Mike France on Directing: A Poor Man’s Managing

Strange as it may sound, my thoughts in recent days haven’t been preoccupied with balance sheets or conference calls, but rather with a poem.

I first encountered James Reeves’ ‘The Office Desk’ in the late 1970s. Back then I was in my early 20s, and starting out in my career as the manager of a Littlewoods chain store. The poem left such an impression on me I put it under the glass top of the desk I had at the time – and it has stuck with me ever since. Here it is:

Today I signed directives at the office

And almost felt the common man’s temptation

Of saying to myself “A good day’s work”

Deriving thence a stupid, small elation.

The simple poem is an excellent reminder of how easy it is to believe we are doing something useful, when, in reality, we are not.

This lesson is especially pertinent to those in senior management positions. Over the years I have seen numerous business managers and owners fall into the trap of becoming little more than paper pushers, all under the pretence of doing something of value.

The reality is that action without insight is of little value, and that drifting through the motions on a day-to-day basis means you become no more than a figurehead. I am sure any business manager can relate to these episodes from time-to-time – think of the three-hour meetings spent sipping coffee, that go around in circles and delivers no tangible outcomes, for example.

So how can business leaders avoid this onset of complacency?

The key is to maintain a profound curiosity, a constant restlessness and a deep hunger to add value to whatever you are doing. Furthermore, by always being aware of and tuned into what we are doing, we are far less likely to subconsciously start resting on our laurels.

As a business owner or leader, part of upholding this hunger and drive also includes maintaining a high tempo and ensuring you are always setting an example, including through your appearance and body language.

Many CEOs or business owners don’t realise the subconscious impact they have on those around them, and the importance of the signals they give off. Any business owner therefore has a responsibility to be aware of their transmissions and to see the bigger picture.

This drive and desire to keep moving forward arguably stems from a basic philosophical approach – that on the brief time we are on this earth, we are here to be productive – and as long as we are able to be productive, that is what we should be doing.

Of course, your wider philosophical approach is influenced by a number of factors – your background, your upbringing, and your own psyche.

But those who keep going tend to have this relentless curiosity and drive. Those who don’t have this drive tend to not only become paper pushers, but tend to also have less self-worth. Dramatic as it sounds, there is even evidence that they die younger – it has been consistently proven that those who retire early often also die early, because they suddenly find their purpose in life has gone.

This is why I could never imagine not working. Retirement is simply something I don’t think about. I am lucky that I don’t think of Christopher Ward as a job anyway – it is simply a really enjoyable and fulfilling part of my life.

Mike France, co-founder, Christopher Ward


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