Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Article: Kings, Queens, Jacks & Aces

The dynamics of any group of people is reliant on mutual consent and co-operation for any degree of success; business is no exception.  I have often thought of those at the very top as being like parents with their weight of responsibility and depth of knowledge being essential in order to see clearly and keep the organisation safe from danger in order to lead effectively. Another way of viewing them is as Kings or Queens of their realm even if at times they seek guidance from a board of trustees or other business leaders, consultants or advisers.

While they may be the obvious stars of any enterprise their success of failure is in part down to how well they lead their staff, most of whom will be (to continue the analogy) Jacks or Aces. Some of course will be monarchs in the making.

So which are you and which do you need? If you are running a business you will automatically be a King or Queen. You have to be in order to run it. Someone has to be at the top of the tree to make those decisions and have the initial idea to start the business. As with all monarchies though, they come as a mixed bag of nice and nasty and with pros and cons. Some are peaceable, interested in and supportive of their people, while others are nothing short of tyrannical dictators; others still lie somewhere in between or are largely indifferent or not aware of the potential to capitalise on from supporting their workers.

When it comes to business, I always advocate it is best to be as inclusive as possible with ideas and planning as that way you encourage ensemble working and that encourages interest, commitment and higher levels of productivity.  Hierarchy is essential to structure as it only takes one person not adopting a helpful attitude to ruin morale and a happy working environment for the many and you need a certain degree of authority to manage such situations as well as deciding on the course and direction of the business. I believe the ideal is for hierarchy to be ever present but to never have reason to be felt. It is essential that there are set procedures to follow for miscreants as without it one can soon find unsavoury behaviour spreading like a plague. ‘So and so got away with it, so I’ll do the same.’ However, it is wise to find out the cause of the behaviour as if you having made the investment of training that member of staff it would be a pity to rashly dismiss them if the situation is redeemable.

If the Kings and Queens are the CEOs, directors and partners of any enterprise though, what and who are the Jacks and Aces?  The Aces are the experts, those people with particular skills in a particular field. They are specialists. As a wise person once told me, be wary of those who claim to be experts in more than three fields, most likely they are not. This is because to be that good at any discipline requires a lot of knowledge and skill accumulated over a long period of time that is dedicated to acquiring them. (Another adjective for some Aces might be obsessives! Be careful they stay healthy but not driving them too hard). In short, it is unlikely that any expert has the time to be dedicated to more than three disciplines. Nor are they likely to be particularly versatile or adaptable outside their own field. They may struggle to understand the key elements to do so. It is never wise to try and fit square pegs in round holes, it all too soon becomes a frustrated waste of effort for all concerned.

Just as in many a card game, Aces can be high or low. They might have more knowledge than directors do and act as consultants , board members or advisers. Alternatively they may be in the form of staff who offer skills to help run the enterprise, e.g. cleaning, marketing or accountancy. Horses for courses. Directors of businesses may be Aces themselves or not. Of those who are not, well I tend to think of them as Jacks too.

In my mind there are two types of Jacks; Jacks of all trades and Knaves.  In a small enterprise it is probably best to staff it with as many Jacks of all trades as possible and only hire in Aces (experts) as and when required until such time when the enterprise has developed sufficiently to justify employing Aces on a regular or permanent basis. The marvel of Jacks is that they are versatile, adaptable and will willingly turn their hand to just about anything. Obviously no one can turn their hand to everything, but Jacks are the sort of people who are able to lend a hand to help avert many a crisis. Their particular forte is for seeing the overall, and not necessarily looking at the detail. That said, many develop and attain quite high levels of proficiency and knowledge in all manner of areas as they travel through life. Jacks are masters of transferable skills.

Knaves are quite simply rogues. They are false Jacks. Watch out for them. They are the sort who look for short-cuts, the sort that often have the gift of the gab, talk the talk but can’t walk the walk. And yes, they can be underhanded, cheats and fraudsters.  How do you spot a Knave? Try quizzing them to scrutinise their knowledge. An honest person should have no trouble confessing to their limitations, a Knave seldom does. I won’t lie, some are difficult to spot but the good news is that genuine Jacks are not as their actions, behaviours, attitudes and ethics speak for themselves if they are permitted to do so.

