My father is by all accounts a successful leader. There are 3 “superpowers” that he has that I think have helped him have such a positive effect in each of these environments.
My father has had a long and successful career in business leading to a decade as the Chairman of the Board of Accenture, and then as a board member for several public companies, and now as a leader and advisor for arts, culture and universities.
2 years ago, I shared a list that my father made back in the 1980’s on “Leaders and Non-Leaders” which listed 40 contrasts helped him guide his journey as a business leader.
3 of my Dad’s “Superpowers”
Remember people’s names
Decide fast & Don’t think of it as “your decision”, (this allows flexibility to change without emotion/sunk cost)
Never lose sight of the overall purpose & long term
I was in the medieval town of Pedraza again this week, where I made this video.
“On many occasions I have seen presenters who thought that displaying a great memory was more important than punching home a well-crafted message.”
This is a guest post by my father Terry Neill. It is an edited version of 2 emails that I was cc'ed into recently.
Christmas 2019. We were in St Patrick’s cathedral (where Jonathan Swift was Dean) waiting for the start of the service.
A friend of one of our friends stopped by. I was introduced. He said “Oh I remember you for a terrific after dinner speech at the Strollers Club last year” , and then he said – with a laugh – “Even though it was all written out.”
I remembered the occasion. Speaking at the Strollers dinner was an important event for me. They invite excellent speakers. You have to be at your best – and funniest.
In every similar circumstance, I have a script. I know I will be nervous (it’s a source of energy). Opening and closing need the right words with the right cadence. Every punchline must have the words in exactly the right order. As the chair thanked me, he felt the need to tell the audience that “Terry had it all written out”. It was hard to know whether it was compliment or criticism. I suspected the latter.
For me, having the script means I can focus on ‘the theatre’ …. The pauses … the ‘chapter headings’ …… the changes of pace … the key repetitions …. The body language ..the big points of emphasis ….. the build up to punch lines …..
There is a prevailing belief amongst after-dinner speakers that using a script or notes of key points is ‘un-macho’. Often times, the memory failed and key messages got lost or forgotten – or stories fell flat as the punchline got mangled.
We have to get over the embarrassment of being prepared. With some few – irritating – exceptions, ‘winging it’ is always high risk. In my experience, every great speaker or presenter is always superbly prepared – and practised. Notes or full script are a matter of individual choice. I regard them as a measure of professionalism and as evidence of a commitment to excellence.
Golfers will know that Gary Player was/is one of the great sand bunker players. When he was asked why he seemed so lucky, he said “It’s amazing. The more I practice, the luckier I get”.
It often happens that the unplanned, informal moments provide the most powerful opportunities to deliver a message or make an impact. I know that a newly appointed CEO is generally not ready to listen – as they, usually over optimistically, take on the challenges of their new role. My role as a consultant required me to be well prepared to communicate, when that CEO was prepared to listen – which could be anytime.
In about 1997, I stepped into an elevator on a high floor of the Rhiga Royal hotel in New York. I recognised the one person in the elevator was Marvin Bower – the founder of McKinsey & Co. He said good morning. I said ‘good morning Mr Bower’. He was surprised … and asked me what I did …. ‘Accenture’ (in those days Andersen Consulting). He said tell me about your firm. I had the 3 lines and he said ‘have you time for a coffee’.
I was late for my meeting, but got to spend nearly an hour with one of the great icons of professional services/consulting. I hope that his opinion of Accenture rose as much as my opinion on him and McKinsey.
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.
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