Leadership and Management Tips by Tom Peters

Monday, 28. October 2013

Last week, I had the great pleasure to experience management guru Tom Peters live on stage at one of his full-day seminars. Executives from all over Europe followed the invitation of ZfU International Business School Zurich which hosted the event to get leadership and management tips from the "master" himself. And they were anything but disappointed. Peters offered a true firework of ideas and inspiring quotes giving the audience lots of food for thought. I was really impressed by his passion and his unconventional and engaging presenting style which is hard to come by among business speakers.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to summarize the entire contents of the four seminar sessions in a single blog post. So, here is my personal top 10 list of Tom Peters' tips on how to achieve excellence in chaotic times:

  • #1 Listen!
    Strategic listening is the most important competitive advantage, says Peters. "Listening is…the ultimate mark of respect…the heart and soul of engagement, kindness, and thoughtfulness…the basis for true collaboration and partnership…the engine of superior execution…the key to making the sale… the sine qua non of renewal, creativity, diversity, and innovation..." "Ineffective leaders talk, effective leaders listen!"

  • #2 Treat your employees like customers
    Peters said that for 20 years he’s been telling the business community, "the customer comes first." But he’s changed his mind about this. Apologizing for the abuse of the English language, he now says: “If you want to put the customer first, you have to put the person who serves the customer more first.” He explained that he learnt this lesson from Herb Kelleher, one of the founders and CEOs of Southwest Airlines, who accomplished the feat of making an airline profitable. Kelleher famously said: "Your people come first, and if you treat them right, they'll treat the customers right." The classical top-down command and control style of management needs to be replaced in favor of an approach that facilitates collaboration and empowers employees to maximize their contribution to the organization

  • #3 Ask your employees what they think
    The four most important words in an organization are: What do you think? By asking this question, you show your employees that you value their opinions and trust them, which in return will encourage them to follow your lead. Also, every employee is a potential source of ideas. So, ask them what they think!

  • #4 "Don’t forget to tuck the shower curtain into the bathtub“
    It’s the little things that remain in our memory and make up for excellent customer service. If you want to be successful, always remember the maxim of hotelier Conrad Hilton: "Don’t forget to tuck the shower curtain into the bathtub."

  • #5 Re-imagine your business again, and again, and again
    In times of disruptive change and hypercompetition, businesses need to constantly re-invent themselves. "Innovate or die!" - that’s the inconvenient truth everyone needs to acknowledge, says Peters.

    When aspiring for dramatic change, errors and mishaps are inevitable. The important thing is to take every opportunity that presents itself you, be prepared to fail, and learn from the experience. “No fast screws up, no fast learning. No big mistakes, no big learning.”

  • #7 We are the company we keep
    We are like the people who we hang out with. At its core, every relationship-partnership decision (employee, vendor, customer, etc.) is a strategic decision about whether we are innovative or not. To underpin his argument, Peters quoted FedEx Founder Fred Smith: "Who’s the most interesting person you’ve met in the last 90 days? How do I get in touch with them?"

  • #8 „Don’t benchmark, futuremark!“
    Benchmarking is nothing more than imitating current business practices. Therefore, tomorrow you can only be as good as your competitor was yesterday. Instead of benchmarking, companies should do what Peters calls "futuremarking." They should be the future others will want to copy.

  • #9 Be great, not big
    Companies don’t need not be big to be most successful. Small and medium-sized companies are often particularly good at building strong relationships with customers, suppliers, and their local communities as well as in creating an intimate working environment for their employees. In addition, they specialize in niche markets where they offer unique products and services. Maximum proximity to the customer and employee and being distinct—the key drivers for success!

  • #10 Give women the status they deserve
    Women now tend to be better educated than their male counterparts and have the necessary qualities and skills to succeed in today's business environment, which is characterized by collaboration, diversity, and openness. They also make 75% of all buying decisions (!). Therefore, it is only logical that women should make up a significant part of any executive and management team.

Peters himself admitted that lots of the advice he gave to the audience was more or less conventional wisdom. However, executives and managers tend to forget these things in the heat of the moment. What lies at the core of everything he says is the deep conviction that the key to and purpose of business success are the people. "Business has to give people enriching, rewarding lives ... or it's simply not worth doing," he quoted the British entrepreneur Richard Branson. How true!

Tom Peters is very open in sharing his presentations. The full ZfU presentation can be found on his website.

Alexander Zimmermann