I am a business owner, aviator and property investor based in the South West of England. I’m 46 – in 2014 I left the Royal Navy after 16 years as an Aviator/Officer. I started a property Management business. Today, I spend my time advising my senior staff members with business development, flying helicopters for the emergency services, growing my property portfolio and work as a reservist in the Royal Navy as an aviation training designer/manager.
I’m not attempting to do serious book reviews. In fact, I don’t even read anymore – I listen to audio books which is a relatively new activity for me and I love it. However, audiobooks tend to be overlooked after they’re finished, whereas a real book might hang around for a while, or be glimpsed on a bookshelf on a regular basis etc. And I’m also finding that my memory of audiobooks are starting to blur and merge. So these blogs are really just my way of documenting and reminding me what I’ve listened to.
Jeremy Paxman has described Prince Harry’s claims in his memoir Spare as a “series of moans from a very privileged young man”
Interesting review Jezza – I think that’s the whole point.
The book is in 4 parts. Parts 1-3 are fairly autobiographical which I enjoyed – listening to an audiobook means there is no imagery of the privilege and opulence (I’m not sure if the paper book has photos in it). And he refers to relatives as ‘Pa’, or ‘Granny’, or ‘Uncle’ etc – I thus frequently found it quite nicely detached from the Royal Family – much of the book felt like an autobiography of a military officer, of which I’ve read a few. I’m an ex military officer, helicopter pilot and a man with an older (and younger) brother – so I actually found myself relating to him in many ways!! I’ve also seen him around at RAF Shawbury – I was doing an instructor course at the same as when he was going through basic helicopter training – so I saw him knocking about with everyone else in the mess at lunch times etc. Just one of the guys.
I also had no idea of his true passion for Africa and the work he does in various countries within that continent.
Part 4 is where he dishes the dirt although I only perceive this is in the context of some fairly ‘common or garden’ family bickering. It’s the press and the ‘Royal’ aspect that amplifies this bickering into dark and deep treachery. I’d advise (for want of a better expression) a bit of ‘emotional intelligence’ all round to be honest.
I think the way Harry rationalises the fraught family disagreements is contrived because I’m sure they weren’t as controlled and one-sided as Harry describes. But there are also some cohesive themes and continuity throughout the book that I don’t think could be fabricated. I think the smoke does indicate fire.
But for me the overriding themes which no one seems to be talking about are: anxiety; mental health; bereavement; PTSD, harassment, stalking; racism, drug abuse. He doesn’t really talk about these per se at any great length but for me they’re the ‘elephant in the room’ – if he wasn’t royal, then you’d be giving him helpline numbers.
But Harry clearly wants to escape his gilded cage. And the pain of his mother’s death is central to what drives him. The Royal Family are all clearly living their own version of ‘eternity politics’ – driven by history, protocol, anniversaries and taking meaning from the past. He fears history repeating itself. Can you blame him for wanting to do what, in his very abnormal world, he thinks is right for protecting his family?
Below is a copy of an article I wrote for an aviation safety newsletter. It’s reproduced here and edited slightly for general readership.
I believe these concepts should be of interest; not just to people in safety-critical industries, but also of interest to anyone who desires to improve workplace quality and performance; I would advise that ‘Safety and Quality’ are close siblings.
Have you ever seen references to Safety II and “positive” reports? Safety II is still, largely unexplored and not fully embraced within safety management systems. But what is Safety II and why is a positive report a relevant thing?
First a quick reminder of how we traditionally manage ’safety’:
Traditionally safety has been considered a matter of risk reduction, in both a proactive and reactive manner. Processes and guidelines are given to employees; training is supplied to the employees; equipment (eg aircraft) are engineered (and monitored) to withstand wear/ fatigue/stress and designed to be as easy to use as possible; and then work is done. After an accident, incident or near miss, processes are dismantled and examined. ‘Causes’ are searched for – a broken component, a broken rule or a human error is searched for until the “a-ha” moment is found and the cause or causes can be reported – eg, the cause of the accident was a failure to follow procedures, or a broken widget etc. These causes are important in Safety I systems because they allow the creation of more risk reduction, through more rules, or strengthened components, monitoring of trends, or penalties for guilty and negligent personnel1, 2.
