“Make time for projects you can put your heart into”
Since May 2020, Petr Kazík has been President of the Czech Management Association. He has focused on training, development and communication at the top management level for over two decades. He set up and leads the AHRA training agency. He comes from Karviná, and continues to work there. Many of the phrases he uses in this interview come from this distinctive region. Besides running his agency and managing the Management Association, Petr continues to lecture at universities and write books. His great passion is choral music. The Permoník choir, of which he is also President, was declared the best choral ensemble in the Czech Republic.
I’ve known Petr for over 15 years. We’ve remarked a number of times that it would be great to undertake some kind of project together. We have somewhat eschewed meeting, however, as it was my father, Ing. Vojtěch Štucbart, to whom I dedicate this interview, who brought us together. From the mid-1990s until 2008, my dad was one of the best management skills teachers in the Czech Republic. His students included current Minister of Industry and Trade, Karel Havlíček, successful start-up entrepreneurs, Květa and Šimon Vostrý, and Petr Kazík himself. One can say, then, that during his decade of teaching my dad influenced a whole generation of top managers. The fact that he left this world suddenly and prematurely just under four months after the birth of my son, to whom he is so alike, was very painful for me and remains so.
Our interview was held on a sunny day and in a very informal spirit. We discussed managers and leaders, the Manager of the Year contest, the problem of succession and especially the need for a positive outlook and internal disposition. I think dad would have been pleased.
Petr, I’d like to dedicate this interview to dad. I often think about him and I feel that his legacy is still with us. He hated sloppiness and tardiness; so today I’ve paid particular attention not just to my preparation, but also to time.
Yes, Vojtěch Štucbart was a truly great teacher for me. I took one lesson from his premature passing. I stopped putting off things which aren’t pressing but may be important, and may also be fulfilling. Today I advise everyone to prioritise these types of fundamental projects. The Czech saying that “your shirt is closer than your coat” does not apply here.
I met Minister Havlíček recently and he recalled dad’s maxim on the three core characteristics of managers for the 21st century. These are the ability to be positive, to be prepared for change and to be prepared to learn and continually work on oneself. Does this maxim continue to apply in 2020?
I think that all these characteristics continue to apply, and the current time has demonstrated that they apply many times over. That first characteristic, being positive, is entirely lacking in society. If President Havel spoke of society’s “bad mood” in 1997, then I don’t know how we’d describe the state today. A crude Ostrava term comes to mind, but it couldn’t be printed.
As for being prepared for change, we have seen who was prepared for change and how. Nobody could have imagined that the change would be so drastic. Working on oneself and one’s development has again grown in importance. We should admit that the long period of good times has perhaps made us a little lazy. I often come across the response from top management that it is mainly others who should be working on themselves.
That’s sad considering that we like to recall the fact that we are the nation of Jan Amos Komenský. I have personally recently encountered an unwillingness by top management to undergo an initial diagnostic assessment as part of a training programme, because we all know each other well.
I’d respond with Peter Drucker’s famous quote: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” and connected to this is the realisation that education, or training, is a process like any other. If you want to make use of it, you’ve got to compare input and output. If there’s anything important in training, then it’s evaluation, not education. Evaluation can show us that education is unnecessary. We mostly learn knowledge, or know-what, and people today are aware of that, and if they aren’t then they Google it. Skills, or know-how, are sidelined. However, according to Malcolm Gladwell, if we don’t put in the proverbial 10 000 hours then we can’t achieve mastery. We know everything, but only little of that can we do. And we entirely neglect working on our mindset, which can be influenced, so that people are more enthusiastic, willing or positive. When people have that enthusiasm, then it works. If they don’t, we won’t achieve change even with the best schools and education; we’re simply not going to apply it in our daily life.
Let’s stick with management theory. One often-debated issue is the difference between a manager and a leader. While in the past there were few capable high-performing managers, today everyone wants to be a leader.
I think we’re going to continue to have two different top categories. Almost anyone can be a manager. From the perspective of executive or process management, any kind of algorithmic activity can by its nature be measured, and can thus be controlled. I perceive leadership to involve immeasurable factors – the ability to have vision, the ability to have charisma, the ability to influence others. This is all based on character and to a certain extent it cannot be learnt. One can, however, support the growth of certain competencies in this area. If we consider hierarchic management systems, they don’t need a personality, and even suppress them. That is basically a trait of hierarchies.
