Podcast 60 Transcript: Tom Peters on post-recession leadership

Written by Ian Portsmouth

Ian Portsmouth: Welcome to the Business Coach Podcast, an advice-oriented series that tackles the top issues and opportunities facing Canada’s small businesses. I’m your host, Ian Portsmouth, the editor of Profit Magazine and we’ve developed this podcast in cooperation with BMO, Bank of Montreal.

Today, we have a very special episode in store for you, I am on location at the Art of Management Event in Toronto where a dynamite line of management speakers is assembled to share their insights and advice into multiple aspects of doing business better. The headliner, the management guru of all management gurus is joining me right now and that’s Tom Peters. He is the author of several management texts “In Search of Excellence”. His last book was “Re-imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age”. And his next book “The Little Big Things” is scheduled for publication in February 2010. One final thing about Tom, leadership guru Warren Bennett said that if Tom Druker invented modern management, then Tom Peters painted it in technicolor. Tom Peters, thanks for joining the Business Coach Podcast.

Tom Peters: My pleasure, thanks for asking me.

Ian Portsmouth: I want to talk first before we get into leadership about your blog. Backstage you said that the blog is the most powerful marketing tool you’ve ever used? How so?

Tom Peters: Well, I’ve been stunt. I started the blog because I thought it’d be fun. You know, as a nice relaxed way to write about stuff, which I think is key to the answer to the question. And what I discovered in terms of marketing tools is that not that many people comment necessarily, it’s not like half post or anything like that but all sorts of people stopped by and for every person who comments, I run into “my wife has her own furnishing business, she sources from India, I was in New Delhi last week in a place called “Fab Indian”, this guy comes up to me from Spain and he said “I’ve seen your picture on the blog”. So, I mean the point relative to your audience is and we heard this from other people today more than me, it’s just part of a conversation and the real key, I think, is you’ve got to speak conversationally, you can’t be terrified of speaking the truth. It’s got to be friends and family which I think is why, you know, things like Twitter, Facebook and so on are gaining so much traction because a lot of the blogs are frankly stiff, been around for the horn a few times and there’s nobody I run into who becomes a customer who hasn’t visited the website and often it was completely inadvertent.

Ian Portsmouth: And where is the website and the blog?

Tom Peters: Website and the blog are, real toughy.

Ian Portsmouth: Obviously yes. Quickly, thousands and thousands of books have been written about leadership. What do you think the job of a leader is, is it to motivate, is it to innovate, is it to coach, is it to manage?

Tom Peters: Well, first of all, a lot of people say there is a difference between management and leadership and I might agree but I would say you got to do both. I mean manage to me suggests details of execution. Most programs which may be the product of a vision screw up on the details of execution. And so I get angry as the [deck] influence people say, nah, management is passé, you got to be a leader. Well, you got to be both or if you are a real visionary, you’ve got to have a partner who knows the numbers and gets just as excited by the budgets and the project management software as you do about the grand vision of taking on the market. But as to task number one, and it was really the key to what I was saying today is the development of people. A leader is not in the automobile business, a leader is not in the banking business, a leader is in the people business. It’s like, you think of sports. Rarely is the coach a guy who is in the Hall of Fame for being a great player. It’s the person who understands the game, enjoys the game, enjoys developing people. You know I had a speech a while back and I did the fifty attributes of leadership. It was in Dublin and this guy who had the Dublin most famous marketing company came up to me afterwards and he said, “It was absolutely brilliant, you got everything right except the most important thing”. And I said, what did I miss? And he said, “You really got to enjoy leading”. You know, you got to enjoy because all people issues are messy and you got to enjoy the mess of working with people and helping people develop and so on and maybe it’s not your schtick. And it doesn’t mean you can’t have an incredibly rewarding life and change the world and so on, but if you don’t get off on people, then you shouldn’t be in a leadership position.

Ian Portsmouth: Great leaders develop people, they enjoy developing their people and they’re good at developing their people. How has leadership potentially changed or how have people changed that need to be lead after this recession? It’s a deep recession, a lot of, you know, unhappy, demotivated people in the work force.

Tom Peters: There are a lot of answers to that question but I don’t look at the world through rose-coloured glasses. I am too old. On the other hand, as is true with awful things like a war and, you know, you think of things like the Battle of Britain in 1940 and so on, the only thing that tests character truly is tough times. And I mean among other things, it tells us that we should be hiring for character, we can hire a great accountant, we can hire a great engineer, we really need to ferret out the character stuff. So it’s not that I see, here’s a great opportunity to take advantage of something but it’s a character test primarily and so there’s good news within the bad news. And you know, you keep on going on that one and you know, things are not as nasty as they were 7 months ago but I talk to people and I say you know, okay, your cost structure is out of wack, okay, you got to fire people, there are decent ways to fire people and you know, we, Americans, as we all know, particularly in this moment of got our healthcare thing and I say look, speaking as an American, you’ve got to lay the person off, your financial situation is dire, for God’s sake, give them an extra 90 days of healthcare coverage until they can catch on somewhere else and it is that that will rebound to you and particularly, since your audience is small businesses and small businesses tend to be part of relatively small community. Character and reputation are pretty important for Bombardier or for Toronto Dominion or for GE, they are all important within the smaller business that you usually is serving no more than a 5 or 10 or 20 or 50 mile area.

Ian Portsmouth: Tom Peters, thanks for joining the Business Coach Podcast.

Tom Peters: My pleasure.

Ian Portsmouth: Tom Peters, new book ” The Little Big Things” which is scheduled for publication in February of 2010. I know you will all look for it.

That’s it for another episode of the Business Coach Podcast. Be sure to check out other episodes, which you can download from, and iTunes. If you have any comments or suggestions about the podcast, then please send them to me at

Until next time, I’m Ian Portsmouth, the editor of Profit Magazine, wishing you continued success.

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