Stories in Music

The last few posts I’ve written have concentrated a lot on my leadership experiences but this time I wanted to take a different direction, so I’ve taken inspiration from the creative mind and wonderful stories of a fantastic colleague of mine; Steve Nestor (if you don’t follow Steve on social media I strongly recommend that you do).

If you follow me on Twitter you may have noticed that in the last month or two I’ve started to creep more of my personal interests into my tweets, it’s a decision that I made on the basis that I used to have two twitter accounts – one for personal and one for professional – but then I thought;

“Hey, there’s only one me!”

Followers of mine, who don’t know me well enough already, are soon starting to realise that I love my music. I buy lots of it, I download it, stream it, listen to it at concerts, festivals and clubs, I follow many DJ’s, bands, record labels and online publications, and thanks to my love of music I have many, many happy and fond memories associated with it.

So, because of this passion I wanted to create something different and here it is; my first Haiku Deck. This has been made on the principal of the ‘less is more’ approach and I’ve kept the text to a minimum (just 80 words, I think I counted). I’ve taken my love of music and curated a short story for you. It’s somewhat fictional but does echo sentiments of where I’ve been personally and where I see things in my life at Bromford right now.

I hope you enjoy.

http://www.haikudeck.com/p/t1DKvvnRT6

(sorry but I can’t embed my Haiku Deck at the moment so this link will have to do, if anybody has any ideas how to get around this please let me know)

A Chic approach to success

Chic at Glastonbury 2013

Chic at Glastonbury 2013

Glastonbury, arguably the world’s largest festival, came to a close last weekend with veteran rockers The Rolling Stones drawing the curtains on an estimated 135,000 fans. I’ve not yet seen all of the coverage but did catch a couple of performances from the Friday night and one band stood out for me by a country mile.

Chic played on the West Holts Stage to a packed crowd, belting through a series of hits such as Everybody Dance, Good Times and Le Freak. But what surprised me most was the back-catalogue of hits and interludes that followed. These included (amongst others):

Let’s Dance – David Bowie
The Sugarhill Gang – Rappers Delight
Like a Virgin – Madonna
We Are Family – Sister Sledge
I’m Coming Out – Diana Ross
Get Lucky – Daft Punk

Not only was I taken aback by the songs they performed but even more so that I came to learn that all of these hits were either personally written or co-written by Chic frontman; Nile Rodgers.

After I’d finished dancing and prancing around my living room I took a seat (and a breath) on the sofa next to my daughter and reflected on what I’d just witnessed. Yes the music, dancing and costumes were brilliant. The sound and lighting looked great too, and a special mention goes to the larger than life Welshman in the crowd, pint of beer in hand, who happily sang along to Chic’s version of Madonna’s Like a Virgin. But I’d now started to think about what I could learn from Nile Rodgers’ genius.

Although I’ve dabbled in DJ’ing and attended plenty of concerts and nightclubs in my time I am by no means a musical expert but, having watched that performance and learnt a little more about Chic, I realised I could apply something from them to my career. Chic have demonstrated brilliantly that you don’t need to be constantly blinded by the media limelight to be at the top of your game; leadership and influence come in a range of guises.

Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, some 30+ years ago

Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, some 30+ years ago

For Nile Rodgers and Chic it was about being part of a collective; a production team that has this inspired ability to work with a whole host of individuals to deliver a series of successful hits, the world over.

These guys have built a résumé for themselves that is not only glittered with some astonishing personal achievements but one that is adorned by some of music’s greats; some of the best in business who simply have to work with them – not just them with they.

You see, to be successful in business it’s not always about being the Rolling Stones of Glastonbury who (deservedly so) took all of the pre-festival headlines, it’s as very much about; the consistent performer; the team-player; the flexible approach; the diverse talent; the innovative architect; the relentless trainee.

So for this valuable lesson; Nile Rodgers and Chic, I thank you.

United Leadership (part 2)

Following on from my first post, I now bring you United Leadership (part 2) which concludes the learning and lessons that I took away from that fantastic trip I made up to Old Trafford earlier this month.

