Connecting with people ignites opportunities for success

Annemie Ress talks to Peter Vogt

This post was originally written as a ‘live blog postcard from the beach’ in my role as beach writer at The Purple Beach Experience 2016.

We can do powerful things when we open up to new insights from employees, said Peter Vogt, leading employee engagement expert and “the guy who invented employee brand” in an interview with Annemie Ress at the Purple Beach Experience.

Peter described his work as helping companies become better places to work, where people feel valued and respected. As a result, employees become more connected to customers and want to create better communities. Pete is also “super big open” about being gay and has done a lot of work to help companies “go on that journey” to become more open and diverse employers, particularly in supporting their LGBT employees. He believes it is vital to build empathy in workplaces for people who think differently.

Peter gave the example of the US company Avon in the 1970s, who began hiring black Avon Ladies to help them sell their products to the African American community. But it was only when Avon listened to their new employees that they started to make any progress. They learned that their existing products simply did not work on black skins and so they needed to create a new product range. This is a great example of the power of empathy and why we need to talk to our own people, because they have the solutions.

When he worked at Visa, Peter introduced a reverse mentoring programme called ‘The Exchange’ to help break down unconscious bias. The idea was to get people from different minority groups and millennials to mentor senior executives about their lifestyles and communities. According to Peter, the benefit of such a programme goes beyond inclusivity, it is about ignition – when we gain new insights from truly connecting with others, it can ignite new opportunities for success.

In the new world of work, ‘EQ’ – emotional intelligence – is outstripping IQ in setting companies for success, a change that seems to favour women over men. In Silicon Valley, companies will increasingly test potential recruits for EQ. The strong message is “you may be smart, but if you’re an asshole, we don’t want to hire you.”

At the same time, Peter cautions that many companies fail by hiring great diverse talent, but without the systems, environment and mentoring to receive them. Peter’s advice is to ‘get your house in order’ and ‘work on inclusion before you try to sell it.’  It is no good thinking you can simply bring in a lot of diverse people and assume this will fix the problem. Creating a diverse organisation needs a thoughtful, systematic approach and that times time and energy. It needs companies to build more conversation and community.  Inevitably, many organisations will be left behind because they lack the courage and the will to do this.

Everyone can dance says Ashley Banjo

IMG_5905This post was originally written as a ‘live blog postcard from the beach’ in my role as beach writer at The Purple Beach Experience 2015.

Only 26 years old, Ashley Banjo has already achieved more than he could have dreamed of, but something tells you that this intelligent, thoughtful and modest young man has a very long way to go. With his positive outlook and disciplined approach to life, he gives the impression that he can achieve any goal that he sets himself.

Before his dance troupe Diversity discovered fame on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, Ashley was already taking responsibility for others. When the Executive Producer asked them to go on the show, Ashley felt the weight of trust from the boys in the group and that his job as a leader was “to steer them in the right direction”. Ashley didn’t expect to win, but simply wanted the group to be “the best we could be”. The rest is popular TV history, with Diversity beating that year’s other phenomenal act, Susan Boyle, (who had already made it onto ‘The Simpsons’!) to win the competition

The group’s first reaction was disbelief – you could see it in their faces. As they later faced a frenzied media conference of 300 people, they realised that “life was about to change forever, and they had to choose whether to embrace it or be destroyed by it.”

Coming to terms with their achievement, Ashley has since reflected that “the public are much cleverer than people give them credit for in voting shows: we were real and public responded to that.”

So how has Diversity become such a highly innovative dance troupe? “I don’t believe concepts are just from me, we still train together 6 hours a day… we store information, like bits of a puzzle in the air – someone learned a new flip, seeing something in a movie e.g. the ‘slow motion dodge’ in ‘The Matrix’. Then we put things together because everyone unites.”

Ashley tends to be at the front of the group’s creativity and knows what everyone in the group is physically capable of, but he describes Diversity as “one big think tank”: “ no matter how many ideas I come up with, the relationship with the group is the key to our creativity, I bring an idea to the table, everyone brings their experience to bring the idea to fruition” Ashley’s mantra is “be open, be honest, take on everyone’s opinion.”

The idea for ‘Secret Street Crew’ came about when Ashley told a TV producer about his belief that ‘anyone can dance’ and to give him a TV series to prove it. The idea of the show is to get people to form a street crew in secret and perform at an event, one of the best examples being a wheelchair basketball team – “Of course they can dance if they want to!”

