Monthly Archives: May 2011

The one where it’s about power

They say absolute power corrupts absolutely…

French & Raven (1959) defined five different types of power. What follows is my take on their five:

  • Positional Power – the one with the most stripes wins
  • Referent Power – the power of some people to draw others to them (to me most akin to charisma)
  • Expert Power – the one who knows how to work it has power (see also I.T. people)
  • Reward Power – the one with the carrot has the power
  • Coercive Power – the one with the stick has the power

What’s interesting, to me at least, is that you see these forms of power play out in day to day life from a very early age. Think of the school playground, the cool kid, the one who’s good at football, I would say the one with the best toy but now it’s probably the one with the best phone/gadget. As adults it’s part of work, friendship and relationships and if you stop and pay attention you will see people exercising different forms of power with varying degrees of success all the time.

Power is absolutely part of our lives and I think it was Uncle Ben (in Spiderman, not the one on the rice packet) who said “with great power comes great responsibility”…

One of the companies I worked for had a very charismatic CEO who despite having ‘all the chips’ in terms of positional power, lead far more based on his referent power. For the sake of ease let’s call him Robert (great name BTW). One of the other directors was fond of saying in meetings “I don’t want to have to remind you I am a director of this business” which was usually met with obedient faux nodding and at least one mutter of “Robert never has to remind us”. What always amazed me about the CEO was his ability even when kicking the crap out of me was a) to seem respectful to me as a person and b) to leave me motivated to solve the problem

It seems to me (and there is no science in this) that there is a defined link between self confidence/security and the use or misuse of power i.e. those who are confident in context (whether that be as an employee, friend or partner) are the ones who exercise it best. This begs the question was the Director of my former employer merely underdeveloped in referent power so had to rely on positional power OR insecure enough that he felt the need to assert that positional power OR both? (*head spins)

In reflecting on myself (as I am prone to do from time to time) I realise that like everyone else, I have good days and bad days. If I were to sit with a pad and some time I would imagine I could come up with a list of where me exercising power has had a positive effect on others whether that be in support, challenge, motivation, inspiration (or perspiration) etc and conversely (whether through good or bad intention) I have had a negative effect.

Alexander Pope said “a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing” so to close what feels like a rather rambling post, hopefully the knowledge shared here (safely thank you Mr Pope) has a similar impact for you as it did for me with respect to power – turning unconscious incompetence into conscious incompetence (and you never know one day we could all be competent, or maybe you already are!)

French, J.R.P., & Raven, B. (1959). ‘The bases of social power,’ in D. Cartwright (ed.) Studies in Social Power.

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The one where it’s make or break

On Thursday night I was fortunate enough to go the Classic Brits at the Royal Albert Hall as the guest of one of the sponsors (thank you PPL). I must admit I went along for no other reason than not looking a gift horse in the mouth, what reason was there not to? The one negative up front was that Russell Watson was singing… I don’t have a problem with his voice but as a brand he makes my skin crawl I don’t know why. As it turns out he didn’t rock up (no reason given) so my skin was safe. The highlight of the evening turned out to be a 74 year old Welsh woman in the form of Dame Shirley Bassey singing “Goldfinger” in a tribute to sadly departed John Barry – AMAZING! Not just her powerful and distinctive voice but the way she completely owned the stage.

I have been lucky enough to attend some amazing concerts in my time (gigs and concerts) and the common thing is the respect and awe for the people who can stand up there and do that. This could apply to many people from Thursday night but for example, Alison Balsom. She’s a 32 year old British trumpet player. She won female artist of the year. She was appointed Professor of Trumpet at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama at 22!!! (which feels just like showing off). But still she stood there on Thursday night have changed from ‘award winner’ frock into ‘performer’ frock and with only 14 musicians to accompany hear put a trumpet to her mouth and created the most amazing sound. What was going through her mind whilst she did it? How did she deal with her nerves? How did she cope with increased pulse and skin temperature when any affect on her breathing would hinder her performance? What was the psychology of her awesome achievement?

