Lessons in life from Boris Johnson’s ‘car crash’ interview with BBC’s Eddie Mair

The BBC website, youtube and the front pages of two national dailies have been swift to pick up on London Mayor Boris Johnson’s ‘Bicycle Crash’ interview with Eddie Mair on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC1, yesterday, March 24.

Mr Mair positioned the 15 minute interview very clearly from the start: “Now before we talk about you, let’s talk about immigration”.  From there he asked Mr Johnson about the Olympic Stadium.

So Mr Johnson knew what was coming next. Or did he? And what can we learn as a result?

About half-way through (7:19) Mr Mair changed tack: “I know we could talk about this all day (Mr Johnson’s view of the great deal secured by the government on the Olympic Stadium for the taxpayer) but I want to talk about you” and proceeded to skewer Mr Johnson in the next five minutes, calling into question his suitability for high office (as Prime Minister one day?), as his integrity fell under the spot-light of Mr Mair’s laser like focus. His coyness to talk about himself was to this viewer merely thinly veiled disingenuousness – “I want to avoid that”  – particularly as he is the subject of documentary maker Michael Cockerell’s programme ‘Boris Johnson: The Irresistible Rise’ which will be shown on BBC2 today, Monday March 25, 9pm and seems only to happy to talk about himself in the clips already on the BBC website.

To paraphrase Mohammed Ali, Mr Mair danced like a butterfly in his skilful questioning and he stung Mr Johnson like a bee several times to lethal effect, continually outmanoeuvring his ‘guest’.

So this morning, Mr Johnson may be feeling punch-drunk. I wonder if he is licking his wounds, wondering how to salvage some positives – let alone his ambitions as a leader in the political arena – from his disastrous and poorly prepared performance? Does he even realise he has been in a ‘car crash’ interview? He will, I feel sure, find some way to spin this bicycle crash in his favour. We’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, what can we learn from both Mr Mair and Mr Johnson about how to conduct ourselves, personally and professionally?

From Mr Mair there are three key lessons…

  1. Preparation is key. He had clearly done his homework. He had seen the documentary about Mr Johnson (who hadn’t) and was informed and prepared. This was clearly no one-off. It was also the case with Mr Mair’s next guest, the actor, Henry Goodman. Mr Mair disclosed that he had been to the Old Vic the previous afternoon to see the revival of Terence Rattigan’s revival ‘The Winslow Boy’ in which Mr Goodman stars. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the play is about integrity.  Preparation gave Mr Mair the confidence of knowing his subject.
  2. Have the courage of your convictions. If he had concerns about negative repercussions, either personal or professional, he didn’t let them show. He repeatedly challenged and focused on Mr Johnson’s integrity because he believed it was right to do so and drew even greater confidence from those convictions accordingly.
  3. Integrity is everything. He made it clear in his positioning what he wanted to talk about. And introduced the deeper issue – our actions and behaviour are manifestations of our beliefs, values and most important of all, our integrity, especially for those representing us in public service. Without integrity, everything is just a deceit. Nowhere is this more brilliantly demonstrated than in actor Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of Congressman and fixer Francis “Frank” Underwood in the political thriller ‘House of Cards’ now airing on Netflix, reprising and updating the role originally created by Ian Richardson in the 1990’s.

And the lessons from Mr Johnson are very similar…

  1. Preparation v Ego. A person who is extremely proud of his or her abilities will often suffer a setback or failure because he or she tends to be overconfident and to make errors of judgement.  He gave the perception that he had just ‘shown up and winged it’. If he had been advised or coached, it didn’t show. Does he believe in his abilities to such an extent that it will be the undoing of him? Did he let his ego get in the way?  And does he even have the self-awareness to know that the interview was a serious set-back? Is this Mr Johnson’s biggest blind-spot?
  2. Integrity is everything. This is particularly true of those in public life – though none of us exempt – and when there is a pattern of behaviour, we can lose the trust others place in us in an instant.  Mr Johnson is not the first, nor will he be the last. History repeats itself. This blog recently covered Chris Huhne’s fall from grace for a serious lapse in his integrity.
  3. An acceptance of responsibility He failed to acknowledge that Mr Mair had a different point of view from his own about his integrity. This means listening, without interruption and then acknowledging. It doesn’t mean agreeing. Had he done so, he could have cut short that part of the interview, leaving Mr Mair with nowhere else to go. Instead, he was continually reeling on the back foot, justifying his actions, making him appear weak and prolonging his agony.

