How to be a Good Leader – Listen – Value Diversity – Avoid Prejudice

Good leadership often involves good listening skills. Listening involves a number of key skills including reserving ones own judgement, not jumping to conclusions and  avoiding prejudging individuals and situations. Good leaders when facing difficult situations are able to put to one side preconceived ideas and find a number of solutions by using the skills and experiences of those around them.

In the late eighties I learned a valuable lesson from a very young man in Zambia. I was travelling in the copperbelt of Zambia with Chris my then Sales Director. We were in Zambia as I had been given the responsibility for sales development in the country and Chris was handing over the reigns. We had just spent a productive day in Chingola  and  were on the way back to Kitwe, our resting place for the evening.

Thirty minutes into the journey we heard a loud bang and the car started to sway from side to side. Our driver managed to bring the car safely to a halt. We climbed out of the car to find the rear passenger side tyre was as flat as a pancake. Our driver quickly moved to reassure us by saying.

No worries Bwana, Have spare tyre. Will change now now.

As the driver opened the boot to get tools and the spare tyre, a number of locals, no older than seven years of age came out of the bush offering to sell us all kinds of things. We politely refused most of the trinkets but very happily bought a couple of Cokes to cool us down in the heat of the African summer.

As we watched the driver slowly raise the car via the jack we heard an almighty crack. The jack broke and the car fell heavily back onto the road. What were we to do now? There we were in the middle of nowhere, with a car on three wheels with no way to change a tyre. At this point the engineer in Chris and I kicked into gear. We were working out the best way to change the tyre as quickly as possible. After all we did not want to be on the road in the dark. Many locals had died in crashes on the roads at night. We only had around thirty minutes of daylight left so needed to act quickly.

We went into the bush and collected some stones that we could use as a support. We then used manpower to lift the car via the wheel arch and put the stones under the vehicle as a substitute for the jack. Sadly the travel in the shock absorber meant that we could not gain sufficient height to remove the wheel. We then had a flash of brilliance – let the air out of the tyre. We confirmed with the driver that he had an air pump. We quickly started to let the air out of the tyre at which point a young barefooted boy wearing only a loincloth came toward us with hand-held out palm side up and said.

Can do Dollar

Chris and I both looked at each other. We wondered how someone in the bush with little or no clothes can do a better job than two engineers with more combined qualifications than a Nobel peace prize winner. We brushed aside the young boy and forged ahead. As we slowly removed the air from the tyre we eventually realised that we still did not have enough clearance to replace the tyre.

Again the boy approached.

Can do, Dollar

Once again we brushed him aside despite having around 200 dollars in my pocket. Chris and I went into a sweaty and flustered huddle. Time was now passing us by. We now had quite a crowd of locals gathered around somewhat bemused by the failed efforts of these two wise and worldly men’s attempts to change a tyre. Chris spotted that one of the observers had a machete. We asked if we could borrow it and went into the bush to cut some bamboo to use as a lever.

Again the young boy came across and hand-held out said,

Can do Bwana, Dollar!

Again we chose to go with our training and instinct. We tried to use the bamboo as a lever but the car shifted and came crashing to the ground with the stones scattering in all directions. We were now in a worse position than when we started. To make things worse we had consumed much time meaning we would now be travelling on the road at night with all the risk that entailed. Not a great result.

At this point Chris and I looked at each other and admitted defeat. Exhausted by the heat and frustration of our failed attempts We beckoned the young boy towards us and handed him one of the dollars that till now had been kept safely in my pocket. We was greeted by a warm and beautiful smile and instant action.

The boy called a number of his friends from the bush. They lifted the vehicle up a few inches and placed stones under the wheel axel. They then began to dig down into the road with their bare hands! One thing we had not thought of was digging down! Why would we? Roads in the UK are made of tarmac – not clay. Three minutes later the wheel was changed and we were on our way.

