In these difficult times, this story about the 20 Mile March is my reminder of what to focus on… and how to stay in control of my life.
I first heard this story from Jim Collins. He shares it in his book Good to Great. Here, I share my version of the story… and how it relates to leading yourself and your organisation in difficult times.
Your 20 Miles?
What are your 20 mile march habits? What are your aspirational self 20 mile march habits? What can you do in this period of quarantine to practice your 20 mile march?
These are my notes from the words of an Indian spiritual leader called Sadhguru, which I found positive, generous and calming. I had never heard of this man a few days ago… but have found his voice and his words a source of inspiration and clarity over the last 6 days.
When the situation is serious, you do not need to become serious. We do not choose to become frivolous, but we choose to be responsible.
When you become dead serious, you are dead before you are dead. When you lose your laugh, you lose everything. If you stop laughing you will make no difference to the progress of the virus. If you act serious, you will not stop a single infection.
Are you a Human Being or a Human Creature?
It is in these times that what kind of a human being you are matters. It matters all the time, but in normal times all sorts of fake people can pretend. It is when crisis hits that what type of human being you are really matters.
This virus is not being carried by mosquitos or rats. It is being carried by us.
Are we human beings or are we human creatures? If we are human beings we choose to take responsibility to not pass this virus on to the next person.
Human Beings are the Agents of this Virus
We are the vector of this virus. We are the agents who carry.
Many of us may be asymptomatic carriers of the virus. We may think “what difference do I make?”
We could not notice it, but we could be giving it to someone who is at risk.
What type of human are you? Are you fit to be a being? A human being. The most fundamental thing is that you know how to be. You know how to choose. You know how to act intentionally.
Today, by not doing anything… you have done something great for the world.
Do Something Great: Stay Home and Do Nothing
Meditation gurus have spent thousands of years telling us to sit down, sit still and do nothing. A little virus is teaching us faster than all those hundreds and thousands of meditation gurus.
Social distancing is not building walls around us, around those close to us. It is being aware and careful of the manner of transmission of this virus.
What steps can we take to ensure the safety of our community?
Keep our distance – don’t be an agent of transmission for the virus, stay home, wash hands, don’t shake hands
Strengthen our physical system – eat well, sleep enough, take physical exercise
Ensuring that the team, the organisation, the institution, the vision and mission can live on after you.
It is hard to let go of the ego part of you that enjoys being “needed”. It is difficult to accept that there needs to be a future beyond you. If an empire cannot go on beyond the ruler, this was not a great ruler.
Alexander the Great… was great at conquering and winning battles… but so totally failed to prepare for life beyond him that his children were murdered soon after his death and his five generals spent the rest of their lives fighting over the succession to his empire.
Will my organisation live on beyond my time as leader? I hope so…
Management is always about tradeoffs. If you want quality, you have to sacrifice time or money. If you want fast, you have to sacrifice quality or money. If you want cheap, you have to sacrifice quality or time.
Leadership is about People
If you push people, you don’t know which way they will go. If you use your power to tell them how to act, you will create a push back.
If you can learn to pull people, they will follow.
Power comes when people freely give you their support.
If you take that power and reflect it all back to them, they give you more. If you use the power for yourself, they give you less power. If you give people back the power that they entrust to you, more and more comes to you. You get to use this power for a Just Cause, something bigger than yourself, a Vision of a better world for all of us.
“Leadership is the most valuable commodity on the planet and it is the rarest commodity we have”
This week’s video comes from Champery in Switzerland where I have been part of the faculty for a leadership program for the Avanade company. One of the other faculty is a Leadership Coach called Kris Girrell. He shared a simple 4 part structure for a Coaching Conversation.
The 4 Coaching Questions
Learn More about Kris Girrell
In his TEDx talk, Kris shares a wonderful idea – the “Emotional Table of the Elements” – in which he created a someone tongue in cheek copy of the Periodic Table replacing atoms with emotions. I love the metaphor. Check out his TEDx talk below:
Knowing how to respond to others’ emotional states is the essence of Emotional Intelligence. But how do we actually learn it? Executive leadership coach Kris Girrell suggests that sometimes the path to becoming intimately aware of our emotions may be a little bumpier than we bargained for, but in the end, results in stronger relationships.
Kris is an executive leadership coach, co-owner of the Goddard Preschool in Reading, and author of A Married Man’s Survival Guide.
