I went to the Oprah Tour of Australia in Brisbane recently . There I’ve said it! Fair play to Oprah she did, mid-show, acknowledge the 9 or so of us blokes in attendance, whereupon we were asked to stand and received the ‘love in the room’. It was just a momentary and miniscule glimpse of what it must be like to get adulation like Oprah does. She then went on to regale the audience with her ‘recipe’ for happiness, peppered with anecdotes from her life to illustrate junctures at which important things happened. All events that have helped her form her view on happiness and success. She touched on authenticity, having clarity of purpose, intention, dedication of service and surrender amongst other things. This gave me pause for thought. While her recipe for life seemed fairly common sense I reflected it wasn’t a bad recipe for achieving success in the business world either.
Just a couple of weeks ago now Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull released the much awaited policy on innovation. In his own words this is the best time to be alive in Australia. That point may be moot but you could prosecute a strong case to say it is perhaps the most interesting (and not in a Chinese proverb sort of way). In short the main issue confronting us is the re-calibration of the Australian economy from one of pulling resources from the ground (Coal, Iron Ore and Gas) to one of innovation. We were once the ‘lucky country’ and now we are striving to be the ‘creative’ one.
Out of the earth we once extracted wealth and now we must extract from our minds and spirits (the well of creative ideas) the new wealth. Once we extracted resources and sent them overseas without much in the way of a value-add, only to buy those goods back as steel and other value-added products. Now we must do the value-add bit here. When the commodity is ideas and we don’t value add in our own backyard it’s called a brain drain. We must have ideas and then shape and polish them if we are to maintain our enviable OECD position in terms of absolute wealth and also in terms of stature and national self-esteem. This is a nice segue to Oprah who talked a lot about self-worth. Little it appears can be achieved if this is not at its optimal level. The real challenge now will be how we manage creativity and ideas within the workplace. Just the word ‘workplace’ sounds like a misnomer because creativity, long associated with play, may seem a slightly awkward bedfellow to work (grind) which is what we get up each day for.
The Executive corridor (or C Suite – a term I really don’t like) is populated with managers whose qualifications fall into one of three distinct groups:
- technical experts with a management qualification tacked on;
- professional managers whose expertise lies solely in the art and science of the practice of management; and
- technical experts with no management qualifications to speak of.
In the past knowing more than the other ‘bloke’, and yes it has generally been a male, has been the prerequisite for promotion or advancement in the workplace. This has had two impacts:
- the most knowledgeable person in the chain has been taken out of the position immediately lowering the knowledge quotient at the pointy-end;
- a position requiring an altogether different skill set has then been occupied by someone ill-equipped to handle it. Arise the accidental manager.
There is nothing wrong, per se, in promoting a technically proficient worker. This can act as an encouragement to others to strive to do better (or as Oprah might phrase it, to be the best you that you can be). However before doing so there are four precursor activities that need to be set in motion first:
- working with the soon to be promoted team member getting them to realise there is a whole body of knowledge that they don’t know but will need to;
- helping them realise that falling back on their default technical knowledge to define their sense of self-esteem in the new role is not appropriate;
- providing some baseline management training before the promotion; and
- instilling in them the notion that they are now on a path of lifelong learning.
In short it is necessary to do succession planning, or as Oprah might say, find your thread, follow and nurture it.
Regrettably the world is littered with accidental managers. It has become so acute that the Chartered Management Institute in the UK, the peak body for management professionals, has identified this as a key risk to the UK’s success in the digital age. The impact of accidental managers in the workplace is varied. It ranges from small business failures to meltdowns of global enterprises; the shockwaves of which ripple across the globe. Seldom do such impacts happen without individuals and families being affected. Compare an accidental manager to a not yet fully qualified pilot. At least s/he has auto pilot to rely upon. The promotion of managers without the requisite insight, training and commitment to lifelong learning is a catastrophe waiting to happen. Those who have put in the hard yards of learning and study over the years are often left to pick up the pieces and in ‘repairing’ those mishandled by accidental managers oftentimes find themselves reaching into their wider families to help salve their wounds.
With the need for Australia to generate ideas and turn these ideas into commercial successes, there is a greater need now than ever to have managers in place who are anything but there accidentally. There are four generations in the workplace – boomers (me), Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z. As managers we will need to add this additional complexity to the existing skills necessary to run a successful business. Add to this the requirement to be able to create a culture where ideas can be encouraged, shaped and presented to market and we can begin to see that not only is the accidental manager well out of their depth but the assured manager may well be coming up short up themselves.
The ability to generate ideas is not enough in its own right anymore. The testing, hot housing, incubating and prototyping will require courage as it involves risk and risk taking. If we are to survive in the digital age and this new era of innovation, our approach to risk must change. Our default position of being risk averse can no longer protect nor sustain us. This begs the question as to whether the existing breed of assured managers are up to the task (me included). Oprah may well prompt us to ask the question as to whether were are getting our team members to embrace their failures and allowing them to learn from them. We cannot innovate unless we fail some of the time. We cannot grow as individuals without some elements of failure in our lives. Failing in front of our subordinates is a huge display of vulnerability but without leadership by example how can we expect our team members to learn from us?
Failure starts to take us into areas where very few assured managers are comfortable to travel. Many of us may not even recognise that such terrain exists. Failure and success, creativity and innovation start to go to the spirit or soul of a person. To become successful managers we are going to have to embrace the soul and recognise the way it affects those about us. We will need to know about energy and flow. Required reading should now include Csikszentmihalyi, Myss, Chopra and Sheehy while still including Hamel, Prahalad, Porter, Pfeffer et al.
Oprah has a head-start here because she was able to build a successful media empire based on self-belief, focus, intention and surrender. She knows intrinsically that the spirit requires nurturing and in doing so, flow – the well from which we draw ideas – can bring happiness. As assured managers we are going to have to continue to learn and do so in new areas; some of which may not sit that comfortably with our scientist selves.
Highly developed intuition will be required (future blog topic on the way). I suspect business school learning will not be of great help here. Sure we can learn about digital marketing and the importance of cash flow at B School, but to learn about soul and spirit as Oprah would reflect will require us to attend ourselves. Perhaps the way of the future for managers is retreats built along the lines of ashrams? The drive that made us devote our own time to improving our management skills must be re-kindled to encourage us to learn new skills and acquire new knowledge that awakens new dimensions; those that will lead to innovation, business success and above all true happiness in the workplace and beyond.