In describing his coaching method, Ashley says he does not teach, but “gives people the ability to believe in themselves that they can do it, to harness what they have already got.” The show is all about breaking down people’s perceptions of what they think they are capable of and where they belong. “Its about me unlocking someone’s mind a bit – giving someone the confidence to believe in themselves. Breaking down barriers in people’s minds about what they actually can do – its about self belief.”

Ashley sees dance as a “further level of communication”. While describing himself as a very controlled direct person, when he dances, he believes “anything is possible.”

Although not the original leader of Diversity, he naturally became the leader due to his increasing interest in dance and choreography, based on his ambition “to be the best he can be”. As a result, his group members “started to look to me for the answers.”

Ashley also discovered financial responsibility early. At the age of 14, his mother, who ran a dance studio, damaged her knee, which meant that Ashley’s life from that point, including his choice of University (he studied Natural Sciences at UCL) revolved around the need to get home to teach the 5pm dance class.

His biggest challenges in recent years have been to maintain the trust and respect of the group, understanding that this means sometimes having to keep his distance from his best friends to “preserve trust in the interests of the bigger picture.” This gets harder as inevitably team members get older, get married have kids and have their own responsibilities. For Ashley, success is based in legacy; for people in twenty years time to know what they have done.

Commenting on his experience as a judge on “Got to Dance”, Ashley explains how he encourages people to see their so-called ‘failures’ as “steps on the root to success.”

By his own admission, Ashley is intensely critical of his own team’s performance and group members are surprised if he has no critical comments after a routine. He motivates himself by “watching mistakes over and over again”, shuddering to recall when dancer Perry fell on his head in front of the Prime Minister, but got up the next day and did the same performance perfectly.

So what does the future hold? Ashley’s view is pragmatic, to “react to what happens”. Diversity still has “whole new countries to explore” and that is very exciting.

Ashley’s overall philosophy is that “so long as each step is in right direction, we don’t have to look at the final destination… if someone had told me at 15 what I was going to achieve I would have said no way, never in a million years. It’s not about blind belief, but knowing you can achieve something if you want it.”

– See more at: http://www.purplebeach.com/pBexp2015Postcards/viewBlog/8/Everyone-can-dance-says-Ashley-Banjo#sthash.YxbUlKgi.dpuf

Searching for the meaning of life with Alain de Botton

This post originally appeared as a ‘Live Blog Postcard from the Beach’ in my role as ‘beach writer’ at the Purple Beach Experience 2015.

What is the point of culture? asks philosopher and author Alain de Botton. Alain unapologetically offers a utilitarian solution: the human soul is in trouble and art should offer us therapy. This is a theme that he argued in his book, ‘How Proust can change your life’.

When role models and supermodels like Miranda Kerr say they have found solace in eastern philosophy, Alain thinks this is because western thinkers have let us down, by failing to demonstrate a purpose for the arts in society. In fact Philosophy offers answers to our personal fears and crises. Take the idea of success. Our society places huge value on material prosperity as an indicator of how well we are doing. For many people in the west, their greatest fears are humiliation and poverty. This is exacerbated by mass media that delights in stories of failure. But the idea of success is ‘amenable to tweaking’. What if success was defined differently?

Alain thinks the solution to our fears is to work towards a more sympathetic society where we all understand how easy it is to ‘stuff up’; a world where we recognise that our mental health is very fragile and we are all ‘one blood clot away’ from the end of life.

When it comes to existential questions such as ‘the meaning of life’, Alain suggests that the ultimate goal of life is fulfilment and a sense of serving others. When jobs become meaningless, it is often because they have become disconnected from how we serve other people and why it matters.

The difficulty is getting such wisdom to ‘stick’. Hollywood films with mega-million budgets can move us for a couple of hours, but the next day, the effect has gone. Similarly, Alain suggests that companies who want to inculcate ‘values’ should learn from the great religions that used music, poetry, beautiful images, special places and above all, endless repetition from birth to death to establish their value systems.

Alain believes that every human fear presents a business opportunity. For example, Facebook has established a global empire by offering a sense of community to those who fear loneliness. In this era where so many people are searching for meaning, there is so much more to do, so many opportunities to address people’s fears in fulfilling ways.

