Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It's better to give...

We are on holidays this week, introducing our son ‘Captain’ Morgan to my family, so this post comes to you from Western Australia, looking over Perth’s pristine beaches across to Rottnest Island.

Sitting in our apartment last night, we spent a couple of indulgent moments watching the sun set over gilt-edged clouds at the far edge of the Indian Ocean, as we quaffed an Australian merlot and generally enjoyed life. The moment prompted a number of thoughts, not the least of which was a memory of a period in my life - a little over ten years ago - when I lived in Perth and my career was well and truly in the wilderness.

At that time, having farewelled a promising military career, medical discharge in hand, my employment options were looking dire. This, despite personal and (with the benefit of hindsight) inflated expectations that as a former army officer, the multinationals would be falling over themselves, begging me to take a plum job complete with six-figure salary, flash car and regular business class travel options. Would you like fries with that?

Reality check! Soldiers beware: Being ten foot tall and bulletproof doesn’t really cut it in the corridors of corporate Valhalla. We have a tendency to be classed as square pegs trying to fit into round holes.

It was time to ask for help.

So, I fired a distress flare, writing to a number of senior officers who I’d had the pleasure of serving during my career, in search of written endorsement for my contribution back in the day. I was very pleased to find, within the space of a couple of weeks, that references were speedily returned from some now well-known, some less well-known officers, all equally deserving of their status as patron and mentor.

One of these leaders, not surprisingly, went beyond the call for a letter and over the next few years gave me a lesson in what it really means to be a mentor. In short, having begun the process with a reference, over the following six years this man continued to step up personally with guidance and the occasional catch up session, including ongoing written and verbal references for me, all of which inevitably steered me from the wilderness and into a brighter and significantly more prosperous future.

For that, I will always be immeasurably grateful.

Ever since, I’ve made an absolute point of trying to ‘pay forward’ that same generosity of spirit. I do this by mentoring those people around me who I see as having great potential, expectation and drive balanced with selflessness and humility.

Obviously, these people come into my orbit as a direct result of the opportunities that have come my way, thanks to a mentor who supported me all those years ago. As a result, I believe mentoring is a core obligation for managers at every level in an organisation, if that organisation is to truly encourage and develop its leadership potential as I referred to in my last post.

The great opportunity with mentoring is that there is huge personal reward in being able to guide and advise someone when they are making important decisions about their future.

The trick is to understand an individual’s motivations. I’m not of the ‘greed is good’ ilk, so my approach to mentoring is very much assigned to the person in front of me. Try to understand what it is that motivates them, what they want to achieve, their personal goals and aspirations, without any expectation that your mentoring of them will benefit you. Because it’s not about that.

I encourage anyone with accountability for others to mentor those you are responsible for, and ask yourself, ‘why am I championing this person?’ If the answer is that you just want to see them do well, then you’ve nailed it.

And if you are a person with responsibility for others and you are not mentoring any of them because you are too busy managing, meeting deadlines or focusing on your own career, perhaps you could rethink the way you are developing your team and, importantly, yourself. Mentoring is an inherent element of your personal responsibility as a leader.

Consider me now stepping off my soapbox, and humbly thanking those of you who have already provided commentary on my initial blog posts. Again, I welcome your comments and thoughts on mentoring.

Have you been mentored well, or perhaps you mentor others?

All the best,


Find me on Linked In
Follow me on Twitter

Monday, June 14, 2010

Competence, Empathy and Courage

Mid-last year I accepted an invitation to address a group of police counter terrorism commanders on the subject of leadership and in preparing my notes I realised that trying to simplify and define the subject was a task fraught with danger. After all, I was sure that this specific audience would already have strong opinions on what they would call 'leadership' based on their own very individual experiences and knowledge of people they considered to be leaders.

Searching all things leadership online, much of what I found suggested that leadership was increasingly being defined in a variety of ways to suit an industry or context. What I wanted was to identify some fundamental elements that could be applied in any environment but especially to my audience.

Fortunately, I was able to call upon a handful of genuine experts on the subject, close friends from all over the world who I consider to be the real thing. So, I sent out a quick email, setting the scene and inviting their thoughts. When I eventually gathered and reviewed their responses, I found that they had all kept it simple, refining their thoughts to just a few key elements - without a single piece of corporate jargon to be found! Ultimately I extracted from the mix three core elements that provide a foundation for any leader in any context: 1. Competence, 2. Empathy, and 3. Courage.

I'll keep the explanation short but essentially, a leader must absolutely know what they are doing, what they are responsible to achieve and, above all, they must instil confidence in their people to trust their judgement (Competence).

