Transcript: Command & Control Leadership (EP59)
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Brendan: Hello and welcome to The Culture of Things podcast. I'm your host, Brendan Rogers, and this is episode 59. Today I'm talking with Rex Buckingham. Rex is in Adelaide. Rex, how are you, mate?
Rex: Good morning. All well. Thank you down here, and hi for all.
Brendan: Great to see you, mate. Today we're hopefully streaming across YouTube. We’ve got that down. Hopefully, we'll now be linked on the Facebook side today as well, but we'll see what happens. Rex, I'm going to read a little bit of your bio, and then let's get into our conversation today.
Rex has a substantial background in general management, marketing, manufacturing, finance, project management, HR personnel, and strategic development at both the corporate, business owner, coaching, and consulting level across many industry sectors. He is the Principal of Colour Thinking and leadershipthinking.academy, and an active public speaker and trainer.
Rex believes in the waterfall philosophy, which is change from the top. He delivers thinking and communication strategies that release the exponential power of the team and reengineer processes, policies, and thinking to implement sustainable change. Leadership-based thinking that empowers rather than controls. Rex says, I'm not the solution, but the active observable facilitator.
The focus of our conversation today is command and control leadership. Rex, welcome to The Culture of Things podcast.
Rex: Good morning. Thank you. I'm fortunate chatting with you.
Brendan: Mate, you are our first guest from Adelaide. Well, sorry. I should correct that. We did have Adam Crouch, our local MP, on many episodes ago. He was born in Adelaide but doesn't reside in Adelaide anymore. So you're our first guest that actually is living in Adelaide. Congratulations.
Rex: A big responsibility.
Brendan: It's a massive one, mate. You love your wine out here too. Adelaide is a pretty good place for that.
Rex: That's right. Come on down, try it out.
Brendan: Mate, you've been in leadership for about 40+ years, I think it was, and today our topic's command and control leadership. We had a bit of conversation offline about that, which we can clarify during the conversation.
Being in an industry like leadership and leadership thinking for 40+ years, there must have been something that really triggered your interest a long time ago. Can you share that with us? What was it that sparked your interest in leadership and going down this path and spending over 40 years in the industry?
Rex: Maybe we can start with my personal story. Mom and dad put together some dollars and sent me off to a top school here in Adelaide. I was the most successful boy in the school at being the most unsuccessful. In fact, I caught myself an amoeba. This is sort of command and control as much as the first teacher didn't resonate with me or me with her, and so the second teacher didn't and the third teacher didn't. Each teacher, year by year, would tell the next teacher, yes, Rex is a [...] case little guy, but not much happening upstairs.
I've written a book, which I had here a moment ago, I was going to show you. It's called Develop Through Leadership Thinking. What happened in that environment was good people would tell other good people about Rex and what they could expect from him. What I say often in my book, and I think about it all the time, is that people live up to or down to expectations.
I lived down to expectations every year, and I was completely successful at this capacity to be in the lowest stream, the lowest point of the lowest stream year after year. Then I became successful at something else, and that was stuttering.
When I turned about 13 ½ or 14, I developed this absolutely perfect stutter that didn't allow a second word to escape after the first word without at least four, five, or six attempts. I became almost incoherent, and that didn't do much work for me in the family or me and my father, who just saw me as an embarrassment. My self-esteem really got kicked around in those first years.
Somewhere in my unsteady attitude about me, I found I don't know what it was to approach the headmaster and say to him, at the end of the year when I was still 14 because I turned 15 the next year, I'm not quite sure this is working for me, that would have taken about 10 minutes, and I think it'd be good if I left school and went on to do something else. And he agreed.
I went home and told mom and dad and they agreed. I didn't start what was called year 10 back in those days. I went to work. The control part of that was good people telling other good people what their conclusion was and no one saying, is that the only conclusion or what else could we do to find something in this boy?
I applied for a job at a company called Woolworths. You may have heard of them, they sell groceries and things. There were 32 of us. I lined up on this stairway, 1 of 32. They only wanted one boy and they hired me. A boy with no schooling capacity, no sporting capacity, and couldn't speak, and they hired me.
I can pretty much say within six weeks, my stutter had gone. In that first six weeks, the manager said to me, Rex, you're going to need to get some schooling. I know your parents have spent tens and thousands of dollars, but that hasn't worked, and so I suggest you go down and do some [...] school.
I went down and did some [...] school. I missed an entire year. I went into the following year without missing a year and I was fourth at the top in the class working each day at Woolworths, studying after hours. I went from being at the bottom in the fourth level to the top of the class missing an entire range. Maybe Rex wasn't a dud that he had been proven to be.
Now, my metamorphosis was leadership and that's the answer to your question. That's why I am so devoted to the concept of moving people out of command and control into leadership. A lot of that extends to the people who live up to or down to expectations.
When you expect something of me, then I begin to expect that of me so I don't look for anything else. I don't know where I'd be today if it hadn't been for the way those people dealt with me back when I was 15 and I'm 73 now. That was a fair while ago, maybe even more than 40 of those years you spoke of. But that might put it in some context.
Brendan: What did they see in you? Did they ever give you feedback about what they saw in this 15-year-old lad that was failing in education, I guess you could say the traditional education, but they saw something in you. What was that?
