Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Leadership Meeting

The other day I was talking with a friend who was sounding off about the lack of team work that he was experiencing and the 'every person for themselves' culture. I asked him how often they have a leadership team meeting at his company. "About every six to eight months," he said. with a sense of frustration.

This conversation about the dsyfunctional work environment coincided with my reading of Rudolph Giuliani's superb book entitled Leadership. Here is his description and reflection on his team meetings when he was mayor of New York:

"Every morning, at exactly eight o'clock, I make my mother very happy. Throughout my childhood, she would lecture me on the virtues of finishing my schoolwork before I went outside to play. It used up a lot of daylight, which always annoyed me, but as with almost everything she taught me, she turned out to be right."

"That's why I've begun every single morning since 1981 with a meeting of my top staff. The importance of the "morning meeting" cannot be overstated. In all my time as mayor, I missed very few such meetings, and then only when another commitment absolutely prevented my attendance. I consider it the cornerstone to efficient func­tioning within any system, especially a complex one."

"When I became mayor, I realized that the job could overwhelm me. Without a system for processing the day's challenges, the sheer number of issues needing my attention could easily have dictated the agenda. The main purpose of the morning meeting was to get control of the day and prevent that from happening. We could accomplish a great deal during that first hour, in large part because the lines of communication were so clear. The people who needed to reach me-like the members of any large organization who need to convey information to the chief executive-knew that their concerns could be funneled in an orderly way through their representatives at the meeting; and I could ensure that my deputies and commissioners were working off the same page and could carry a coherent message back to their staffs."

"Paul Crotty, my first Corporation Counsel, knew Mayor Wagner, Mayor Lindsay, and Mayor Beanie, and had worked for Mayor Koch before working in my administration. According to Paul, ours was the only administration that got all the commissioners to speak with one voice. He attributed that to the eight o'clock meeting. He once recounted how, in the Koch administration, a number of commissioners thought that they were empowered to make their own policy statements. After the budget was adopted, certain commissioners would go to the media during the City Council review process in an attempt to raise their department's budget, saying, "Well, if you give me some more money I can do such and such ..." In my administration, commissioners did their bargaining with the Office of Management and Budget. They could always appeal to me, but I wanted disputes settled within the family, not in the press."

"Early in my first term, some staff would try to skirt the scrutiny of other members of the administration by approaching me in private. It was one thing to have your initiative shot down by the mayor, quite another to have your peers suggesting a reason why a pet idea might not work, or a better way to go about it. Those suggestions and debunkings were often best for the city, though, and thus worth hearing. I insisted that all such plans be brought up at the morning meeting. More often than not, the others there had valuable information to contribute and could enhance the plan's chances of gaining my approval."

"The only exception to the rule about skirting the group and bringing matters directly to my attention was Denny Young, officially "Counsel to the Mayor." At every morning meeting, when his turn round the table arrived, Denny would intone the same comment, "I'll talk to you later." He performed a function different from anyone else at the table; rather than managing his own portfolio of agencies and advocating for budgets and projects, he had a single concern: protecting all of us."

"The idea was to get as much work as possible out of the way in the first hour of the day. As mayor-as with the head of any large organization-I had many people trying to reach me. I may have had thousands of employees and millions of constituents, but I had to communicate with them. Obviously, I couldn't do that directly. What I tried to do was to have at the meeting the staff through whom I could communicate to all of those people, or through whom they could communicate to me."

"Here's how the morning meeting worked. At eight o'clock, my top staff-between fifteen and twenty people-convened around a table, ready to discuss the events of the day before and to plan for the one ahead. For forty-five to ninety minutes, we proceeded clockwise around the table, each participant sharing any pertinent news regarding the departments or agencies they represented."

Source: Rudolph W Giuliani with Ken Kurso, Leadership, (London: Time Warner, 2002), 29-30.

Image: Book cover and photo of Giuliani.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

From Bethlehem to Bedlam

In England at the commencement of the 15th century there was a priory where monks and nuns would take refuge and pray. They were part of the Order of the Star of Bethlehem, so the Christ child and the obedient faith of Mary became the focus of their tradition.

In time as they reflected on the gospel and the message of Christmas they realised not that it was too good to be true, but it was so good it had to be true and that it had to be shared with others.

Instead of remaining in the cloisters in the comfort of their communion with God, they recognised that God was calling them to open the doors and welcome in people who were in need.

In time this monastery took in lots of people especially those who were mentally sick and had nowhere to go. It became the Bethlehem Hospital in London, in fact the first psychiatric hospital in that city, although it was then called a lunatic asylum.

Over the years the word 'Bethlehem' became shortened. When people slurred their words 'Bethlehem' became 'bedlam.' And bedlam became the name for a mental asylum and it has become the name for a scene of wild confusion and uproar.

From Bethlehem to Bedlam! The Christmas story begins at Bethlehem where we worship and adore and bring our gifts to the Christ child.