However, Safety I is incomplete thinking: aircraft and their associated systems are too complex for every possible outcome to be predicted – therefore rules, procedures and trend-monitoring cannot be created for events that are not yet known.
The Safety II model is based on building resilient systems that recognise that people and their behaviour are the solution and not the problem. Safety is built and encouraged based on successful outcomes – successful outcomes are shared and disseminated for others to learn from. A Safety II system might not even be thought of as a system but instead as an organic and live process that responds, monitors, learns and anticipates and is therefore resilient to the changes and variations of complex work systems and environments3. People therefore need to be empowered to have self-determination and collaborate to create safety based on the circumstances at the time, and not based on a previous risk-assessment or set of rules that may have become out-of-date or inappropriate.
In Simple terms….
In simple terms, let’s think of traditional safety as “what went wrong?” and “don’t do that because it’s bad” and “follow these rules”
Lets think of Safety II as “what went right?” and “do this because it works well” and “take the necessary action required at the time”.
How do I achieve Safety II?
You already are… but you don’t know it. Every time you operate and have no unsafe events, it’s because YOU, the operator made hundreds of correct decisions, used your experience & knowledge and collaborated effectively to achieve a completely uneventful outcome! Well done – sounds a little boring doesn’t it? Well before we start congratulating ourselves, let’s see how we can improve our Safety II culture. It’s important to look for the things that people do to make things work and succeed – and not just look for the hazards to avoid.
Normal, routine activity is interesting! Don’t take for granted all the little actions that you carry out when operating. Only a fraction of what we do is actually prescribed in a flying guide or contained in an SOP. The vast majority of our actions are the result of habits that we have created for ourselves. There could be many hundreds of positive little things that you do which have never occurred to a colleague. Have a think – can you share ideas and tips? Can others learn from what you do? If you’re in a training role then do you praise the little positive successes that you observe? Do you spot neat little ideas and think to pass them on to the wider community? Or are you just concentrating on finding errors in technique?
Here’s a quick example from Exeter Airport: when taxing out of dispersal the windsock is not easily visible to the pilot – but it is to the LHS Operator. When we leave the dispersal on a dark night with the airfield closed, the LHS operator looks at the wind sock and says, ‘Chris the wind’s from the south’ or whatever. Great – that’s added a little positivity to my situational awareness and helps me plan my departure. There’s no way that can ever be in a rule book. But it is one of many useful little things that build safety and create a routine successful outcome.
When flying with a similarly qualified person are you looking for the little differences? Are you saying to your buddy “hey, you do that? – that’s neat” and put it in your own back pocket… or are you concentrating on being “standard” and not messing up in front of your oppo, and in so-doing stifling the extra stuff you do? (The obsession with critique (in preference to praise) throughout military flying training/assessment has a lot to answer for I’m afraid…)
If you report an in-flight malfunction, then report what you did to create a safe outcome – did you use the AP (autopilot) upper modes (height, heading, guidance holds)? did you use ACANS (iPad mapping system) to assist with navigating to a diversion? did a member of crew make a suggestion? did Air Traffic Control give assistance? There are so many variables – but some key decisions about the positive actions you took is how someone else could learn to have a similar positive outcome. In other words, what did you do? Just reporting that “you carried out the drills iaw the flight reference cards and landed without further incident” omits a lot of Safety II opportunities.
Safety II is a big area but largely unexplored – it shouldn’t just be thought of as ‘best practice’ or ‘common sense’ or CRM (Crew Resource Management) or ‘correct techniques’. It encompasses those, but a Safety II culture also requires the sharing, learning, reviewing, updating, rethinking and positive enactment of all the little granular decisions and actions that you make every time you fly. People makes things safe; not rules and regulations.
1. Drift Into Failure, Sidney Dekker
2. The Field Guide to understanding ‘Human Error’, Sidney Dekker
3. Safety-II and Resilience Engineering in a Nutshell, Dong Han Ham
4. Trailblazers into Safety-II: American Airlines’ Learning and Improvement Team
I’ve also drawn on my own experiences in Quality Management in commercial business: encouraging employees to achieve quality work can generate similar barriers through fear of mistakes and error – telling staff what to do via a set of rules never worked! Giving staff guidelines, telling them what to achieve (and giving them the decision making power) achieves better outcomes.
A PDF of this article is available for download below.
