Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Looking after your body, Part 1

Last year I spouted off, saying what I would curriculise (is there such a word? There is now) if I ran a school: how to look after your body, how to manage money, and how to get on with people.

I never said I knew how to do all that stuff! Just that I'd like it to be taught.

One area I'm coming to grips with is how to look after my body, through those much-neglected tools, and .

It all started when Marie went through two very major operations in 2003 and 2004. All of a sudden her energy was gone. Things we take for granted like being able to sit up and lie down became major missions.

She made a very brave recovery, and now has a fairly 'normal' life (whatever that is). But as she lay helpless recovering from surgery, she swore she'd look after herself. And do her best to help me do the same.

I must admit I don't think much about my body, or my state of health, until something doesn't work. Remember that episode of Star Trek where they had a race of brains in a box? I wouldn't mind being like that sometimes. But only sometimes.

So, with Marie's encouragement, we committed to exercise. If you've ever tried it and you have average willpower, you'll know an exercise regime is very hard to maintain. Starting it is very easy - persisting is painful.

Then there's the whole question of what exercises to do? Tomorrow I'll discuss some of the journey we've already progressed in on the exercise route.

The day after that, I'll talk about food. Yum.

And the day after that, I'll talk about why all this is very important in connection with leadership, leading yourself and others.

Great Denis Orme quote

"The best way to grow is by doing whatever is on your mental "I should" list. Indecision is the thief of opportunity. You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction."

Denis Orme

Monday, January 30, 2006

Hamas: Hitler or Mandela?

(Before I start this post, let me reiterate that this blog is about leadership, and is not a political blog. This is a controversial topic, and I don't want to get into a discussion about politics. I'm looking at the leadership qualities of everyone concerned.)

Quite some time ago, I said that now-former leader Mahmoud Abbas had a big job on his hands. That's nothing compared to the job now on the hands of the leadership - they have a virtual civil war on their hands.

Listening to a talkback show on the BBC World Service, I heard a wide range of views, but they came down to two basic positions - in fact, two comparisons.

The first, coming from a pro-Palestinian point of view, trumpeted the victory of democracy, and said that if , the USA and Europe don't like it they can shove it. The people have spoken.

I didn't hear anyone make the comparison, but there is some precedent for a former guerilla leader being a very successful leader of a democratic country: Nelson Mandela.

Once known as a terrorist, Mandela has virtually become a saint in the eyes of many people. Can Hamas do this? Do they have a figurehead who can achieve this?

Or is the second view correct - a view expressed by several Israeli callers into the talkback show, who compared Hamas with the Nazi party. A democratically elected party that says one thing to the world, and another thing to the people living within its borders.

I have my own views on which comparison is more accurate, but that's not the issue for this post. The issue is: what will Hamas leadership do with these comparisons? How will they balance world opinion, their own stated mission and the desires of the people they now have to lead?

It will be very interesting to see how this turns out.

German chancellor to meet Abbas
Wikipedia: Palestinian Election
Terror Hunter: Hamas not giving up violence
Hamas suggests using militants in army
Many Palestinians blame Fatah's loss on ineffectiveness, corruption
So what, Hamas have won the election?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Entrepreneurial Team - Dana Blankenhorn

This is uncanny. About a week or so ago I realised why I hadn't got so far in my business as I could have: I'm not that much of an .

Sure, I enjoy creating something, but the side is actually making money from said creation. You got to be a little ruthless, and I'm, well, not.

So then I get this newsletter, and among other things, it says:

"Sure, you need the entrepreneur, the idea person. You need someone who can find the money, who can sell the scheme, who can adjust to events, who can lead. You need someone of boundless energy, determination, ambition, and (especially) ruthlessness."
Aha. Ruthlessness! Then...
"Steve Jobs is an entrepreneur. Every new product he launches is a separate entrepreneurial enterprise. It's a rare talent, something you can hear in Gershwin, or read in Rushdie. It's not something you learn in school.

I wish I were a Rushdie, or a Mozart, or even a Jobs, but I have learned that I'm a Salieri, fit to study the great but without the spark that makes for true greatness. I will commit to joining a team, I will work my butt off for the cause, but no matter how much I study entrepreneurship, I'll never gain the knack.

But it sure is fun to try."

Like minds think greatly! And he's right, it is fun to try. That's why this newsletter is definitely worth reading at least twice.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Cross-post: Book Review: Down and Dirty Pictures

I've posted a book review on one of my other blogs, My DIY Film/Writing School. It's about the film business, but there are lessons to do with all kinds of leadership.

For example:

"[The book] brings up the question that every aspiring filmmaker needs to ask: how far am I willing to go from my own personal beliefs and standards, into the standards generally held by the society I want to get into.

In other words, am I prepared to become some ruthless son-of-a-bitch in order to compete against other SOBs? Or do I think my beliefs are strong enough to ensure me victory against said SOBs, as long as I don't violate those principles and beliefs.

