Category Archives: Leadership & Management

The Old Grey Mayor Ain’t What He Used to Be!

I’m old enough to remember a song of my childhood, with a slightly different title to that written above: The Old Gray Mare Ain’t What She Used to Be. Some authors maintain that this song referred to the performance of a horse, Lady Suffolk, the first horse recorded as trotting a mile in less than two and a half minutes – in 1843!

I’m obviously referring to mayors, many of whom are male with grey hair, and ‘old’ by some standards. I tried to access demographics on Australian mayors, but didn’t succeed, so my writings are based on anecdotal evidence, rather than solid statistics. A few weeks ago, I facilitated a one-day workshop for 17 councillors, three of whom were current mayors, and two being past mayors. Two of those five were women, and one mayor was probably in his early forties – definitely not old and grey. I also very recently ran a half-day workshop for a group of mayors as part of a Mayors’ Weekend program. Again, they were a diverse mixture, with some being women, some in their 30s and 40s, and some probably in their 50s and 60s. ‘Old’ has recently been redefined as 75 or older, so the above mayors were not old by that definition.

Many people may not be aware of the key roles that mayors and councillors play in our society. All NSW councils have between 5 and 15 councillors, who in effect, are the board of directors of their particular council. Their role is to govern the council – this involves overseeing the direction of the council, developing/signing off on the strategic plans, monitoring progress, providing effective civic leadership, appointing the General Manager and monitoring their performance, and so on.

The mayor has sometimes been described as the first among equals because of their key role. They chair council meetings, are the principal spokesperson for the council, and also lead councillors in exercising their responsibilities and ensuring good governance. They have a key role in promoting community engagement and cohesion, and representing Council in various forums and ceremonial functions.

In contrast to the governing role of mayor and councillors, the general manager is responsible for implementing their decisions, producing the strategic plans in consultation with the governing body, and providing advice as needed to the Mayor and governing body. The relationship between the mayor and general manager is a critical one, and some councils in NSW were dismissed a decade or so ago because that relationship had become toxic. Most of the councils I have worked with in the last 18 years enjoy a healthy constructive working relationship between these two key players.

I have the highest of respect for mayors. I believe that the allowance they receive (In NSW at least) is not commensurate with their critical role and the demands it places on them. It is a highly demanding job, and not one for the faint-hearted. Whether they’re ‘old, grey males’, females or relatively young, they certainly deserve our respect and support.

Narayan van de Graaff

Crucial Conversations: Managing Poor Performance


“Develop your people. Focus on their strengths. Then make high demands based on a person’s strengths. Finally, periodically view their performance.”                  Peter Drucker

businessman and businesswoman having a discussion

My previous articles discussed the importance of recognising good performance – and amongst other points, not underestimating the power of a pat on the back.  Many managers seem to have difficulties in recognising individual and team performance in a timely, effective manner.  They have even greater difficulties in effectively dealing with poor performance – which is the subject of today’s article.

Years ago, I was the Performance Management Manager for a major bank for two years.  During that time, I encountered numerous instances of managers dealing very poorly with poor performance.  In fact, I often deduced that they were the ones performing poorly, rather than the team members they were complaining about.  All too often, they had not clearly communicated work goals/targets and their expectations, nor spent adequate time coaching and giving constructive feedback.  Additionally, they hadn’t identified and supported their staff with their learning and development needs, or provided any real feedback about staff progress – including giving a performance review, which was meant to be compulsory.

One instance that comes to mind was a manager ringing HR and saying that they wanted a particular staff member transferred because they were not performing at an acceptable level.  The HR manager investigated the relevant staff file and said, “You’ve giving this person good ratings and comments in the performance review.  How come?” The manager replied, “I know, but they really aren’t performing properly.”  The HR manager responded, “Until you rate this person the way you see them, I am not willing to take any action.”  Indeed!

I appreciate that having to give negative feedback is a big challenge for most of us – no one in their right mind likes doing this.  However, it is very important to do this in a timely, effective manner.  Not doing this can have serious ramifications for the way we are perceived by our team.  They will wonder why we aren’t taking the necessary action, as poor performance is often visible for all to see, and may question why they should work hard, if mediocre performance is being condoned.  So it can have serious implications for team morale and productivity.

Your organisation will probably have guidelines and procedures for managing poor performance.  The following guidelines should complement whatever is in place:

1.        Define the Problem

What specifically is the person doing wrong?  Don’t talk in generalities or pick on isolated incidents.  Don’t rely on hearsay or allow emotions to overrule facts.

2.   Determine the Cause

Does the person know what is expected?

Are they aware the performance is unacceptable?