Rex: Failing in life. When you have no self-esteem, you have no friends. You have nothing going for you. I asked John, lead manager, about six months after I started and he said, Rex, of the boys who applied, there was not a single boy there who needed it more than you did. What did they do? They trusted me. They spoke to me about what I needed to do, they walked away, and let me do it.
They expected me to do it. So I started to expect I could do it, and then suddenly I found I could. One of the things my father gave me was energy, and one of the things my father gave me was the capacity not to deal with can't, no, but, try, hope. You have to get out there and do it. I suddenly had an environment where I could do that.
I became the youngest manager in the history of Woolworths. I became a manager of the store when I was not yet 18 and they couldn't give me the key because the insurance policy wouldn't allow me to have a key. I have to give it to my 56-year-old [...] to let me in.
I think I became pretty obnoxious actually, Brendan. I think I became very command and control. I think it was Rex's way or the highway, to be quite honest. I was lucky to have some leaders. I had leaders all through my corporate life who steadied me. Who didn't stop me, who didn't control me, but just used good language to steady me, to ask me questions for me to reflect upon myself? That was hugely helpful to me.
At 73 I'm still working because I love it, but I'm focused on youth suicide and I'm focused on domestic violence. I believe a lot of that comes through people leaving work feeling unappreciated, feeling not included. They leave work with a deficit mindset and they walk back into their environment and all there’s left is negativity.
As you know, negativity breeds negativity. Leadership, I believe, has a huge amount to do with mental health and just calmness within life. We might have to be a little bit command and control in leadership.
Brendan: Mate, we're certainly going to unpack that now. I've already written in some of my preparation that we will unpack a little bit about your interest in youth suicide, domestic violence, and mental health matters because I know it's a passion of yours. But I do want you to unpack this command and control leadership because you and I had a conversation over LinkedIn around command and control leadership. I'd give you a reason why I framed the title of this conversation command and control leadership. You are very quick to point out to me, command and control and leadership are very different things. Tell us a bit about that, buddy.
Rex: Either end of the continuum. The first thing is I guess we are taught command and control from before we are born. When we're laying there quietly in all the fluid just being adapted by mom, if we feel like moving our arm, even though mom hasn't slept for 15 hours, we just move our arm, we kick our leg, and we wake her up again. We learn selfishness. We learn self-centeredness. We learn command and control.
Then we get taught to show command and control, to be leaders, to tell people what to do, to follow me. That comes with school, it comes with sport, it comes with a lot of examples. We get taught to take charge. The trouble with taking charge is it means you don't get a chance to participate. Your job is to follow me. I'm a good leader because you follow me. So command and control is not about bad people. It's not about bad energy. It's just about habits that are applauded in the early days.
I spent a year in Vietnam as part of national service and there's the argument that command and control is important to the army because if you're about to go over the hill to fight the enemy, it's not a good time to have a powwow. Should we do it? Should we come from the left? Follow me is appropriate. Command and control is appropriate
What's missing is ownership. If I own it all, if I own all the thinking, if I own all the information and I just give you jobs out of that, then that's not leadership. Because you don't know why you're doing a job. You go home at the end of the day having done seven jobs. You might have done seven jobs very well, but you don't know how you participated in the growth of the business, how you met the organizational outcomes.
Command is important as much as if I was dealing with you, Brendan, about looking at doing some sort of work together, in the first place, I would share with you some sort of overview. By sharing the overview with you, I bring you into the picture. I don't own the overview and tell you my conclusions out of it, I bring you into the overview not for you to come on board. Command and control is I give it to you to go and do. Leadership is I give it to you so you can come on board and add your thoughts.
I have this thing, it's a little formula. One plus a number should equal greater than the sum of the number. Now you've probably heard that, it's been around a long, long time. I didn't invent it. If I share with you, I sort of know what I know. I never know what I know, I just sort of know what I know.
I don't know what I know until I investigate, order, and check it out. I share with you, you get the bit I give you, and you make your conclusion about that. Then if I'm open and you share it back with me, I now know more than I knew before. One plus one equals greater than just me. When you share your information with me, I now know more and I can audit your information. Out of what you say, a whole new idea be bought.
I spent the first 12 years in corporate management and then I started my own business on the birth of my son 43 years ago. What I found was—in that time particularly, my business was recruitment, coaching, consulting, and mentoring—I almost never was given a brief that ended up being what I would do. Almost always, people wanted me to solve effects and didn't have much time to think about what the cause of the effects was. I'm talking about this through command and leadership here. My leadership of a client will be to say thank you.
Now, let's have a look at where that's coming from. If I come in and solve that problem for you, it will be a problem again because we haven't addressed the cause. I'd lose jobs sometimes because the owner would say no, no, no, I want you to come and fix this up. I might come and fix that up for you, but part of that's going to be fixing up what's happening.
My leadership was to the client to help them come on board, but it wasn't ownership. It was asking leading questions for the client to develop their perspective. For the client to get out of their paradigm of what is possible and what isn't possible, and what's been tried before.
What I found early on was, if we got to a point where there was a strategy, you may have heard the statement that's been tried before, that would never work in this industry. Have you ever heard those statements?
Brendan: A few times.
Rex: That's just habit conversations that come out to slow or stop. Leadership is not being put off the objective by conversations that would seem to put off the objective. As in my leadership way, with a client, I need to understand, let's say a scary point that's their point of rebuttal, I'm going to need to move around that.
