Wednesday 16 January 2019

The right moves: Professionals need to be self-aware and aware of others to be successful

Paul McNeive
Paul McNeive

Paul McNeive

Are you the leader of a professional firm, or any organisation? If so, there is a very strong chance that you are the eldest child in your family. If you are more junior, but are heading up a department, the chances are still well above average that you were the first-born in your family.

Could it really be the case that something as random as the order of your birth is shaping how you think and how you act? Business people need to be aware of the factors that are influencing them, and of the effect that our behaviours have on clients and staff.

The theory behind this phenomenon is that the first-born child gets more attention than the later children, and feels special. The first-born decides what games the children are going to play - and decides the rules.

First-born children get used to exercising authority and are drawn to professions where there are clear rules, like teaching and the police. And most of the leaders of organisations, the 'high-achievers', are first-born.

I vindicate this theory every time I speak to a group of leaders. Last week, 80pc of a group of US company CEOs I met were first-born. Recently, I spoke to 100 leaders from a large Irish regulatory body - again, approximately 80pc were first-born.

The crucial thing is to have an awareness that factors such as this are influencing how you think and act. And people from similar backgrounds will tend to think and behave similarly.

But there is an inbuilt weakness in that, because an insular mindset means that your firm may be missing out on innovation, new markets and better ways to do things.

Is it any surprise that the person who is arguably the greatest disruptor of estate agency here, Stephen McCarthy of BidX1, was a car salesman?

And the property business has an extraordinarily-diverse range of clients and purchasers. Major developers range from flamboyant city slickers to shy, softly-spoken, rural builders - all equally successful and important to you.

Client companies are increasingly diverse, increasingly led by women, and with growing numbers of staff drawn from overseas. It's important that your firm doesn't struggle to relate to these different types of people, because you are employing people like you, and training them to copy you.

In my earlier years as a chartered surveyor, most of the firms took on one or two trainees each year. It was almost guaranteed that they all came from a group of top schools, lived in affluent suburbs, played rugby, golf and possibly sailed.

We had similar lives, names, married similar women, had 2.3 kids and drove BMWs. That system was unlikely to spark a revolution.

It's better these days; the growth of the property courses in the provincial institutes of technology coupled with the merger of the chartered surveyors with the IAVI helped.

But, notwithstanding that, do be aware that your firm is probably made up of a group of very similar people, trained the same way, and thinking the same way. And, just as the Irish rugby team would win nothing with 15 Johnny Sextons, your team also needs people of different shapes, sizes and abilities, in order to excel.

Apart from the difficulties of relating to a changing client base, this traditional model foregoes the dynamism and the higher energy of a diversified team.

To get different ways of thinking and acting, you need different types of people. More women at board level, more immigrants, more people from different backgrounds.

I agree that there should be more older staff, who want to keep working past retirement age. Their experience and mentoring is invaluable. But I am also certain that many clients love to see some 'grey hair' looking after their business, rather than the latest 'expert', five years out of college. And you should add some people with disabilities - who may do things differently, and whose tenacity will energise your staff - and your clients.

Leaders of firms must develop the awareness that, just because we have always done things this way, doesn't mean it's right.

Because another flaw in first-born leaders is the 'gift' of infallibility. Apart from believing that they are usually right, these leaders are also afraid to let it be seen that they might not be great at everything as that would be a sign of weakness.

But that's not believable - we all have weaknesses. So, heighten awareness, diversify and prosper.

Oh, and don't forget to make all of your kids feel special.

Indo Business

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