In 2020 I re-entered the world of professional aviation; we had all been in lockdown – and at home scrolling through Facebook I’d seen an advert for the National Police Air Service. I hadn’t flown for over 5 years but I comfortably had the experience they were looking for. I applied via an online process which included a Skype interview – my intent was 100%; my self-belief? about 10%. I simply had not been involved in the industry; safety in aviation is often correlated to recency of operators, and is not always about experience per se. Plenty of experienced pilots make mistakes… with tragic consequences. Anyway, they offered me the job.
Flying the helicopter is the easy bit. But safely navigating human behaviours? That’s more difficult. Healthy doses of humility, spoon-fed frequently, are required. And continue to be required. I was very excited and keen to be flying again but I wasn’t going to take this lightly. And, to be honest, I realised that the organisation which I had joined does not have a learning culture outside of its own safety management and reporting system (SMS).
I took to self-educating myself and finding all manner of accident and incident reports online for Police and HEMs helicopters around the world. I then started reading about aviation safety… and watching YouTube videos and a world of internet content – I was really heartened by what I found! There is some fantastic developments in the understanding of safety, performance, CRM (Crew Resource Management), Flight Risk Assessment models etc. What intrigued me most was the work of Erik Hollnagel and Sidney Dekkar in the concepts of resilience and Safety II. These are scholarly people. I could only interpret and extract the basic elements of their concepts. But it really resonated with me – because, in the context of their work, if you simply replace the word ‘safety’ with ‘quality’ then you also acquire a whole load of concepts that work for improving business and employee performance.
I had previously already discovered and begun to understand these concepts through my business and employee development. Analysing why something went wrong with a client’s contract (usually when an employee didn’t meet the client’s expectations) never really led to useful understanding and lessons. Because human behaviours get in the way – fear basically – fear of admitting mistakes, and an ingrained aversion to being open about anything that might threaten personal security, confidence and status.
But talking about the contracts that went right was always much easier! Emphasising and learning what went right, and how to apply it every time, was a more successful path of reinforcing and cementing good habits and standards.
Anyway, back to aviation: in late 2022 I attended a Flight Safety Course run by the UK Flight Safety Committee. I was excited. Then, when I attended, fairly quickly became disappointed. The content of the course was just a bit typical of the usual concepts that I remember from the last 20 years in the RN. There was no learning path, no suggestions for wider reading, no meaningful attempts at examining recent developments and concepts in Safety. Unfortunately, it was very much along the following format: ex military pilot with (X-000s of hours) stands up in front of the audience and speaks confidently about safety in various contexts. It was all very firmly SAFETY I – ie looking for what went wrong. Whilst this of course has value, I don’t believe it’s the whole picture. And the problem with churning out the same content, the same (swiss cheese) models and the same case-studies is that we stagnate; our openness deteriorates, we become numb to the messages; we become complacent.
It’s time to look for things that go right as well as looking at the old chestnuts of wrongness , error and violations. Learning new ideas and how to do things well is inspiring – and largely unexplored.
Part 2 of this blog is a copy of an article I wrote for an internal newsletter and builds on these concepts.
Supposedly Mark Twain advised that if you swallow a frog in the morning, then you’ll have done the most unpleasant thing that day. My wife put me onto this idea. The analogy is to get up and complete the most awkward or difficult task of the day ASAP. Then the rest of the day is better. It’s a good idea – a useful framing mechanism for a serial procrastinator such as me.
The general advice is that 10,000 walking steps is the daily target for adults aiming to maintain a basic level of fitness. Bearing in mind that I sit in a cockpit or sit at a desk or sit playing the guitar, I’d say that 10,000 steps should be something to aim for. But it doesn’t count as a frog.
I think a lot. I can drift off into a reverie and develop whole trains of thought… so many trains… all organised and running off in different directions. Years ago, my friend Bruce, who I’ve since lost touch with, said that instead of being ‘away with the fairies’ I would be ‘away with the theories’. I used to think that was a neat description.