In some ways, that is a little bit of command and control in as much as I'm not just being there to receive. But I'm there to get to a point and the point was to loosen up your mind so we could have a one-on-one conversation rather than me owning the conversation, which I seem to be doing right now.
Brendan: It's your job to own the conversation right now, mate. Perfectly fine.
Rex: So long as we know that, we're going along fine then.
Brendan: It's more of me being the active listener on this occasion and extracting as much information from you as possible.
Rex: Sometimes people are seen in command and control. A friend of mine spoke to a fella called Dick Smith. That might be a name you know also. I can say this out loud and I hope Dick's not listening. He was asked to come in and give it a hand because a lot of his executives didn't show much in the way of initiative. My mate said, well, can I come and sit in on an executive meeting? And he said, sure.
At the end of the meeting, he said, boy, you're so powerful. I mean, you know so much. Your brain’s just going all the time. It's amazing, but Dick, there's no space for anyone else to participate. One plus a number equals greater than the sum of the number only if you give the number a chance to speak.
The leadership thing is, you don't have to know. If you made the comment earlier, a [...] I have is, as the leader, I am not the solution. Gather around, listen to me, and get all my wisdom. No, no, what's your wisdom? I want to know what you have to think. One plus a number is part of that and I am the facilitator, not the solution is a very big part about it.
Part of our time together today is I want to help people, who have somebody who has command and control, do it. Go and do this, come back and see me when you're finished doing this. They want to help that person become more inclusive, more connected with maybe that individual who's listening right now. This idea of facilitation rather than solutions is really important. Inside the one plus a number is very important and a bit later on today, I'll explain how they can use that, how they can manage up.
You see, we don't have to go home and spend our time complaining about our boss. We don't have to sit around having coffee complaining about our boss. It's just a condition to life. A lot more fun in negativity than there was in positivity. If I was sitting in a group of six people and they're all complaining about Brendan and his command and control. I said, well hang on a second, what can we do? I wouldn't get an invite to coffee again because it's just not popular. The blame is popular, the fault is popular. So long as it was being pushed out at somebody else.
There's a fella called Abraham Maslow who talked about this, but we might have to save that for another day. We've already had 20 minutes of fun with Rex.
Brendan: Mate, once again a number of things to unpack. We did have a comment on the live stream, just more of a comment rather than a question. But just from Julie, it’s stronger than my excuses, amazing what happens when someone believes in you. Again, just reiterating that point. I guess someone believed in you at Woollies as a 15-year- old kid and look where it's taken you, that journey. Thanks for your comment, Julie.
Rex: Julie, that's really important what you just said. When I was writing a book, I was thinking about when I was 15 and why I didn't take more ownership of who I wasn't or who I was, both those things affect. I came to the conclusion that when you have no self-esteem, you have no pathway. You are just at the end of the path and you just are there to receive whatever comes down because that's the expectation.
I don't know where I got it that I go and talk to the headmaster, what came out of the sky for that one, but the previous 12 years or 10 years, I had no self-esteem so I had no authority. I was just there to receive. It's a good pickup, Julie.
Brendan: Just on that, Rex, I say this very, very respectfully, you're an old-style leadership sort of guy. When I've done research on you, you're not a big fan of profiling, the 360 feedback process, and stuff like that. I love that style of mind. What is that thing that resonates for you through your 40 years?
What's this powerful thing that's made you not shun these things, I know you're not shunning them completely, but there's an old-style to you that I think is maybe missing in leadership today. We're focused on the new bell and whistle and bring this sort of thing in. Is there something in your whole mindset about the value of this, what I respectfully say, old-style leadership?
Rex: I started with Woolworths, spent two years in national service, came back out. Woolworths has changed from very much a, we rely on you to think, show initiative, and run the business. In the two years I was away, they went to complete command and control. The job of the manager was to sit by the postbox and wait for the edicts coming out of the head office about what they would do, where they would put the product, what displays they would have, how they would think, what time to go to the toilet. It was just horrendous, so I left.
I went to work for General Motors-Holden, and I had five jobs in corporate. I'd had no experience in any of the industries that I ever went into and I had five managers who just said, Rex, get on and do it. Let's sit down and work out what it is we want to achieve, what our objectives are, what our KPIs are, not these are your KPIs, what our KPIs are. And if you don't agree with it or if you think it's a bit lopsided.
One of the KPIs I got when I was working as a site manager in a finance company with a verification type manager of a finance company, was that they had a KPI on growth. They had no KPI in margin. I said, you better give me a KPI on margin or I'm going to get growth and it's going to cost your money.
My dad doesn’t think about cant's, no, hope, and trust yourself. When I found a way of patting myself, I found myself to be maybe contrarian. I didn't find it embarrassing to say to somebody, well, thanks to that. Can we look at it from this point of view?
I had people who weren't scared of one of their employees not just standing there and taking it. In command and control, I come and I'll give you an instruction, you say yes, I pretend you agree, and I pretend you're going to go and do it knowing you're not. You go around the corner and you stand at the coffee shop or you stand at the watercooler and you tell all the others in the area what a dope I am, and it's not going to work.
Then I killed the strategy because it was the wrong strategy. No, it wasn't the wrong strategy. It was the implementation. I use command and control to implement it by telling someone directly, go and do this. I have no idea what they understood from the conversation. We have this wonderful question, do you understand? And people say yes. We have no idea what they understand. All we know is we've just disconnected ourselves from them and sent them off into the wilderness.