Like many of us, I do a fairly normal job. I go to an office, I go to meetings, I try and not overspend my budget, I write business cases, I talk to my team, I talk to my peers, I make presentations – you know….the usual. My success or failure isn’t defined by 4 minutes stood on a stage, it’s defined in different ways by different people and in some cases through different people. So how would my mind cope with standing on the stage in the Royal Albert Hall for 4 minutes?

When I was a youth I worked in Media Sales, I was one of those people who had to try and reach the decision maker, ask the dopey question and try against all odds to get a meeting to sell an advert. It was the most incredible learning experience and as I sit here now some years later I would rather have hot pokers stuck in my eyes than have to do it again. The MD of the business I worked for was a fan of Brian Tracy and his “Psychology of Achievement” books/tapes/videos/seminars (all available at very high price from etc). Whilst I’m sure Tracy’s methods work for some I personally couldn’t stand and repeat at least 20 times “today I am going to be better than I was yesterday” – it just felt too American (ironically Tracy is Canadian), too false and made my skin responded in exactly the same way it does to Russell Watson…

That being said if you think about Alison Balsom, or Tiger Woods (before his wife hit him with a golf club) or any person stood in front of a pair of rugby posts with the weight of a nation on their shoulders – how do you cope with all of the noise going through your mind? The noise or even worse deathly hush of the crowd? The lack of sleep the night before and the dreams where it all goes wrong? There’s a line in the TV show “The West Wing” where the Chief of Staff says to the President “elections are won or lost on one square foot of real estate”, he then points at his head…

I don’t have the answer and would be really interested to hear people’s views about dealing with anxiety, pressure and that make or break moment, but the thing that Balsom and Woods have in common aside from talent is practice. They do their performance thousands of times before they get anywhere near the stage/fairway and whilst you get better as a professional doing a “normal” job over time is there anything we can learn from these amazing talents that would benefit organisations?

I hope to get some thoughts/challenges/answers to the questions posted above but will leave you to think about that with what to me is a great example of talent+practice+mindset=result

and it’s been bothering me there was no balance. This is not directly related to the post but had to be done, and to quote Max Boyce “I was there”

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The one with the unconference part 2

During the freeform experience that was the ConnectingHR Unconference I was fortunate enough to run a session alongside the marvellous @floramarriot and despite the call for free flowing conversation and no structure we both gave into our L&D urges and put a little structure and facilitation into the session. It should be noted that we resisted the urge to use blu-tack and post-it notes…

Myself and Flora had gravitated together having respectively posed the following questions during the opening session:

“What does global mean to you?” (Me)

“What can we learn from business in other cultures?” (FM)

If you would like to read Flora’s comprehensive notes from the session check out the Unconference section on ConnectingHR but what follows is a little context on my question and some thoughts having reflected and digested the session.

I have been fortunate enough over the past 3 years to work in several different cultures and if you consider cultures in the context of Edward T. Hall’s Cultural Context I have worked in the polar opposites of China and the USA. China (a high context culture) values the collective and trusted relationships built over time whilst the US (a low context culture) values the individual and relationships are built on merit. One of the things that came through strongly in our session and certainly resonated with me was the admission of how little time we had spent truly learning about the “other” culture and whilst some great sources of information exist, whether you had the time or latitude to use them seemed to be another question. For the record, the UK is far more akin to the US and is considered also, a low context culture.

The frustration that came through from almost everyone was at the physical distance and the constraint presented by time differences and how this restricted the building of in-depth fully functioning relationships, and how key the relationship was to successfully working across cultures. As much as technology in the form of Skype and similar has advanced the ability to communicate across distance, it was agreed that there was no true replacement for spending real time sat across from someone (and I would had sharing a few drinks over dinner but that is not based on empiric data but user experimentation)

I must confess I have learnt the hard way (jet lag, 14 Chinese people and my attempt at humour remains one of the most uncomfortable hours of my life) and I would say to anyone working outside of their own cultural norm for the first time, there is no amount of preparation and reading that can beat the experience of standing there and doing it.