See more at: http://www.purplebeach.com/pBexp2015Postcards/viewBlog/5/Searching-for-the-meaning-of-life-with-Alain-de-Botton#sthash.wvna3gHY.dpuf

Revealing mathematical my5teries with Marcus du Sautoy

This post first appeared as a postcard in my role as beach writer at PurpleBeach.com

Maths is a ‘Marmite’ subject, you either love it or hate it, says Marcus du Sautoy who is the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, as well as being a Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University and an author.

Marcus began with some questions to the audience: What is Maths? Is it a language? An art form? A secret code? And what does a mathematician do, other than (as many people think) long division sums to lots of decimal places? According to Marcus, mathematicians search for patterns to help predict the future. For example, can you predict the next number in this sequence: 1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55…. This is the famous Fibonacci sequence, and did you know that the number of petals on a flower Is always a number on this sequence?

Marcus also introduced us to the mysteries of triangular numbers, circle division numbers, even lottery numbers. But his favourite of all are prime numbers, because they are the atoms of arithmetic, used to build all other numbers.

Prime numbers appear in nature, for example the life cycle of the Magicicada septendecin, a very noisy North American insect that hides underground for 17 years, emerges for a six week party, lays its eggs then goes quiet again for another 17 years. Why does it do that? Did prime numbers help these cicadas outfox a predator?

Marcus ended by talking about chaos theory and how in some systems there are thresholds where patterns go from predictable to chaotic. Weather forecasting is a good example of this. With their incredibly complex mathematical models, meteorologists can’t reliably predict more than 5 days in advance. Yet there is no doubt that simply knowing whether you are in a predictable or unpredictable region of your business is very powerful to help you understand the future.

See more at: http://www.purplebeach.com/pBexp2014Postcards/viewBlog/7/Revealing-mathematical-my5teries-with-Marcus-du-Sautoy#sthash.DE6QDd0f.dpuf

Are you a psychopath? asks Kevin Dutton

This post first appeared as a postcard in my role as beach writer at PurpleBeach.com

Psychopaths get a bad rap in the popular media, but really, they’re not all bad, says Kevin Dutton, research psychologist at Oxford University and author of “The wisdom of psychopaths – Lessons in Life from Saints, Spies and Serial killers.”

While pure psychopaths with an uncontrolled violent streak are invariably ‘toxic’, for others who are somewhere on the psychopathic spectrum, it’s about achieving control by tuning the dials on the mixing desk to the right level to be successful. In other words, it’s OK to display some psychopathic characteristics in the right context.

You may or may not be surprised to learn that CEOs often score highly for psychopathic traits, such as charm, persuasiveness, confidence, fearlessness, ruthlessness. Similarly, micro-surgeons need the ability to ‘switch off’ their empathy, so they are not thinking about the patient on the operating table as someone’s spouse or child, to help them make cold, clinical decisions. In general, people who score highly on the psychopathic index are often better able to make rational decisions when faced with moral dilemmas; too much empathy can result in procrastination.

Kevin described how an insight from research into 1970s serial killer, Ted Bundy, led psychologists to discover that people who scored highly on the psychopathic index were sometimes better at analysing people’s behaviour, for example detecting people who were smuggling goods through airport security. Kevin says this is due to the psychopath’s skill as a ‘social predator’ in studying people’s body language to see whether they are having an effect. They are matched only by Buddhist monks who can achieve similar ability through years of meditation and self awareness.

Having psychopathic traits can also help people become more creative, through being more comfortable with rule breaking. One way of looking at cheats is that they are also natural creatives!

To find out how you score on the psychopathic index, you can take the test at www.kevindutton.co.uk

See more at: http://www.purplebeach.com/pBexp2014Postcards/viewBlog/8/Are-you-a-psychopath?-asks-Kevin-Dutton#sthash.0n12eKJ1.dpuf

 

When Words Fail, Try Experiences

This blog post was first published on the Octopus HR website

Insights come in strange places. For me last summer, it was while trying to steer a narrowboat on the Avon & Kennet canal. We’d gone on holiday with another family and our children (six in total) couldn’t be persuaded that larking about on the roof wasn’t safe, even if the boat was only cruising at 3 mph. All the usual threats to switch off the Wi-Fi or unplug the TV somehow lacked credibility in the heart of the countryside, when even the adults were complaining about lack of phone signal. Tempers became frayed.