Also, a leader must lead by example. They must understand fully what they are asking of their people and understand the impact of their decisions upon them. To do so requires an ability to put themselves in their people's shoes (Empathy).

Finally, having set the course and prepared and resourced their team, leaders must then trust their people to carry out their tasks without interference (or allowing others to interfere) with the plan once 'action' has commenced and, having done so, they must be prepared to stand by them no matter what the result or consequences (Courage). Put more simply: "Back 'em or sack 'em" as my Father-in-law says.

That's it in a nutshell and if I try to capture that all in a quote, I'll go with this one: "
Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don't interfere as long as the policy you've decided upon is being carried out."- President Ronald Reagan

When I eventually delivered my address I focussed on these three core elements, along with quite a few other issues, all of which, I'm relieved to say was met with a particularly positive response. So, I'll leave you with one final quote which I also included that evening.

"There is a difference between leadership and management. Leadership is of the spirit, compounded of personality and vision. Its practice is an art. Management is of the mind, more a matter of accurate calculation, of statistics, of methods, timetables and routine; its practice is a science. Managers are necessary. Leaders are essential."
Viscount Slim of Burma

Until next time, I'd appreciate your thoughts, questions and comments: what does leadership mean to you?

All the best,


Find me on Linked In
Follow me on Twitter

Saturday, June 5, 2010

I am born...

G'day to anybody out there who may be interested. I'm Chris Allen and this is the first time I've blogged. I've mulled over this for some time as I've slowly come to grips with what blogging, tweeting and so forth are all about. But with some extra time on my hands (can't believe I admitted to that!), now's as good a time as any.

I've recently finished my first book, an action story - the premise for which is based very loosely upon some of my exploits and those of a number of my significantly more intrepid friends who are still out there doing it for real. Writing has been a labour of love and hate for the best part of a decade but I've really only given my blockbuster the attention it's deserved in the past couple of years. I finally put the finishing touches to it on the eve of our son's birth back in January and now, with some considerable anticipation, have begun the search for a publisher. However, with the lion's share of the work for the book done now, I've apparently become unmanageable at home as I've had nothing to occupy my overactive imagination. So, as a result of some serious hounding from my wife, Sarah, I'm blogging, essentially in the hope of finding a suitable, more immediate outlet for my two-fingered dissertations.

Back in the day I was an Army Officer, a Major. I began my career as a private soldier in the Australian Army before being commissioned and had the great fortune to also serve on attachment to the British Army and the New Zealand Army during a career that spanned almost 15 years. I take great pride in my service as an infantryman and paratrooper and consider myself very privileged to include some extraordinary and courageous people within my select circle of closest friends.

Unfortunately, my military career came to an end as a result of injuries I sustained in service, wear and tear mostly, and so since 1997 I've been engaged upon a number of diverse but all equally challenging pursuits. I spent a fair bit of time in getting back in shape post-injury, some sporadic periods at university (although actual completion of my bachelor studies continues to elude me), a stint in East Timor as the security manager for an aid agency at the height of the emergency in late 1999, and then a bit of time in the professional wilderness contemplating life and the universe. You see, there just wasn't a great deal of call for injured, retired ex-paratrooper Majors in civilian life at that time. Go figure!

It was the September 11 tragedy in 2001 that saw my expertise in relation to risk management and risk mitigation strategies once again in demand. As a result, for most of the last nine years I've been heavily involved in various government security tasks, working for the Australian government and the New South Wales State government including, most recently, with the Department of Justice & Attorney General.

Incredibly, all of this came about because a young Perth boy decided early on that he wanted to write action stories and, if he wanted to do that he'd need to get out in the world and see some of it for himself. Now, I'm working on the second book – a sequel to the first - while we're nutting out publishing arrangements. Keep your fingers crossed for me, if you don't mind. It's a very exciting time in our household. Meanwhile, as I sit here at our kitchen table on a lazy Sunday night, I've been musing over exactly to what end I may or may not use this blog. My current thoughts are that I would like to occasionally engage you over things I'm interested in. Off the top of my head that will probably mean leadership, mentoring, struggling nations, underdogs and the everyday hero.

Now, this has been a practice run so in the best traditions of the aspiring author I've stuck to the adage that '...the best thing to write about is yourself'. Fear not, though, if you're curious enough to drop in again, I'll aim to keep future editions more succinct, much less rambling and, hopefully, much more interesting than this.

All the best,


Find me on Linked In
Follow me on Twitter