When did it become apparent?  Was it gradual or brought on by a particular incident? Has the job (or your standards) changed over time?

Has the person been adequately trained?

Do they have the proper resources and support to do the job?

Are any external influences affecting their performance?

Is the person in the right job?  Would another job better utilise their abilities?

Do they have a disability or health problem?

Is the unacceptable performance largely due to failure on my part?  – Failure to properly delegate tasks, provide effective coaching and feedback, etc.?

3.   Take Corrective Action

Discuss the issue with your manager, and Human Resources staff if needed.

Keep a record of all your discussions with the relevant staff member and other key parties.

Hold a performance review with the person.  Indicate the reasons for the review, and be assertive (and empathic) in your communication.

Establish a performance improvement program, with time frames, to address the poor performance.  Assure the staff member of your support.

Hold frequent progress reviews.  Recognise any progress.

 4.    If It Persists….

Don’t keep deferring the problem.  Liaise with your manager and the Human Resources department as appropriate, and take the necessary action (including ultimate dismissal).

How effective are you at managing poor/unacceptable performance?  What can you take on board from this article?

Narayan van de Graaff

Catching People Doing Things Right – Part Two

“There are two things people want more than sex and money — recognition and praise.”     Mary Kay Ash


Today’s blog is a continuation from the previous blog. This highlighted what groups of participants came up with during my series of workshops for managers in a large university.

Ways to Recognise People: 

Give positive feedback/’thank you”: “Thank You!”

  • To individual and/or team (both appropriate)
  • In person to the individual
  • In front of their team
  • By email
  • On Intranet
  • In card
  • In newsletter
  • Cc their supervisor/manager
  • Cc the Vice-Chancellor/CEO if significant
  • Personalised letter by manager (or more senior)
  • Positive feedback on notice board
  • Have a ‘thank you’ email folder
  • Recognition in weekly newsletter

Financial Rewards

  • Higher duties
  • Promotion
  • Bonus
  • Increased pay scale

Work and Job Related Benefits

  • Provide car parking space
  • Provide very positive PDP ratings/comments
  • Time off in lieu, early mark
  • Be representative at vendor function
  • Flexible work arrangement to cater for individual needs
  • Campus get-togethers


  • Nomination for awards
  • Create additional awards, e.g. Employee of Month, team awards
  • Give certificate or trophy
  • VC’s Special Development Award
  • Scholarship
  • Corporate awards (for individual and/or team)
  • Silly awards!
  • Recognise anniversaries with meaningful gift (e.g. pin after 5, 10, 15 years, etc.)

Industry and Community Recognition

  • Industry recognition
  • Community recognition – nominate for community awards

How well do you recognise people?  What ideas can you and others take on board from the above list?

In my next article, I will discuss an issue that is such a challenge to probably most managers – managing poor performance.

Narayan van de Graaff  

Catching People Doing Things Right

Beyond Small Buckets of Money

Some years ago, I ran a series of eight Performance Management workshops for all the managers and supervisors of a large council in Sydney.  I asked the General Manager to open each workshop, and say a few words to indicate the importance of the training in context of the bigger council picture, which he did.

At the outset of the first workshop, I could sense a frustration or resistance to the training and asked if they had an issue with it.  They were quick to reply. “We have a very small bucket of money with which we can reward staff, and very many staff.  So we’re really frustrated because it’s the only way we can recognise and reward staff.”

I challenged their assertion, and spontaneously did something which I have done many times since that day.  I got them to brainstorm (through a mindmap) the ways in which we can recognise and reward people.  They got a shock!  They came up with around 25 ways to do this.

Two years later, I did the same exercise with managers from various campuses of a university.  They came up with a substantial list, which is reproduced below and in the next blog.

 Ways to Recognise People:

 Learning and Development

  • Recognise their skills: make them a Subject Matter Expert
  • Work on special projects
  • Give them increased responsibility/decision making ability/scope for initiative
  • Committee membership
  • Participate in meetings at higher level than normally the case
  • Give challenging/fulfilling project/tasks
  • Support learning & development/career and study ambitions
  • Allow them to help with special events

Celebration (more tangible than a simple ‘thank you’)

  • Celebrate completion of successful project
  • Barbecue/dinner/lunch
  • Team events (e.g. team building, bowling, Golf Day)
  • Cake at morning/afternoon tea
  • Pass on positive customer feedback (cc supervisor)
  • Gift at Christmas
  • Flowers/chocolates/lollies
  • Friday afternoon drinks
  • Dinner for two
  • Gift vouchers (movie tickets, David Jones, etc.)

 How do you and managers in your organisation recognise and reward staff for work well done? 

