The leader’s dilemma: Stats or stories?

By Andrew Grant

Where the head goes the body follows:

My son was becoming too adventurous. He had progressed in his snowboarding from the kids’ snow park to the adult park. Making a jump now meant landing on a 45 degree sloping packed ice ramp after clearing a 5 meter air leap into the air – instead of the mere 50cm molehills he had mastered to date. We were saved from undue stress by a new aircushion we discovered at the neighbouring resort, which allowed him to jump as high as he liked and land on a soft rubber bag. A wonderful way to practise those new skills. But soon jumping high and far still wasn’t enough for him. He wanted to try a backflip because a coach once told him that a backflip was easier than a rotating 360 jump. What the coach didn’t tell him was that if he missed landing a backflip he’d end up on his head and possibly in a wheelchair. But he was determined to do it – and annoyed that dad was holding him back. I approached the person supervising the jump and asked him how safe it was to try a backflip onto the airbag. The supervisor told me that many people try the backflip, and they often fail because their approach is too complicated. He said there is only one thing to remember as you leave the ground: Where your head goes your body follows. This was true for both the start and landing of the jump. To my surprise – and everyone else’s within the vicinity – within an hour my 12 year kid was performing near perfect backflips and had even mastered a backwards barrel role (video). He achieved his goal by having one main focus, keeping in his mind that simple principle that where the head goes the body follows. My only worry now is progress for next snow season when there is no airbag!

Kallen Grant backflip barrel role
Kallen Grant age 12 doing a backflip barrel role –
see the video!

On being efficient

This principle doesn’t just apply on the ski slopes  –  direction is often dictated by where we are aiming at and what we are focusing on. And in the cluttered contemporary working environment, the focus can easily end up being on everything other than the important work that really needs to be done by leaders.

If you’re anything like me you’ll love to get those annoying emails out of the way as soon as you get into the office, so then you can get on with the “real work”. We now have the devices to ensure we are constantly connected, so that we don’t even need to wait until we get into the office to be in touch with what’s going on. My iPhone allows me to sneak in an email check in boring meetings, while travelling in taxis or lifts or waiting in long queues, and even just before bed and when I wake up in the morning – all to make sure I can keep on top of the email onslaught and free up time for the needed creative work. What I didn’t realise is that the latest research shows that the little device in your pocket that you can reach the world with may be more dangerous than what some of you might have carried in your pockets as teenagers …


Just how smart are our smart gadgets?

More than half of 1,100 people researched have said they always respond to an email "immediately" or as soon as possible, with 21% admitting they would interrupt a meeting to do so. Apparently 62% of people check work messages at home or on holiday. We are flooded with information ‘& often don’t now know the difference between quantity and quality.  A University of London study done for Hewlett-Packard found that “infomania” — a term connected with addiction to email and texting — can lower your IQ by twice as much as smoking marijuana.  The brain hates uncertainty, and once you’ve tried to process 30 or 40 emails, you’ve already ruined your brain chemistry for higher level tasks that are going to create value. When brain stimuli levels get too high, complex thinking becomes more difficult, making it harder to make decisions and solve problems — key roles for all leaders. Those who are constantly breaking away from tasks to react to email or text messages suffer similar effects on the mind as losing a night’s sleep.  

But perhaps that’s OK, as the very device that keeps us awake, our smart phone, now has a best selling app of the month – ‘Sleep Cycle’ , which tracks our sleep or lack thereof and then tells us what we should already have worked out – that we are kept awake simply by playing with this device!

So do we control our computers and other newfangled electronic ‘timesaving’ devices, or do they control us? It seems they actually use us as a portal between the glittering new world of information and the mundane world where ordinary people have to eat and drink and feel and make real not-always-rose-colored  contact. Computers use our nimble fingers to unlock their codes, releasing raw information into the ether. And in the process our IQ drops. We enter a zombie-like state of sleep deprivation, and our creativity is actually lowered.

You see the problem is that a leader’s job is to inspire, set a vision, give direction, solve high level problems. To do this you need to be inspired, and you need to able to focus. But here is the saddest of news, that as a leader worthy of following you set the tone for the rest of your team/staff/office/employees so they will aspire to follow you. So not only do you risk dropping your IQ and limiting your creative thinking, you also risk a whole office taking cues for you doing the same. Our teenagers would call this the corporate version of a dutch oven.


The ripple effect

Each morning, many of the 5 star hotels in Bali & around the world have an executive meeting of their top leadership team. They pour over occupancy rates and statistics, and I have been told that if all looks good they leave the meeting enthused and energised, but if the stats are poor teams will often leave the meeting with an air of despair. Within seconds of emerging from the exclusive enclave, the admin team outside the meeting room will pick up the scent, and within minutes the energy ripples through the hotel through gossip sms’s blogs and stories. Staff desperate to ensure revenue is not lost feel pressured into focussing on the stats, but if this at the expense of the guest it can be very long damaging in the long term. The focus leaders have and the behaviours that stem from this focus carry across to the rest of the staff and set the tone for the day/week/month . This is hard to measure, but can loosely be referred to as the company culture. It often starts with and is greatly influenced by the leader. Where the head goes the body follows. As the saying goes, ‘the fish rots first at the head’, so if the leadership focus is not positive others will be impacted by the consequences.


Authentic experiences

There was an interesting story in the papers this week about a multi millionaire, Karl Rabeder, who has decided to give away all his money to charity after a 3 week holiday in Hawaii. “It was the biggest shock in my life when I realised how horrible, soulless and without feeling the five-star lifestyle is. In those three weeks we spent all the money you could possibly spend. But in all that time we had the feeling we hadn’t met a single real person – that we were all just actors. The staff played the role of being friendly and the guests played the role of being important, and nobody was real.”

In the hills of Bali’s cultural centre in Ubud lies Amandari, one of the original Aman Resorts (one of the most exclusive resort groups in the world). Amandari has won numerous international awards including the prestigious Conde Nast Traveler Gold hotel award, and here the General Manager Liv Gussing conducts her morning meeting. Liv also needs to look at the stats, but she tries to first steer the meeting to focussing on the overall experience, sharing success stories about both the guest and staff experiences . As part of a visioning program we worked with her on, she even had her staff paint their visions of the ideal hotel and guest experience, and these beautiful and meaningful paintings now hang proudly on the canteen walls. Guests feel welcomed into the unique Balinese village culture that  the staff are so proud to share. Anyone staying here testifies to the amazing authenticity which is at the heart of the culture of this hotel. Sure the property itself is wonderful, but the overall feedback is on the positive personalised culture created.

Have look at the Amandari case study and their paintings here.

While many organizations will talk about personalised culture the Amandari can actually make it a reality. Why? Because of their focus. Where the head goes the body follows.

Stats or stories – what is your focus? It’s your choice. Perhaps it time to stop being ruled by the binary system and start considering the real meaning behind the numbers.



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