The failure of leadership

The bright-eyed, bushy-tailed recruit has managed to make the grade, lands the job and starts work. They are probably sold on the dreams peddled during the recruitment process but a gradual process of disillusionment often follows – the culture shock of actually working for this company and realising it doesn’t quite live out its ideals. As Mike Myatt explains in his excellent post,, somewhere down the line this “talent” (not a person, merely talent with particular skills) decides to leave. Why? Look at his list:

The leader failed to: unleash their passions, challenge their intellect, engage their creativity, develop their skills, give them a voice, care, lead, recognise their contributions, increase their responsibility and finally keep commitments.

All of this is a succinct way of saying, there are people working in your organisation and these people have lives, dreams, hopes, ambitions, passions, ideas and skills. Since we spend so much of our time at or doing work, it is supposed to be the God-given outlet for all of these things. What business (and the Christian church) needs is real leaders who are able to lift work out of the humdrum, grey, boring existence that is the reality for so many. If each person is able to fully develop as a person and live out the purpose for which they were created, even through their work, we would all be living fuller lives.



Scale the corporate ladder? No thanks.

During a recent people management lecture, I was again horrified by the level of “fitting in” required by potential job applicants at all levels. Reasons for rejection included “not looking right”, “not able to project the company’s image” and “not fitting the company culture”. This is backed up by another article I read recently, which said prospective employers were more likely to reject applicants who don’t share their interests – and this criterion was more important than other aspects, such as qualifications and experience. When I read this article today I was again struck by the level of prejudice and inequality that exists in so many workplaces in this country – even when trying to get a foot in the door. As Miss Berkeley rightly states “British society will always be run by the pale, male and stale” and that’s why I gave up on what is often called a traditional career path 12 years ago.

After going freelance I realised fairly quickly that the amount I could earn was only limited by the quality of the work I provided. I no longer had to fit in to get ahead. Since everything comes and goes by email, I rarely talk to anyone on the phone and I can count the number of customers I have met face-to-face on the fingers of one hand, so nobody judges me on my height, weight, clothes, accent, or anything else except the quality of my work. I don’t have to obey anybody’s rules, play office politics or turn up with my game face on at the same time each day.

The research at Cranfield tells me there are still very few female directors and CEOs of large companies – but actually I don’t feel like playing the game and I’m sure there are plenty of others like me out there – intelligent, capable women who have opted out of the battle in favour of running their own business.

So as I look to the future, the kind of work I want to do, people I want to be with and the change I want to make both in my life and that of others, it’s unlikely to involve a job with a large corporate. All of that energy wasted “trying to fit in” will be better spent fulfilling my true, God-given calling. And that’s what I intend to do.

Economists: get real

I had to smile when I read this:

This is my third time round for economics and I wondered how much it had changed in 20 years – er, not much! It still consists of trying to understand theoretical models that bear no relationship to reality. It’s just that at MBA level we have to be able to explain why that is the case rather than just know it.

One of the more memorable lectures consisted of a 70 minute tirade on the fact the existing models don’t explain the current crisis and the lecturer had wasted his entire career to date because he had no answer on how to resolve the situation.

So I agree with this elder statesman, it’s time for economists to work on real-world problems faced in this globalised, crisis-ridden, heavily-indebted economy rather than on scoring points from their fellow academics.

However I think he may need to work on the title of his new journal. On that point, I agree with Ruth Bender, who tweeted “Most women have an innate understanding of the economy”…

The frustrations of CAT tools

After 12 years as a freelance translator, I’ve learned a few things along the way. Not least of these is how (agency) customers use and abuse CAT (computer-aided translation) tools. Most freelancers are blessed or cursed to use at least one such tool – after all so many customers expect us to use them. Back when life was easy before the economic crisis, one CAT tool was usually enough but these days things are tougher and to earn the same as before flexibility is called for. Over recent weeks I’ve taken to accepting jobs with a variety of tools – proprietary systems operated by larger customers (usually online), immature tools developed by manufacturers of content management systems (who need to learn a few tricks from the established players) and one program that I used to use 10 years ago. The problem is that each of these cost money to buy and – more importantly for your average freelancer – take a long time to learn how to use. The simplest of tasks can be extremely complicated – e.g. which combination of keys do you press to move from one segment to the next.  With the online systems, how long does it actually take to move to the next segment? All of this slows me down. Using my normal CAT tool (SDL Trados Studio 2011) I know what I’m doing, can work quickly and get through the work efficiently. However, every time I have to use a new tool, work is agonizingly slow until I get used to it – and time is money so my stress levels rise as every minute passes and I’m not earning money.

My other major frustration is when a customer uses a particular software but doesn’t know how to use it properly. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to explain to your customer how things work because they don’t have a clue. In other words the freelancer is expected to – and actually does know more about the software – than the agency customer. Ah, I sense a business opportunity: training my customers…

So as technology moves on at its never-ending fast pace, the question is: how many tools are enough? Where will the demands placed on and expected of freelancers end? First of all, we already have to be

  1. experts in the language
  2. specialists in a few subject areas
  3. business savvy to run a business and actually get paid
  4. software experts to meet the requirements of various customers.

So can I please ask my customers to choose one of the most popular software packages, learn how to use it and take the pressure off their freelancers so we can focus on doing what we’re good at – which, believe it or not, is actually translating.