This list was put together by my father, Terry Neill, in the 1980’s as a reminder for himself and those around him about the nature of good leadership, and the easy pitfalls of Non-Leadership. He led businesses through good times and through tough times and I can see the positive impact he has had on many who worked with him.
He was recently cleaning out some papers in his office and found this and shared it with me and my siblings. I find it simple and clear. Leadership is not easy, but it is necessary in all areas of our lives.
You don’t need Power to lead
You do not need to wait for power, nor permission nor position to decide to act like a leader. You decide to take responsibility and begin. You realise that each of your actions make a difference. You are connected to many people and your actions have impact. You will affect more than 1,000 people over the course of your life. If you have a positive affect on them, they in turn are connected to more than 1,000 people and your leadership will ripple out and touch over 1,000,000 lives. These 1,000,000 lives are connected out to 1,000 in their turn… and your small daily actions of leading and taking responsibility to make things better will ripple out to a billion people. Your actions matter.
A coach appealing to the best in each person; open door; problem solver and advice giver; cheerleader
Invisible – gives orders to staff – expects them to be carried out
Thinks of ways to help people be more productive, more focused on practicval goals and how to reward them
Thinks of personal awards, status, and how he or she looks to outsiders
Comfortable with people in their workplaces
Uncomfortable with people
Wants anonymity for self, publicity for practice of others
Often takes the blame
Looks for a scapegoat
Gives credit to others
Takes credit. Complains about
lack of good people
Gives honest, frequent feedback
Info flows one way – into his or
Knows when and how to deal with non performers or unfair clients’ comments or pressures
Ducks unpleasant tasks
Goes where the trouble is – to help
Interrupts people in crisis and
calls them to meetings at his or her desk
Has respect for all people
Thinks operators, clerical staff
etc are lazy, incompetent ingrates
Knows the business, and the kind of people who make it tick
They’ve never met him or her
Honest under pressure
Looks for controls to abolish
Loves new controls
Prefers eyeball to eyeball instead of memos
Prefers memos… long reports
own mistakes. Comforts others when they admit them
Never makes mistakes. Blames
others. Starts witch hunts to identify culprits
paperwork in planning
Vast paperwork in planning
Arrives early. Stays late
In late. Usually leaves on time
Strained with shop or office
Simplistic on organisation values
Good at demonstrating his/her
command of all the complexities
Hard to reach from below
Fair to the top. Exploits the
Uses committees. Makes accountabilities opaque
Tough – confronts nasty problems
Elusive – “the artful dodger”
Only when his/her goodies are at
Simplifies (makes it look ‘easy’)
Complicates (Makes it look difficult)
Tolerant of open disagreement
Intolerant of open disagreement
Knows people’s names
Doesn’t know people’s names
Has strong convictions
Vacillates when a decision is needed
Trusts words and numbers on
Delegates whole important jobs
Keeps all final decisions
Doesn’t – unless it ‘suits’
Thinks there are at least 2 other people who would be better at his/her job
Number one priority is to make
bloody sure no one remotely gets near to being a threat
Focused to the point of monomania on values and ethical principles
Unfocused except on self
Sees mistakes as learning opportunities
Sees mistakes as punishment opportunities
Does ‘dog work’ when necessary
Above ‘dog work’
Consistent and credible with the troops
Unpredictable. Says what he thinks they want to hear
About Terry Neill
Father of 4 wonderful children and Grandpa to 9 grandchildren.
In his 30 year career with Accenture/Andersen Consulting he was based in Dublin, Chicago and London. He was Chairperson of Andersen Worldwide and Accenture; and was worldwide managing partner of the Change Management Practice.
He returned to Ireland in 2005 and was a Director of Bank of Ireland Group, UBM (the world’s biggest events company) and CRH plc. He is chairperson of the National Council of Wexford Festival Opera.
He is a maths/physics graduate of Trinity College Dublin. He was for 13 years a Governor of London Business School, where he had also gained his MBA. He is a member of both the Board of Trinity Foundation and the Trinity Arts & Humanities Governance Board. He was chairperson of Co-operation Ireland (GB) and Camerata Ireland, Barry Douglas’s all island chamber orchestra.
Jim Collins delivered the Keynote at this year’s Vistage ChairWorld meeting to over 800 participants.