Brendan: You made reference to the army around command and control. One of the people on the line actually has a son in the army. I guess using that as an example, but I want to bring that back into the corporate space. Is there a place for this command and control? I know you made some references earlier, but I guess the thing that comes to mind is, say, crisis management situations where there's time pressure. Would that be a place where a command and control type of approach would be more suitable?
Rex: I've just been working with a managing director of a 500-employee manufacturing company and he kept saying to me, Rex, when can I use command and control? Because he'd come up through the ranks. This happened to me when I came to Woolworths. I was a little counter boy and I grew up to be the manager.
My obnoxiousness was, I was wanting to be the person who was in charge, who was the solution because that was what I sort of thought it was all about. Command and control has a place in the example you just gave.
Edward de Bono says with the benefit of hindsight when you're developing a strategy to suit what you're just talking about, you develop the strategy and you do that cooperatively, not consensus, never a consensus. Cancer consensus, worst outcome, but you do it collaboratively. You listen to each other. You sound each other out. You test each other. You are respectful, but you just don't follow. Then you come up with the strategy. Now the strategy can be command and control because it's been grown by the value of the people like we all own it.
The major could be saying over the hill as much as the private because we've all got the pattern down that we agreed was the pattern. We mustn't keep looking for ways to be in charge and own outcomes. Keeping in mind that 80% of the clients I had, I have today, don't ask me to do the job I need to do. The lead manager often doesn't know what they actually have to do, they just think they've got to get to a certain point.
I'm working with a client now who hired me to grow their business and I did that for four years. The other day I sat down, I said, okay, our chore now is to grow it back because you've got to a stage now where you're going to have to increase your business by 25% to make the same amount of money because you're going to have to increase your staff and your turnover. You made more money when you're slightly smaller and you had time with the family. Let's redevelop the business back because bigger isn't always better.”
It's called the sweet spot where you get to know you have children and you're not looking to increase your overdraft. Give these places command and control, but it's not the first place we go to. I know because I have had this wide experience, Brendan. I know some stuff.
Whilst I've been consulting, I've started four businesses from scratch. In my coaching, in my consulting, and in my teaching, I was testing my thinking all the time. I only hang out with people who argue with me. If you came down late to try our wine, Brendan, and we sat down, and you agreed with me the whole way through a meal, I probably wouldn't book you to have lunch with the next day. You better disagree with me.
Command and control, there's a place for command control that helps to get clarity. But the clarity has got to be of the people, of the number of people because there’s a number of people that are going to make the strategy fail or succeed, not just Rex in all his magnificence. It'll be Rex and the group of people who are all being listened to, all being connected to, and all being included. That's how strategies survive.
I did this webinar for the Association of Strategic Planning, a world webinar, and I did a webinar for Project Management Institute outside Australia. In those two environments, they told me roughly (rough figures) 70% of strategies fail, 70% of projects never meet the stated outcome—70%.
They were saying, why is it? Because people walk around telling people what to do and people walk around not listening. People hold meetings, Brendan. Just for a moment, I don't know you very well, but you seem like you're quite a nice guy. But say your behavior was obnoxious, you wouldn't get invited to the next meeting.
I would exit you from the meeting because I talk to people who talk my language, but why bother talking to them, we already have that language. The language I need is a person who's showing obnoxious behavior and I'm blaming that person because I'm command and control. Well, leadership is, hang on, what can I do to connect with Brendan? Because I'm going to need Brendan on my side out there in the field because he's either going to sabotage me or he's going to make it work.
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Brendan: We are going to move on. Again, one of the ladies in the live stream, Sonia, talked about loving the idea of moving command and control type people over to being leaders. We're going to unpack that topic in a minute.
What I want to just go back to is that sense of, I guess what I call healthy conflict and surrounding yourself with people that have different perspectives on things because ultimately, again, that meets the formula of bringing you what you know, what they know, bring that together to know more that we know together.
That phrase intelligent disobedience that I saw in some of the work that you've written about and done, can you unpack that a bit? What does that actually mean? And how does that fall into surrounding yourself with the people that have conflicting views?
Rex: You would have heard of groupthink?
Brendan: Yeah, I've come across it from time to time.
Rex: It's a flood. Command and control makes it unsafe for me to say something, so it's safer to say what I think it is you want me to say. You need to find out what it is I think and you pretend to agree with me. So groupthink is the cancer because I've got six people on my executive committee. I've got 17 people on the production line. I'm a supervisor, and I'm pretending to hold a meeting with them. I'm doing another command and control way about working because they don't dare say anything. I've got a couple of case studies I might be able to squeeze in.
Groupthink means that we don't get to hear what you think. The other half of that is you don't get to hear what you think because you never get a chance to say it. So you just walk away thinking negatively to whatever I have said. That's groupthink. Then there's pre-emptive think. I asked Brendan a month ago about this and he just pushed me away. So I won't bother asking him again. I preempt even the question while the thought that you're going to be negative to it. That's a huge amount of the energy out there.
Intelligent disobedience—which only I came across about six months ago and I'm now interacting with the author of the book—is by using emotionally intelligent language, connect with a person who is disconnecting from you by their behavior. So you find a way of coming back in and getting a moment in the sun where they will actually receive your information. You're doing it intelligently. You're not doing it disruptively. You're not doing that because you feel hurt or emotional. It's not an emotional outburst. It's a thoughtful process.