It's one of those answers that you can only find out by trying."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Fancy being a dictator? (Book Review: How To Rule the World)

How to Rule the World: The Essential Handbook for Aspiring Dictators

A book called How to Rule the World is just such a hilarious premise that it's hard for the book to live up to the funniness of it's title.

It's like Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun - I got it because it looked funny and interesting, and it just sits there on the shelf, assassinating my character to anyone who browses my books. (I have it next to Hitler and Churchill: Secrets of Leadership - a title rescued only by the fact Churchill is there!)

But once you open the cover, How to Rule the World is not only entertaining but informative. There's a touch of seriousness in this manual to world domination - Andre de Guillaume has researched far and wide to give this manual the ring of authenticity.

And the source material isn't just from the world's baddies - some fairly 'harmless' leaders are also quoted, which makes you wonder if the simple act of leading pushes you into dodgy moral territory.

For example, an interesting quote from Margaret Thatcher, arguable a 'goody', or at least not a really bad baddie:

"Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't."

Nice quote. But that is assimilated amongst references to Stalin, Hitler, Napoleon and Saddam Hussein. It's an unnerving effect that gets you thinking about the nature of power, manufactured consent, free will ... in other words, all sorts of things.

Perhaps that's the book's intention - although aspiring despot de Guillaume claims the book should be "your constant companion on the road to supremacy".

The more seriously a satirical book takes itself, the funnier the effect. How to Rule the World is only given away by the 60's kitsch look, which just shouts "laugh at me". I guess they had to do that to get the book printed!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Competition is like driving

I've been on about war for the last two days, but it struck me on a long drive recently that competition - in business, in career - is not like war at all.

It's like driving.

In war, the enemy faces you and intends to do you in. You've got to do the same. On the road, hopefully none of that happens at all!

Instead, you've all got to share the road, each person aiming for different destinations. Thankfully on the road, there are concrete and fairly simple rules. Communication is really piddly simple - indicate for three seconds and then move where you're indicating. (But even that's too difficult for some!)

In business/career however, it's a lot more nuanced - particularly in a time of change. It's further complicated by the fact that we are in a state of change permanently.

However, knowing that we're all on the road - and not at war - should make that communication process somewhat easier. We hope!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Book Review: Generals by Mark Urban

Generals: Ten British Commanders Who Shaped the World

Continuing yesterday's military theme, I have really enjoyed reading Mark Urban's fascinating biographical sketches of Generals: Ten British Commanders Who Shaped the World.

For military buffs this book is a must, giving vital information on changes in military tactics and technology, and charting the development of the British Army from its earliest days as a professional standing army.

But even if you're not the type to dress up in helmets, Generals illuminates the thinking and circumstances behind some world-shaking moments, such as the battles of Blenheim and Waterloo. And it's not all roaring successes, we also get an understanding into some of the British Empire's worst moments - losing America to the Americans, losing Sudan to Muslim extremists, and losing one of their greatest tank thinkers to the fascists.

Urban expertly navigates us through opposing points of view towards something like the truth about these men - for the legendary heroes, their shortcomings (for instance, the Duke of Wellington was an aristocratic snob who called his men 'scum'); for the heroic failures, their good points (British commander-in-chief in the American revolutionary war William Howe was tactically sound but strategically waaay off).

In his introduction, Urban explains what links all of these generals - they all commanded armies, yet had to answer to political masters. While the British army is technically apolitical, the true situation is never clear-cut. Some of the best generals not only accepted this truth, they made the most of it.

Urban shows his versatility in Generals, on one page describing political intrigues, on the next painting cinematic action scenes of some of the British Empire's most famous battles.

From a leadership point of view, Generals is like a buffet. The people are presented warts and all, and if you see a quality you'd like to emulate, dig in. What unites the really good ones - and mars the bad ones - is strategic thinking, not just on the battlefield but in the overall picture. It takes big thinking to be a general, and that thinking can help you turn setbacks into comebacks.

A Not-So-Famous General
Have you ever heard of Frederick, Duke of York? Second son of King George III, he had learned the theory of war from his youth, but proved average on the battlefield. Instead of pining for service for which he was unsuited, he used his strengths and administrated the army expertly. He saw the need for massive changes in the structure of the army, but made those changes incrementally, so the changes would last the distance.

The book features other not-so-publicised generals: George Monck, (royalist-turned-roundhead-turned-royalist again), William Howe (aforementioned C-in-C, British Army in the American revolutionary war) and John Fuller (a great thinker on mechanised warfare).

There are also some old favourites: John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough; Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington; General Gordon of Khartoum; General Kitchener of your country needs you fame; General Allenby of World War I, and "Monty", Bernard Law Montgomery.

Read this book, even if you're not a war buff. It's a chance to see what kind of decisions can make or break an entire nation's place in world affairs.

