The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Elizabeth Fox and Martin le Comte

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Elizabeth Fox and Martin le Comte


Summary: Peter thought that The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership was the best book on leadership he'd ever read and he couldn't resist asking authors Elizabeth Fox and Martin le Comte quite a few questions when they came to Bookbag Towers to chat to us.
Date: 24 October 2017
Interviewer: Peter Magee
Reviewed by Peter Magee

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Peter thought that The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership was the best book on leadership he'd ever read and he couldn't resist asking authors Elizabeth Fox and Martin le Comte quite a few questions when they came to Bookbag Towers to chat to us.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Elizabeth Fox and Martin le Comte: Well, we wrote the book for anyone who leads a team of people, whether that be front line or senior executive and anyone in between. But perhaps especially for those who have been appointed as a line manager or leader but never been provided with the toolkit they actually need do the job required. We really hope the ten Golden Rules of Leadership can provide these leaders with a simple framework to follow.

  • BB: What inspired you to write The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership? How long did it take you to write the book and how did you find collaborating on the project?

EF and MlC: We have both witnessed first-hand the difference great leadership can make to any organisation and how nothing demotivates people more than being badly led, trust us been there and got that 'T-shirt'! It was for precisely these reasons we created the 'Golden Rules', which we've been using with our clients since we formed our business tendevelopment over five years ago. They've continually told us the 'Golden Rules' have helped them truly understand what leadership is all about and how they can practically demonstrate it on a day by day basis. We have always talked about putting pen to paper to share the 'Golden Rules' with a wider audience and many of the people we've worked with have told us we needed to do just that – so now we have!

In total it took us about 12 months to actually write the book as we still had our business to run. It genuinely was a true collaboration which we both thoroughly enjoyed, except that is for one occasion when we nearly fell out during the writing process on a plane back from a business trip to Sydney. It was probably a bad idea to begin with but we foolishly thought we'd have lots of time on a 24 hour flight, but forgot to take into account how tired and irritable we would be after a whirlwind seven days working aboard! Let's just say from then on we agreed to never discuss the book when we were tired!

  • BB: Of the ten rules, do they all rank in equal importance? Which ones are you most prone to breaking?

EF and MlC: On paper yes they are all as important as each other, but in reality it completely depends on the individual. Certain people will find some of the 'Rules' really easy to follow, almost without thinking if you like, but then they will struggle with some of the others. It's all down to personal preferences, style, experience and skillset. We both have Golden Rules that we are really comfortable with and others we really still need to focus on to make sure we consistently demonstrate them.

EF: Without question the rule I break, or have to work hardest on is Golden Rule No 9: Stop it – it's not about you! I definitely have a way I like to work - organised, structured and precise, and I find it hard sometimes to adapt when others want or need to approach things in a more spontaneous or off the cuff way. It stresses me out, so I have to really focus on my flexibility and remember my way is not always the right way.

MLC: The one I have to keep focused on even now is Golden Rule No 8: Your job is to be respected not to be liked, you have enough friends. I have an inherent need to be liked and still have to give myself a proper talking too, to make sure I don't avoid delivering difficult messages or making unpopular decisions even when I know it's the right thing to do.

  • BB: What's the worst mistake you've ever made in a leadership role? How did you correct it and what did you learn from the problem?

MlC: One of the worst leadership mistakes I ever made led to the creation of Golden Rule No: 6! I let someone get away with some poor behaviour, nothing major to begin with but it quickly escalated. We talk about what happened as one of the examples in the book, so I don't want to spoil it for people before they read it. To correct the situation I had to have some pretty difficult conversations which were tough and took some time but it also made me realise that I had made the situation worse by my initial lack of action. Funnily enough I learnt to 'NEVER negotiate on behaviour', as believe me doing so will cause you nothing but trouble.

EF: Crikey, I've made quite a few but I reckon the worst one I ever made was when got the job working as a Customer Service Manager on the intercity trains. The company had decided to bring in people from outside the railway to lead the teams on board the trains, which unbeknownst to me was an extremely unpopular move with the existing employees who felt many of them should have been given the opportunity. I wanted to make a good first impression so I set about making changes that I believed were the right things to do. I completely failed to read the signs of discontent and took very little time to understand who my team were as individuals and how they were feeling. Not surprisingly behind my back my team were trying to sabotage me and were openly criticising me in front of others. It all came to a head when I discovered my nickname in the business was 'big mouth' and that this had come first hand from my assistant manager. How did I correct it, hmmmm…..? Not sure I ever did really. Yes I had some very frank and open conversations with the team, but I think the damage had been done and it wasn't until I moved to lead a different team that I really felt I was able to move on and repair my reputation in the business. What did I learn – a shedload! But perhaps most importantly I learnt as a leader you can have all the ideas and opinions about what needs to be done, but if you don't take the people with you it's worthless. You need to first understand who the people are you are leading and take it from there….. It's basically Golden Rule No 1: Know your people, know your people know your people!

