Catching balls and catching leaders

How is it we can run and catch a ball without making complex mathematical calculations?

Well, inbuilt for most of us is a process called the gaze heuristic.

The gaze heuristic is a heuristic employed by people when trying to catch a ball. Experimental studies have shown that people do not act as though they were solving a system of differential equations that describe the forces acting on the ball while it is in the air and then run to the place at which the ball is predicted to hit the ground. Instead they fixate the ball with their eyes and move so as to keep the angle of the gaze either constant or within a certain range. Moving in such a fashion assures that the ball will hit the catcher.[1][2]

How is this relevant?

Several times people have mentioned or alluded to the basic premise leaders are born not bred. Certainly for much of my management career I have believed this.

Now I don’t.

Well not absolutely.

I think as a guide it stands, but I think it ignores two critical aspects:

Firstly even born leaders need to keep being bred – to learn new skills, to revisit things they knew before, and to keep learning what they didn’t know they needed to learn.

Secondly there are always leaders lurking who wouldn’t be classically picked as future leaders, and circumstance can mean they pull themselves through or someone or something else does.

I’ve harped on long enough in various guises about the first aspect. The second aspect though needs to be noted.

Leaders looking for, and at, leaders can’t afford to ignore those ‘not born as leaders’. They may go about things quietly or  lead with dogged determination – not the sort that barks everyone day and trumpets their glory (they are pretenders) – I mean the ones who have a belief in themselves and a self knowledge that they have plenty to learn if they wish to lead effectively. There are endless variations.

I typically observe these unheralded leaders as being either fearless or, at times, verging on what appears to be reckless ignorance. They are full of surprises.

My aim with this post is to speak out for those leaders ‘not born as leaders’, and to draw out some of your thoughts and experiences on this topic.

These ‘not born leaders’ support one of my belief’s that you can grown anybody into a pretty damn good leader.

And because ‘we’ don’t, perhaps that is why the old wives tale of born not bred has perpetuated.


  1. ^ “ScienceDirect – Psychology of Sport and Exercise : Fast and frugal heuristics in sports”.
  2. ^ “Gut Feelings” (The Intelligence of the Unconscious) By Gerd Gigerenzer. Viking, 2007.

Putting the big stick away

As I set out to write this post I know it is going to be hard and take a number of versions to get it right.

I have to find a way to get people who don’t usually listen to listen. Otherwise I’m wasting my time providing affirmations for those who already know. To make it worse ‘those who already know’ are the vast majority of my readership.

So that is the down side. The upside- just hitting home with one ‘stick wielder’ will be great progress.

I’ve been lucky to have some great bosses in my time and have seen some great leadership. I have also witnessed bullying, yelling , moody, childlike CEO’s who create only fear and fool themselves that they are liked and doing well.

The results indicate otherwise – high staff turnover( until they find enough terrified and insecure people to work for them), poor company culture, frequent under-delivery, average or below average performance in the companies they manage, limited responsibility, and no obvious successors on the horizon. Worse these CEO’s are stuck in the role because word is out and no-one with proper due diligence would employ them.

    • The message – the Big Stick doesn’t work.
    • You cannot lead by fear
    • You destroy your employees
    • You create a dead end for yourself (there is nowhere else to go)
    • You’re killing the company you have been entrusted with

Ask yourself – where does that fear come from? The answer is, it comes from your own insecurity. Deal with that not your employees.

You’re not a leader, you’re a relic.

Leadership is a privilege. I always approach the role mindful of the fact that others could do it. I always reflect that not just my employers but my employees trust me to do it very well.

Leaders are there to create leaders; people who see the right way for things to be done and begin to develop their own sense of vision, optimism and passion

Leaders have a focus centred on the growth of whatever they touch (not the destruction of others to fuel their own ego)

Be proud of yourself, the lives of others you are influencing and the work you are engaged in.

Grow it all with dexterity and subtlety.

There is no need for fear, or to be feared.

