Friday, 4 November 2011

Through The Eyes Of Children

Research out this week states that almost half of Britons think young people are angry, violent and abusive, with one in four thinking troubled children are beyond help by the age of 10. Anne Marie Carrie, the Chief Executive of children's charity Branardo's, who commissioned the study, said it was "depressing that so many people were ready to give up on children" and that "it is a sad truth that those children who come across as angry and abusive have sadly often been scarred by their upbringing".   

Working with people as I do, I’ve come across a number of adults who are angry, at the very least verbally aggressive and often abusive at work.  They are usually the ones who are exceptional in certain spheres (this is a main theme of films such as “The Devil Wears Prada”, ”Swimming with Sharks”, “Wall Street” and “Working Girl”) and senior leaders and shareholders often turn a blind eye to the antisocial behavior whilst the business is able to benefit from the strengths and/or income generation.  On getting to know these “difficult” individuals, I have usually discovered that issues in their past have impacted on their behavior and interactions with others today.

  •  A boss picking on his/her secretary may be off-loading his or her own stress in the same manner that he/she has seen their parents do to each other when they were a child.
  •  A very bright individual may, on finding colleagues slow to comprehend a proposal, replicate the frustration they felt at school when other pupils were slow to grasp concepts and hence held the class back, by becoming sarcastic or verbally venting their annoyance.
  •  Increasing pressure to produce results in a worsening economic environment can make managers resort to bullying tactics to force results out of their teams, because they fear for their own job security if targets are not met and they remember their father or mother losing their job in the 1970’s or 1980’s.

Frequently there are specific scenarios that trigger antisocial responses.  Almost without exception, these people are intelligent individuals who would condemn the behavior if described to them or demonstrated by others.  Our own self-awareness often overlooks our short-comings when under pressure.  However, I have found that, provided that the person is made aware of the need for change and wants to interact better with others, it is possible for them to learn what ignites their less-than-desirable responses and to amend their approach and manner. Careful and sensitive coaching can often resolve matters to the benefit of all.  In these times of leaner teams and having to do more with less, it is important to ensure that employees are engaged – shouting at them seldom achieves this.  After the frequent rounds of redundancies that many organizations have been through, it is usually valuable employees who have been retained.  There are still great opportunities for talented individuals so they can leave – don’t forget that research shows that most people choose to leave their jobs because of their manager or the behavior of other individuals, not because of their role. A Chartered Management Institute report found that 47% of respondents left their job because they felt that they were badly managed and 49% of employees claimed that they would be prepared to have their pay cut if it meant working with a better manager.

Pay is a contentious issue at the moment.  The Income Data Services (IDS) claim, that pay packages for the top executives of FTSE 100 companies have risen 49% in the last year, has made a lot of heads shake in disbelief.  People are camping outside St Paul’s in the City of London to protest, amongst other things, at the inequality of remuneration and particularly against the excess that is perceived to exist within the Square Mile.  However, it is worth getting the situation in perspective, I have worked in Financial Services – the majority of employees, even in the big investment banks, are not on astronomical, multi-million salaries and, judging by business performance to date, only a few people will be given bonuses this year.  The media fans the flames of discontent and people often get the wrong end of the stick.  I know of retail bank clerks and cashiers who have been jeered at by members of the public because of their assumed salaries and bonuses – many of these people earn circa £1,000 per month before tax.  With rising inflation they are finding life as tough as the rest of us.  In my opinion, it is good that increasingly pay is being linked to performance (be that individual or for senior leaders based on overall business performance) – we need successful companies to resolve some of the current economic problems and recognizing and rewarding performance is the right thing to do (although, as mentioned above, it is often personal recognition and acknowledgement by a manager that means more to an employee than a small sum of money).  Performance related pay, that encourages appropriate behavior and business growth, should be a key to enabling economic recovery and I for one support it.  Times are tough, in response to the IDS report, the Institute of Directors has pointed out that the majority of “business decision making individuals in the UK have not experienced major salary inflation” (the average increase is 2%).  We have to be responsible and lead by example.

Another worrying report that came out today, produced by the Work Foundation for the Private Equity Foundation, echoes the Barnardo’s findings.  Neil Lee, the author, states that there are shockingly high numbers of young people across the UK (in some areas almost 25%) who are not in education, employment or training (they are known as known as Neets).  In Grimsby, Doncaster, Warrington and Wigan, nearly a quarter of 16- to 24-year-olds are Neet.  In a further nine cities in England and Wales, drop-out rates for youngsters are about one in five (this is true for parts of London).  I believe that high Neet levels are one of the UK's most serious social problems.  The children and young people of today are the foundation for the future.
"For a young person, being out of education, employment or training can have major ramifications, including long-term reductions in wages and increased chances of unemployment later in life, as well as social or psychological problems arising as a result of sustained unemployment."

I had the privilege of speaking to pupils in a school on Tuesday about Leadership in Business.  Clearly the 11 and 12 year olds I was with are not Neets, but what they had to say was interesting (I will produce another blog on the contrasts and similarities between Business, Spiritual and Military leadership). At the start of the session I asked the pupils to think of someone they know who is successful in business (many of them proposed Alan Sugar, Richard Branson or Steve Jobs) and then to suggest a word that describes what enables that person to be successful.  It was noticeable that all the words proposed were attitudinal characteristics, not skills, knowledge or experience.  In their opinion leaders need to be inspirational, passionate and proactive.  However, the second word to be shouted out was “cunning” – I was surprised, as to me the word has slightly anti-social connotations full of artful subtlety and deceptive behaviour, and hence I encouraged a discussion of the various attributes.  From their own observations (primarily seen through the media’s lens) the children had determined that many leaders were dependant on their ability to outwit and trick others in order to succeed.  If we teach our children that deception and trickery are the roads to success, and that that is how they will achieve rewards and recognition as an adult, I fear for the future.  

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