  • BB: Should everyone aspire to be a leader? Are some people born with more natural talent for the job than others, or can anyone learn?

EF and MlC: Can we answer the second part of that question first – yes anyone can learn to be a leader, they just need 3 fundamental things: 1) a range of leadership tools so they know what they need to do. 2) The skills and confidence to use those tools effectively so they do it right. 3) The desire and commitment to motivate and develop others. All the work we do with our clients is about helping them to gain these three things, underpinned by the ten Golden Rules of Leadership .

Going back to the first part of the question, should everyone aspire to be a leader – yes but only if that's something they really want to do. The problem is traditionally lots of organisations promote people into leadership positions because they reach a certain level so have to take on some leadership responsibility. We fundamentally believe this is the wrong approach as many individuals end up leading others through default rather than desire.

  • BB: You're careful to differentiate between leaders and managers, but do you think that the best managers are also great leaders?

EF and MlC: Oh that's an easy one – no! If you don't think about role titles, such a 'a manager' or 'a leader' as that just confuses the matter, but instead focus on the activity required to demonstrate each one, it becomes clear they actually require completely different skillsets. As we explain in the book, management activity is all about following the process and getting the job done, while leadership activity is all about engaging and motivating the people. Most people who line manage others in schools and organisations need to do both activities well.

  • BB: Does a leader need specific technical expertise to take over an organisation? Can you rely on those lower down the management chain to fill in for your deficiencies?

EF and MlC: I guess it depends on what you mean by technical expertise. If you mean does a leader need to know everything about what the team does and be seen as a subject matter expert then definitely not. First and foremost a leader's role is to get the best out of their people, and this is where many organisations go wrong, by promoting technical experts who are great at doing the job into a role that now requires a completely different set of skills. We both have experience of leading a team and knowing very little about what the team actually did. One of us went from working on the trains to leading a team in a bank, while the other went from the entertainment industry to leading a customer service team in a call centre. Neither of us had any knowledge in either industry but went straight in as line managers because of our previous experience of leading others.

As for relying on others to fill in for your deficiencies, we're realistic to know not everyone will be good at everything, and no matter how hard you try you might never master certain tasks because they simply aren't for you. But as a leader for us it's about maximising the strengths of others to make sure the team gets the best possible results, while at the same time making the effort to develop yourself so you learn more.

  • BB: As a leader, what do you dread?

EF and MlC: Ooh sounds a bit cliché but we honestly believe if you can demonstrate all ten of the 'Golden Rules' there is nothing to dread. Before we created the 'Golden Rules' we would have answered that by saying: 'we dreaded having a bad boss, who didn't understand us', and believe us we've both been there! But if we use the 'Rules' effectively we can actually develop our boss to be a better leader. For example we can tell him or her exactly what we need and when we need it (Golden Rule No 2: Treat people as they need to be treated) and we can give him or her feedback about what they do that works for us and what they do that doesn't (Golden Rule No 4: There is no such thing as negative feedback). We're sure you get the gist, but that's the thing about the 'Rules' they are not hierarchical, you can use them to demonstrate leadership with anyone!

  • BB: You've got one wish. What's it to be?

EF: To make a difference. If I can look back and think yeah I had a positive impact, even if it was on just a handful of people I'd be happy.

MLC: If you don't count being the best daddy I can be, my wish would be if having read the book the reader decides to do something differently or even think about how they can lead differently the book has done its job. Other than that, world domination is a close second!

  • BB: What's next for Elizabeth Fox and Martin le Comte?

EF and MlC: First of all, definitely taking the time to celebrate writing this book, but after that it's onwards and upwards to the next book. We already have a few ideas…..

  • BB: Thank you both for taking the time to chat to us and for being so frank - it was most reassuring - and best wishes for the next book.

You can read more about Elizabeth Fox and Martin le Comte here.

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