As in the words of dance music guru Pete Tong; “weee continue…”

United in history

United in history

Remembering history

If I’m ever lucky enough to win the lottery I’d like to think that I will remain true to myself, remain grounded and not forget where I came from. Manchester United kind of echoes that. Wherever you walk around Old Trafford, whoever you speak to – they all talk of that defining moment. Sadly it wasn’t a lottery win or a multi-million pound investment that they talk of, nor was it that kung-fu kick. It was a much darker moment in history that still resonates throughout the ground today, 55 years after the event. The Munich air disaster claimed the lives of 23 people; 2 crew members, 8 players, 3 staff, 8 journalists, a travel agent and a fan (who was a close friend of the then manager; Matt Busby). But the tragedy, and those affected during the incident, will never be allowed to be forgotten. Plaques, clocks, pictures and flags decorate the ground – even today – as a mark of respect and constant reminder that there have been dark times at the club but they will, together, overcome them to once again shine brighter days over the club that they love.

How often do we do this in our organisations? How often do we reflect on colleagues of yesteryear – those who have contributed to the successes of today and give us a hope for tomorrow?

Celebrate your successes

Next time you watch Manchester United play look carefully at the players after they score a goal; you’ll notice that almost every single one of the team (exception to the goalkeeper here) celebrate together. The club want everyone to feel the success. And what I think is brilliant is that Manchester United instil this same sentiment throughout the club. Whenever they reach a cup final, at home or abroad, all of the 700 colleagues that work for the club are taken along – they do this because they want everyone to be a part of the experience and for the whole United family to celebrate success together. It’s what teamwork is all about here and makes for a great culture.

Fitting your culture

When Manchester United are looking to buy a new player they don’t just look at his goal scoring record and price tag, they look at the whole package that the player would bring with them; Where are they based? What is their family like? Who is part of their entourage? They are looking to see if their target man will fit into the culture and the environment at the club. Players come and players go. It’s not just about performances on the field, it’s every much about their performances off it too, so if an individual is being just that – not adopting the values of the club, the team or the bigger family, the likelihood is that they’ll soon be looking for another club to move onto.

United they believe!

United, they believe!

Watch the competition, carefully

Believe is a word that vibrates throughout Manchester United. They believe so much in success that they never know when they are beaten.

Picture the scene; it’s the 1999 Champions League final between Manchester United and Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp, Barcelona. United are losing 1-0 with 1 minute of normal time left to play. Sir Bobby Charlton and Franz Beckenbauer are behind the scenes watching the game draw to a close and Beckenbauer is seen decorating the prestigious trophy with ribbons in his team’s colours. Sir Bobby walks over and congratulates him on his team’s feat. They start to make their way down to the pitch via the passenger lift unaware of the drama that is unfolding beneath them. The two club legends come out to the news that Manchester United had done the impossible and scored two late goals and have claimed the title!

Pitch-side, United’s Assistant Manager; Steve McClaren, looked happy with the score at 1-1 and was happy for the club to defend the remainder of the game to play for extra time. Sir Alex on the other hand was not, he wanted his team to push for the second goal and win the match in normal time.

In the games leading up to the final Bayern Munich seemed to always substitute defender Lothar Matthaus on or around the 75th minute of play so, just before that, Sir Alex introduced a third striker to the game in the shape of Teddy Sheringham. When the eventual Matthaus substitution happened on 80 minutes the United manager knew this was his opportunity and switched one of his on-field strikers for a fresh player; Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Manchester United won the game thanks to two goals scored by – you guessed it – Sheringham and Solskjaer! It goes to show that this result didn’t just happen, it happened with purpose. Sir Alex knew his opposition and believed in what his side could achieve.

Great leaders go the extra mile

When people speak from the heart, others believe in them. If you see it matters to them, it will matter to you. It’s what makes Sir Alex a great leader.

A Man City fan, who was training to be a football coach, wrote a letter to Sir Alex asking him a few questions in hope he could help him with his studies. Surely he wouldn’t reply to the fan of a rival team, would he? He certainly did, in style too. He responded by sending a video to the fan which was a recording of himself answering the questions posed in the letter! Receiving that video must have been so much more powerful than just a few written words, it showed that Sir Alex cared because it was a subject close to his heart and demonstrated that we’re all leaders – inside and outside of our immediate teams – great leadership is about going the extra mile for others.

Surround yourself with great people and invest in them

Great leaders facilitate rather than do, you can’t do everything yourself. It’s about building trust with your people. Winning trophies didn’t just happen for Sir Alex, the manager learnt to be competent in the roles he wasn’t because he surrounded himself with good people who excelled in those areas. As a result he became a better leader and a better person, and the stories of success followed shortly after.