The most fundamental characteristic of a leader is the ability to take responsibility. And looking at the upcoming generation, I don’t see much of a willingness to take responsibility for others. In my work with children and young people, I perceive that on the one hand they are more self-confident, but on the other hand they lack the willingness to take risks and put themselves on the line. A leader must have a healthy self-confidence, but not adolescent arrogance or defiance. And it is my perception that the education system today doesn’t support a healthy self-confidence. Here in Ostrava, we talk of being a steely character. And I think that the youth aren’t really building up a steely character so much as making merry at parties and in bars. The new generation needs higher demands and extreme situations. I consider many young people to be a little spoilt, because prevailing conditions for them are great. I’m happy for them, but it’s going to be that much harder for them to handle the pressure of the age.
So you don’t see much hope of the young generation building on our innovation and entrepreneurial tradition at the moment? Is the time coming when young people aren’t going to seek out a cushy job in a multinational corporation or the civil service, but are rather going to want to set up a start-up and then sell it to a large corporation, as is the case in Israel?
It’s a tricky question. I’m not a sociologist, but I think that we have got creativity encoded in our genes. Sure, the greatest symphonies in the world are Czech! We’ve given the world and art incredible personalities. I love Prague; any time I walk from Hlavní nádraží train station to our office on Wenceslas Square I find myself enraptured by the beauty of the buildings and space around me.
As you initially mentioned, I am the proud President not just of the Czech Management Association, but also of the Permoník choir, which has a tradition going back 55 years, while the CMA has a 30-year tradition.
The children in this amateur choir are going to be performing in the famous Carnegie Hall next April for the third time. If children from Karviná can sing at such a level that they are repeatedly invited to Carnegie Hall, then it fills me with optimism not just for Karviná, but also for the Czech Republic as a whole. The potential is here. We need to reach out to children and get them for something. All we need is the diverse work done against the engrained system by great teachers, company managers and innovators, in order to reach just a few children who will then grow into the leaders who will manage a thousand more. We don’t need a leader in every small organisation; we need a few great leaders. We just need one new Baťa.
We are both passionate about choral music. My daughter sings in the Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir’s concert division, and my son sings in the concert division of the Pueri Gaudentes boys’ choir.
I like to use the example of well-known concert ensembles to explain the significance of the problem of succession, so often discussed today. For a long time, the Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir and other top choirs were an unattainable goal for us. This year, the Union of Choirmasters awarded Permoník the title Choir of the Year. I myself learnt everything of importance in the choir. Most great choirmasters have succeeded in their career, but few of them have trained high-quality successors. Thus the departure of the choirmaster is usually accompanied by a fall in quality. At Permoník, the Šeiners laid down their baton five years ago. All of us in its management today have been with the choir since six years of age, so we have been able to build up a good grasp of it.
As President of the Czech Management Association, you’re going to have international co-operation within the European Managers Association on your plate. What countries can we co-operate with, or what are the examples of good practice we can find inspiration in?
I’ve only been in my role briefly, so I’m just beginning to look around. European Managers have expressed great interest in our Manager of the Year contest. European Managers used to be more of a kind of union organisation, defending the interests of managers. They admire our Manager of the Year contest. We really do want candidates to demonstrate management skills which are not just about creating profit, or economic success. We also look at, as previously discussed, innovation and working with people. After a quarter of a century, the contest has undergone major changes and we now make our evaluations more objectively, and we can also say more strictly. I’m curious to see this year’s results, which will be announced on 20 October. Our objective is to help in organising a European Manager of the Year contest, and I hope that our 2022 finalists will be able to take part in its first year.
Finally, I’d like to ask if you have any tips in regard to balancing your work and personal life, the importance of relaxation and well-being. If this pandemic has taught us anything, I think it would be to look after your mental health. What should (not just) managers pay attention to in this difficult time?
Our discussion has now come nicely full circle. So managers should certainly pay attention to the three rules we mentioned. Let me look in particular at the rule of positive thinking. In the early 1990s, we learnt to be successful and achieve what we want. Although many achieved what they wanted, there was no increase in the numbers of satisfied people in the population. Today, the challenge is to learn to be satisfied with what we have achieved. I myself have changed my approach in coaching time management, because we cannot manage time, but we can manage ourselves within time. Today, I focus more on self-assessment, achieving goals and especially satisfaction with what we have achieved. The approach taken by the founder of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, particularly resonates with me. He defined a concept of well-being which he calls PERMA. And my latest book, which bears the working title “Rukověť PERMAnentní životní spokojenosti” (PERMAnent Life Satisfaction Handbook) and will hopefully be published next spring, is about this concept. We still lack a positive mindset. And I’d end with a quote from the leader whom I most appreciate from contemporary history, namely Václav Havel. And his sentence as follows has also become my motto in life: “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense – regardless of how it turns out.”
By Linda Štucbartová