Is the culture one of ‘catching people doing things right’ or ‘doing things wrong’?

Narayan van de Graaff 

“When You Haven’t Had a Kick Up the Backside….”

Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.   Warren Bennis

Strong Foundation

I am very gratified by the many constructive responses to my last article.  Some of your comments related to the following key points:

  • The need to both demonstrate and earn respect (thanks, Geoffrey Bush).  You will earn respect if you are a positive role model.  People will respond much more to what you do than what you say. You will earn respect if you have the courage of your convictions, even if this goes against what others are thinking.  You will earn respect if you are authentic and human, and willing to ‘not be perfect’.
  • The need to trust your people (thanks Brian Rhodes). The word delegate comes from the Latin word delegatio – to entrust.  So many managers seem to find that extremely difficult.  They do work themselves which they could/should have delegated because “I don’t trust them to do it right”, “I can do it faster and better myself”, “My butt gets kicked if they stuff it up”, “I haven’t got time to delegate it” and so on.  For goodness sake, how are people going to develop confidence and competence, unless they are given the opportunity to stretch themselves and make mistakes in the process?  And what’s wrong with investing time in explaining, coaching, constructive feedback and recognition?  Isn’t that a key part of the leader’s job??
  • Practice ‘management by wandering around’(thanks to John Greenhalgh)I am indebted to Bob Ansett for this phrase.  Remember Ansett Airlines?  I’m not sure if Bob spent too much time wandering around and not enough time in his office, but I like the essence of this phrase.  To me, it means spending enough time with each team member so that you can support them, give constructive feedback, identify their learning and development needs, recognise progress, deal with poor performance in a timely manner, and importantly, be able to give specific, meaningful feedback at their performance reviews.
  • “A good manager hires the right people, gives them the right training and leadership, and lets them do their job.” Many thanks, Jim Finch, for this great summary of good leadership/management.  I have trained hundreds of managers and HR staff in recruitment and selection, focussing on behavioural interviewing.  While these techniques are not infallible, they are a darn sight better than the ‘nice chat and gut feel’ approach to recruitment that I still see operating.  Too many managers are unconsciously unskilled –they don’t know that they don’t know!  They don’t recognise the enormous costs of poor recruitment choices they have made and continue to make.  This whole topic merits several articles in its own right.  By the way, ‘the right training’ includes on-the-job training, which some say is around 90% of training.  How effectively do you do that?
  • Many of you seemed to like reference to inspiring a shared vision, challenging the process and being a good role model.  At this point, I need to make a confession!  I borrowed this terminology from Kouzes and Posner, who studied thousands of leaders seen by others to be great leaders.  They found that these leaders almost invariably carried out five key leadership practices.  These are:
  • Inspiring a shared vision
  • Challenging the process
  • Modelling the way
  • Enabling others to act
  • Encouraging the heart

Their book ‘The Leadership Challenge’ has been around quite a few years, yet I believe these practices to be just as important now as when they first wrote this book.

Key question for you: How are you in relation to each of the five practices?  Which is your greatest strength, and in which area should you seek to enhance your skills?  How will you do that?

 Narayan van de Graaff

You’re Doing a Good Job When You Haven’t Had a Kick Up the Backside….

A leader is best when people barely know he exists; when his work is done, his aim is fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.                                                                                       Lao Tzu

Businessmen recognizing one another

For 27 years, I have trained and worked with thousands of supervisors, managers and executives, in a wide range of organisational cultures.  At one point, I carried out a staff resignation survey for a major bank, which was losing literally thousands of staff and not knowing why.  Some respondents attached four-page responses to their questionnaire.  They were so upset about their reasons for leaving the bank that they wanted to pour out their feelings to this stranger (me) who was asking them why they had left.

The survey results were not surprising, given the organisational culture at the time.  The foremost reason for these people resigning was a lack of recognition.  One typical response: “Was there for 32 years.  During that time, I never had even a pat on the back for good work.  Even that would have been nice.”

The above quoted response was indicative of that organisational culture back then.  In fact, one executive, whose team I was training in time management, said to me, “My staff know they’re doing a good job when they haven’t had a kick up the backside for a few weeks.”  I replied, “I’ve spoken to your staff, and know for a fact that they want more than a kick up the backside to know they’re doing a good job.”  I then asked, “How hard would it be to praise someone who has done an excellent job – to simply compliment and thank them?”  He had a blank look on his face, having worked for so many years in a culture where “You’re b…dy lucky you’ve got a job”, and “That’s what you’re paid for!”