On our way back we began to reflect on our performance as educated and wise men! What would we do differently in future. After all our actions had put us at risk as we were now travelling on roads where many dangers lurked in the dark of the night. Thankfully we reached Kitwe safely.

On the way back home we agreed we had learnt many a lesson that day in Zambia. Here are a few of them.

  1. We do not always have all the right answers (despite our qualifications and experience). Others with different points of view given the chance can and often do come up with answers that we would never think about.
  2. Listen. If someone says they can do something then let them do it. You might be pleasantly surprised.
  3. Learn not to prejudice a situation or an individual. I am not proud to say that at this time I did brush the boy aside as I felt that someone of that age and background could not offer me anything. How wrong I was!
  4. Judge people by what they say and do. Not by how they look!

Now when I find myself jumping to conclusions or prejuding individuals or situations, I remind myself about my Zambian experience.  This life experience has taught me how to be a better leader of both myself and others.


Motivational Behaviour – Three Types – How to influence them

Being able to recognise what motivates people to action is a great skill for any leader, manager or sales person. Being able to recognise and pull the triggers that motivates an individual to action is the first step in being an effective leader. Being able to “communicate” on the same “wavelength” with the other party increases our chances of building rapport and increases our chances of having a motivated and productive relationship with others.

David McClelland through his work on human motivation, identified three primary motivational needs in Humans. He categorised these needs as follows;

  1. Need to Achieve (n Ach)
  2. Need of Authority/Influence or Power (n Pow)
  3. Need for Affiliation (n Afill)

How to recognise the behaviour types

McClelland stated that most people exhibit a combination of these three needs. However some people have a strong bias to one need and this impacts on their personal behaviour when interacting with others.

n Power

A person who has a high (n Pow) experiences high levels of motivation when they are in a position to exert influence or power over proceedings. A person with high (n Pow) exhibits the following behavioural characteristics.

  1. They like to take control.
  2. They want others to listen
  3. They take an active role in committees and organisational politics.
  4. They are firm and direct and are largely unconcerned  about others feelings.
  5. There is a strong need for their ideas to prevail over others.

n Achieve

A person who has a high (n Ach) seeks achievement wherever they can. Levels of motivation are at their highest when they can see an opportunity to achieve/make progress. A person with high (n Ach) exhibits the following personal characteristics.

  1. They like challenges and enjoy getting things done.
  2. They do not like close supervision.
  3. They like to set goals by which they and team are measured.
  4. They keep to time.
  5. They are interested in facts and figures.
  6. They are not overly friendly and may be perceived as cold and calculating.
  7. Can be sporty and like to measure progress against targets.

n Affiliation

Someone who has a high need for affiliation likes to work in situations where they can be seen to foster a supportive and caring environment bringing out the best in everyone. A person with a high (n Affil) exhibits the following personal characteristics.

  1. They enjoy the company of others – social animal.
  2. Will often talk about family and friends.
  3. They tend not to like silence.
  4. They look to find new ways of meeting and making friends.
  5. They seek approval and welcome feedback.
  6. Time is of lesser importance than the well-being of the team.
  7. They like to be held in high regard by others.
  8. Talks team and not I

Whether we are working in a leadership or sales capacity it is inevitable we will meet people whose  primary needs for motivation will differ. Clearly it makes sense for us to tap into the motivational needs of the other person if we are to improve our chances of having a successful and productive relationship. Here are some tips on how to flex our personal style to build and develop rapport with the three personality types already discussed.

