Thursday, 22 April 2010

Leadership values

I was recently asked to do a leadership speech to a group of young adults that were about to start university education and it prompted me to reflect on my studies of leadership models over the past 20 years. I am not sure I know any more today than I did 20 years ago. In particular, I was thinking about my observations around emerging and established leaders. We all know the worth of validated personal values both to the leader and the follower. In a recent experiential development workshop called Horse Whispering, it became so apparent that under even nominal stress, if we don’t have a tightly held set of values then our behaviours are entirely expedient, with no regard to the future effect on the team or their current actions. Current and past learning programmes have not encouraged true self analysis on value sets with a view to understanding that which is core and that which is superficial. Further we have now pushed learners to establish on their value set that which is self directed and that which is other directed. We see that leaders feel they inhabit the world where they are judged solely by results and too often how they achieve those results is entirely situational. If their starting position is that they have no ready access to a set of values in which they believe, they feel they have no option but to embrace the “ends justify means” philosophy which powers result-driven cultures. To go back to the horse whispering story... This was a fascinating programme for me as it challenged me personally in a way that had not happened before, and it provided a very tangible demonstration of areas where I was aware needed work, and that now needed some radical surgery. If you do get the chance to try my advice do!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

New dawn leadership

I was reminded recently of an old boss who currently sits on the board of a FTSE 250 company and how his style was one of the most difficult I have ever had to work with in my career. Now none of us is perfect and our flaws and inadequacies are what make us human and, to be honest, interesting. In my many roles in leadership I have learnt more from my mistakes than from the many books I have read.

Now I get to work with some of the top global leaders and I try to understand what are the key drivers and behaviours that distinguish one from another. One of the key questions I get asked is what makes a good leader in organisational terms. I did have the pleasure of sitting down with a team of counter insurgent leaders who have had the experience of leading small groups behind enemy lines in Iraq. Now I am not advocating the adoption of military style leadership, but it was a fascinating study in how you mould a small group with a high risk dependency, a need for absolute trust and an uncompromising ability to act in a co-ordinated way. The leadership skills are toughness, clarity, trust, alignment, decisiveness and a belief in the team.

Toughness isn't about making noise in a meeting. It's about holding people accountable. That can be done effectively without ever taking away anyone's dignity. Great leaders have to bring about continuous improvement that provide break-through solutions for today’s challenges and an environment of change and innovation that includes what is known and unknown about the future. The ‘new dawn’ leader will need key attributes to allow them shape all our futures:-
• Driven to lead
• Leading without looking
• Push for change
• Operates like a Venture Capitalist
• Harnessing The Power of Culture
• Innovative Beyond Imagination
• Rewriting both the written and unwritten rules
• Globally Wired
• Trust and authenticity at their core.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

The realities of trust

It is early morning and I am watching a mother and her baby and thinking of the unbelievable trust bond that exists between them and wondering why, as we grow into adult life, we become less trusting. I listen to politicians and bankers talk about trust and wonder why we do not see predominantly high-trust work relationships? I was recently in a large Japanese car manufacturer, a very big Postal business, and with a bunch of very high powered sales people and all of them were asking, "how do you build trust?". My very simple answer is that you cannot start unless you yourself as an individual, team, leader, business are personally trustworthy. Trust attracts trust. Charles Greene’s “The Trusted Advisor” or Coveys’ “The Speed of Trust” emphasised the importance of trust for achieving organisational success.

They and I maintain that when trust is present, it will significantly enhance the ability to change and supports (radical) change. This is because trust is said to assist in learning, creativity and innovation. Trust is a lubricant for social relations which in turn improve efficiency. We know that the prime organisational regulatory drivers of organisations can be categorised into governmental, organisational, peer, or self regulation. However, we know that the most effective drivers of performance and productivity are self and peer regulation.

The presence of trust, I would argue, reduces the need for detailed contractual and performance monitoring and is, thus, important in governance. If we extend this into more complex environments, detailed contracting and monitoring are often undesirable since they may constrain engagement, motivation, quality, innovation by impacting creativity and initiative. The interactions we have with close friends have a different character from those we have with people we meet socially, people who supply services, or our adversaries. What makes these interactions operate at different levels of trust? Trust is based on credibility, reliability, intimacy, and an acceptance of the need for joined up relationships that are equal in behaviour and commitment. Trust may sometimes not be based on evidence. Indeed, there is a tension between accepting what someone says because of trust, and doing so because one has evidence that what they say is generally true. In the current market environment, where the degree of ambiguity and uncertainty is increasing, with the associated increasing need for change, innovation, learning and risk-taking all of which are enhanced by being in a trust based environment, we must look at the issue of trust in a more deliberate way.

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