 Back to the resignation survey.  Another key factor for many staff leaving was the dominant culture in which they felt over-controlled, with their supervisors or managers continually checking up on them.  One person wrote that he felt like he was in kindergarten all those years, with no trust being demonstrated when tasks were delegated.  Interestingly, delegate comes from the Latin word, delegatio: “to entrust”.

My message to all those in a leadership/management role:

  1. Don’t under-estimate the power of a pat on the back.  And remember: there are many ways you can reward and recognise staff for a job well done.
  2. Entrust your staff when delegating – maintain the right amount of control – not too much, and also not too little.  Provide them with the support and constructive feedback they need to do the job properly.
  3. Inspire a shared vision, and be prepared to ‘challenge the process’ – in a constructive way.

How do you rate, in relation to the above three points?

Are you a Leader or Manager (or Both)?

“Management is ….the process, it’s the organisation and the planning, and then the control.  It’s the logical process that gets the outcome.  Leadership is how you get all the people in the chain up behind you.”                                            David Murray

 So much has been written about leadership and management. Are managers just second rate leaders, or is comparing the two akin to comparing apples and zucchinis?  In other words, are they two different practices, and does one in fact need to be a good leader/manager?

It’s interesting how job titles can change as a reflection of changing thinking over time.  I worked for eight years in a major bank.  When I started there, people in a leadership role were called assistant manager, manager or senior manager.  When I left, team leaders had replaced the assistant managers, and executives/senior executives had replaced the senior managers.

Let’s see what different ‘authorities’ say about management versus leadership.  The quotes come from well-known writers and those who are/were in key CEO roles in Australia. some years ago  As you will see, most suggest that they represent two different functions, both of them very necessary.

Warren Bennis seems to suggest that managers are second rate leaders.  “Managers imitate, administer, maintain.  Leaders innovate, originate, develop.  Managers focus on structure.  Leaders focus on people.  Managers rely on control.  Leaders inspire trust.  Managers have a short-range view.  Leaders have a long-range view.  Managers accept the status quo.  Leaders challenge the status quo.  Managers are classic good soldiers.  Leaders ask what and why.”

In contrast, Geoffrey Kells has said that “leadership co-exists with management.  You must do both.  There is no choice.”  This is supported by David Murray (formerly CEO, Commonwealth Bank), who made the statement at the top of this page.

Sir Roderick Carnegie says something similar: “The ability to manage well and the ability to lead well are two separate tasks.  The best companies have people doing both.” Robert Gottliebsen says: “a strong leader has to have good management skills as well, and the means of using them.”

Don Argus maintains that “leaders are the people who can influence change” and Kouzes and Posner (who have carried out significant research on what effective leaders do) state that “leadership is the art of mobilising others to struggle for shared aspirations.”

Finally, Valerie Pratt says that “there’s often too much management (in the control sense) and not enough leadership.”

My own belief is that one needs to be both a good leader and good manager when having team responsibilities.    We need the skills in planning, controlling and organising tasks/projects, as well as the ability to motivate and enable those who ultimately need to achieve the necessary outcomes.

 How do you rate as a leader/manager?  What could/should you enhance within yourself?

Are You Tall Enough to be a Good Leader??

“Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”                                                                           

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

Back in 1841, Thomas Carlyle developed his ‘Great Man Theory, in which he maintained with great authority that leaders are born, not made.  Moreover (according to him) they possess a range of innate traits, including physical traits.  Great leaders tend to be taller, of course, which is rather unfortunate for women!

Believe it or not, this old argument is still raging.  A study a few months ago by a leading military academic claims to have found that the most effective leaders really are a breed apart, and have brains that are wired differently to most.  It has backed up the theory that great leaders are born – not made.

Scans of 103 volunteers from the US Military Academy at West Point, ranging in rank from officer cadet to major, found that neural networks in the frontal and prefrontal lobes of those deemed ‘leaders’ were different from the others.  These areas of the brain are associated with self-regulation, decision making and memory. Leaders who had a more complex sense of their leadership skills and greater neurological complexity were found to be more adaptive and effective leaders in a range of scenarios.

Perhaps I am in denial about this latest research, because I still subscribe to the notion that leaders are not born, and that they can be made.  By the way, as it happens, my best managers in my long career just happened to be women.

Over the last 26 years, I have spent a lot of time training managers in leadership and team-building.  I have seen many supervisors and managers grow as leaders when they had the right training, support, coaching and mentoring.  So I do believe that leaders can be made. By the way, can you teach an old dog new tricks?  I worked years ago with a psychologist who told me he was so sick of people saying that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks that he rounded up a bunch of old dogs and taught them new tricks, just to prove the point!

Are you an old dog who is still learning new tricks?  Or are you a young dog who is constantly learning new tricks?