Simply earn respect and be human, everything else will follow.


And your prize is...
Many readers will be familiar with the theories of Maslow and Herzberg, the insights of Carnegie and the work of the likes of Goleman, Senge, and plenty of others.

I love all of it, even the stuff I don’t agree with is a learning experience.

I was reading a blog post the other day about Herzbergs Two Factor Theory which got me thinking of the other side of this coin.

There is plenty of literature on how to motivate, how to communicate, how to ‘read’ etc. but maybe the simplest thing of all is being overlooked?

    How often do we ask?

Or alternatively

    How often do we tell?

We know people can have a personal focus on anything:

    • Their cat/s
    • Their dog/s
    • Their exotic plant collection
    • Their child/ren
    • Their rally car/s
    • Their quality of work
    • Their quantity of work

But seldom do people readily express, nor does a manger ask, what ‘reward’ is, or means, for them.

I have a good friend who always said to me – “If you ask people it is amazing what they will tell you” (and it doesn’t matter what you ask). This is very true.

Certainly factors such as trust and authenticity enter into the equation and there is a fine line between prying and taking an interest, but I know as a motivational tool ‘asking’ works.

So there are two messages in this simple post about identifying what is ‘rewarding’ :

For others:

    Ask. Be authentic. Listen

For yourself:

    Tell. Be sincere. Communicate.

It’s probably the shortest route to reward for them and for you.

Thinking back over my own career – I did the first one well, while the second one would have saved a lot of grief for me and my employer.

Try it. You just might like it, and so might your employees.

Laughable or not?

Time means nothing
I think a sense of humour is a great quality for a leader to possess.

Moreso if they can share this humour throughout the organisation in an appropriate way then humour becomes a culture setting strength

However there are also ways to get this horribly wrong – and it is no laughing matter.

I think the landscape around this area has changed significantly in the last 20 years.

Bawdy and poor taste jokes thankfully have diminished significantly in most organisations.

At the same time I wonder – has the ability for the organisation to have a happy and healthy sense of humour, to be able to laugh at and with itself, gone as well?

Perhaps the nexus of the internet’s killing of the personally delivered ‘joke’ and the shift in standards of behaviour to much more appropriate norms has taken with it the art of great humour?

Further I wonder if there will be a backlash, and of what nature and to what extent?

I often think my posts are too serious- I have this little guy running round in the back of my head saying – “Lighten up, lighten up!”. It illustrates well the challenge of leading with serious intent while demonstrating a sense of humour.

Why is humour important?:

    It lifts our spirits
    Executed well there is more than an ounce of truth an insight in many good jokes
    Humour can be used to deliver important messages very softly
    Executed well it appropriately reduces stress and negative emotion around errors/mistakes/omissions.
    Surely a client seeing a happy smiling workforce is better than them seeing a humourless and dour one?

Here are some do’s and don’ts

    • Don’t mock
    • Beware – wit is either the lowest or highest form of humour, it depends on how and when it is used.
    • Sarcasm is just not funny in any way
    • Laugh with others but only if appropriate
    • Laugh at yourself (or never at all)
    • Laugh with people not at them
    • Set the standard for good and positive humour by what you say and what you listen too
    • Sexist, racist, bawdy jokes are seldom if ever funny, steer well clear.

How much humour in your work? In your workplace? At home?

My favourite punch line:

“To a pig, time means nothing.”

When we meet I’ll happily tell you what precedes it.

Jargon and Inclusion

Anthropomorphic provable truth.

Anybody know what this means?

Good, I’m very pleased there is only a small group of you out there.

I came across this term on an open forum based on healthy lifestyles. It was thrown in like: “nice weather today and the anthropomorphic provable truth is that unless it changes it will stay that way.”

I’ll give you the meaning later.

It raised in me an ire which is aroused whenever jargon is used to exclude others or flex subject specific knowledge/muscle.

In effect it is the epitome of poor communication (unless talking to those who you know absolutely understand the meaning of terms like these – and then I would ask – are you sure they do?).