Okay, Brendan—this is a bit more of de Bono and a bit more slow—I hear what you're saying and I get it. Could we just have a look at it from another perspective? I beg your approval to talk to you by showing you the respect of not dismissing. The trouble is we use emotional language. Yeah, I hear what you said, Brendan, but that'll never work. I heard what you say, Brendan. We tried that before you came here. We push people away wondering why they push us away.
If you want to get that moment in the sun, we've got to learn the language. I write about this in the book—change our sentences. You change a sentence and you change a life. If I'm having a problem with you, I can blame you, I can find you at fault. You have your command and control. You’re a bad leader. I don’t even like you. Then I go home, I tell my wife and my family. At the golf course, I've got this horrible person I work for. Or I can change my sentence, and I can take responsibility.
When scientists talk about moving command and control people to leadership, it's about me moving them, not them moving my responsibility. I can do that even when I feel downtrodden. Even when I've tried four or five times to do it and it hasn't worked. I can do it if I look at the way I start the conversation. Have you ever heard the statement, I have tried everything? Have you ever heard that statement? I bet you they’ve tried the same thing 15 times. That's my experience, at least.
Take responsibility, stop fault and blame, change your sentence, and your life changes. I wrote in the book—if you're going to have coffee with someone that you have coffee with regularly, and you know it's going to be boring or you're going to leave and you've just lost an hour, either don't go and have coffee with them or change your introductory sentence when you first see them. That's leadership. I want to get a different outcome. I don't want to blame you. I don't want to waste my hour. I want to like you. You are my mother. I should have a better relationship with you. This applies to mums, dads, brothers, and sisters as much as it does to colleagues and friends.
I can change anything in my life by changing my sentences. That's coming back to leadership. Moving people from one behavior to another is about how I do it. It's about the responsibility I take. It's when I sit down at the cafeteria or the coffee bar, and I don't just listen to everybody else bitching on about somebody. But I have to say, I don't want to be part of that conversation.
I want to actually own a capacity to move it forward, so I go home each day feeling like I've contributed, I'm a worthwhile person, and I deserve my space. Then when I walk in, and I see my kids and my partner—my wife or husband—I can be gracious. I can be loving. I have time. I have space and respect for myself. I've got space to listen to you. I don't have to become annoyed, frustrated, and angry. Mums and dads do a lot of command and control.
Brendan: Again, you talked about moving in your language and how you help a person move from this command or control into leadership. Can you talk more about that?
Rex: It's complex in its simplicity. Maybe I can just share this very quick case study. A client of mine’s wife's sister was being bullied badly at work. She was a nurse—bullied badly. She went to HR about it and the bullying got worse. She went to her manager’s manager and the bullying got worse. Over two years, it became almost unbearable, but she had that thing in her head that she didn't want to quit. She had vomited in the car park before going in, such was the anxiety in her body.
Eventually, my client’s wife said to her sister, go and see Rex. She changed her life the next day almost four years ago with one sentence. The other four people in that pod who responded to that particular nurse still had everyday serious command and control, depreciating behavior, but this girl, black to white. It was as simple as one sentence. One sentence.
But when she took responsibility for changing it, and she moved out of the mindset of it's hopeless—this is just how this person is—how many times I heard this. Some poor little child being manufactured [...] in the womb is coming out an angry person, a bully, or a bad person. I don't believe it. Maybe there's that much about hereditary, but most of it is about the environment I believe, about expectations.
You can change most things by the sentence you use. But the trick is not hanging out with people who are committed to not finding a way. One plus a number should equal greater than the sum of the number. If people around you are convincing you that it's hopeless, then people live up to or down to expectations and it will be hopeless. It won't be my fault, because that's the kind of person they are. It's a sentence.
The sentence I gave this person was, there are three potential ways this person who's going to receive your sentence. They will tear up almost halfway through your sentence, or they'll say something factual like, if you can get those reports to me before 5:00 PM on Tuesday rather than the first thing Wednesday morning, it would make my life so much easier. Quite often, people just don't tell people what they need. They just get bitchy with each other, or she may just go into a rant. But the rant thing, 5%, 6%, 7%, 10% chance; 80% chance would cheer up.
So she sought an interview with her manager and she said to her, it strikes me that I must have done something wrong. I need you to tell me what I need to do differently so we can work as a team. She took all the energy away from the person. We get taught to say things like, if only you didn't do this, I wouldn't do that. You make me feel we have so many negative sentences that we put out there and put out there and put out there, which just substantiates the blame, the guilt, the fault, and the right and the wrong.
It seems to me that I must have done something wrong. Please, you need to tell me what it is so I can fix it. She didn't even get to the I can fix it and the woman starts to have tears coming down her eyes. Her response was, I'm not really a bitch. The frustration is that my manager is so difficult. So she used that sentence on her manager.
Brendan: Such a great sentence and just disarming the whole conversation, isn't it? Really putting the responsibility on yourself.
Rex: If anybody here listening right now wants to make an effect on the person that they are working with because they don't feel like they’re connected with. They're not invited to the meetings they should be. They're not getting the right career pathways. If anything about it makes them feel depreciated and they want to change it, then they have to change it. The person doing this is not going to wake up one morning and say, oh no, what am I doing each day? I must be nicer to Brendan. It doesn't work. It’s me and you, and I’ve got to find a way, my responsibility.
