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Losing friends and infuriating leaders

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Mike Levy talks to author, innovative thinker and all round leadership guru, Jonar Nader.
Jonar Nader would probably rather 'think' than spend time to read this article; you should be experimenting with pineapples and jelly. As one of the most iconoclastic of all writers on business, he is an ardent believer in 'thinking for yourself' and not relying too much on the nostrums of gurus and sages.
“I don’t read books any more, I don’t look at the newspapers, watch TV or listen to radio,” says Nader from his office in Sydney. That gives him plenty of time for the original thinking that is encapsulated in books such as the recently updated, ‘How to Lose Friends and Infuriate Your Boss.’ The challenging title tells you a lot about Nader’s philosophies on leadership: stare truth in the face; learn from hands-on front-line experience, rather than via customer survey forms (he is a former senior executive with IBM); operate in an honest and civil way; and understand your enemy.
“I once gave a lecture to a bunch of software people on, ‘How to become a data thief’. There was outrage, but I believe that unless you understand the mindset of your enemy or competitor, you cannot survive. If I were employing airport security staff, I wouldn’t bother with a polite interview. Instead, I'd challenge the candidate to smuggle a dummy-bomb into a departure hall at Heathrow. Unless someone knows how to do that, how the hell can then detect an expert terrorist?

"People run to the accepted wisdom that Good will always prevail over Evil. That is plain stupidity and flies in the face of all evidence. A scoundrel will think of things that you could never dream of. If you are a leader of an organisation, your people should rely on you to be aware of the darker side of business. I believe that is vital to learn about the opposites of our virtues. Some see this as focussing on the negatives, but I believe that an awareness of negativity can be liberating because it allows us to spot the evildoers before they triumph.”

"People should stop going to networking meetings but instead focus on becoming an expert in something. Where are the experts in our culture? Networking merely abdicates success to someone else. "
He admits that on many occasions his audience (he is much in demand as a keynote speaker) does not like what he has to tell them. Many prefer, he says, to believe the stuff produced in most of the world’s business self-help books, which he says are too lovey-dovey and full of platitudes.
“A big guru author on leadership will approach the CEO of some large organisation and be taken out to lunch, meet the board or company President and perhaps play a round or two of golf. He will never sit in the canteen or go out on the road with the truck drivers.” Eschewing the cosy chat circuit, Nader gets his information from life. “All my knowledge and expertise comes not from books but from spending time on the shop floor – talking and listening – seeing how the business operates from the customer’s viewpoint.”
In a truly customer-oriented business, he avers, the lowliest customer-facing employee should be able to knock on the boss’s door and say ‘there is something very wrong here and we need to fix it.’ Instead, according to Nader, companies prefer to spend millions on fancy websites, logos and buzzword mission statements that include ‘customer service’ or ‘innovation’ (very popular these days he says).
Learning from reality, understanding your enemy, and thinking for yourself, are crucial to Nader’s world view. “It is easy to spot a board that has learnt everything it knows from a book or an MBA course.”
Does that mean he is against formal learning? “Not at all – but I always set a challenge: would you sign-up for an MBA course on the proviso that you will never tell anyone that you have an MBA? Most people waste time and money on these courses only to get a bit of paper that they can show-off to their colleagues. An MBA is more often than not a corporate fashion accessory. If you want to learn something really useful, learn to live the life of a good manager.”
Nader uses the term ‘good’ in a very precise way. He is an ardent believer in ‘corporate civility’ – doing the right thing for your people, suppliers and customers. “We are also fixated on expansion, not growth: they are not the same thing. Most corporate leaders forget that it is their duty to grow the organisation. Instead, they bamboozle the board with expansion plans: additional offices in Singapore, for example. In my view, no board should employ a CEO who isn’t prepared to stay the course for at least five, better seven, years. That is rare. What you get instead is a round of organisational musical chairs – hit and run leadership.” This, he says, is precisely the kind of leadership that has led the world into the current mess – “an event I predicted ten years ago”, says Nader without any hint of schadenfreude.
"If you are a leader of an organisation, your people should rely on you to be aware of the darker side of business. I believe that is vital to learn about the opposites of our virtues."
 Nader’s critical eye is also fixed on other targets: the current vogue for networking – “It’s mostly about abuse – who do you know that I can use? People should stop going to networking meetings but instead focus on becoming an expert in something. Where are the experts in our culture? Networking merely abdicates success to someone else. It presupposes that expertise is too hard to attain, so people go in search of an advantage by appeasing someone with influence or power.”
He is also entertainingly dismissive of team building – “You cannot create an effective team by wishing it or lumping people together on an outdoor adventure or getting them all to raise money for charity. A good team is one that, from the start, is made-up (constructed) using the right people. Team-building is like asking a chef to make a chocolate cake from a sack of potatoes. It’s the team’s ingredients that count. You don't beg for team work, you construct a team that works.”
What is the ingredient in Nader’s own success as an author, trainer and consultant? “I'm so grateful to be alive and here. I have a constant wonder about everything I see. I just love to ask questions.” Nader learnt a crucial lesson as a young boy in the kitchen of his parent’s home. “I love making jelly and one day experimented by putting in some pineapple pieces. I waited but it wouldn’t set. I later learnt from my teacher that the acid in the fruit prevents the jelly from setting.” That incident taught the young Nader a crucial lesson: learn from experience, ask questions to discover the truth, think for yourself and never add pineapple to a jelly.

For more on Jonar Nader’s thoughts visit his website: www.LoseFriends.com.

Mike Levy is a freelance journalist and copywriter with 20 years' experience. He is also a writing and presentations coach. He especially loves playwriting and creating resources for schools. Mike is director of Write Start Ltd. For more information go to: www.writestart.co.uk.

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