I sometimes put so much mental energy into thinking about a subject that it keeps me awake at night… churning around in my mind. It’s time to write this stuff down in a blog… however, I would be mortified to think that I might publish, in a public place, something that wasn’t at least backed-up by some credible references and research. I f**king can’t stand speculation; eg, people who make sweeping political statements based on their emotional feeling about something… I’m sensitive to it because I do it! I recognise it within myself… which then makes me withdraw and not want to contribute to a conversation for fear of being wrong… and let’s face it: it’s almost impossible to know everything about a subject… and in all subjects there are the little knock-on effects, permutations, repercussions unintended consequences that I know exist but I I don’t know what they are… so why have a conversation about anything at all? Because the chances are I’ll be wrong or at least have incomplete understanding. Basically, it’s too easy to talk bollocks.
Which is why writing a blog (or an email for that matter) is a nice thing to do… it gives you time to say what you want to say after spending time thinking about and researching your point.
New Year’s Resolutions.
So there we go… not a list of prescriptive or objective aims. But a set of principles for 2023: 10,000 steps, swallow a frog every day and write regularly. Let’s see how I do…
Ultimately, people need to know about your business – so you probably need to spend!
But otherwise I don’t know where to start this. For me, advertising has probably been the most mystical part of running a business. And every business is different with different goals and geographical reach etc. And there are different ways of advertising. And often it’s not easy to tell whether advertising is working or not. And to be honest – I’m not an expert! We were lucky in that a lot of clients for Proudhouse Property Management have come from word of mouth and referrals.
However, what I can write about is some of the lessons learned. Proudhouse started trading in 2013 and at that time newspaper advertising was still strong. As were flyer drops etc. However, it was expensive and there was no proper tracking of the performance of your advert. And you had to deal with the advertising agent at the local rag who would always try and inflate how great it was… “your advert has been printed 100,000 times and delivered all across South Somerset this week”. Ok – but how many people actually looked at my advert?…
Of course – internet advertising does provide useful metrics, eg, the number of people who ‘click through’ your advert – or how long people watch a video for – or the demographics of viewers etc. As soon as we discovered internet advertising, we never looked back and advertising in local newspapers was dead.
So – some bullets:
Define your goal – what is your USP or feature product and focus on this
Don’t do copy-cat advertising. Just because your competitor is doing something doesn’t mean it’s effective. It’s far nicer to lead the way and then watch the competition follow you!
Set an advertising budget and strategy and stick to it.
Be careful when receiving cold-calls from people claiming to be working for Google or working on behalf of a charity or the local fire-brigade etc. It’s usually boll*cks and they’re actually 3rd party agents trying to suck you into a quasi-scam.
Online advertising trends change – as do the format and dimensions etc for different platforms, eg Instagram, Facebook etc. Watch some recent YouTube explainers for the latest advice. And on this subject – watch several different YouTubers and get a consensus and feel for what you think is right for your business. Don’t just do follow what one person says – your business might not be their target audience.
Is advertising even right for your business? Actually, money spent on networking, conferences or even hosting your open-days/forums might be more effective lead generation
Not all advertising has to be obvious and direct. Sponsoring local events can be a great way of building brand awareness.
Often the people who might be most aware of your business, is other businesses. So creating mutually beneficial relationships can be great.
And finally, as the last few points have alluded to – word-of-mouth advertising is probably the most effective method. Can you leverage your existing client-book? perhaps an incentive for existing clients who can refer new clients to you.
That’s about it – it can feel like trial and error. And not only can advertising be expensive, there are also additional costs for graphic design, printing etc. It’s something to think carefully about. But have a plan, strategy and budget – don’t take a random ‘willy nilly’ approach!
In 2023, we’re moving into video advertising on Instagram – we created this advert (below) ourselves relatively easily with a video editor. Licencing for the imagery and music is vital – but fairly easy to acquire. And actually, if you have someone in your business who can create the content then it can become quite good fun!
Set high standards for yourself – and maintain them. Always. It takes effort – but it’s worth it. And it soon becomes quite easy because you can turn high standards into good habits. Setting high standards for yourself puts you in a good position for several reasons:
First – it means you’re always in the right ‘frame of mind’ – and if you’re in the right frame of mind, then you’ll perform well.
Secondly, most people are actually quite easily influenced – it’s human nature; we all want to fit in. So, if you’re a leader, manager or an influential figure in your workplace, then the people around you will adopt aspects of your style and manner. It’s nice to inspire and positively influence people and, ultimately, it contributes to creating a high performing team.
Thirdly, if you ever find yourself in the position of needing to change or criticise or introduce new practices, then people are more than likely to trust you and believe in what you have to say.
