This week's Book Review: The Fish Rots from the Head - Bob Garratt

This week’s book was gifted to my husband 19 years ago and I’m sure neither of us has read it. However, its title is imprinted on the inside my forehead as the Chinese proverb (title of the book) was mentioned at a Board and leadership education session I attended 20 years ago.

I’ve finally read ‘The Fish Rots from the Head’ and whilst I don’t have any immediate intentions of joining another board, it’s a fascinating read. I’m almost inclined to download the current (third) edition given the tumultuous time boards and directors have experienced over the past 20 years.

It’s interesting to note that the Australian Institute of Company Directors has the third edition of this book for sale on its website – must be a recommended read for aspiring directors.

It’s an easy read and I was pleasantly surprised that the focus was less on the mechanics of identifying issues with the financial plan, however, more on how to skill Directors to know the importance of corporate climate, culture, accountabilities, strategic thinking styles and leadership.

Whilst Corporate Governance isn’t sexy … it sure is significant if you’re a Director.  Addressed under the chapter of Accountability, governance gets some airplay, however, I would think the third edition of this book would catch up with the ever changing heightened importance of being a responsible director.

As a Director, no matter which organisation or even country you reside, you’re faced with four dilemmas:

·        Be entrepreneurial yet prudent

·        Knowledgeable of day to day actions yet stand back from the management

·        Sensitive to local issues yet have a global view

·        Focused on commercial needs yet responsible for people and partnerships.

Bob’s mission for Boards, is that they are a Learning Board: keeping ahead or at least working at the pace of change encountered by the organisation, stakeholders and society; educating directors on a continual basis. This can be done as a group of Directors, using models and tools shared in the book with the focus on short and long term activity.

During the week I used a SWOT analysis with a client on their Planning Day which is the first tool recommended by Bob for the strategic thinking process. It’s use created a day of conversation which we didn’t finish, highlighting the need to get groups and teams together to think and talk and share their intelligence.

These are the simple standout messages which made the book interesting and informative:

·        Direction–givers need a brain-on, rather than a hands-on attitude.

·        A director needs to use ‘intelligent naivety’ as a key tool of the job. (Like a leader should always be asking questions to understand people.)

·        The Vision should be unattainable in the short term to medium term but sufficiently tantalising for everyone to be exciting about it and see it as a real possibility, even in the worst times.

·        Board members must act out the values they agreed to and check that the company is doing the same.

·        Directors need to scan the environment, religiously reading daily and questioning “what does this mean for us?”

·        Using scenarios to test strategies, identify thoughts and possibilities enabling the killing of a strategy if it strays from the purpose.

·        Avoid creating committees of the board, rather, form working groups which have a ‘use-by’ date.

·        Boards are typically groups of powerful individuals and need to work effectively as a group in the short time which they have together.

·        Directors must think: to the past, in the current and to the future. Right, true and new! Sadly, many Directors look to their past experience and stop there.

When I reflect on the books I’ve read so far, Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday is one which I believe ‘would be Directors’ or current Directors should read to realise the how debilitating their ego can be to their organisation.

Bob offers this activity to help with the Directors development; it’s similar to one which I use however this is brilliant – I can see how dynamic it would be if everyone was honest with their feedback.

ACTIVITY FOR DIRECTORS (and Leadership Teams)

Stop, Start, and Continue. Write the names of each Board member onto individual pieces of Butcher’s paper (large white paper) and these three headings: Stop, Start and Continue. Affix the pieces of paper to a wall in a room and encourage Directors whilst they have a coffee to walk around and write in each category against each board member, feedback and ideas which would help their fellow directors be more effective on the board.

The critical question is, what training and activities have you done whilst in your role as Director? Likewise, as a Leader, what training/learning have you completed to be an effective and efficient Leader? Get in contact with me as I can definitely help you and your leadership team develop.

The third edition.

I’m endeavouring to read 52 Business/Professional/Personal Development books in 52 weeks. Yep, that’s one a week. As I read each book, I’ll share my thoughts, learning and recommendations. If there is a book that you’ve been meaning to read, let me know and I’ll read it for us!


On a quick trip to the USA, I returned to my seat, after a stop in Auckland NZ, to discover that my book was missing. Feeling helpless and vulnerable (someone had invaded my space) my attentive flight attendant returned with a bundle of brand new first class magazines; this kept me busy all the way to LA!

I have retold this story for 17 years and it mirrors the impression created in the opening story of this week’s book’s first page.