In the context of my Master’s degree (I feel I must mention it from time to time) what I’ve found interesting is that so much of what we use in terms of defining best practice and ‘the next big thing’ is often from “The West” with America as the dominant influence. The limitations of empiric data derived from studies carried out on groups of MBA students aside, there does appear a certain arrogance in assuming that “we” (the West) know better than the most populace country on the planet that has a culture dating back thousands of years. One of our group put this intellectual imperialism in the most straight forward way and his comment remains my favourite of the whole day…. “We need to remember we haven’t got a big d*ck and a gunboat anymore” – it never made it to the visual minutes….

I really enjoyed this session, both the challenge of pulling something together from a pair of questions, ensuring that I didn’t hog it all for “my” question and to trying to make sure everyone contributed if they wanted to. The take home for me was “we” are all struggling with this ever more significant challenge, we can learn from each other through sharing experiences and that investing the time in understanding and learning is the only way to truly achieve the value and results from your global relationships.

As an afterword, if you are interested in exploring the psychology of cultural relationships a great starting point is the work of Geert Hofstede who has published extensively on the subject.

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The one with the unconference part 1

I hate networking…

No, that’s not strictly true. Networking makes me feel uncomfortable and to be honest until recently I never understood why. On every instrument, test or diagnostic I have ever completed I come out as an extravert (and if you’ve met me this is unlikely to surprise you) but it wasn’t until I went on the qualifying course for the MBTI Stage 2 that all became clear. Most of you will be familiar with MBTI Stage 1 – self perception, compare with your reported scores, come up with a 4 letter personality type (mine is ENTP). What Stage 2 does is break each of the preferences down into 5 facets and this is where, for me, it got really interesting, as when it came to extraversion I scored as an extravert except the facet “initiating/receiving” where I scored as an introvert. The mists cleared, the fog lifted and all became clear – I don’t like initiating conversation/interaction with people I don’t know (or as @Thinkingfox has put it “Jonesy, you can close but you can’t open” – the context of the remark I’ll allow you to decide for yourself)

About a year ago I decided, for various reasons, that I needed to get over myself and start networking more proactively and it was through a blog (My hell is other people) and Twitter discussions about music that I started to network with an informal group called ConnectingHR. A year ago they held their first “Unconference” and yesterday was the second. I had watched the first from the Twitter sidelines but yesterday I moxied up, paid my dues and attended.

If you don’t know what an unconference is, Google it. But the fag packet answer is like a conference but with content driven by the attendees, not structured “push” but more owner operated “pull”. So at 9.30am we started and (through some great facilitation from @dougshaw1) we finished with a grid of topics for discussion. I don’t intend to try and summarise any of them here (I will post a follow up which will summarise one of the topics I was part of….but that’s for another time). If you are interested in the content search the #chru hashtag on Twitter and there are several great blogs already out there. If you can’t do that – sign up to Twitter STAT….

I was asked by several people on several different occasions what I thought of it….and my response on every occasion was the same “interesting”. Which can be, and was, taken in different ways. The caveat I added was that I needed time to reflect and digest.

I have reflected and digested and will offer another caveat – what follows is positive if at times constructive BUT completely subjective – this is from MY point of view and isn’t intended as commentary on how it was for others.

An aside before proceeding. Being an extravert is a double edged sword. You are by type more comfortable to take part in a “live fire” environment, to process in the moment, to be able to respond and challenge. The double edged sword is with the energy of all those people and all that discussion how far do you go? I, by nature, cope with feeling uncomfortable by extroverting, I talk, ask questions, discuss etc and have noticed on several occasions recently that it is assumed by others as hogging, grand standing, over two-pennething. In contrast it appears that introverts cope with the same situation by watching, listening and digesting and the response is very different, no one appears to feel threatened by their response and in fact usually are very supportive in making them feel comfortable to contribute. All that by way of saying if at any point I trampled your point, hogged or appeared to grandstand it was largely (with a few exceptions) me coping with my own discomfort…

So, 24 hours later what has “interesting” become?