So if you’ve seen the interview or read the press comment, what do you think? What’s your experience?  Have you had a ‘car crash experience’? What did you learn and what have you done as a result?

Post a reply or send me an email at markgrant1@me.com  It will be great to hear from you.


A fundamental lesson in how NOT to lead – from George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer

George Osborne’s latest budget and today’s front-page headlines clearly demonstrate how he is failing to connect with both the media and electorate:

  • The Laddie’s Not For Turning – Daily Mail
  • Chancellor’s Drown Your Sorrows Budget – The Independent
  • Fail Of The Century – Daily Mirror
  • Drown Your Sorrows – The Guardian
  • Budget Coverage Uncovered By The Ministry of Truth – recovery round the corner in 2018 – The Sun

David Cameron appointed Osborne as his Chancellor of the Exchequer on May 5, 2010 and ever since, he has been fixated on getting the deficit down.

Osborne fully acknowledges his lack of popularity, explaining it away in an interview with Sky News anchor, Dermot Murnagham in October 2012: “Well you don’t do a job like mine to be popular. Indeed I think if you were a Chancellor of the Exchequer at a time like this and you were very popular then you probably wouldn’t be taking the very difficult decisions we need to take as a country to get our economy back on track.”

Wrong, Mr. Osborne!

According to research by Professor Robert Cialdini popularised in his best seller ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’ we are much more willing to follow and be influenced by those we LIKE, TRUST and RESPECT. Click here for the evidence.

And is it any wonder that the British public seem disengaged and disconnected from him as a leader? He is failing to connect at an emotional level. Instead, he is like a broken record, repeating the same mantra over and over – ‘drink your medicine, it’s good for you’  – failing to tell us tell us why, so in the end, we stop listening.

  • For three years, Osborne’s focus has been on WHAT – to reduce the deficit
  • He has also focused on HOW – actions to reduce it
  • But he hasn’t focused at all on WHY – why it matters to us – to you and me – the electorate.

In his book  ‘Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action’, and his TED talk on the same subject, author and motivational speaker, Simon Sinek explains his simple model, ‘The Golden Circle’ that illustrates the most fundamental leadership lesson we can learn from Osborne about how NOT to lead:

  • WHAT we do matters
  • HOW we do it matters more
  • WHY we do it matters most of all.

So George: WAKE UP! It’s time to change the record. We might start listening and engaging more with you when you focus on WHY and start behaving more like a leader, one we would willingly follow.

So what about us? What about our work? Are we making the same mistake as George Osborne? Are we remembering to focus sufficiently on WHY?

What’s your experience?

Post a reply or send me an email at markgrant1@me.com

It will be great to hear from you.

Honesty v ego: the lesson we can learn from Chris Huhne – The Man Who Fell To Earth.

The front page of almost every newspaper today carries a headline about Chris Huhne and his ex-wife, Vicky Pryce being sentenced to eight months imprisonment for perverting the course of justice.

In his interview with The Guardian Political Editor, Patrick Wintour, Chris Huhne explained that it was too easy to rationalise Vicky Pryce taking his penalty points rather than him losing his licence. It was a ‘ridiculously small misjudgement’ that escalated into a catalogue of lies and the unfolding story over ten years, leading to their downfall and imprisonment.

In the same interview he says that it was wrong to do what he did. Does he really mean that? Or is it only because he got found out? We’ll never know for sure. What we do know is that Chris Huhne catastrophically misjudged the impact that his dishonesty caused, not just to him, but his family. And also that he joins a (long) line of other political luminaries who also lied and fell to earth: John Profumo, Jeffery Archer and Jonathan Aitken.

Like those before him, Chris Huhne gambled and lost – when it came to making a choice between honesty (and the trust that goes with it) and breaking the law (to protect his parliamentary status and lifestyle), he put his ego first, with damaging consequences.

So what is the lesson we can learn from this?