But to build that trust element you have to let your people know that you know them. Great leaders make people feel important. They invest in them, not just financially but emotionally too – it shows that they care.

David Gill (CEO of Manchester United) was leaving Old Trafford one Friday evening and was saying goodnight to each colleague as he passed them. The last person he saw was one of the ladies at the reception desk; he addressed her by name, exchanged pleasantries and then made his way to his car. It then dawned on him that he’d made a terrible mistake. That lady he’d just spoken to in reception was not the person he thought she was – he’d gotten her name wrong!

He quickly made his way back into the foyer and with the upmost sincerity apologised for his wrong-doing and stood chatting for a couple of minutes asking how she was and what she had planned for that weekend.

David Gill didn’t need to do what he did but he chose to, knowing that in doing so he could quickly turn the situation on its head. That lady on the reception desk has never forgotten this moment and will now do anything for Mr Gill and his guests. She is one of the first people that visitors see when coming into this section of Old Trafford – so will ensure that she gives a warm welcome and a lasting impression to all who she sees.

As leaders we don’t always get it right first time but we can make a positive difference with even the smallest amount of investment.

Is that Paul Scholes or Andy Johnson?!

Paul Scholes or Andy Johnson?!?

Recognise people’s differences and how to get the best out of them

People have their differences, even at Manchester United there are personal altercations between people. We were told of two key players who didn’t see eye-to-eye off the field, but on it, it never affected their game. In fact I never noticed it in the times I’d watched them play together. They came to work to do a job, and to do their job to the best of their ability. In work you have to respect that and understand how you can get the best out of your people. What is it that motivates them? Are they motivated toward or away from something? There’s a difference. Ryan Giggs was motivated toward achieving something – for him it was about getting fitter and faster, so the coaches worked with him to develop him on these areas. When Nemanja Vidic joined the club he was motivated away from being rubbish – he was/is one hell of a defender but he couldn’t pass the ball for toffee! So, the coaches had to tell him how bad he was at passing to help him to get better.

Rest more…often

The final story I’d like to share with you is one that is often shared around the club; it’s about two lumberjacks that challenge each other to a dual. One is a big strong burly fella and the other resembles more of an average figure – not quite so strong. The challenge is to see who can fell the most trees during an 8 hour session.

The big guy is straight to it, sawing into the trees relentlessly from the word go up until the siren sounds as the 8th hour is signalled. The smaller guy works his way through the trees but on the hour, at every hour, he takes himself off for a 5 minute break.

When the siren blows the felled trees are counted and we learn that the smaller of the two has won the friendly competition. The big guy cannot believe it. He is much stronger and worked straight through whilst his opponent rested – surely this cannot be so. The smaller guy explains that by taking regular breaks he was able to rest and re-focus on the job in-hand. Not only this but he was able to sharpen his saw, making sure his equipment was best prepared for the next gruelling session.

The ability to relax is a skill, a very effective one. If we want to set-out to achieve amazing things we must make sure we rest and recoup. Manchester United are no different – they have a 25 man squad for a reason and use it to ensure they rotate their players and give respite to all in the team

United in our learning

So, what have I learnt from Manchester United that we can take away into our own working lives? Successful teams and leadership goes way beyond the starting XI; it’s about the preparation, the coaching, the understanding of others and your surroundings. You need to learn from your mistakes but not dwell on them, create a positive environment in which to work and with people you can trust who are great at what they do. Surround yourself with good people who are willing to go the extra mile, who get your culture and want to celebrate as you do. It’s about remembering where you came from, knowing where you’re going and making sure that, now and again, you take the time to sharpen you saw!

HUGE thanks for reading and sticking around for part 2, and special thanks to HouseMark and John Shiels for a fantastic day.

United Leadership (part 1)

“Innnn West Midlands Wolves, born and raised, in a playground is where I spent most of my days…”

OK, it doesn’t have the same impact as the opening theme tune to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air but having seen Will Smith bring the song alive again on Graham Norton recently people like me, who grew up watching the exploits of Will and Carlton, couldn’t hide the goose bumps and feel good factor whilst watching it.

The same has to be said for football fans watching Manchester United dominate the English game, and for a short period Europe too, over the past 20 years or so. And it’s in no small thanks to the living legend that is Sir Alex Ferguson that the Red Devils rode this successful train for so many years.