  • What a fabulous group of people, whose intention is to learn, help, support, contribute, challenge and share
  • As much as at times I adore chaos, the lack of structure in the unconference format was uncomfortable and left me wanting
  • That said I think the unconference format has real legs and have come away excited about how it could be further applied in a corporate environment
  • Visual minutes are awesome (check out creativeconnection.co.uk, Tim and his team do something incredible by turning the dialogue and emerging themes into artwork)
  • Facilitation is good. With the aforementioned struggle between the extraverts and the introverts, having someone to ensure contribution from all and that the conversation doesn’t spiral off into freeform oblivion is good.
  • There are lots of questions and with so many interested parties; the answers can be elusive especially without structure
  • I would have liked a little (not a lot) bit of input, to hear what others are doing, not big scary case studies and by the numbers presentations, but someone saying “we do this and it works/doesn’t work”
  • Live tweeting during an event is great especially if it’s viewable from “the floor” although it did take me a while to get used to people whopping their phones out and tapping away
  • There was a lot of “stuff” out there yesterday and I felt like a missed loads.
  • It is incredible what a group of people with common intent can achieve without permission, accreditation, incentive or financing
  • However much you caveat it, an elephant in the room is still an elephant in the room
  • Unconferencing is tiring but rewarding

If you work with people (and not just those with an HR job title or as I put it yesterday, in the HR cost centre) you should check out connectinghr.org or on Twitter check out the hashtags #chru & #connectinghr, whether you have a similar fear of networking to me or are a seasoned pro, it’s a really good group and will only get better.

I don’t feel this needs wrapping up as the points all stand on their own but there would be too many to thank for yesterday (both organisers and participants) but if one person should be singled out it’s Gareth Jones (@garelaos) (www.garethjones.me) who’s networking activity keeps Starbucks going, has for me been the driving force to me engaging and remaining engaged with ConnectingHR and took the incessant piss taking yesterday with good grace and very few rebuttals!

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The one where its about reflection

When I was 6 years old I wanted to be a Builder… I wrongly understood my Dad to be one (he wasn’t)

When I was 11 years old I wanted to be a Journalist…I had seen “All the President’s Men”

When I was 14 years old I wanted to be an Accountant… then realised it involved lots of numbers and having attention to detail

When I was 16 years old I wanted to be a Doctor…then realised there were easier ways to get a Mercedes and I like my sleep too much (the white coat would have worked for me though)

When I was 23 years old I had a degree (in Biochemistry) but with no clue what I wanted to be when I grew up…

I’m now 36 and seem to have ended up doing something I love without much of an idea how I got here and the nagging fear that if I went back and told the 16 year old me how it would play out if he wouldn’t have run in the other direction!

Why share this?

As you will know if you’ve read some of the other posts, I am currently in the process of finishing a Masters degree and am completing a research project. It involves interviewing senior business people about their achievements as Corporate Entrepreneurs.

So far I have completed one interview, with a guy who used to work for one of the largest retailers in the world (you won’t have to think hard to work it out). It was a nerve racking but seriously enjoyable interview which ended up (probably against protocol) being more a conversation. This guy had done some fascinating things, in circumstances which were probably the antithesis of standard corporate operations for the specific and many other corporations. What was really surprising was his comment at the end, “it’s been really interesting taking the time to reflect and explore this stuff”

Since then I have spoken to several more of my “recruits” and there seems to be a theme emerging on how much people are looking forward to reflecting on their careers and not just over a beer. It seems many of them have charged through their careers with a great deal of momentum but not much direction and being able to have an agenda-less conversation with someone (who isn’t trying to lead them, manage them or recruit them) seems to really appeal.

Personal reflection is a whole other subject and I wouldn’t want to be seen as advocating a session of navel gazing but if there is a take home from this post then it’s don’t wait to be recruited for a Masters project to reflect on your career. You may be amazed at how enjoyable it is and you never know it could inform your future decisions…

Now where did I leave that white coat?

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