A word of caution – this is about setting high standards for yourself! It’s not about laying down the law and being pedantic with your colleagues. Be the person who sticks to the dress code; who turns up on time; who carries out the daily routines; and who knows their subject – do it cheerfully and willingly. And encourage others to help you. You’ll be infectious and the workplace will be better for it.
This is the 4th part in the ‘spend or save’ category of posts. This series aims to advise people who new to business on what (and what not) to spend their money on in the early days of starting their small business.
In the modern world, most business is marketed, generated and completed on the internet. Many business owners don’t even need to see or speak with their clients anymore. Effective and professional looking branding is important. However, the type of business will dictate the type of branding, design, image and look that is required. And this article is not about branding design. That’s down to the business owner to know and understand their industry.
What I can advise are some general principles:
Branding and logo (spend modestly): – keep it simple – not only is a simple design more memorable, but it’s actually easier to manipulate for different media etc. Think of EasyJet – their logo is simply the word ‘easyJet’ in Orange using ‘Cooper’ typeface. easy eh? If you have a good idea for a logo then spend a modest amount of money on a designer to create a professional image for you: avoid your well meaning friend who offers to do the design for you – that gets awkward. Remember to get copies of your logo(s) in various file formats and in different resolutions and optimised for different media. Name them so you understand what they’re for! eg: logo_forprinting.jpg, logo_highres.jpg, logo_website.jpg, logo_blackandwhite.jpg, logo_Facebook, etc. Then file them and look after them!! Your designer will advise on the technical details of best file format etc.
Website (Save your money): Your business product, goods and services should, by and large, be able to sell themselves. If you think a professional website and sleek branding will make up for a crappy product/service then you’re wrong.
So, if you’ve got a good product or service, then, in the early days, don’t worry too much about spending lots of money on the best website in the world – remember – as you develop your business, you will want to develop and add to your website. Really, think hard about what your website needs to do – unless you need a commerce site that sells and controls stock etc then you can probably start with a simple one-page site! Especially if you are selling services – eg, a beauty therapist simply needs, initially at least, a page to inform potential clients on basic information, contact details and map/location. Then, after a few weeks, think about additions that you want to make – eg, the beauty therapist may wish to add a simple bookings system. I can’t advise strongly enough the need to build your website as an iterative process. Don’t spend thousands of pounds on a website that becomes defunct after a few months when you realise that you need to tweak and modify your business and services.
Avoid showing off your knowledge with pages and pages of information. I’ve made this mistake – it’s tempting to try and demonstrate knowledge and expertise by writing lots of text about what you do and how great your business is etc. Actually, people don’t want to know that – they simply want to know what your business can do for them – it needs to inspire trust (eg, there is a real geographical location, a photo of staff, some accreditation, testimonials and possibly a short resume of experience/qualifications). If people think that they can trust you to solve their problem/need for them, at the right price, then you’ll get clients.
To summarise this advice on websites: save money initially – check out some of the DIY services for websites. They won’t be suitable long term, but in the short term they’ll probably give you the initial online presence that you need.
Photography (save your money): Good photography is expensive – however, there are various sites providing free stock photos. This blog primarily uses unsplash.com for photos. Check the licensing arrangements. DIY photos are usually terrible so, unless you’re really capable with a camera, don’t think you can use your own photos otherwise your website will look amateur.
Social Media (save your money): Social Media is easy to use – no coding or technical expertise is needed. If you don’t know how to use Facebook, or Instagram then learnand read some guides. I’m seeing more and more people make their enquiries for my businesses through social media and with the website bypassed altogether. You will probably meet people offering to do social media for you… ignore them – at least until you know what your marketing strategy is.
What’s your marketing strategy? Well you could spend some money on a marketing consultant to put together a plan for you – I did this when I started Proudhouse and it was really good – the service and business plan was already a strong idea, so when I spoke with a marketing consultant she was able to give me really good, fresh ideas about how to market the business and she attached the ideas to a timeline to follow. That was worth the fee. And the social media was just part of a wider marketing and advertising strategy.
In the early days at least, a modest budget spent on tasteful and simple branding/logo can go a long way. Be careful – a relative of mine once spent £3000+ on a start-up website in the nineties, only for the business to fail a few months later. Concentrate on your great business idea and good service which is supported by branding and website. Great branding and social media alone can’t make a great business.