How best to handle interactions with (n Power) types

  1. Find ways to let them believe any ideas was theirs – even if it was not.
  2. Provide them with options – they like to be seen to take decisions.
  3. Ask them for advice – they will love you for this.
  4. Do not put them in a position where they lose face.
  5. Introduce them to other “important players”
  6. Acknowledge their status. (Mr Captain, Mr Chairman, Sir Etc)

How best to handle interactions with (n Achieve) types

  1. Talk facts and figures
  2. Keep to time
  3. Be factual
  4. Provide a challenge
  5. Show how they can be number one.
  6. Focus on the task more than the relationship
  7. Avoid time-wasting and ambiguity
  8. Provide ongoing reports on progress
  9. Focus on results
  10. Do not miss a commitment

How best to handle interactions with (n Affiliation) types

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Focus on the relationship. Smile
  3. Be interested in non work related communication
  4. Remember names and events
  5. Show how your ideas or suggestions improve team work and co-ordination
  6. Talk about team and not I
  7. Introduce to other affiliators

Not sure which type you are?

If you often hear your self say;

Nobody seems to listen around here!

I wonder what Jimmy is doing right now?

No one seems to be giving me the recognition I deserve!

suggests you are probably a (n Pow) type.

If you often hear your self say;

If only others would put in the effort

I am fed up with others missing deadlines

Why don’t they just enjoy work and get on with it!

People round here lack focus

It is likely that you are a (n Ach) type

If you often hear your self say;

We need to get the team working more effectively

There is insufficient communication taking place

Why does no one want to go for a beer after work?

this suggests that your primary motivation is (n Affil) type.

Handling Failure and Rejection

Handling failure and rejection is a fact of life especially if you are in sales, management or a budding entrepreneur. How one reacts to failure or rejection directly affects ones self-esteem and ongoing levels of motivation.

I think that failure and rejection are two different things that are interlinked in the mind of each and everyone. I have worked with numerous individuals over the years and some handle failure and rejection really well and others can hit the self destruct button. Having the correct mindset is essential to overcoming setbacks. The fear of failure and or rejection can be debilitating or liberating!

The first thing to consider is

There is no success without first trying. Failure is part of the journey to success.


Trying means you are bound to experience failure at some point or another. I have yet to meet anyone who claims to be successful all of the time. If you want success then you have to be prepared to encounter failure. Most successful people know this. How many of us learned to ride a bike without crashing once or twice? It hurts but you simply get back on and try again. If at first you don’t succeed try, try and try again!


Rejection on the other hand is when an individual senses emotional pain to the extent that their own personality or capabilities are brought into question by themselves.

  • Why do they not like me?
  • What have I done wrong for them not to accept me?
  • Why am I so inadequate?

Try to remember when you are feeling rejection this may not be a reflection on you. It could be that the other person simply is not on your wavelength.

There is no simple answer on how to handle rejection.

This depends on your own personality and make-up. However having observed successful people at first hand,  they have all experienced rejection at one time and another. However what sets them apart is they find a way to move forward that suits their personality and sense of direction and purpose at that time.They always find a way to bounce back!

Here are a few suggestions I hope you might find useful on handling rejection.

  • Try not to take it personally.
  • Do not give up at the first sign of difficulty.
  • Accept that you are more likely to fail than succeed.
  • Learn to love yourself and others will follow.

Success usually tastes sweeter when you have experienced failure/rejection first.

After all how do you know what success is if you have not experienced failure?

If fear of failure or rejection is holding you back, I would recommend reading the book “Feel the fear and do it anyway” by Susan Jeffers.

Best wishes.

Small is the new big, trust is the new competitive advantage

I came across this interesting article written by Peter Bregman on the Harvard Business publishing website.

It suggests that the concept of being big as a source of competitive advantage is on the wane. As more and more large organisations are laying people off, some of the decision making processes are being questioned by middle management. The climate of trust both inside and outside the organisation are impacting negatively on employees and customers alike.

We simply don’t trust companies anymore. We trust people. And in big companies, it’s hard to even find a person to trust as we scream “operator” into our telephones only to get transferred to another menu whose options have changed.

It makes for interesting reading. It raises the questions about leadership and trust at a time when most people are feeling insecure about their futures. If Bergman is right then small and responsive companies who can build strong relationships with their staff and customers could be in for a period of sustained growth despite the current economic situation.

I believe he has a valid point.

Link to the article