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The politics of leadership and personal values – stand up and be counted

Ok, we’re back in the zone at Maier with a really busy few months ahead of us in the build up to..shhh…Christmas. As a team we rely on a sense of shared energy to help us maintain our super high standards of design and delivery even when it feels like we’re operating in the middle of a whirlwind – yes, you know that feeling too I’m sure. In thinking what supplies us with some of that energy – no red bull needed here – it comes down to shared beliefs, values and courage.

Here are some prompts and events that provided just that;

LCF #fashionmatters gala on 10th October

We are already working in close partnership with LCF on an ambitious and far reaching organisational wide transformational leadership programme (we will be sharing more of this at a later date) as a result of this we know we share many of the same values and sense of vision. The gala was only the second one to have taken place, a glittering affair held at the Savoy and obviously a fabulous opportunity to go all out in terms of fashion and dressing up (it’s hard but we forced ourselves). Most importantly, it was all about fundraising to provide much needed bursaries which makes it hard not to end up discussing politics around the tables – whatever your views and leaning. The star speaker – I am using that term advisedly – was Grayson Perry known for being outspoken, brave and living his life according to his inner beliefs. He said it as he saw it, took no prisoners and not only made us all sit up and listen he also has that rare ability to make you laugh as he challenges and provokes. There were some real leadership lessons in there; be true to your beliefs, show some courage, but blend some of the tougher messages with some wit and inspiration.

He ended with a great statement and you could almost have followed it with…discuss!

‘I don’t see the next Alexander McQueen coming from Eton. End of’

pic 1

The event far surpassed its goal of raising money for at least 29 bursaries (as achieved at last year’s inaugural event). By generating an astonishing 85k excitingly there is now enough to far exceed that original target. Brilliant stuff.

That misogyny speech;

Julia Gillard popped up on good old radio 4 (yes, how could we do our blog without a mention) promoting her upcoming memoir. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04jk364

As a reminder, Julia G became Australia’s first female Prime Minister in 2010, holding tenure for exactly 3 years and 3 days during which time the world witnessed (thanks to Youtube) her now infamous ‘misogyny speech’. It’s the one where she called out some of the less attractive traits of those in office and gave voice to the beleaguered, undermined and misrepresented everywhere…not just women.

She speaks about the difficulty when you’re ‘at the top’ to get the balance right between ‘command and emotion’, between ‘head and heart’ – familiar themes in our work with our own client leaders and ‘top teams’. As those of you who have had the Maier treatment will know there’s no get out, we want to know what people are feeling as well as what they’re thinking. But back to Julia – as with Grayson Perry – you may or may not agree with her politics but the courage and conviction of her message is indisputable. There is no way you can doubt how true she is being to her own values and principles – as every leader should be even when it’s scary. As Julia says; ‘It’s better to keep running in front of the tidal wave and not look back.’

But she also demonstrates a real humility – a character trait we have often heard Nick Robertson CEO of ASOS referencing when sharing leadership values he holds close to his own heart – when she publicly asks; ‘Should I have let myself feel more?’ this is in stark contrast to her adversary Tony Abbot the current Australian PM, when he says ‘it is not his job to emote’. If we expect leaders to show disciplined restraint with emotion tagged as weakness where in the end does the emotion get to be vented? How do we engage the hearts and minds of our organisations and our customers? This business of sharing feelings and emotions runs deep for us at Maier, it provides a unifying theme in so much of our work. It is where we will always be true to our beliefs and show great courage when emotions need addressing however hard it might be. Final word on this goes to Julia G; ‘ We exist in a binary world of good and bad, but this one dimensional portrayal makes it impossible to be seen as a full human being with the normal complexity that comes with being neither perfect, nor evil’. Powerful stuff.

Sharing the love; thanks to some of you out there we felt wonderfully supported in our ‘Stand up to Cancer’ march on October 11th. Your donations and lovely messages filled us with our own sense of conviction as we set off in a magnificent and slightly terrifying full scale thunder storm! Lisa found that walking several miles in wellies is not such a great idea and everyone was amazed that I actually went to the lengths of covering my banner in cling wrap – I am not known for my love of detail – but I did not want my message to those I am supporting to be lost in the rain. When the message is important enough we should all go to any lengths to make sure it is heard.