I enjoy going to France most years – we have a house in the Correze (sadly a little underused but it’s there waiting for us). Every summer when I’m there, I kick myself for not having made time to learn more of the language – I can get by – of course we can eat, drink, travel etc – but it would all be so much easier if I was conversant with the people, the signs, the posters in windows, books, magazines, the websites, the tourist information etc. Luckily, there is the internet and a world of help. But if I ever planned to live in France then I would have to learn the language properly.
Knowing how to use a computer for business, is very similar to knowing a language for the country you live in. One’s success and experience is greatly enhanced and often fully dependent on knowing how to progress communication. Many people think they know how to use a computer – but they don’t really. Trust me when I say – learn to use a computer – you don’t want to be spending your money on a web designer or IT Geek to help you setup your email account or purchase a web domain name, or put together a basic web-page for you, or all manner of other basic tasks for which there are a million videos to assist you on YouTube!
When I interview prospective employees, I put them through a basic computer test as part of their interview process. I’m fully aware that this can put people under pressure so I think I’m very fair: I don’t give them much of a time limit, I don’t look over their shoulder and if they freeze up then I simply talk to them and ask what their logic is for achieving a particular task. None of the tasks I set relate to using apps (see examples below in the ‘easy’ column). It’s all about understanding fundamentals. It’s very revealing – often, sadly, it’s the older generations who confidently state they are computer “literate”, only to stumble on the most basic of testing. They are often surprised when their lack of understanding is revealed – I feel this is a tell-tale sign that they’re not even really aware of the scope of what computers can be used for and the breadth of experience required. Well, fair enough – these are people who are applying to be employees and not business owners. But I see the same thing through my wife’s graphic and web design business – she works with many people, often older women who want to take the plunge and build a small business – and so often, my wife becomes embroiled in her clients IT issues that arise through their ignorance and ineptitude.
I don’t wish to sound unkind – everyone can’t be experts in everything – but it goes back to that language analogy; you wouldn’t start a business in a country where you didn’t know the language that your clients speak! It’s the same with computers – they are the underlying foundation of communication in the business world.
I’m not a coder or IT Consultant etc. I am a ‘power user’
power userLearn to pronouncenounCOMPUTINGnoun: power user; plural noun: power users; noun: poweruser; plural noun: powerusers
a user of a computer system or program whose skills and expertise are more advanced than most other users, especially a person in an organization who is assigned additional administrative rights and responsibilities for that system or program.
I’ve created a sample of some computer tasks which I would advise any business owner to be able to do for themselves – they may take some time to learn, but all of these can be learned from the forums, sites and videos available on the internet.
Setup your PC and peripherals, turn on your device, use apps/Office, change print settings, setup email signature, use email, save/use templates, change print cartridges, connect to a wifi router
Setup a directory and file structure, print to PDF, understand file types, know what a PDF is and why it is used, understand file sizes, setup a new printer, have a basic understanding of IP addresses, change wifi settings (eg password) on your router, edit an image/photo on an image app, setup your calendar on your phone/tablet, setup a Zoom (or equivalent) meeting, create a basic office/home network.
Start learning soon
Register a domain (website) name, purchase website hosting, understand G-Suite or MS Teams services and what they do for you, setup your accounting software including your branded invoices, and stock/inventory/service items, setup Pop3/IMAP email, setup a static IP address for hardware devices, point your DNS servers to your website domain, setup wordpress on your domain(or learn another website building service).
Know this in time
Build your own apps, spreadsheets or databases for specific tasks in your business, edit your website to refresh content, automate some recurring processes eg, recurring invoices in your accounting software,
Summary – learn to use a computer – the more you know, the less you fear! And the quicker things will progress. I’ll add to the above lists as I think of things – I’ll also try and create links from the items to helpful sites on the internet.
Friday 9th January 1998: it’s a dark, wet, rainy night in The South Hams, Devon. I’m in the first week of my year long Officer Training at BRNC Dartmouth. Along with my Division of new recruits, I’m standing in a dark field and about to commence a map-reading night navigation exercise wearing my newly issued DPM combats, beret and boots. To be honest, the exercise was pretty easy and not that different to the stuff youngsters might do in the Scouts or Cadets. It was only a ‘starter-for ten’. However, it was my first training exercise in military leadership as a paid, professional trainee Officer. The thing I remember most was my Divisional Officer, a Royal Marine Major, stating that “leadership is not about handing out sweets when it’s your turn to lead the map reading exercise!”… (I made a mental note to keep the sweets I had to myself!) I don’t remember what he did define leadership as.