Then my wife wryly suggested I use my ‘professional expertise’ as a communicator. And so, from the edge of breakdown came a breakthrough. We invited each child to take a turn at steering the boat, under close adult supervision. With their own sweaty mitts on the tiller, they finally realised how stressful it is to navigate around trees and bridges when someone is blocking your vision and you’re worried they’re going to end up overboard.

The insight, of course, is blindingly obvious: sometimes you can’t tell people, they have to experience it for themselves. Yet how often do we need to remind ourselves of this simple truth?

In their excellent book, “Influencer – the power to change anything”, the authors (Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan, Switzler) tell the story of a US manufacturing company under threat from Japanese competitors, whose productivity levels were 40% higher. To stay in business, they had to make some urgent changes. If their employees wanted to keep their jobs, they were going to have to work a lot harder. But somehow, the management couldn’t get their message across, because the workforce mistrusted their motives. Then they hit on the idea of sending a team of employees on a fact finding tour to Japan. It did the trick. When they returned home and told their co-workers how much harder and faster their Japanese counterparts were working, they accepted that change had to happen.

Another powerful example is the Exchanging Places scheme run by the Metropolitan Police Cycle Task Force that gets cyclists to sit in a lorry driver’s cabin. Once you’ve seen for yourself the size of the blind spot for a left turning lorry, you will never again attempt to undertake a lorry on a bicycle. I only wish we could make every cyclist experience this for themselves.

Thinking about your employee engagement challenges, what kind of experiences could you create to promote the changes you are seeking? For example, if you want your team to become more customer centric, could you send them on mystery shopping exercises, or have them sit behind a one way mirror during a customer focus group? If you want your team to be more creative or innovative, how about taking them on a team building exercise where they experience what it’s like to create something together – and discover for themselves how fantastic that can feel?

My all time favourite team building exercise was an Advertising Sales Director who wanted his team to feel like superstars. So for a team experience, they recorded a pop promo video. Everyone had their hair and make up done, they dressed in wild, spangly clothes and danced around like loons, lip synching to the words of a cheesy pop song. Not only was it brilliant fun, the experience transformed team morale. It still makes me laugh and I watch it whenever I need an injection of enthusiasm!

Who do you get to challenge you?

When I started my career in the mid 80s with Bain & Company, in those days known as ‘the KGB of management consultancies’, a favourite mantra was “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”.  I’ve often reflected since then how dangerous it can be to promote a culture of relentless positivism at the expense of openness. How many times have we all witnessed slow motion corporate train crashes – accidents that could have been avoided if only people had the courage to speak out without fear of being branded a ‘negative thinker’.

At the recent, excellent ‘PurpleBeach‘ launch event, I was fascinated to hear Margaret Heffernan, author of Willful Blindness talk about how we deal with situations at work where everyone can see the problem, but no one does anything about it. This was the ‘postcard’ that I wrote from the beach:

Margaret Heffernan tells a story about Dr Alice Stewart, an Oxford based epidemiologist who in the 1950s, conducted research into the causes of childhood cancer. Dr Stewart had asked herself why, contrary to most trends, the disease was more prevalent amongst children of affluent families. By extensive statistical analysis, she found that by a factor of 3:1, the children’s mothers were more likely to have had an X-ray during pregnancy. Yet although Dr Stewart published her findings immediately, it took 25 years for the practice to be banned in the UK.

The problem was not that Dr Stewart was a woman, nor that she was a ‘difficult person’. Indeed, a research project at the Harvard School of health found similar results but still took 26 years to change the practice in the US.

What enabled Dr Stewart to keep fighting for 25 years? In Margaret’s telling of the story, the answer lies in her collaboration with George Kneale, a somewhat ‘nerdy’ and nocturnal statistician. Kneale declared it his job to prove Dr Stewart wrong. If he could not, he declared, it would give Dr Stewart the confidence to keep on fighting. And the outcome was that he couldn’t prove her wrong and she did keep on fighting.

As Margaret explains, the story is a fantastic example of “thinking partners who work not as echo chambers but as challengers of orthodoxy.” Her question to the audience was simple: , “Do you have someone who challenges everything you do because they want you to do your best work?”

How does this translate into how people behave in the workplace? Milliken, Morrison & Hewlin in their seminal 2003 study into organisational science at NYU* asked execs if they had issues and concerns at work that they don’t voice. An incredible 85% said they did. “That’s a lot of silence,” says Margaret. Fear of retribution was a key factor. In a similar study in Europe, the silence was explained by a sense of futility that nothing will change as a result. How many times have we all heard a similar message from employees when they complete the annual survey?

