Not to be confused with Chechnya

‘I disagree with the name Czechia,’ Regional Development Minister Karla Slechtova tweeted some time ago. ‘I don’t want people to confuse our country with Chechnya.’

Confusion, in general, seems to surround the suggestion that we should now call the sententiously named Czech Republic, where I live, Czechia. As I understand from my Czech colleagues at LLP Group the attempt, spearheaded by the Czech Foreign Minister, to rename the country (or rather, the Republic) has failed. The Government didn’t approve the plan.

I myself thought it a rather good idea, and I started to use the term ‘Czechia’ in all the marketing texts I write and on every other occasion that arose. Apparently I even began to mutter the new name in my sleep. It’s simple and so much less ponderous than the longer form. And I really don’t think it’s likely to be confused with Chechnya (but then, as a resident of the place, I know that ‘ch’ must be pronounced as a ‘k’ so Czechia doesn’t sound in the least like Chechnya to me).

states

I wondered how countries get their names and how territorial nomenclature is governed. It isn’t. Confusion and disorder abounds. Look at the complete list of sovereign states on Wikipedia (not an uncontroversial list, since not all of them recognise each other). Most sensible states are designated using one-word nouns or proper names (Austria, Afghanistan, etc.). And many of them tell you something about where they are (African, for example), where they are in relation to one another (North or South Korea), the kind of political entity they are (Republic, Kingdom, Emirate, etc.), or the physical feature from which they are formed (Islands). Most also imply the kind of people you might find in the territory (Hungary, Albania, etc.).

Only a small minority take the form of adjective followed by the type of political entity, such as:

  • Central African Republic
  • Czech Republic
  • Dominican Republic
  • United Arab Emirates
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • Vatican City

Only ‘Czech’, ‘Dominican’ and ‘Arab’ give you any clue as to the kind of people you might find in their territories (does Vatican tell you that they all wear frocks?) and ‘Dominicans’ from the Dominican Republic only use the sententious form to distinguish their state from Dominica.

As for the United Kingdom and the United States, those names tell you nothing beyond the nature of the political entity (we are subjects in the former, and they are citizens in the latter).

One or two do it another way round:

  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Republic of Congo
  • Federated States of Micronesia

Just a few are based on their physical form:

  • Marshall Islands
  • Solomon Islands

These might well consider calling themselves the Marshalls or the Solomons.

But the Netherlands are no longer the Nether Lands.

Wouldn’t it be entirely sensible, and easier for students of geography, if the United Nations reviewed the names of states and prescribed a standard form such as:

The [continental] [optional physical nature] [political nature] of [majority people, or, where none, other term] and a formula for deriving a short form.

So, for example:

  • The European Republic of Moldova
  • The European Kingdom of Belgium
  • The European Republic of Czechia
  • The European Island Kingdom of Britain
  • The Caribbean Island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
  • The Eurasian Dictatorship of Russia

Sententious, but informative and practical

Short forms:

  • ERMOLD
  • EKBELG
  • ERCZECH
  • EIKBRIT
  • CAIRTT
  • EDRUSS

Though I’m not sure these are catchy enough.

 

 

Delegation – My Way or the Highway!

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Some months ago I attended a meeting designed to bring business men and women and potential business coaches together. Each of us could talk about areas where we thought we might need guidance. One man, who’s successfully run his own business for more than 15 years, bewailed the fact that he could never find ‘good people’. He was still searching for a successor, someone who might, one day, run the business on his behalf, and to whom, in the meantime, as he trained him up, he could delegate important day-to-day decisions.

Of course he was kidding himself, as many of us could see. The problem, and I could tell that  everyone was thinking it, was that he couldn’t let go. He couldn’t delegate.

‘They never work out,’ he said. ‘Either they leave or I end up firing them. What is it about this country?’

To my mind Czechia (as we’re now supposed to call the Czech Republic) isn’t exceptional. It’s a small country, but there are plenty of pragmatic young men and women ready to learn and lead.

