Category Archives: Stories

Leadership and taking things personally

I spent over 13 years working at, one of the UK’s most successful digital businesses, building products, people and teams.

We started out as a few people around a table and over the next decade grew to nearly 400 people spread around the UK. Along the way I stumbled into becoming a coach, leading Rightmove’s management training and induction programmes which were instrumental in creating and sustaining Rightmove’s small company culture.

In time, I became a manager and, with experience, a leader. I became a manager by being in the right place at the right time but I really only became a leader when I began to discover how powerful it was to take things personally.

Now it’s hard to talk about leadership without offering some sort of definition. The one that works for me is to think of leadership as what happens once you move beyond administering processes and people, when you start creating an environment for that activity to take place: when you move from What to How.

Most managers are really only administrators. The clue is in the name : they manage the flow of resources towards given objectives. They are engaged with ensuring things are done right, not whether the right things are done in the first place.

What ‘the right things’ are, most people can figure out with sufficient insight, a dash of creativity and sometimes luck. How you operate and execute your What, the manner in which you and your team behave is where taking things personally really starts to make a difference.

For me, taking things personally marks the line between
leading and simply managing.

Early on in my career I’d taken over the management of a sales team. At my first monthly sales meeting I was nervous about facing a room full of sales beasts, particularly as they were nursing grievances about their commission scheme. The legacy scheme was clunky to operate, complicated to calculate and forecast, didn’t suit business objectives and didn’t allow for differences between sales territories.

Not realising quite how emotional they were about this clunky commision structure, I kicked off the meeting with a series of necessary changes to the business model and pricing – which were almost instantly met with a wall of objections and obstructions. A little ‘five whys’ later, the commission elephant in the room was revealed in all its stinking clunky glory.

This is where it gets personal. Continue reading →

Entitlement vs Engagement – lessons from sandcastles

Sand working culture: if you start digging, they will come.

Found this great answer on Quora which illustrates nicely the difference between a culture of entitlement and culture of engagement. In answering a question about “What kind of jobs do the software engineers who earn $500k per year do?“, an ex-Googler Amin Ariana retells a story about a lad building a sandcastle on a beach.

The chap just starts digging on his own. He’s not like the other normals mooching about on the beach building solitary one-bucket sandcastles. He has his own vision and just starts working on creating a massive structure with a moat and an enormous trench down to water. Continue reading →