May 2009


Bespoke was a word you probably met a lot in the first few years of the decade. It was boom-time and bespoke was something we couldn’t just afford, in some circles it was something we couldn’t be seen to be without. Management development was little exception. As Colin Carnell, of Cass Business School London. has commented,

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Humility is a great human asset. Given our ability to foul up so magnificently from time to time, it’s probably just as well. Humility is what helps us live through that embarrassing moment before everyone quietly agrees to either forget it and move on, or to acknowledge it happened but get past it. But is the ubiquity and openness of modern media making this easier – or harder? This isn’t an article about intentional surveillance – although with the UK as the most ‘watched’ society on Earth, there is plenty of scope to explore that – but the impact on our lives of being ‘in public’ more often than we used to be: some of our private moments certainly aren’t guaranteed as much privacy as they used to be.

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If you’re the average middle-aged UK working man or woman, surveys suggest that – on average – you spend around 40% of your waking hours most weeks of the year either actively attempting to impress or win the favour of a certain someone or else travelling to or from your times spent with them. You may have spent extra time swotting up on new ways to win them over, impress them or earn their approval. We hope that went well for you, as many psychologists and doctors really think you should try to spend slightly more time with your partner or family rather than running around like this …

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As a musician (when time allows), I can remember once reading a newspaper article about changing models of managing and leading that cited a report by a senior manager who used the analogy that it is now less like running a Big Band and more like playing in a jazz trio or quartet. Having played in jazz bands of all shapes – and sizes – for over 20 years – the point really struck home: the chords may stay (roughly) the same, but the whole approach changes. And it’s a change team leaders and managers might tap a mental toe to if they give it a few minutes too.

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If you’re anything like me, you’re probably getting almost as wearily angry hearing about British MPs expenses as you are about having paid them. A mere two months ago, we were commenting here on the then current furore about senior bankers and the financial crisis. We’re almost in danger of forgetting all that now as we focus on the shocking revelations about the Mother of Parliaments having been caught with her metaphorical fingers in the petty cash. It seems that, now the bears have returned to Threadneedle Street, the bulls have stampeded through London, leaving plentiful evidence of their droppings in Parliament Square. (To highlight one memorable expenses claim, bulls are not the only animals whose um … output has figured in the proceedings.)

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One of our linked blogs is White Spaces, written by Indian HR consultant Gautam Ghosh. We’ve not spoken, but he’s one of the people I’d like to thank for questions as much as answers. What grabbed my attention is one of his recent blog posts – which he downplays with a charming “Ok, I admit it. I’m being lazy and am just posting some of my tweets”. That’s as maybe, but three of them certainly gave me food for thought and made think about the combination of “HR” and “redundancy” from a new angle.

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Leadership seems to be one of those qualities that human beings seek, admire and respect. There’s possibly an element of security to it – how many times have you heard a variation on ‘Hard times call from strong leadership’? But what’s the difference between a great idea and a great leader – and how exactly do you become a guru?
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