If you haven’t donated yet – please do tap the link below and throw a few quid in if you’re able. As with LCF, we aimed lower than we should have – we’re 500% higher than our target and have raised nearly £2.5K.

https://www.justgiving.com/maiermarchoncancer/

march

Moving images

You know how it is when things just come together; something on the radio makes you sit up and take notice, a piece of film captures your imagination (and heart), a book that you’ve had on pre-order lands on your desk and to top it all you’re blown away by what clients have taken from an exercise (which you know went well, but had no idea what it could lead to). An eclectic mix at first glance, but think ‘moving images’ – with a little playfulness around the literal and emotional connotations.

 

A marathon not a sprint

The images conjured up listening to Kathrine Switzer talk about breaking ground as the first female marathon runner were in every sense moving. 
Listen, here

With all the hype around Mo and his chances of winning (or not as it turned out) in the recent London marathon how extraordinary that, but for the tenacity and bravery of Kathrine and others like her, the event might well have been an all-male affair. We genuinely find it astonishing to think that as late as 1967 organisers truly considered women to only be capable of running a mile and half and they believed this with such vehemence that Kathrine was actually attacked as she ran and they tried to stop her. Although there are days when a mile and half is actually just about my limit – as Kathrine so beautifully put it, for her and other women running is about ‘feeling empowered, feeling liberated, feeling free’. Something we can really relate to at Maier – although just to be clear we’re committed to ‘setting all leaders free’, not just the female ones.

 

If you go down to the woods

We’ve known for a long time just how talented the team at Spindle Productions are, but even we, dedicated fans that we are, fell in love with their work all over again when we saw their latest cinematic triumph, The Woodsman www.spindleproductions.co.uk

A beguiling story and beautifully shot it is the very epitome of ‘poetry in motion’. I think we sometimes accept without question the frenetic, stop-start nature of our lives as leaders – either by our own design or at the hands of others. Perhaps we should be aiming instead for more deliberate fluidity and movement in leadership rather than the knee-jerk reactions we’re all too familiar with. I’m sure this wasn’t part of the original film brief, but it’s one of the things we took from it – amazing where your thinking can take you when left to roam unhindered.

 

101 reasons to be impressed

Frances Book

When we first opened the package containing the new book ‘Why Fashion Matters’ written by client and friend Frances Corner, Head of London College of Fashion – have to be honest – we all said ‘What NO pictures!’ A book on fashion with no glossy pages revelling in the beauty, froth and frippery of the industry – really? But you know, it’s the cleverest of approaches because much of this book is about the social conscience we need so much more of in fashion. It’s about self- belief and emotionality expressed through our clothes and accessories coupled with the skills and wit it takes to create them. It’s referencing the hard commercial edge of fashion but also the fantastic opportunities presented by what is of course a multibillion pound industry. All this in a small book where the beautiful use of text forms patterns in its own right relying solely on a simple palette of red and black on white. It takes the eyes and mind on an intriguing and absorbing journey. In this case, pictures would only distract and in a strange way spoil its beauty – well that’s what we in the Maier crew reckon so there!

http://francescorner.com/my-book-why-fashion-matters

 

A thousand words

We work with clients all the time on how they share the big messages across their organisations and make those all important emotional connections. More often than not we try to tap into visual imagery to enhance the messages, pictures can sometimes be so immediate and stimulating plus the act of creating your own bit of art to tell a story can be mighty powerful. A favourite exercise of ours; ‘heart, body and soul’ reached new heights recently where the client not only transformed their thinking into the most wonderfully vibrant images but managed to capture a sense of fantastic movement. The swimmer driving through the waves with powerful strokes, taking the company with them felt like a pretty unique representation of values and leadership principles. Simple, clear, inspired – wow! We loved it.

swimmer1

Cut-out inspiration

Matisse

Watch out for the wonderful Matisse exhibition at Tate Modern and his Cut-Outs, the master of movement through simple shapes and vivid colour, fabulous.