From there we must open the doors to the bedlam of this world. Entering into the madness and disorder with peace and care.

Image: Bethlehem Hospital, Bromley, London.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Open to Suggestions

In Costa Coffee shops their sandwiches and panini always bear these lines:

If you have any comments or ideas about how we can make your visits to Costas more enjoyable we’d love to hear from you. Visit us at:

Let this thought percolate through your mind.

The willingness to be open to improvement is one of the signs of an organization on the move.

The desire to listen to the constructive criticism and creative contributions of any coffee drinker is one of the marks of an effective leader.

Geoff Pound

P.S. I am not receiving any money or free coffee to write this article!

Image: Costa's coffee ware.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Calm Soul of all Things

The historian, Peter Ackroyd, in his ‘biography’ of London writes about the significance of parks, gardens and wide open spaces to people in a busy, noisy city:

The silence of the nineteenth-century city can induce an almost spiritual sense of transcendence.

Matthew Arnold wrote some lines in Kensington Gardens, where peace and silence prevailed over ‘men’s impious roar’ and the ‘city’s hum’:

Calm Soul of all things! Make it mine
To feel, amid the city’s jar
That there abides a peace of Thine,
Man did not make and cannot mar.

So the ‘soul of all things’ is to be recognized within this silence.

Source: Peter Ackroyd, London: The Biography (London: Chatto and Windus, 2000), 84

Image: Kensington Gardens.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Bridging the Ages

This article on bridging the generational gap is stimulating:

Depressing Old Folk’s Home
Six months before she died, my grandmother moved into an old people's home and I visited her there when I was in Britain. She was sitting in the living room with about fifteen other residents, mostly women, half of them asleep. The room was clean and warm, with flowers and pictures, and the care assistants were kind and cheerful. 'The Weakest Link' was on the television ('to keep their brains active' one of the assistants said), and the only other sound was snoring and embarrassing digestive noises. People only moved when they needed to be helped to the bathroom. It was depressing. Gran talked a lot about how much she missed seeing her grandchildren (my nieces aged 7 and 5), but I knew from my sister that they hated going to visit her there, and to be perfectly honest, I couldn't wait to get away myself.

Revolutionary Rest Home
So I was interested to read a newspaper article about a new concept in old people's homes in France. The idea is simple, but revolutionary - combining a residential home for the elderly with a crèche/nursery school in the same building. The children and the residents eat lunch together and share activities such as music, painting, gardening, and caring for the pets which the residents are encouraged to keep. In the afternoons, the residents enjoy reading or telling stories to the children, and if a child is feeling sad or tired, there is always a kind lap to sit on and a cuddle. There are trips out and birthday parties too.

Mutually Beneficial
The advantages are enormous for everyone concerned. The children are happy because they get a lot more individual attention, and respond well because someone has time for them. They also learn that old people are not 'different' or frightening in any way. And of course, they see illness and death and learn to accept them. The residents are happy because they feel useful and needed. They are more active and more interested in life when the children are around and they take more interest in their appearance too. And the staff are happy because they see an improvement in the physical and psychological health of the residents and have an army of assistants to help with the children.

Bridging Isolation
Nowadays there is less and less contact between the old the young. There are many reasons for this, including the breakdown of the extended family, working parents with no time to care for ageing relations, families that have moved away, and smaller flats with no room for grandparents. But the result is the same - increasing numbers of children without grandparents and old people who have no contact with children. And more old people who are lonely and feel useless, along with more and more families with young children who desperately need more support. It's a major problem in many societies.

Circle of Care
That's why intergenerational programmes, designed to bring the old and the young together, are growing in popularity all over the world, supported by UNESCO and other local and international organisations. There are examples of successful initiatives all over the world. Using young people to teach IT skills to older people is one obvious example. Using old people as volunteer assistants in schools is another, perhaps reading with children who need extra attention. There are schemes which involve older people visiting families who are having problems, maybe looking after the children for a while to give the tired mother a break. Or 'adopt a grandparent' schemes in which children write letters or visit a lonely old person in their area. There are even holiday companies that specialise in holidays for children and grandparents together. One successful scheme in London pairs young volunteers with old people who are losing their sight. The young people help with practical things such as writing letters, reading bank statements and helping with shopping, and the older people can pass on their knowledge and experience to their young visitors. For example, a retired judge may be paired with a teenager who wants to study law. Lasting friendships often develop.

Society Bonus
But it isn't only the individuals concerned who gain from intergenerational activities. The advantages to society are enormous too. If older people can understand and accept the youth of today, and vice versa, there will be less conflict in a community. In a world where the number of old people is increasing, we need as much understanding and tolerance as possible. Modern Western society has isolated people into age groups and now we need to rediscover what 'community' really means. And we can use the strengths of one generation to help another. Then perhaps getting old won't be such a depressing prospect after all.

Source: Anonymous writer but the article can be found at:

Image: 'bridging the ages'