About Jim Collins
Jim Collins is a student and teacher of what makes great companies tick, and a Socratic advisor to leaders in the business and social sectors. He has authored 6 books that have sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. His books include:
Good to Great which examines why some companies make the leap to superior results,
Built to Last, which explores how some leaders build companies that remain visionary for generations;
Great by Choice, which is about thriving in chaos—why some do, and others don’t.
Conor’s Video Summary of Jim Collins 12 Questions
Jim Collins shared 12 questions that come out of his work over the last 25 years.
These are my notes and reflections from his Keynote address.
The 4 part video series below gives a short overview of each of the 12 questions.
#1 strive for excellence
The first step is a conscious decision on the part of leadership to decide for excellence, to decide to build an enduring great company. Often leaders are enduring great individuals, but that doesn’t make for an enduring great company. Leaders must put excellence in the company over “success” in their own individual life. (This doesn’t mean that they give up a good life, but that they are willing to pay the price of leading an Enduring Great Company.)
Differences between level 5 and level 4 leader?
Humility. This is key to level 5. Deep genuine personal humility combined with a brutal will, a fierce resolve directed at something that is not about them
Leadership: People follow when they have the choice to not follow… otherwise it is just power.
Charisma – not necessary for Level 5 leadership (“never confuse personality with leadership”)
The author of this blog with Jim Collins, best selling author of Good to Great and Built to Last, at Vistage ChairWorld, January 2019
#2 First who, then what.
Right people, then trust them to figure out where the bus is going. Great vision without great people is irrelevant. Single most important talent: select great people for the key seats. Nothing is more important that key seats filled with great people.
#3 confront the brutal facts
What brutal facts must we confront? No opinions.
#4 Hedgehog concept
Fox knows many things, hedgehog knows 1 Fox loves complexity, hedgehog loves simple Intersection of Passion, best in world, drives economic engine Big is not equal to great (think restaurants- if it were to disappear it would leave an unfillable hole)
#5 20 mile march
Driving the flywheel “Which push made the difference?” None… Cumulative effort consistently over long time Flywheel- causal links between, inevitability “I admire Nike” “what do Nike do? Products so great that pros wear them” great products + social proof Execution 1-10… flywheel accelerator at quality of execution of lowest quality of execution Best investment strategy “a highly undiversified investment where you are right” “We can make it up on a good day” fallacy. Be super careful of overextension leading to missing your March Cycle across USA… booked the hotels ahead of time: have to make it, and prepare for tomorrow and the next day “Part of the task of helping others is to be really hard on them… with love”
#6 bullets, then cannonballs
Innovation small, then massive support of small wins. Scale the right innovation. Scaling innovation is more important than innovation. Fail: Not enough bullets Bullets but no guts to fire cannonball Untargeted cannonballs
#7 don’t die
The first step of moving from good to great to built to last is “don’t die” I am terrified by good times. Complacency! Be properly terrified all the time. Fortune 500 85% carnage rate.
Productive paranoia:Prepare for the storms (cash to assets ratio 3-10 times greater)
The only mistakes you can learn from are the ones you survive
#8 clock building or time telling?
Idea-> biz-> great company = enduring success
“The genius with a thousand helpers model is not building a great company”
Shift from time telling (individual level) to clock building (at a company level). Every leader can grow to be the leader of a bigger, greater company. Don’t answer questions with answers… help people find their own answers, their own resourcefulness.
Steve Jobs 2.0 – had a yoda who helped him create a culture of geniuses. What’s your leadership 2.0?
#9 preserve the core, stimulate progress
Yin & yang Core set of unchanging values and purpose, constant progress towards your north star
#10 What’s our BHAG?
Time frame 10-25 years… anything less is just base camp
“The best people want to do the hard things”
A Good BHAG frightens mediocrity away. Test of BHAG – does it repel some people?
#11 return on Luck
You didn’t cause
Get good at making the most of when luck happens. How do you handle the unexpected? Use both good luck & bad luck (crisis allows change) to improve.
#12 Stop Doing list
Only doing is not discipline. True discipline is about what not to do first. What should you not be doing?
Peter Drucker – age 65 had written only 1/3 of his books. Age 86 wrote 10 more books.
“You will survive, you will probably succeed… The question Mr Collins is how to be useful”
Nothing brings more opportunity into your life than speaking well in public.
I have been teaching for 16 years on many leadership programs at IESE Business School. Today I’m sharing a playlist of a series of videos that we put together as an introduction for participants of future courses.
There are 10 videos in the full playlist with a total duration of about 60 minutes.
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