Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Manners

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Manners

Article excerpt

We've all been there: the brain stuck in first gear during an interview; an inappropriate remark to a senior colleague or client; uncontrollable shaking before a speech in public. For most of us these are relatively isolated incidents. There are, however, serial offenders whose failure to control their manners and nerves ultimately proves fatal in today's cut-throat business world.

Two recent surveys highlight the problem.

The first reveals that demand for senior executives is booming, thanks to private equity investors' appetite for hired-in, newbroom management -- good news for jobhunters, provided they're up to the job. But the second suggests they might not be, revealing that 71 per cent of business leaders are frightened of speaking in public. This lack of self-confidence also harms other facets of their work, including motivating colleagues and reassuring clients.

Significantly, these business leaders found other tasks such as 'reviewing financial data' much easier. In other words, the skills that helped them climb the greasy poll might not be the skills they need when they get there.

The surveys tell us there is opportunity out there but genuine fear too -- and the stakes are high. The rewards may be mouthwatering but failure can be catastrophic, particularly for those who are mortgaged to the hilt. What can be done? Well, those oldfashioned virtues of manners and selfawareness can be incredibly helpful.

Take interviews, for example. David Jensen of the Brooklands Executives' Professional Development practice, which provides coaching on interview techniques, still believes the cliché that a well-polished pair of shoes is important. 'We interview over 1,000 senior executives a year and never hesitate to point out -- politely -- the need for some sartorial adjustment when required. One man appeared for interview wearing a zany waistcoat: he said it was his hallmark. Nobody had ever pointed out that in fact this was a big disadvantage, because new colleagues would notice the waistcoat rather than focus on what value he was adding. Sartorial neutrality is key, so the raw talent is not diluted by people's prejudices, justified or not. White socks, eight-inch stilettos and loud pinstripes can all be as inappropriate as an ill-fitting wig. And I've seen them all on board-level candidates.

Jensen also quotes the example of a highly rated finance director who arrived for interview with a major public company.

He handed his wet raincoat to the receptionist in an arrogant way and did not respond to polite chat while he waited in reception. …

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