Getting the mix right
The deployment and use of these personality types is what determines the success or failure of a business. You might think that a humble cleaner or factory worker is none of these, but you'd be wrong they can be versatile given the opportunity or be expects in their field. Remember too that not everyone wants to climb the career ladder, some (like myself) just enjoy acquiring skills to become ever more versatile while others prefer a solid wage packet but a simple life. I often think the latter are the wisest of all of us when it comes to a work/life balance.

I find it curious that there seems to be an assumption and attitude that if a person shows great ability then they are automatically a threat to those above them. Just because they are adept it does not necessarily follow that they want to run the company and if they are that talented and ambitious the likelihood is that would prefer to run their own anyway. 

As a former manager myself who has engaged and trained staff I am personally thrilled by how many of them have gone on to achieve great things; it is the teacher in me which has always valued potential for the good of the whole. Aside from cleaners becoming duty managers there have been novice and casual technicians that have now gone on to becoming extremely talented lighting designers and experts (Aces) in that field. Some of them wipe the floor with my achievements when I was training them now. My attitude has always been that if a person is that talented, then catch hold of their coat-tails and learn all you can from them as they won't be around for long. That way there's a better chance of them reciprocating because you have empowered and supported them on their developmental journey. 

No one knows everything
No one has the monopoly on solutions and staff can often teach managers new tricks to resolve problems. Just as managers can misunderstand the interest of their staff, so the staff can end up misunderstanding those above them. 
They key is to get the mix right and for all to understand that everyone is vital to the operation as a whole. For example, thank goodness for cleaners, otherwise we'd be knee deep in rubbish and not be able to function at all.

However, while I advocate regular communication and plenty of dialogue, there has to be a cut of point otherwise it can all too easily end up as all chat and not much done. Lovely to have the time to philosophise, but the reality is there as to be an allocated time, place, tools, systems and vehicles for such things. Managers should not share all with staff, only what will help them do their jobs more easily, more efficiently and more effectively. Likewise staff should not waste a manager's time on too much trivia or with things that they could resolve quite easily for themselves so long as they get clearance to do so. (Communication is pencilled in for another subject to touch on in my blogs at some point in the future).

Monarchs maybe the figureheads and may or may not be the visible face of the enterprise, but there are a myriad of co-stars and even one or two superstars under their command. Thank goodness we are all slightly different in our interests and personal goals or where would we be? We can hardly function if everyone was only ever interested in plumbing... how would we get fed if no-one at all enjoyed farming? What accommodation would we live in? Who would make clothes etc etc

Final thought
It can be extremely tough and sometimes very lonely at the top even though there are all manner of business groups especially for directors and CEOs. Why do they do it? Quite simply because they have the talent to do so and wish to use it. I happen to admire many who reach those heights for, (among many other things) their outward calm, reliability, consistent dedication, wisdom, patience, consideration, compassion and... not least the stunning way with which they can cut to the chase assertively with a logical statement concisely and respectfully presented. Now that is a mix of skills few master. 

As I stated in my last blog and is indicated by my website, I enjoy and prefer staying somewhere in the middle where I can put my skills of facilitation and communication to their best use. I think I also have a chance of a work/life balance despite my tendency toward being a workaholic, but I'm working on that.  

I leave you with some wise words from a former line manager of mine from a few years ago. Her words certainly prompted this article. These words came at a time when I was frustrated with staff for not appreciating or knowing all that I had on my plate - why would they? It is not wise to share all or indeed always helpful as it could result in staff getting too worried about you or the future of the be business quite unnecessarily! 

"The higher you rise in management, the lonelier it can get. You progressively have to make more and more decisions on your own. You have fewer and fewer people to ask or guide you and you will be increasingly criticised for everything you do. You have to take it all on the chin and somehow remain caring and patient. Good or bad, win or lose you have to be able to handle whatever your actions result in." 

I will only add I was not expecting that in response but I am eternally grateful that I heard it and perhaps the same can be true of front-line staff at times if unsupported. 


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