And that was the start of a constant stream of leadership training that ended in 2014 when I left the RN. Every training course throughout flying training had a ‘character and leadership’ assessment that ran alongside all the flying assessments. Every annual report ever, assessed my leadership ability and therefore my suitability for leadership roles and promotion. At suitable points throughout an officer’s career, he or she will likely attend a major leadership, command and staff course at The Royal Military Academy, Shrivenham which will be several weeks long or even a year for the senior officers.
And it’s not just the officers – all the non-commissioned officers and junior ratings also receive leadership training throughout their training and career.
So, with all this training, you’d expect all Officers in the Royal Navy to be excellent leaders. In fact, with the resources, technology and access to information that we have, you might expect the military to be a centre of excellence for leadership, development, innovation and progression.
That would be a fair assessment to make I suppose. In which case, why were all of the senior officers that I worked for so convincingly unremarkable? Squadron Commanding Officers, Ships’ Captains, The Base Commanders and Heads of the Fleet Air Arm? I cannot think of a single noteworthy example of leadership from any of these Military Officers. For that matter, I can’t really think of any household names of military leaders since, um, about 1996 perhaps.
Now, people reading this with their own experiences might immediately accuse me of writing total nonsense and counter with many examples of military leadership in combat scenarios etc. These are very real and of course commendable and have my utmost respect – but where are the modern-day Admiral Nelsons, Captain Scotts, Wing Cdr Gibsons, Field Marshall Montgomerys, General De Labillieres and General Jacksons? Where are the new leaders that should be filling the history books? Where is the inspiration for school boys and girls with tales of strategy, adventure and discovery?
I’m not saying today’s Senior officers are bad leaders – just simply that there is no need to really lead anyone… they are custodians of their role. By this, I mean their role, duties and responsibilities are pre-defined and the officer is appointed into the role – they fulfill the role and then move on to their next post after a couple of years thus making way for the next incumbent. Furthermore, they are also not given the scope to be genuinely innovative and creative, and nor do they foster these attributes in the men and women for whom they are in charge of. And in many respects, they’re not incentivised to! They merely need to fulfill the role within their posting in order to tick the box for the CV – which is usually is enough for an often preordained promotion to the next rank…
And here’s the thing: stable, unchanging conditions do not require leadership! And, in the context of war and death, this is a good thing. Stability is good.
Leadership is needed when things change, for example:
The location is changing – eg an expedition
The geo-political situation is changing (or change is the threat) eg resulting in dispute, conflict and war
Ambition is driving a change – eg, technology needs to change and advance in order to meet new needs and desires
The commercial market is changing
Death Rates are changing (increasing) due to disease/pandemic
What is leadership and its attributes? Ultimately, a leader needs an understanding of ‘the change’ – then the leader needs to do the following:
Create a vision of the final/desired outcome
Create a solution(s)/plan (using all effective available resources).
Create/select methods to convey to your team (and delegate as required) the necessary logistics, actions and incentives to reach that vision.
Note my use of the word “create” – creativity, lateral thinking and pragmatism are key to a leadership team. An effective organisation needs space and utilities for creative thinking – merely hoping to use pre-determined SOPs or previously used routines are unlikely to create bespoke, innovative solutions to progress (or retard) change. Leadership without creativity is really just ‘management’.
This is where leadership in the business and commercial world is so exciting. In the 20th century the Government (and Government funded organisations) pioneered new technology and innovation through military equipment, the cold war and the space race all supported by healthy public funds. But governments are no longer the custodians and vanguards of new technology.
Ultimately, we are all trying to solve problems with solutions. The problems are the root cause of the change. If there is no problem, then there is no need for a solution – and if there is no need for a solution, then there is no need for a change which means there is no need for leadership. Any entrepreneur is usually looking for a problem to resolve:
How can a task be done quicker?
How can a task be done cheaper?
How can a task be done more reliably?
How can a client have a better experience?