Margaret shares an illustrative story of an executive in medical equipment company who worried that a device they were due to launch was not safe. When he finally raised his concerns, it turned out that everyone else had the same thought.

The challenge we all face, says Margaret, is to create noisier workplaces, where people are not afraid to raise issues because it could lead to conflict. Without conflict, there is no thought and without thought, no progress. She argues that executives need to be trained to initiate conflict in a way that does not frighten others and that organisations must celebrate the people who are prepared to do this.

In today’s volatile economic climate, the problem is even more acute. High levels of executive unemployment and high mortgages lead to “obedient workforces” and that spells trouble ahead for businesses.

Meanwhile, for individuals, who fear the personal consequences of speaking out, Margaret has some sage advice. Save up some “running away money” . You never know when you will need it!

*An exploratory study of employee silence: issues that employees don’t communicate upward and why – Milliken, Morrison & Hewlin

 

 

Does your business have a great birth story?

Having a great ‘birth story’ is a powerful engagement tool for customers and employees alike. When I worked at eBay Europe, we always loved to tell the story of how Pierre Omidyar invented the concept of online auction by accident. The first item he advertised for sale was a broken laser pointer and he was amazed that anyone wanted to buy it. Soon, other people were contacting him with goods that they wanted to sell online. Within a year, Omidyar was so overwhelmed with demand that he had to give up the day job to manage it. Stories like this are like gold dust. When you work for a company like eBay, you quickly discover the enthusiasm and passion that customers have for the product. Everywhere you go, you meet people who want to share their own eBay stories with you. It can be a humbling experience.

Last week, I had a similar feeling when I listened to Taavet Hinrikus, Skype’s employee number 1, talk about the birth of his latest business. Transfer Wise, a peer to peer fx company, was inspired by his frustration at getting ripped off by banks every time he transferred money from London back to Estonia. Here is an article that I wrote about his story for the PurpleBeach website.

Why not change money with common people like you?

Taavet Hinrikus couldn’t work it out. Every time he transferred money from Sterling into euros, some 3-4% went missing for no good reason. As Taavet explains it, sending money is about as technically complicated as sending an e-mail, so why do banks take such a huge cut?  In airports, you can lose up to 15% of the value of the exchanged. Even when banks advertise zero commission rate, it’s usually only to disguise the fact that they offer a ridiculous exchange rate. He concluded that the whole fx business was simply ‘a racket.’

Then Taavet had an idea. While he needed to transfer Sterling to euros, a friend had to transfer euros to Sterling. So they agreed to put the money in each other’s bank accounts at the published exchange rate without any commissions. With this simple wheeze, the two friends cut out the middle man, saved a bunch of money and a business idea was born.

You’ve heard before of garage businesses? ‘Transfer Wise’ was cooked up in a kitchen. It offers the opportunity to ‘change money with common people like you,’ (a tribute, no doubt, to the classic Pulp song sung by Jarvis Cocker.)

So far, Transfer Wise has transferred £100m and the amount of transfers has doubled in last 4 months. They exchange 8 currencies and soon will be add a further 10-15. All the growth has come from personal recommendation.

The initial charge of £1 per transaction was, according to Taavet, ‘great marketing, but a bad business plan.’ They have since introduced a charging system of £1 on exchanges up to £200 and 0.5% charge on amounts above that. Taavet contrasts the high fees of banks with the Transfer Wise mindset of ‘how little can we charge to build a global business.

According to Taavet, there is a huge potential market for peer2peer fx, with 200M people worldwide who live, work or study abroad. Taavet says, “Our enemy is the banks. Our target is the 99% of people who go to banks and get ripped off everyday.”

 

That joke isn’t funny anymore (in fact it never was)

Ricky Gervais knew what he was doing when he created the character of David Brent in The Office as both a manager and a wannabe comedian, not always in that order. Over the years, I’ve worked with many senior managers who felt they had a talent for humour, who saw themselves as being basically ‘a pretty funny kind of guy’. Often this ‘talent’ emerged alongside their professional success. Rather than having been the funny kid in the classroom, (a time when the individual was probably considered slightly earnest and serious), their sense of humour surfaced as they found themselves managing increasingly large teams and needing to address even larger audiences. I use the phrase ‘funny guy’ advisedly, because these senior managers with comedic ambitions are usually men. By contrast, I’ve met very few female senior managers who wanted to be thought of as ‘funny’. In my experience, women tend to be wary of anything that prevents them from being taken seriously.