‘Might it be something to do with you?’ I asked, as tactfully as I could. ‘Are you sure you’re delegating properly? It mightn’t actually be a recruitment issue, you know. It could be a management issue.’

I don’t think he liked the drift of my question. But that, too, was symptomatic of the issue. And his wasn’t the only big ego in the room. One by one, everyone moaned about something or other, but no one was really interested in anyone else’s opinion.

myway

Delegation isn’t easy, especially if you run your own business and you’ve got used to having things your way and doing things your way. You come to believe, like an absolute monarch, in the divine rightness of the entrepreneur. Your way is the only way. No one else can possibly get it right.

But if you can’t delegate then your business won’t grow. And you won’t ever be able to sell it, because it won’t work without you. You’re likely to be its sole source of value if you can’t assemble a competent and independent management team around you. It’s no good saying that you can’t find the right people, or that the right people won’t stay. Rather, you’ve got to find the right way of delegating so that your company acquires a life that isn’t dependent on you, and attracts staff who are happy to stay.

The first mistake we all make with delegation is to believe that when we delegate we’re simply doing things by proxy. We think we can double our capacity simply by making another person an extension of ourselves. We want a clone, programmed with the knowledge we have, to react in the ways we react.

This is quite impossible, of course. No one is like us. In fact, no one is like anyone. And we’re foolish to think it’s fun to be a clone. We micro manage our staff from a distance castigating them for not doing things exactly the way we would do them. They’re not even ‘learning from their mistakes’ because nothing they do is really them. No wonder they hesitate to make decisions and call us for our advice about the most trivial things, every hour of every day, and exasperate us further. In the end we find we haven’t really doubled our capacity. Our protégées usually fail to meet our expectations, or we fail to meet theirs as employers. We fire them or they leave.

After we’ve made too many expensive mistakes of this kind, we try to delegate in a slightly different way. We stop the micro management and we pretend that we’ve delegated full decision-making responsibility and that we won’t interfere in the day-to-day.

‘Don’t call me,’ we say. ‘You’ll know what to do. Trust your own judgement. And if you make mistakes, you’ll learn from them.’

Only, of course, we don’t actually trust their judgement and we’re usually working with a very personal (our own) definition of what constitutes a mistake.

I once tried this form of delegation during the early years of my company (LLP Group), leaving for two weeks’ holiday in Zimbabwe, out of sight, beyond telephone contact, with the lions, the giraffes and the elephants, on safari. And when I came home I made a long list of everything that my colleagues had done ‘wrong’.

Real delegation goes further than the training of clones. It goes beyond the apparent granting of full ‘responsibility’ to managers if what we actually want is that they make exactly the decisions that we would make. Real delegation means more than ‘letting people learn from their mistakes’. Rather, it’s a matter of accepting that if people do things differently from us, that doesn’t mean they’re making mistakes. Their ideas may be better ideas than ours, their methods may be more efficient, more pragmatic. They may know more than we do.

If we want our businesses to grow, we’re bound to need specialist help from people who know more about some things than we do. We must learn to do the unthinkable and defer to someone else’s expertise. Collectively we achieve more that way. Ten ideas are better than one idea as long as a quick consensus can be formed and we can make a clear decision, whether personal or collective.

Real delegation grants others the responsibility to do things differently from us. If we can accept that, we’ll find plenty of ‘good people’ wherever we’re running our business – even in Czechia. I’ve found plenty of very good people.

In Praise of Immigration

I can’t understand all the fuss about immigration. Most of my best friends and family are immigrants. I’m an immigrant myself. Putting aside the subtle distinctions that some immigrants and anti-immigrants make between expats, migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers, let’s just think of immigrants as those who settle in another country indefinitely, whatever their purpose, whether in search of opportunity or sanctuary.

immigrants

Let me itemise a few of those who populate my business, social and family life.