Well, how many of us – me included – put serving our own interests above the public good, our organisation/company or family/friends?  We may not be breaking the law, but we may be breaking a moral code and with it, the trust of others. And that can be the start of a slippery slope. And if – or is that when – we get found out, the damage can be devastating.

Many commentators on the subject of leadership talk about trust and honesty as the most important attributes of those we would willingly follow or engage with. So perhaps Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce have done us all a favour – and given us a timely kick up the backside to examine our consciences and behaviour and decide if we are truly trustworthy or not, personally and professionally if we are to avoid falling to earth too.

What do you think?

Post a reply or send me an email at markgrant1@me.com

It will be great to hear from you.

What can we learn about responsibility and humility from Everton Manager, David Moyes? #Leadership #Teamwork

Clear favourites to progress to the FA Cup semi-finals, Everton – with home ground advantage – lost 3-0 at Goodison Park to underdogs Wigan in Saturday’s quarter-final. Manager David Moyes, was quick acknowledge Wigan’s success:

We can’t argue against the fact Wigan were the better side…it was an opportunity to get to an FA Cup semi-final but we can’t complain.     Source: BBC


What’s more interesting are his closing remarks in the same post-match report:

“I had to make a decision and we’re all in it together. I thought we needed to try something. When you lose one goal you can try to calm things down but when you lose three it makes things so difficult. But this is a team here and we work together as a team. I don’t point the finger at anybody. I might do it in the dressing room but I never do it publicly.”

It was clear almost from the kick-off that Moyes’ team under-performed, failing to show their characteristic commitment, team work and resultant fluid play. Yet Moyes avoided blaming anyone publicly and talked instead about collective responsibility.

Avoiding blame and pointing fingers mean that typically any debate is more likely to focus on what can be learned and what actions will be taken in the future, in a constructive way. When blame is the name of the game, the atmosphere is likely to be tense. Those under scrutiny are more likely to adopt a defensive posture, focusing instead on justifying (a euphemism for excuses?) actions, becoming entrenched, failing to take responsibility, learning from mistakes and moving forwards.

Now compare this with your own experiences in your organisation and team. And contrast this with one particularly vivid recollection of my own – working for a Buying Director who called everyone together for a ‘debrief’ after a memorable ‘buying disaster’ (too much of the wrong product). In a booming voice he bellowed at us:

“ I don’t care what went wrong and what we’re doing about it, I just want to know who to blame.”

Can you picture the scene? The atmosphere? The discussion? You’d be right in thinking that body language was closed with eyes downcast avoiding the pointed gaze of the Director at all costs. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife.  I know that all I could think of was don’t look at me or ask me directly”.  What do you think happened to innovation in the wake of that ‘debrief’? Well that went out of the window until he moved on some months later and his successor was appointed. The treatment or threat of it – demotion to the fictitious ‘Broken Biscuits Buying Dept. – for unsuccessful risk-taking was just too punitive to take any sort of buying risk at all. Does that sound familiar to you?

So, as David Moyes, his support team and playing squad meet today to discuss Saturday’s defeat, let’s hope their discussion is constructive. Let’s also hope that he doesn’t ‘point fingers’ and undo the good he had done by demonstrating restraint and humility in his post-match comments. His squad is much more likely to pick themselves up and demonstrate their characteristic commitment and teamwork in their next match – they’re at home entertaining 2nd place Manchester City, who coincidentally qualified for the semi-finals by beating Barnsley 5-0 in their quarter-final on Sunday.

  • So what can you take from this piece?
  • What’s your experience when things ‘go wrong’?
  • For instance, is the behaviour consistent with the values of the organisation?
  • And when it isn’t, what happens to trust, engagement and productivity?

Post a reply or email at markgrant1@me.com

It will be great to hear from you.

Effective leaders know how to release untapped potential in their team. Do you?

In his excellent book ‘Effective Coaching’, Myles Downey describes a simple formula that explains exactly what is going on when individuals and teams perform at a higher level…

Performance = Potential – Interference 

  • Performance is what the team or individual is actually achieving
  • Potential is what the team or individual is capable of achieving
  • Interference is what is getting in the way

So, to increase Performance, it’s a case of reducing Interference.

So when you look at how you, your team or individuals within your team are performing, what’s causing the ‘Interference’?