The sad fact of course is that funny senior managers are rarely very funny. But who will tell them? As the meeting rooms and conference venues echo with the sound of obsequious laughter, who is brave enough to say that the Emperor has no clothes? That his punchlines have no punch, that his gags make us gag? Easier just to laugh along with a big, shit-eating smile on your face.

So why do so many male senior managers want to be funny?  Does it stem from a desire to be popular, which in turn perhaps derives from a basic insecurity?  Does it relate to the same inner compulsions that drive certain people to the top of their organisations, while other (less funny) people are happy to stay in the audience?  I’m not qualified to judge on these matters, but I hope that some readers with a background in psychology will possibly feel inspired to offer their opinions in the comments section below!

As a communications consultant, my standard advice to any leader who wants to tell jokes is to avoid the urge. Simply, there is no upside. If people laugh at your jokes, it’s because of who you are, rather than the intrinsic value of your material. If they fail to laugh, it will throw you off balance and you may struggle to regain it. So many times, I’ve seen leaders panic when their audience misses a laughter cue, to the detriment of their communication. Instead of focusing on the key messages they need to land, they start to chase the laughs with increasing desperation. I cringe just thinking about it.

What’s the solution for a leader who wants to engage with his employees? It’s simple. Leave comedy to the professional comedians and focus on being yourself. You don’t need people to think you are funny, but you do want people to see that you are a real human being who can demonstrate human warmth. Tell stories that provide insights into why you think the way you do. Chances are they will like you for it and even if they don’t, they will appreciate your honesty. If people are moved to laughter, it is far more likely to be genuine.

As a postscript to this article, I remember a senior leader who thought of himself as a pretty funny kind of guy, whose team would laugh along uproariously at his sparkling wit. Then he lost his job and suddenly he wasn’t funny anymore. I can remember wondering what hit him hardest – no longer being top dog or having no one to laugh at his jokes? Sadly, I lost touch, so I never got to find out whether he rediscovered his comedic talent when he found a new job and a new audience elsewhere!

Would you stop a bullet for your boss?

What was it like to work for Margaret Thatcher? As she is mostly famous for ‘handbagging’ her political opponents, it’s nice to know that Maggie also had a soft side. According to former bodyguard, Det Sgt Barry Strevens, whose story is serialised in The Sun this week, Maggie was a boss who inspired loyalty with small acts of kindness. On one occasion, a member of her protection squad was expecting a rollicking for tramping dog poo over her pristine white carpet at her weekend retreat in the country. Instead, Maggie calmly filled a bucket with soapy water and scrubbed away the mess, saying, “never mind, we’re in the country now”. At Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country residence, Strevens had to spend Christmas away from his own family in a grim outbuilding. But Maggie made sure his room was decorated and left him a flask of hot coffee, a miniature bottle of whisky and a card thanking him for ‘all that you do.’ It was this simple gesture that convinced Strevens he would not hesitate to ‘stand in the way of a bullet’ for Maggie. Although this sounds dramatic, you have to remind yourself that taking ‘a bullet for your boss’ is part of the job description for a bodyguard.

The story reminds me of one told to me by a personal friend who is a quadraplegic. While attending a charity function at 10 Downing Street, he entered the wrong lift and exited to find his path blocked by a small staircase and unable to reenter the lift. Calling for help, my friend was slightly horrified when the first person to respond was none other than Tony Blair. Blair was completely unfazed. Rather than summon flunkeys, he asked how he could help. As my friend did not want to risk causing the Prime Minister to put his back out by lifting a wheelchair, he asked him to press the down button on the lift, which of course Blair happily obliged. This is a true story and for me, shines a light on the real Tony Blair and why he inspires the people around him.

For anyone who aspires to be a great leader, the lesson is that it’s often the small gestures and not the grand ones that inspire genuine ‘bullet-taking’ loyalty. We expect leaders to do the big things, but somehow we’re surprised and touched when they take the trouble to do the small things. That’s why a simple handwritten thank you note can have more power for an individual than public recognition, which so often comes across as being phoney.