I was recently in a social group of 5 men, 3 of them were trying to subtly one-up each other. Within 10 minutes I heard the use of at least 25 industry specific terms of no relevance to the other 2 of us, though absolutely meant for our ears as well. [pullquote]I never had a chance to feel excluded, I was ‘embraced’ by his humility and care.[/pullquote]

I can’t remember any of the actual discussion.

Inclusion is about meeting, caring, considering, sharing and giving up your own self importance.

The best example of inclusion I ever had was when I was late arriving to a large meeting of people and Sir Paul Reeves, who didn’t know me from a bar of soap, excused himself from the group he was holding court to and stepped out to introduce himself to me!

I was the minnow, he the master.

Yet he tipped the usual model on its head.

I felt included because of his selflessness. I never had a chance to feel excluded, I was ‘embraced’ by his humility and care.

Because of that experience I now practice two things in meeting people.

    1. If I am the ‘senior’, or a ‘senior’, in a room it is my responsibility to lead introductions and too embrace those present, particularly the new.
    2. If I am in a discussion with people I hardly know, all jargon is parked, and the conversation is kept pure and simple.

As a result I feel more secure in myself and I know ‘they’ do as well.

…And that is the Anthropomorphic provable truth.

Which is: “A Truth that we as humans have come to and can prove by our own means; i.e. scientific conclusions”

Actually I’m not sure now that it is an APT.

Where you belong.

I belong!
The hidden gremlin – why the wrong upbringing can unwind the right talent.

I reject the notion that we all have “our station in life”. At its worst this is hugely demeaning and limiting.

It did make me think though of the environment we were bought up in, and the impact this has on the way we see ourselves in life. And what I discovered was an aspect no-one in 5 decades has pointed out to me.

As you grow you may ‘improve’ your environment through diligence and effort; but you also need to believe you belong in that new environment before you can realise your dream/ your potential.

As a child it was an exciting day when Ray Sadd the plumber would come around and smoke his roll-your-owns on our back porch.

This was my model of ‘company’, of belonging.

No Lawyers, Doctors, Politicians, Scientists, Heads of Industry, Entrepreneurs or high achievers.

It was entirely incongruous with my other aspirations.

My proposition then, is that life is determined by where we expect to be and also, and critically, by where we expect to belong.

To make progress I had to reframe where I belong much more than understand what I needed to do to get there.

One part of this journey was obvious (Academic you might say), the other incredibly subtle.

That is, if as a child you dream of being a world class football player, you need to dream not only of having the skills and the mental ability but also of being comfortable in the company of the stars you currently idolise.

I know the two characters recently gracing international TV screens and Newspapers dressed as Kiwi’s at the football world cup. They are tremendously at ease mixing with media ‘stars’ and footballers alike. They were brought up in a highly supportive environment where anything was possible, where in effect they were ‘taught’ to feel as though they belonged wherever they went and in whoever’s company they made. They have gone far and will go further.

I am sure we have many talented people falling off the radar because although they may have developed the ‘skills’, training and even career path of a leader, there may be a little voice saying “I don’t belong”.

How many times have you been told by an employer ‘you belong here’? Here being at this level, in upper management, onward and upward. Not many of you I expect.

Maybe, just maybe, this is a missing piece in the career and talent development framework.

We not only need to grow skills and experiences but we need to ensure the individual understands they truly belong. The sky is the limit.[pullquote]they were ‘taught’ to feel as though they belonged wherever they went and in whoever’s company they made.[/pullquote]

The lucky ones already know this. They believe they belong and develop the requisite skills and experiences to fit alongside this. I would hazard a guess that this is as much an influence on future success as any other factor. Perhaps the ‘fortunate and wise’ relay not the skills for future ‘wealth’, but simply the sentiment of belonging and a rightful place.

Does this resonate with anyone?

Do you have talent in your company which is not being realised because of this simple factor?

What do you think about this proposition?