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/henri-matisse-cut-outs

Flash Mobs – A ‘flash in the pan’ – we think not

 

Flash Mobs the Maier way; shake it, sort it

 

People talk about engagement all the time – however, as with most things worth the effort; it’s not easily achieved and even trickier to sustain especially when it comes to sharing and interpreting the ‘big ideas’. So, we had a think and a bit of a chat with the team at Prostate Cancer UK (amazing organisation, take a look www.prostatecanceruk.org) and came up with FLASH MOBS.

But, forget break out dance troops (nice idea but there’s a limit to what even we can get top teams to do!) No, this involved creating a completely new way of working, a super-quick, two-day way to tackle things like:

  • Cutting through backlogs at twice the normal speed (at least)
  • Spreading the word about new initiatives, getting buy-in and ownership
  • Leaping over hurdles that may be inadvertently blocking progress
  • Inspiring even greater belief in the vision

Flash mobs aren’t about adding to workloads, they’re temporary generators of momentum that require a bit of focused thinking and enough autonomy to make quick decisions – with the proviso that everyone visibly works with difference.

In the case of PCUK a small, but perfectly formed Maier team set up camp in their head office and met with chosen co-ordinators and small ‘flash-mob teams’ – each with a target project and a limited time to turn things around – then they hit the floor and went to work.

On this occasion we were interested in;

  • Developing a brilliant staff away day
  • Cementing the working principles into everything we do
  • Being better leaders
  • Working out ‘how we do things round here’

The impact was almost instant, with animated group ‘huddles’, five-minute 1:1s, ad hoc group debates, email surveys on the go and videos – the atmosphere was electric.

Although a bit unsettling initially and very challenging throughout, part of the flash mob success was that we didn’t give the teams much prior notice – in fact, hardly any at all. We wanted a very different mind-set, teams had to be super flexible with the ability to respond and react at pace and communicate nonstop – the opposite to the meetings-driven culture PCUK want to avoid.

Here’s a little sample of what they got up to…

The first Prostate Cancer UK ‘Flash Mob’ has entered the building and already we’re making an impact. Although for most it’s quite a strange way of working (at least to start with), thinking on your feet (quite literally) is a pretty good way of getting things done. Salma described it as a ‘fresh and young’ way of working and ‘being comfortable with the uncomfortable’. Ellie thought it was ‘open and exciting’.

The focus of this ‘Flash Mob’ is to create a brilliant all staff away day and rather than let a small group of people shape something that affects all staff, we want everyone to get involved. So, here’s what we want you to do:

  • Let us know what you think is essential for an awesome staff away day by filling out this questionnaire as soon as possible…
  • Be ready for us to come and mob you at your desks (and call you if you’re not based in London) to ask your opinion on what’s important (and what’s not) in an all staff away day
  • Come and join us at 3.15pm at reception to help us work through the results

Onwards and upwards, see you all at 3.15!

At the ‘hub’ of things we provided much needed injections of energy when spirits were flagging as well as collating information, working on those dynamic ‘newsflashes’ and keeping everyone up to date with a sense of ‘real-time’ action and achievement. Even if you weren’t in the office that day, you knew exactly what was going on and what the outcomes where. In fact, one of the Exec team was at a series of external meetings and found himself nipping out to look for the next instalment. Regional personnel were involved too, creating ‘flash-mob pockets’ of their own all feeding back to our central point.

Outputs have been impressive, as has the sense of achievement and involvement across the whole organisation. Although the flash mobs were a bit like temporary ‘agents provocateurs’ in their bid to ‘move things on and see results’ the outcomes have been anything but temporary.

Every flash mob has completed and communicated a series of actions, and whilst there is still work to do, everyone is aware of what stage it’s at and what still has to be actioned or developed. This is no mean feat when a lot of what we’re really talking about are quality and styles of leadership, organisational behaviours and the feeling that your opinion truly counts.

Our thanks and respect go to Ben, communications guru at PCUK, who worked with all the mobs to get news flashes out, helping to share the story and keep us all in the picture.

Obviously, it’s not something we’re suggesting you can do everyday, or even every week. But having taken the ‘flash-mob leap’ the Prostate Cancer UK team now have a way to quickly zone in on unfinished business, gauge understanding and perhaps most importantly access people from across the organisation who have some real gems of ideas to share.  

We’ll be ‘flash-mobbing’ again soon with a couple of clients already keen to give it a try – it’s all about shaking things up and sorting things out.