Stop talking to the people who tell you it’s impossible. Maybe give me advice. If you mind, work an hour with me for nothing. Can you imagine an hour with me? Maybe five minutes with me might be enough, okay. But sometimes you just need to talk to somebody. It probably isn't the people you go to normally. It may be somebody that you admire. It might be the local grocer who's always positive and just somebody. You got to dare to share because you're going to dare to believe you can make your life better, not dare to think how can I go to work tomorrow and survive. I'm going to make my life better. It'll be about a sentence. It'll be about a complete lack of guilt.
I don't know if it's an Australian thing—Mark tells us with his Canadian background—we seem to be able to give compliments to people and put at the end of the sentence a little negative. Oh, Brendan, you got the work done on time. Never thought it would happen.
Brendan: That's a passive-aggressive comment.
Rex: Passive-aggressive, yes. I get it then I takeaway, or the person getting it gets just the takeaway. It's a slap across the face for having done a good thing. First, look at ourselves. Second, don't take notice of people who say it's not possible. Third, look at some other ways of approaching a conversation that doesn't include blaming the other person for what's happening—the blame and the fault, the right and the wrong, the good and the bad. There's just no space for it. Be a little self-deprecating. Make it possible and safe for the other person to talk to you. They don't have to jump over a hill first.
You expose yourself. Dare to expose yourself, and 80% of the time you'll be rewarded. I'm serious when I say, give me a call. Tell me what you did. We'll have a chat on the phone. No problem, no charge. When I turned 50, I had a reversal in my life when I lost all of my financial capacity. Two kids at school and I had my wife in that company I have at the time. We have no work, no house, and no car—no nothing. Happy 50th, Rex.
So I say what I say with a lot of energy. When COVID wasn't here, we pop around the world once a year for six weeks and have a nice time because we rebuilt our life. I hang out with positive people. I hang out with people who are doing things that are not working out. They’re not always bitching and complaining about life. That's my leadership of me. I put myself in those positions.
To talk a little bit more about what you can do to help your manager act with you differently is you need to act differently. You need not assume they're going to act with you in a certain way. You need to give them the benefit of the doubt. If they answer you in one of the habitual ways because we all have these habitual comments that we just spit out all the time. If they give you one of those original answers, which you can probably write down before they gave it to you, then you just need to say, well, thank you for that. Can we have a look at this?
You just need to stay sound and stay calm, stay in the conversation, stay respectful, and expect it to work. Expect it to work. Don't expect it not to work because you'll be right when you might as well be right on expecting it to work.
Brendan: That word vulnerability, you didn't mention it but it's coming through loud and clear. Making yourself vulnerable in these situations makes a big difference.
Rex: It does take courage.
Brendan: Absolutely. If I'm a leader who has lived and learned to live in this command and control space, but let's say I've seen the light through whatever reason, what risks do I have? Are there any risks associated with me making a change and trying to make a change to move myself from command and control to this more leadership style that we refer to?
Rex: Leadership style is about connecting. Connecting is about asking. Asking is about listening. Listening is about asking and asking is about listening and listening is about asking. That's how we connect with people. Not ask, listen, tell.
The potential perceived deficit in exposing yourself to look like you asking people is that some people will say, don't you know? Or you will think they will think you don't know. All they'll be thinking is what's happened to him? What's happened to her? What's she doing asking me? They won't trust you at first. If you've been very heavy command and control, they won't trust you at first. They have a response to what do you think will be my job? I don't know. Because that's the habit response to your habit conversation.
I'll be as unusable to you, as you let me be. If I dare to ask you as you think you are hitting it—if I dare to be looking at changing my style, I'm there to connect with you, and I push you away, but self-fulfilling. I'll go back to how it used to be. You will say that I have disconnected here but you have disconnected from me. You can have all the reasons in the world to support why you shouldn't just trust me. You can have 15 pages of reasons why you shouldn't trust me. But if your objective is to be trusted, then you've wasted your time with the 15 pages. Just work out. Expect to be acknowledged. Expect to be connected.
I've seen it happen in executives because I used to own a recruitment company. I've seen managing directors say about their executive committee, I don't talk to them, they’re too consultative. They never know what to do. They've always got to ask somebody else. I'll say to the managing director, how many of your strategies fail? Well, it's very difficult. Why don’t you shut up? Why don't you shut up and ask your people? Have you ever been to the Brisbane show or the Sydney Agricultural Show?
Brendan: Ekka? I certainly have. I grew up in Brisbane
Rex: In the Sideshow area, there's a Sideshow which involves ducks and rifles, can you picture that one.
Brendan: I love it.
Rex: You love it. Okay. So what happens? The duck comes up and your job is to?
Brendan: They're not live ducks. Let me just say, they’re not live ducks.
Rex: No metal duck was hurt in the demonstration.
Rex: Fifteen comments came in—leave the ducks alone. Yes, leave the ducks alone. So what happens is in the Sideshow, up comes the duck and we shoot it down. If we're not careful at command and control behavior, I pretend to ask you a question because I don't really respect you because you never show any initiative because I never let you show initiative. So you squeak out a bit of an answer and I shoot you down. I pick up my rifle.