Is it…

  • You? Are you getting in the way?
  • Fear of failure?
  • Fear of success?
  • Lack of confidence?
  • Boredom?
  • Negative self-talk?
  • Friction within the team?
  • Lack of clarity about the goal or what is expected?
  • A combination of the above?
  • Something else?

As a leader, what do you have in place to find out? And what will you do and when will you do it, to release that higher level of performance?

What’s your experience? What do you think?

Post a reply or shoot an email to me at markgrant1@me.com

It will be great to hear from you.

Effective leaders know the questions to ask to overcome challenges. Do you?

Last week I arrived early for a coaching session with Jenny, a director at a well-known multinational. While I sat in the reception area, I ran into Jim, a former coaching client and colleague of Jenny’s.

Jim asked if I had time for quick coffee and chat.  After exchanging pleasantries, he asked me if there was one specific attribute that was common to  ‘successful people I had coached’.

I thought for a few seconds and explained that I believed success is a subjective concept and that there isn’t one specific attribute. Though what I have noticed from the hundreds of people I’ve coached over the last 10 years is that almost everyone performs more effectively when they have: 

  • clarity of vision
  • are focused on clearly defined steps, especially the first one
  • have sufficient appetite and commitment to take those steps.
  • and write it all down.

In these cases, what often seemed like an insurmountable obstacle can be overcome more easily than previously thought.  Jenny’s coaching session demonstrates the point…

When we met 20 minutes after my coffee with Jim, I asked her what specifically she most wanted to get from our meeting. She sighed heavily, looked down and after a long pause, Jenny explained that she felt alienated from her board colleagues, a situation that had developed over a number of months and that this was knocking her confidence and performance.

While I got us both a coffee, I asked her to write down in one sentence her specific challenge/issue and why it mattered to her.

When I returned a couple of minutes later, I asked her a series of questions.* Those that follow resonated most with Jenny…

  • Do you believe this challenge with your colleagues is fixable?
  • If so, do you have the appetite/how much do you want to fix it?
  • If so, being as specific as you can be, what does success look like?
  • What would this mean to you to?
  • What is your first step?
  • When will you take it?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how committed are you in taking it?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how confident are you in taking it?
  • If not a 10, what would make it a 10?
  • If this is different from the first step above, do that instead to begin with.
  • What will get in the way?
  • What will you do to overcome that?
  • Who can help you?
  • What will you do to enlist their help?

At the end of our conversation, Jenny told me she could see a way forward where 30 minutes earlier there hadn’t appeared to her to be one. She also explained said that she felt more optimistic and wanted to get started straightaway as she had the momentum to do so.

It’s early days. Jenny will call me early next week to let me know about progress to date.

Asking questions like this means that awareness and responsibility lay with Jenny. I didn’t need to know the details of her challenge. The way forward was in her control all the time. She just needed a way to see her situation more clearly. That’s the power of coaching.

So if you or a team member is facing a challenge or feels blocked, ask questions like this and write down the responses. I’m confident it will result in a way forward and create the momentum to get started.

Post a reply and let me know what you think, or send me an email at markgrant1@me.com

It will be great to hear from you.

* For more on the questions to ask, go to GROW model

The horsemeat crisis and #leadership. What can we learn from it?

Much of the literature on leadership and the role of leaders when faced with a crisis emphasises the importance of open and honest communication to foster trust and commitment. 

The horsemeat crisis is affecting some of the biggest names in British food retailing and its supply chain. The government has been critical of a response  – or lack of it – by these retailers: you know who you are! 

  • What does this tell us about the leaders and style of leadership in these organisations?
  • What does it say about the relationships they have with their customers?
  • What does it also tell us about the integrity of their brands?
  • What does it say about their values statements when put to the test?

There’s a Latin expression in retail: caveat emptor, meaning buyer beware. Perhaps it is the seller or in this case the food retailers that need to beware too. Brand loyalty and trust can quickly evaporate if they remain silent for much longer. And what impact will this have on sales and profits, now and in the future, for these organisations? And what about the future for their leaders then? 

If you’re in a leadership role and you’re faced with some big challenges, uncertainty or even a crisis, what can you take from this and what will you do as a result?

Post a reply, or a comment or shoot me an email at markgrant1@me.com

It will be great to hear from you.