On the 6th June 2013 I rode a short train journey of my own, from Wolverhampton up to Manchester, to attend a brilliant session organised by HouseMark and facilitated by the Manchester United Foundation on what it takes to build a high performance team through teamwork and leadership.

John Shiels delivered the session, CEO of the Foundation, who has worked with Manchester United for the past 7 years – so it’s fair to say this guy has some first hand experience of this club and what it takes to taste this success and, just as importantly, to maintain it.

You don’t need me to tell you just how big Manchester United are. With an annual turnover of over £330million they are more than just a football club, they are a brand – a very large brand – but one with a very expensive shop window. So to survive they need owners who do not throw money at it – their finances needs to be properly invested. They do things on purpose – not by accident. Some of the new kids on the block throw money at the shop window, but that doesn’t guarantee them longevity. It’s not just about today or tomorrow, it’s about building the foundations for a successful future.

This wasn’t a one-on-one session by the way, I went along with my colleague Josie and we represented Bromford in a room of 20 or so other Housing professionals. So, why would we be interested in what a football club has to say? Well, there are some significant leadership examples for us all here, applicable across many businesses, not just football or housing. There’s a lot to fit in, lots of stories to tell, so I’ll share some of the highlights of the day with you in two parts. This is part one.

Think BIG

To succeed in business your vision has to be big – mediocre is not good enough. When he joined the club as manager 26 years ago, Sir Alex wanted to beat the 18 league titles that Liverpool Football Club had won – it seemed an impossible task at the time but having recently stepped down from the helm he leaves the role with the club having won 20 league titles – when he joined Manchester United they’d only won 7!

Sir Alex Ferguson Stand

Have a shared vision

To continue in these successes, like any other business, there has to be succession planning at United. So, who have they brought in as Sir Alex’s successor – a manager with a track record for winning trophies, right? Wrong. They’ve appointed their new manager (David Moyes) because he had remained consistent throughout his last post at Everton (12 years as manager), had kept them in the top flight of football during his time and built a very good team and structure within a club who had very little investment in the transfer market (Manchester United spent £48m in 2012/13) and City (£76m in 2011/12). So, United have reflected their faith in him with a 6 year contract – a long time in football terms – because it’s all about creating stability and having a shared vision to build success.

Never stop learning

When you look at today’s top footballers, most of whom are multi-millionaires, how do you keep them focused when money is not a driver? It’s about knowing the individual’s needs and working with them to achieve their goals. John told us a story about Ryan Giggs – for those of you who don’t know him he’s the most decorated player in English football of all time (and still playing at the top level at the ripe old-age of 39). The club were looking for a volunteer to help out on a training session with some young kids one afternoon, and when the first team were asked that morning who could be available Ryan was the first to raise his hand, although he did explain that he couldn’t make it for the 1pm start as he had a prior engagement. When he did arrive shortly after 1.30pm the coach asked why he was late. Ryan explained that he was taking swimming lessons! Despite being a tuned athlete, fit as a fiddle, and still performing at the highest level Ryan wanted to do more, but it didn’t stop there. Ryan is learning to swim as he’s training to become a triathlete, amazing! If you want to be the best you’ve got to keep pushing yourself.

Create a positive environment

We often hear stories of how United bounce back in games where defeat seems to be staring them straight in the face. During the 2012/13 season there were 14 times where United came from behind to win the game, but they can’t always be victorious. John told us how, after seeing United lose one particular game, he got to see them warming down shortly after. Some players were seen laughing and joking – which he couldn’t understand. Why was this? Because they need to be focused on the next game; they had quickly put the loss behind them and were now preparing themselves physically and mentally for the next challenge. John said:

“Manchester United are better at losing than winning!”

Performance is key; get the performance right and the right result will follow.

Sir Alex rant

Communicate effectively

Some of you reading this may already be familiar with the model that effective communication is:

7% words

38% tone

55% body language

The power of body language is emphasised in this great story: United were having a bad day and weren’t playing particularly well in one of their home games. So, at half-time the manager came out first – before all the players – something he doesn’t normally do. He went over to the loudest section of fans (the Stretford end) and worked up the crowd by throwing his hands into the air and applauding them – he’s now got their attention. With the entire crowd watching him he now walks to the linesmen and follows them onto the pitch. He makes his way towards the referee to have a word with him, pointing his finger and looking typically animated. Nobody knows what is said but through his body language has communicated to 76,000 fans that there could be a problem and that “we need to do something here”. The second-half began shortly after; the fans got behind the team in rip-roaring fashion and united went on to win the game. Enough said – or in this case – hardly anything at all!