That wouldn't work, Brendan. Not with the budget, haven't got the staff. I've got 15 different answers to prove that your idea is wrong. I'll shoot you down. Nobody dares to talk to me. I don't get any initiative. No one participates. I got a hole in the head here, my left eye has been shot at. I’ve got a shot in my nostril. It’s not bad people.
Brendan: Damaged duck, Rex. A very damaged duck.
Rex: That's the thing. It's difficult to move out of the safety of being the boss at any level. Interestingly enough, command and control can happen from the floor up. When I got the job with Woolworths, little Rex amoeba started to grow. There was a woman who I'm sure has passed away by now who was on the switchboard because I’m old—73. We didn't have computers. We barely had phones. There was a cam and a string between them.
She was on the switchboard. I had to go past her to get to my office and she had a look. I would go around the back way and up the stairs to go to the office rather than go past her look. She controlled the head office, this switchboard operator. She was a switchboard operator, but she didn't lack intelligence. She had some excellent ideas. The managing director could sometimes be heard to be talking to her, sounding out ideas.
Command and control can come from behavior, can come from just attitude, can come from just a perspective, and it can come under you, up to you, on top of you, or across the peer groups. But it's us who allow it. Whatever I'm getting, I'm allowing. The challenge is I don't know how to change it so I let it be.
I have a manager saying to me, oh no, look, Rex is not performing. How long hasn’t he been performing? Six months. So you've been paying him to come to work for six months not performing? He's not performing? Sounds like you're not performing. That often happens in bullying situations. I know that's just how they are. But you pay them. There's a thing called duty of care. It’s a psychologically safe workplace, but you pay them to work to bully. No, I don't.
All that's missing is a strategy because people say that person is a bully, that's a direction. That person is a bully. Not that person has bullying behaviors, that's leadership. Management is, that person's a bully? Here’s a box, pop him in—bully. Leadership is, he's a person with behavior. Why is that person behaving like that? What can we do to change that behavior? It's a different perspective.
Brendan: Very real mindset shift, which is important. Linking the way you've taken that, and I guess even referring back to our damage dark respectfully and linking it to your passion for mental health. What's the impact? You used an example earlier in our conversation around somebody who'd made some changes to their own mindset, but what are some of the impacts of people within a command and control type environment on their own mental health? What have you seen out there?
Rex: Well, I can't be contentious. I think the labels use way too much. I think the autistic label is used way too much. It's full of fault and blame. It's full of things outside our control we're managing. My experience is that the outcomes of behaviors of other people, very much the outcomes of people live up to or down to expectations. So if I think you're going to be difficult, if I think you're going to be rude in a supermarket, you probably will be rude to supermarkets and it sure as hell wasn't my problem, you must be autistic.
I think a lot of it is, we are a bit eggshell prone. Don't say that to them. Be careful. That can be bullying. A whole lot of eggshell stuff, which is totally unhelpful.
Daniel Goleman writes about emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a really good concept. It's about clarity. It's about respect, honesty, and clarity. It's about care. But it's not about shielding yourself from potential impacts by someone not liking what you said. It’s about having difficult conversations carefully, but having them. That's leadership, not managing the person out because you couldn't fix them because you never told them what was wrong.
I've spoken to people after they've been through performance management discussions and they have no idea what happened. I can guarantee you the thing that didn't happen was the person doing the performance management. They never told them what it was they had a problem with. Now, by some sort of magical situation, that person's going to go away and be better. Well, I don't even know what it was they weren't being good at.
The fear of some people moving away from command and control is, I’m finding it hard enough to run the business right now. I’m hard enough to get the salesman to do what they're supposed to do. How would I be if I looked vulnerable by talking to them, by asking them what they think? It's the fear of losing what I've got for the thing I don't know I'm going to get.
Brendan: Rex, random question—how do you get on with HR people?
Rex: In my book, find on manuscript 17. I thought I'd better write a disclaimer at the front. Because I say, HR is—and I say this with respect but a fair bit of knowledge—the seat of disempowerment in a business. If there's negativity happening in a business, it will too often come from the HR environment.
HR is an add-on. It used to be payroll. They did the payroll stuff. It used to be personnel. And they put it all together and made it a [...] double degree professorship. Somewhere along the line, they forgot about people. My experience with HR is very, very poor. In fact, a friend of mine’s son has done suicide recently. There's almost no doubt that HR lost many opportunities at changing the culture that supported that environment.
So HR, often put in unamiable positions, often not included in the executive group, often resourced for doing negative things and not being given a chance to be heard. But I don't know what it is about the HR courses and I taught Advanced Diploma in HR. I didn't teach the course but I taught the subject. It's at the heart of many things that are wrong in business. And I say about professionals.
The second time I did a final review of my book, added in another disclaimer. I say, if you think you need to go see a professional, you probably don't even know the question to ask them. They're probably going to give you the answer they give to most people who look like the person that you'd look like when you walked in. And you're going to go away and do what they say because they're professionals. Mum and Dad are going to want to talk to you. Your best friend's going to want to talk to you.
If you want to go see a professional, go and see them. If you listen carefully, you're going to be hearing different conversations. Don't push the different conversations away. Listen to the conversations. Write down the comments they make because there are more questions in there. You need to get more questions happening in your mind before you can even get close to a solution. Because you're probably going to find a solution to the question that wasn't the right question.
If you go and see an accountant, a solicitor, an engineer, an architect, or a professional, ask the question. When they give you the answer, say thank you, then say, let's do pros and cons on your answer. And if they say no, shake their hand and go and find somebody else. If they say yes, do the pros and cons. When you're done there, say thank you.