How do we reduce greenhouse gases?
How do we create enough food?
How can we reduce transport requirements?
How can we streamline our supply chain?
Where will humans live when planet earth becomes uninhabitable?
There are, very definitely, many more problems to solve in the commercial and civilian world than in the military world. And many large organisations are spending huge sums of money on technology, innovation and creative output. The opportunities are endless and, for many organisations, there seems to be an endless supply of money. Small businesses can be in the party as well: software, apps, automation, 3D printing, collaborative systems, virtual-reality and simulation are all bringing really cool solutions right into the workplace. We’re living in exciting times. Our modern day leaders and household names are global: Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, James Dyson, the late Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos.
In business, you need to lead – you need to lead your staff when your business develops, grows and changes. You need to lead your clients when they are in the process of using your services – they are seeking your services, probably because something is changing in their life: a house move or a job change or a change in financial circumstances or children are growing up or their physical or mental health is changing, or a desire to change (eg, get fit, lose weight, learn and instrument) etc. This is when the business owner, or employee needs to lead.
In your business do you have a system for logging and developing new ideas?
If you’re a business owner, are you keeping up with technology in your industry?
Does your business embrace change and new developments to overcome problems?
As a business owner, do you revise and envisage where you want your business to be in 1, 2, 5, 10 years time?
Do you have a team, business partner or even just a trusted adviser with whom you can create ideas and lay down the path that your business needs to follow?
Remember, leadership is not about handing out ‘sweets’. You might give your staff benefits, a generous salary and bonuses and they might all really like you. Its doesn’t make you a great leader. But that’s not to say staff rewards, incentives and treats are not allowed. But’s another article.
Imagine taking time off from your business to go on holiday and during that time, you and your business keep earning and receiving fees from subscriptions, commissions and repeat orders?
Or what if you only need 2 or 3 clients a month paying high value fees for your specialist/niche service?
Or perhaps you have a systemised manufacturing process that, when operating, requires little further input other than basic monitoring from a small number of staff?
Business trading, in its simplest form, is the exchange of an item or service for money. If you’re a heating engineer, then you might sell a boiler service for, say, £90 – that’s great but you need to keep doing boiler servicing, maintenance, call-outs and installations to earn money. If you don’t go out to work, then you don’t get paid.
What if the boiler engineer sells a warranty service after he/she’s provided a service? Let’s say £15/month in exchange for a free call out and 1st hour of labour? This might be quite a nice idea for some clients. Now the engineer is earning money when he/she is not working.
Ok – I admit this is a simple example, and the sums need to add up to be viable. But you get my point.
The holy grail for many entreprenurs is subscription payments or/and advertising revenue derived from online content. So perhaps the heating engineer can create online content with self-help videos for common problems – if the client can’t resolve their problem via a self-help video then they complete an internet support for diagnosis, pay a fixed fee for repair/call out and the heating engineer then sub-contracts the ‘easy fixes’ to a mutual competitor whilst making a profit from the fee. If the repair looks difficult then perhaps he tackles it her/himself. Individual losses may be encountered but when all losses and gains are aggregated together, an overall profit is made.
Ok – that’s enough of the heating engineer analagy. I’ll finish with a few final thoughts: what’s better – a million items sold for a £1? Or 1 item sold £1million? The profit might be the same, but what was involved in terms of workload, logisitics and effort? And which has the best future and liklihood of repeat/return customers?
It’s a deliberately open question without parameters – have a think about this idea for your business idea – will you be able to build scale into your business as you grow and develop? Will you be able to create monetised aspects of your business that take advantage of different fee systems. An entrepreneur with a “constrained business” might reach max headroom before they reach the scale required to make their business viable… not good when that realisation comes after 2 or 3 years of effort.
What does this have to do with ‘spend or save’?
Spend money on the systems or processes that help achieve scale and monetisation, but you need to calculate the cost versus benefits. Perhaps spending is needed for a production/manufacturing method or it might be an app/software to undertake computer tasks that would be otherwise time-consuming. And when you employ staff, are you doing it simply to reduce your/staff workload? How do you know that the workload is not the result of inefficiency that could be resolved with a technological/software solution? Perhaps, frankly, your lack of skills with a computer is creating inefficiency and unnecessary costs?
Next article ‘Time Rich – learn to use a computer’.