10 Best Intranets of 2006 (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)

10 Best Intranets of 2006 (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)

This is related to leadership, in that the intranet is the primary way of disseminating information throughout the large organisation, and information dissemination is properly the function of leadership/management. It's too important to just leave in the hands of IT.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Patton: History, Eccentricity, Reliability

Last year Janet Roach told me (and about 30 other people in the room) that Patton was one of the best films ever made.

It took a while, but I finally saw it this month. It is an outstanding portrait of someone you may love or hate - but can't ignore.

Of course I'd heard something of Patton from watching Band of Brothers and Ike. I'd heard his famous quote about dying for your country ("No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country." or similar) and the infamous slapping incident where the general slapped a shell-shocked soldier in hospital.

Those two facts alone had given me the impression that Patton was a man's man, a soldier's soldier, a bully, a warmonger. That impression was only partly true.

Patton did love war. He was really made for the times in which he lived and, unlike Eisenhower, was unsuited for the politically sensitive peace which followed. He was at his best on the battlefield, leading his men.

The side I'd never seen, though, was Patton's love of poetry, and his fanatical devotion to history. Patton believed that all of history was one contiguous string of accomplishments - in other words, everything that has happened directly impacts on what happens now, and what will happen.

So yes, Patton was a soldier, a man's man and so on. But he was also very smart, and very unorthodox in his thinking. And he wasn't afraid to keep being different, despite setbacks.

It's a good piece of literature (or film) that can simply present someone, warts and all, and let the audience judge the quality of that person. I felt Patton did this admirably.

I started the film somewhat suspicious of this man. What kind of leader was he? One who gets results at the expense of his men? It seemed so, but as the story progressed I saw troops express genuine loyalty to their commander. He was doing something right.

What were Patton's keys to obtaining that loyalty?
  • Integrity. Patton was eccentric but never unreliable. He said what he meant and he meant what he said.
  • No BS. He couldn't stand politics or the diplomatic stuff expected of him. That's an unhelpful attitude in the big scheme of things, but it strikes a chord with those who feel they are doing the real work - the hard work of risking their lives.
  • Personal risk. Patton, like all great commanders, didn't ask his men to do anything he wouldn't do himself.
  • Decisiveness. The famous shoot-the-donkey story was a great example of decisive action, being able to quickly size up a situation and its priorities. Great leaders are able to make these decisions and live with the consequences, whether good or ill.
Patton makes for good viewing, and if you have some time, the audio essay from the Patton Society is very illuminating too - a more in-depth look at the man himself.

By accident I found the text that the commentary comes from, so if you'd prefer to skim-read it rather than listen to an audio commentary - be my guest. It's a PDF file and well worth reading for some leadership insights.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Welcome to 2006! Change is in the air

(Delayed reaction from January 1st follows:)
Sure, it's just another day, but symbolically a new year represents so much!

Here is a chance to change direction, to focus, to boldly go where you haven't gone before (which for most people is challenge enough!).

I don't make new year's resolutions, but the new year just happens to have coincided with a fairly major turning point in my life, so maybe I have accidentally made some resolutions!

New Year, New Direction
It all started last year when I was involved in an abortive attempt to make a film. It was a dive into the deep end of independent filmmaking, and would have been great if it had worked.

The outcome of this promising project was so scarring and emotionally exhausting that I thought the film industry must not be for me. But time - and the friendly advice of others - helped me see otherwise. After all, I'd had some of the best times in my life working on that project.

So this year I am planning to go back to school - film school!

Interim plans - between thunder and lighting
Of course, school costs money - film school more than most because of the toys, er, tools that you get to use. So while I know film school is what I want, there's a gap between the desire and the wherewithal to get there.

So in one way, while my fundamental direction has changed, things look just the same. My business card still says Story Listener / Story Teller - which will still be true when I'm a filmmaker - and I still write articles for magazines.

But even there something important has changed. I'm - to coin a much-used phrase from the 90s - proactive. I'm not just waiting for editors to commission stories, hoping there'll be something I'm interested in. I'm looking for areas I'm personally interested in, passionate about - and then pitching stories to editors.

And if they're not interested, I'll try again. And keep trying.

Back in Business
I went through a stage last year of resenting the business world. I had tried so hard for several years to be a good business person, then realised I was, at heart, an artist.

But artists are businesspeople - at least right now in New Zealand they have to be. So I can choose to be the bitter grumbling poor artist, or I can put on my best attitude and accept the realities of the marketplace - and play to win.

Again, this is a very internal change. A change of approach, of attitude. And that's where all the important changes start.

All the best to you for 2006.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Table for eight please - and make it snappy - 03 Jan 2006 - Lifestyle & Leisure

I love being a kiwi! ;)

Table for eight please - and make it snappy - 03 Jan 2006 - Lifestyle & Leisure