Now, let's look for another answer. Even de Bono says always look for three answers if it's a really important question. Because the first half is just adding a hint. The first answer is the habit. The first answer is spontaneous. So get past spontaneous, get past your paradigm, and look for new answers. So, always pros and cons and then another answer. By then, you'll work out the question you should have asked, and you'll be better off.
For people who are happy enough to still be here, are you too? If you want this, just go on to the Develop Through Leadership Thinking web page. And because of my long association with Brendan and The Culture of Things, I'm happy to give you half price. That will be REX50. We’ll only charge you half price. So it's going to cost you $15. It’s 210 pages of absolutely wonderful stuff.
Brendan: Right, thank you very much. Always giving value, Rex. Love it. Thank you very much, mate. Thank you very much for sharing your story. Obviously quite emotional and sorry to hear about your friend’s situation. Really sad to hear.
Always got to be respectful of people's time and we've been talking for about an hour or so. You spoke right at the start of our conversation about your backstory at 15 at Woolworths and stuff like that. I don't want you to use that example. But I always like to ask my guests, what's that one thing through your journey—and your journey has been extensive—that has had the greatest impact on your own leadership journey?
Rex: It has to be the first five corporate companies before I left corporate life and went out by myself. The first five people who were the managers were absolutely wonderful leaders. I mentioned that none of the things I did in my first corporate position had I ever done before. So I didn't go up a ladder, I went across scaffolding. I was received into senior positions with no background. In my recruitment company, I will give a client, people they asked for. I'll give a three-month guarantee. I'll give the people that I believe were right for them. I'll give them a year guarantee.
The people who I thought were right for them hardly ever had much in the way of background in the industry that I was putting them into. Because groupthink, pre-emptive think, and command and control is so strong, that new people get depreciated almost immediately by having to fit into the culture. I think from this little amoeba thing to whatever I was at the end of my fifth corporate assignment was just sucking in the energy and the behavior—not the words—the behavior of these five absolutely amazing managing directors that I had. That's who I am today.
Brendan: Very, very lucky that you had such good leaders to look up to and learn from in an early start. So fantastic, mate. Thank you very much for what you’ve shared today. We've had, I think, around five people that have taken some time to be on the live stream. So thank you very much. Your comments have certainly resonated with those people on the live stream and what they've said in the chat. They really appreciate it. I want to thank you for your time today.
As I said earlier, with the utmost respect, I love that—unfortunate what I would call—old-style leadership. But I think more of that old-style needs to be in the current and the new style of leadership. Less about the shiny bells and stuff like that. I guess the biggest thing I took from you—which is a massive belief that I have—is the ability to have those genuine conversations makes all the difference.
So mate, thank you once again. Thanks for your offer with the book. We'll put all of these details into the show notes—how to contact Rex. Fantastic guy. Man of unbelievable work experience, a wealth of knowledge. Thanks for sharing today, and thanks for being such a great guest on The Culture of Things podcast.
Rex: I've got this little double-sided cheat sheet, which has a lot of the actual tools you can use in the thinking I've been talking about. That might even be another time we might get to chat. That comes with the book as well. That's the thing you can put on your desk. It helps you get away from the habit behaviors that we all have. Thank you, Brendan, for making it possible for me to speak.
Brendan: Fantastic, mate. Thank you once again. Pleasure having you.
Rex is an old-style leader. He believes in connecting with people, building trust, challenging each other’s thoughts, asking questions, listening, asking more questions, listening, asking more questions, and listening. And in doing so, building commitment to outcomes. New style leadership seems to be more about implementing the newest tool or following some newly marketed business model that takes hours to understand before you can even think about how to implement it in your business.
What we need to understand is that old-style leadership done well enables the intelligence of the individuals to work together and achieve greatness. Old-style leadership is about focusing on the people and how they interact. For me, this isn’t old-style leadership, it’s the only form of leadership. These were my three key takeaways from my conversation with Rex.
My first key takeaway: Leaders believe in your potential. The amazing thing is that as people, we meet expectations. If the expectation is low, we’ll meet it. If the expectation is high, we’ll meet it. We’ll do everything in our power to meet it. Leaders believe in you and will support you to achieve your greatest potential.
My second key takeaway: Leaders build on the talents of everyone. They understand that each person can and should contribute to a solution. They ask questions, allow the person to speak, and use that knowledge to build on what was said before. This process creates buy-in and commitment, and a perpetual cycle of learning and building on each other’s talents.
My third key takeaway: Leaders take responsibility for change. Whether it be helping someone move from a command and control style or providing feedback about behaviors that contributes or detracts from a team, they know they can have an impact. Therefore, take responsibility to initiate change.
In summary, my three key takeaways were: Leaders believe in your potential, leaders build on the talents of everyone, and leaders take responsibility for change.
If you want to talk about culture, leadership, teamwork, or have any questions or feedback about the episode, leave me a comment on the socials, or you can leave me a voice message at thecultureofthings.com. Thanks for joining me, and remember, the best outcome is on the other side of a genuine conversation.
Outtro (music): Thank you for listening to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. Please visit brendanrogers.com.au to access the show notes. If you love The Culture of Things podcast, please subscribe, rate and give a review on Apple podcasts and remember a healthy culture is your competitive advantage.