I am a British immigrant to the Czech Republic, where I’ve built a business in IT, software and consulting – LLP Group. I’ve been made welcome, despite my lazy failure to learn the local language. Serious cultural mismatches have been few, and the most serious have had to do with the proper making of tea.

My business partner, Barbara, is an immigrant, the daughter of Hungarian immigrants to the United States. I couldn’t have built the business without her. Her husband is an immigrant from Serbia.

My friend and colleague Darina is an immigrant from Slovakia to the Czech Republic (though it’s true these were constituent parts of the same country when she made that fateful journey). I couldn’t have built the business without her, either.

My partner is an immigrant from Moldova, now a British citizen, working in Prague.

My friend Jo, who has built a PR and Marketing business in Prague (JWA) is a British immigrant, and her partner Jan, an immigrant to Britain in the late 1960s, has returned to Prague as one of the few lawyers qualified to practice in both countries.

My friends in Prague are immigrant French, Georgian, Romanian, Slovak, and so on. And I have some local friends too.

My brother is an immigrant to Switzerland where he married a Swiss French musician. He was made to yodel at his wedding, but otherwise has faced no particular indignities.

My partner’s sister Doina is a recent immigrant to the United Kingdom. She qualified as a pharmacist in the summer, sent herself on a crash course in English in Plymouth, walked into a dozen pharmacies in London and landed herself a job inside a week.

Immigrants are hard working, determined, ambitious, tolerant, appreciative. The overwhelming majority enrich the life of the countries they live in, culturally and materially. They are rarely bent on destruction or social benefits, or the slaughtering of animals in the gutter, forced marriage or female circumcision. They have fled or sought new opportunities to avoid such things.

I write this today because I met the best taxi driver in Prague yesterday. He drove me from my office to the airport. Mr Linh (his card doesn’t give his first name) is Vietnamese, and has been driving a taxi and working with tourists in Prague for four or five years. He spoke English perfectly, and (as far as I can tell!) speaks Czech well too. He underbid his rivals on Liftago (the taxi App I always use), bidding 18 CZK instead of 28 CZK per km. He was just around the corner, and with a keen sense of market opportunity he grabbed the chance for a longer than average journey.  His car was clean and he drove with care. No hints of ash or unwashed clothes.

And when he dropped me at the airport he offered me a gift from a basket of Christmas presents he’d wrapped for his customers. I had to take his word for the fact that none was explosive but after thirty years of business travel I am a good judge of taxi drivers. I have never before been given a gift by a taxi drive, assuming you can discount those cards that point you in the direction of striptease.

Mr Linh – +420 702 348 888 – the best taxi driver in Prague.

choc

I wish immigrants the world over a very Happy Christmas. And the rest of you, be glad of us!

Solidarity with the Refugees

hand and number

The refugee problem in Europe has reached a crisis point and our governments are talking policy and theory whilst refugees die. They aren’t doing enough to help the tens of thousands who are risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean seas, or the plains of Central Europe, in search of a safe and better life.

Thousands are stranded outside Keleti Station in Budapest, unable to travel on to Germany, though Gerrnany will accept them. Thousands are drowning in the Mediterranean as they attempt to reach Europe from Libya and Syria.

In the Czech Republic refugees at the border station of Breclav are being ‘labelled’ with identifying numbers, written by the local police force onto their skin. This is disgraceful, horribly expressive of a Government attitude that suggests these individuals are merely inconvenient objects.

Though, in defence of the country in which I live I should point out that of all the nations of Central and Eastern Europe, the Czech Republic is by far the most liberal. It has long been so (the only one to stave of fascism between the Wars). It is the most tolerant, and the most secular. It has, in fact, accepted large numbers of immigrants from all over the world, including me. This ‘mistake’ in Breclav is an anomaly and will probably be rapidly resolved.

Our Governments and the people of Europe need to show kindness. True, there are long-term issues that must be addressed, but the current emergency demands only one immediate response – compassion and practical help –  urgently.

Write a number on your hand and show solidarity with the refugees.