments
The Jumbo Parade
“The Brass are coming next week, we must smarten up,” said a colleague. He went on to instruct his staff: “If it moves, salute it; if it doesn’t, paint it.” These were common approaches to a visit from the boss or the boss’s boss or even the Big Boss. Like the opening shot of a film about the British Raj in India with sepoys polishing the boots of the guardsmen up to the moment of arrival of the visiting bigwig.
Great for ceremonial, rather less useful for information, collaboration or worthwhile action. The genre continues today. When I had major shareholders visiting from overseas I used to say ”get ‘em burnt on Saturday, boozed on Sunday and on Monday call ‘em in and say ‘State your business’. With any luck they will be ready to return to wherever they came from.”
Ceremonial visits tell us nothing other than the brand of polish favored at the moment. They are fraught with formalities, phony laughter, inaccurate reporting and misleading reassurance. Look at the scenes in the movie Rogue Trader where the Barings management visits Singapore to check on the unprecedented success of Nick Leeson. They never got near the problem but they ate a lot of chilli crab in the process.
Top People have a tough time getting at the truth. They are surrounded, often by their own choice, by those who would shield them from anything disturbing or upsetting. It is why employing what Margaret Thatcher used to call “The Wets” is so dangerous. Their lack of guts shines through until after disaster has struck. Too late then to assemble brave generals at your side, those who will tell you the truth.
A rule I employed with success was promising my immediate reports that I would come to them when needed or when I saw a problem or opportunity but leave the moment the problem or opportunity had been dealt with. It stopped me micro-managing their businesses and they appreciated that.
Support is a funny thing. You do not provide it by giving instructions or money but by being willing just to be there. Even without being there you can be very supportive. “There in spirit” is a very real condition. The best relationship between boss and subordinate is one of informality, of casual chats over a coffee.
Agendas are fine for formal meetings but seldom elicit useful outcomes. Better to let the important matters find their way to the top of the list naturally and deal with them as they come along. If get-togethers to discuss the business can be made fun and fairly light-hearted they will yield a lot of good decisions.
Polish the brains, not the boots.
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