There comes a time when you realise that people assume you might know what you are talking about. Respect? Or merely the fact that you are older so, the logic goes, you must have learnt something. History relates that so called more experienced (older) people can be every bit as stupid as others. They just have less excuse. In fact it became clear to me many years ago that my general ignorance was not, nor should be, a barrier to progressing along life’s random pathways as most other people were similarly uninformed.
However, I have along the way learnt a few “truths” that have helped me meander in a series of crab-like stages through what has worryingly become something resembling a career. I would pass these on to my children but they never listen to a word I say.
Rule 1 – Tour Guides: The Business Gurus.
If you work for a large company you will have to put up with much corporate guff; spurious mantras, tick box initiatives, and heartfelt claims to caring about customers. Of course, the more a corporate vision and such stuff is paraded you can be sure the less is understood about customer’s real feelings.
Tour guides however live the truth. When you stand up in front of a coach at 6.00am with 45 people on board expectantly looking at you to make their day wonderful, there is no escape. You can see it in their eyes, and your every action, smile, word is monitored and scrutinised. The mood is immediate and visceral. If anyone ever claims to you that they are an expert in the “Customer Experience” the likelihood is you should ignore them. Unless that is they have been a tour guide. Better still, be one yourself for a year and really understand the concept.
(Florida 1981, since you ask).
Rule 2 – Choose your boss wisely
You can’t choose your parents but you can choose your boss. Start with some home truths: Most are as ignorant as you. Most know this and are, therefore, even more scared. This leads to odd behaviour ranging widely from superficial over-confidence, alcoholism, to fearful inaction or aggressive control: Sometimes all of the above.
So when accepting a job or a new role, study carefully the person responsible for your career progression. Is there intelligence? Is there common understanding (empathy)? Does the person care (about the job, the customer, you)? Does the person appear to know what he/she is doing? If you get these attributes in a boss, then don’t let go without a fight.
There seems to be a myth that employers/bosses are in control of your life. Wrong, you are. If empathy and trust are missing, then it’s time to move on and attach yourself to a worthier recipient of your loyalty.
Remember, it’s only a job.
Rule 3 – Follow the DOPI Principle
Most strategies are guff. By which I mean worthless. In my experience companies / departments / functions chose a path for themselves built around their own hopes and dreams, and then assume that it will easily come to fruition just because they want it to happen. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
The creation of a strategy should be ruthlessly objective based on information and an understanding of the market. If done this way the answers become more obvious and usually simple (even if not always popular). Once decided upon, then most organisations under-assume (if that’s a word) the sheer commitment, time, energy and bloody-mindedness needed to make it happen. So, instead of emotional decision making and laid back implementation, think Decisions Objective Passionate Implementation. Obvious really, but rare in my experience. (This can be applied to your career by the way)
Rule 4 – Experience is not important
When recruiting someone don’t over-rate experience when analysing the potential talent pool. In simple terms all that matters is intelligence and attitude. A bright person with the right approach to life will adapt and pick up what’s needed in short order. An experienced muppet will be an experienced muppet for a very long time.
To make these decisions requires instinct and empathy – not the usual ridiculous questions HR people tell you to ask. Find out about the real person.
(Of course you have to ask the pro forma questions otherwise you will be accused of not taking the process seriously – just as long as you know what really matters). Naturally, all the above requires you to be a good boss not a fatuous one (see Rule 2).
Rule 5 – Be a Confronting Person
To confront an issue in the workplace is almost always a good thing, whereas to be confrontational is almost always bad. (There may be a few occasions where being confrontational is justified, but like many Victorian rules of grammar the general truth holds good).
In too many company situations where decisive thought and deed are needed, there is a tendency to stay quiet, to avoid argument, to skirt around a problem or, even worse, to ignore it. Often, this culture will exist in authoritarian regimes, which are always bad things (whether it be a company, a sports team or a totalitarian state), and where fear is often endemic. This is not to be confused with autocratic behaviour which is of course something entirely different and often a good thing.
Be brave: confront issues, get them into the open, solve them, and make a difference.
Rule 6 – Be Lucky
The Holy Grail. All lives are subsumed, to a certain extent by a measure of luck or indeed bad luck.
A friend of mine used to crash his motorbike on frequent occasions, often returning home from the pub. (This was a long time ago and we were younger). One night, as we sat in the public bar of the Rose & Crown, Gt Horkesley he turned and said in all sincerity “David, I have crashed so often it must be bad luck”. Quite.
One thing is for sure: to be lucky you have to put yourself in situations where luck will strike. It isn’t of course an infallible rule but in my experience it holds a fair degree of truth. Get out there; make things happen, Carpe Diem. Good fortune rarely comes to those who merely sit and wait.
Rule 7 – Choose your Heroes Wisely
Identifying people you admire and analysing why can go a long way to understanding your own motives and aspirations. Because we are all different we will all choose differing and diverging role models. So, choose and analyse your own. By way of interest however here are a few of mine:
Don Quixote; because tilting at windmills is always to be admired and, indeed, emulated.
Admiral ‘Jacky’ Fisher; who challenged sacred cows and entrenched behaviour, and was revered by his men.
General Patten; who is generally attributed the maxim “have a plan, execute it violently, do it now”. Quite so.
In conclusion then, there is of course only one infallible rule to life: namely, “There are no rules to life”. Enjoy it.
David Kneeshaw – Chief Executive, Royal London 360° – 2008 – present. David Kneeshaw has served as the Chief Executive of Royal London’s international business since 2003. He joined the Royal London Group in 2002 as a Group Business Development Director from and then the chief executive of SLI from 2004 to 2008. A law graduate, he began his career in media, working for Times Newspapers and for London-based advertising agencies before joining Swiss Life in 1992 as director of personal finance. Mr. Kneeshaw has served as the chairman of the Isle of Man Insurance Association since 2012.