Lurking in my office library, I uncovered my tenth book to review; the infamous, Moments of Truth. It’s stood the test of time, erect, although gathering dust, aging and slightly discoloured, however, it’s retained its status as the bible for anyone wanting to seek a customer driven business to compete in the service economy.

Published in 1987.

As a consumer of products and services, our service expectations have heightened in this era of instant global communication. Never before, have we bought more, ordered more ad travelled more. And boy, do we love our ‘service’ stories. We gravitate to amazing service endeavours and congregate and compete with our bad experience stories.

Today, we expect ‘moments of truth’ and have the mechanisms to communicate if we do … and if we don’t. Given the intelligence available we can be remarkably surprised and delighted. However, as Jan Carlzon, author of Moments of Truth and at the time, President of Scandinavian Airlines, reminds us that it’s the people who make the moments of truth happen for others.

Rereading this ‘service bible’ was pleasurable– following Jan’s storytelling – travelling together as he reversed the balance sheets of not only Scandinavian Airlines but two other companies. Talking to us from pages typed almost 30 years ago, how he set strategies, restructured teams and how his teams implemented changes; the why, the approach and how it all eventuated – successes and failures.

It’s a short easy read. No frills, no ego just straight to the point. (I think it’s unScandinavian to have ego and to belittle each other.)

What popularised this book when it was released is that it’s written in the days of ‘command and control, where engagement of staff was limited, and the competition was around creating the tallest organisational pyramid structures furthering the executive from the frontline, opposed to enabling the decision making by those ‘touching’ the client who demanded speed, service, decisions and delivery.

Fabulous moments in the book revolve around exploring the role of a leader ensuring that their staffs’ ideas were implemented, that women should be on the executive team, given their blend of leadership traits (different to men), that the horizontal level of management should be removed unless they were ‘on the floor’ engaging with the customer enabling the frontline team to create great service and moments of truth.

Enabling impressionable memorable moments

If you still don’t know what a ‘Moment of Truth’ (or MoT) is, it’s about memorable impressions formed and created when you come into contact with a business – this can be negative and positive. I recall doing work at the NAB, identifying with teams, all the touchpoints where impressions could be made. This in itself makes you realise that customer service is really customer intelligence!

The philosophy of Moments of Truth still has potential in 2016 and beyond. And I wonder why so many are yet to implement it. Yes, it’s ambitious and still conflicts with those ingrained views that authority and command equate to leadership however with the help of the likes of Patrick Hollingworth* who climbs mountains and focuses on flattening Business Mountains aka pyramid vertical styled organisation structures, we might see more change over the next 30 years.

I’m sure we have all created our own moments of truth but more importantly, what are you doing to enable your staff to provide these moments. Empowering them with the accountability to make decisions, using funds or their intuition to potentially save multiple funds in the long run.

This book reeks of leadership. Jan clearly articulates the responsibility of leaders and the accountability bestowed to staff to make the decisions often required of their managers to treat customers with the respect they expect and deserve ensuring they receive the service which people will talk about for 17 years.

Let me know if you choose to read this book – I’d love to discuss how to bring it to life in your business.

*I listened to Patrick Hollingworth speak at The Future of Leadership event this week – such a coincidence that I was reading MoT’s ‘Flattening the Pyramid’ chapter that same day. Check his website  

I’m endeavouring to read 52 Business/Professional/Personal Development books in 52 weeks. Yep, that’s one a week. As I read each book, I’ll share my thoughts, learning and recommendations. If there is a book that you’ve been meaning to read, let me know and I’ll read it for us!

How do you foster your workplace culture & climate?

As we approach the Australia Day 'Long Weekend', people are gearing up to celebrate. There are flags on cars, the supermarkets are full of Aussie paraphernalia and merchandise and the talk is all about what you're doing on the weekend.

It's this weekend which the behaviours of Australians are truly typified. We can easily describe to others the pride, comradre and the heartfelt caring of each other to those who've never experienced an Aussie Day Holiday.

So, do we encourage this 'culture' amongst our colleagues in the workplace? Do we see people:

  • wearing the company's logo on their chest and singing company songs?

  • eating breakfast & socialising together, and

  • giving empathy hugs and helping each complete their work tasks?

Whilst this is 'tongue ‘n cheek' it highlights the thinking around the possibilities of the culture & climate in workplaces if we foster an environment and lead people to discover how their work can fulfil their 'Drive'. 

Given that we're a compost of nations and generations, our role as leaders is complex - so relax over these three days and enjoy the celebration of our history!