UPFRONT Try a little trust

If there’s one message that Sir John Whitmore would like business leaders to take on board, it is “trust people more and control them less”.
The man rated as number-one business coach in the United Kingdom says managers have to wake up to changes in business environments and employee expectations.
“Younger staff expect to be treated differently than was once the case – they expect more choice and decision-making capacity. They don’t want to be treated as paeons but respected as human beings. So companies that don’t change their management style and retain the old hierarchical order will simply be unable to retain staff because younger brighter folk won’t want to work in that kind of environment.”
In New Zealand last month to, among other things, run seminar with the All Blacks coaching team, Sir John believes emotional intelligence, inspiration, agility and self knowledge are among traits needed by all modern leaders. mind open to knowledge is another.
“I’m developing very high level of leadership programme to train potential global leaders and one aspect of that will be compulsory education – leaders have to keep learning about the world. You can’t lead thousands of people in companies or countries unless you have knowledge and understanding of the world that is commensurate with the power you have.”
A guiding principle is the need to deal with whole systems rather than isolated interest zones.
“We can’t deal with things in silos because the moment you make change in one area, it affects what is happening somewhere else and you need to be aware of those changes.”
In other words, you can’t just ignore big global issues like environmental change.
“We have to re-think the way we do things because we have an environmental responsibility now we were unaware of 25 years ago, and business – which tends to put its head under the carpet – has to take responsibility for these things.
“So business leaders need to take more all-encompassing vision – instead of just looking at profits and benefits to shareholders, they have responsibility to society as whole.”
Another principle Sir John espouses is that of natural systems – particularly in relation to learning. Using the analogy of horse whisperer Monty Roberts, Sir John notes that using training methods that fit in with an animal’s natural learning patterns and desire to please is much more effective because learning is so much faster. And humans aren’t so different.
Kindness is much more effective teaching tool than blame or punishment.
Also – you can overdo the instruction, warns Sir John. fundamental of learning is that it is done best with high awareness and sense of ownership. You can read hundred books on how to play golf but you won’t get any better unless you pick up club and just do it – very consciously.
“If you learn something through discovery, then you do remember and you do have sense of ownership.”
But that doesn’t mean leaving people to flounder around on their own, he adds.
“The task of creating the environment in which this sort of learning can happen is very involved and involving process and we teach managers to manage in just that sort of way – to raise their eyes over the top of their VDU screens and see the bigger picture.”
Sir John’s own learning journey was hardly traditional. Instead of going to university, he spent his 20s as professional racing driver.
“I can’t think of better way of learning about yourself than to travel the world in competitive sport. I did that till I was 28 then retired to find proper job.”
He went into business – running large agribusiness, product design company and Ford Main dealership, building decent personal fortune en route.
“But I felt there had to be more to life than earning money so I started studying.”
In 1968, he went to study psychology in the United States, working with people on the leading edge of new research and started applying that knowledge to both sport and business. Since then, there have been five books on sports, leadership and coaching, the best known of which is Coaching for Performance – best seller now available in 17 languages.
He set up Performance Consultants in the United Kingdom, is principal of the Australia-based Institute of Human Excellence and is tempted to spend more time in this part of the world because of Kiwi openness to new coaching approaches.
“New Zealand – at least in terms of sport because I’ve been involved with the Academy of Sport here – has gone further down that road than many other countries. I find people here are very open to new thinking.
“Changing things in Britain is like trying to turn battleship – things are more alive here. I find it very exciting environment.”

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