Learn from mistakes

Experience is about learning from the mistakes that have gone before, Manchester United are no different.

Great people like to be challenged, and that’s exactly what happened in the close season of 2011/12. Manchester United had just won their final game 1-0 meaning that Manchester City had to win their game to clinch the title; 27 seconds after United’s game finished City scored to win 2-1 and claimed the title. The following day was United’s player of the year awards and the body language around the room said it all. Sir Alex stood up to addresses the room saying something along the lines of:

“That was yesterday, we’re Manchester United and we will learn from that – I’ll go away and sharpen my saw and we’ll come back and win.”

Sir Bobby and Bryan Robson addressed the room too and said some similar things to that of the manager – all of a sudden the mood in the room was transformed. The United culture instilled. The following season United went on to romp the title beating their City rivals by an 11 point margin. Inspired by the top and believed in from the bottom.

I hope you enjoyed part 1. Keep checking back, or enter your email address at the top of the page, to hear more stories in part 2 and what Sir Alex meant by ‘sharpening his saw’.

*Part 2 is now available by clicking here

Are your friends giving you a helping hand?

Blog hand

I’ve been privileged enough to attend some pretty fantastic training sessions through my time here at Bromford and one in particular was with a brilliant guest speaker by the name of Nigel Risner. If you’re not familiar with him I encourage you to visit his website and subscribe yourself to his newsletter. I did this shortly after he presented to my Leadership session and remember reading one particular post entitled; ‘Attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?’ Nigel stated:

“You are the average of the five people that you hang around with”

It’s a great saying and one I’ve not really thought about properly until now. I’m fortunate enough to have a circle of friends that stretches slightly wider than the above quota but I can’t say that I see each and every one all of the time. Some of my friends live and work hundreds of miles away, some in this country and some jet-setting or cruising around the world (lucky devils), so really I guess those that I actively see right now probably is a little closer to five.

So, what do my current circle of friends bring to the table? In no particular order (and I’ve named them A – E here so to not embarass them!), let’s take a look:

A Confident
My first friend is without a doubt the confident one of the bunch. Nothing seems to faze him. He has certain suave about the character he portrays although when you know him like I do he’s actually quite aloof and a private person. So, despite any woes or worries you may be languishing try and rise above them and apply yourself 100%, be confident and be the best you can be.

B Supportive
There will always be a moment when you need that helping hand, somebody to run an errand for you or a person to talk to. More often than not you turn to that same person, time after time. I’m fortunate enough to have a guy like this in my life right now. You always need somebody like this person. That one you can depend upon for that second opinion and to tell you how it is, not just what you want to hear. Have someone like this close by and you’ll never feel as though you’re ‘going it alone’.

C Sociable
This person is one of the friendliest of human beings I’ve ever come across. I’m not aware of anyone who’s said a bad word about him and should anyone choose to, I wouldn’t have it! He’s young, sociable, and punctual and really easy going, he’s a pleasure to be around. It’s not easy to get along with everyone, you never will I don’t think, but we can at least make every effort to make every interaction count. Always present yourself in the best fashion and you’ll make a lasting impression.

D Happy
This guy never fails to raise a smile. Call him daft; call him stupid, there are never dull moments when this guy is around; the life and soul of every party. A sense of humour is so important to me. I do my best to wear a smile every single day, no matter how I feel and what might be happening personally. A smile is radiant and infectious, go ahead and smile at the next person you see – they’ll almost always smile back at you!

E Successful
I’ve known this guy the longest of all my mates and have always admired what he has done with his life. Every group of people has at least one success story; somebody who, against all odds, no matter how big or small will always achieve great things – even when things are stacked against them. They lead from the front, they innovate, create and succeed – but most important of all they never forget where they have come from. They remember those who supported them from the beginning; and this is something I’m always mindful of.

And that’s it, these are my five. Like I said, these are the main people who currently keep my company. But are these really my fingerprints that make up my identity? In reflection I can say that I do take on some of these qualities, I’m not sure whether they come across and are perceived by the wider audience, but I’d like to think so.

So what do you think? Who would make up your five? Are you happy with the people you hang around with and do you see their qualities in you?

Is there anyone who’s zapping all of your energy, who brings you down? Is it time for a change or do your group bring the best out of you? Have a think and let me know.