Sep 30 2017| Leadership | Values
by Phil Eyre Founder
Winston Churchill famously said: 'It is the courage to continue that counts.' His statement rings true today as the pace of change and challenge increases for leaders in all areas of commerce and society.
This was the central theme tackled by Northern Trust Guernsey at their annual regulatory conference last week. I was privileged to give a keynote speech on leading through change, highlighting three leadership factors that are essential for businesses to harness the changing and challenging environment.
Northern Trusts’ Robert Angel and Jean White expertly set the regulatory scene, their presentation brilliantly framed by another quote from Churchill: 'It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see.'
It was refreshing to hear a regulatory perspective that acknowledged uncertainty. The future is not clear, and leaders will need to be nimble to work with new regulations as they are implemented.
Being nimble and agile is at the core of successful leadership, in fact I suggest that the three essential leadership factors each hinge on agility-skill.
Adapt to survive
Leon C Megginson, referencing Charles Darwin’s work, said this: 'It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives, but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.'
At Leaders, we agree enthusiastically with Megginson's message - adapt and adjust.
Agility - the ability to adapt and adjust - is the defining success factor that differentiates the phenomenal from the merely good. It makes those people that grow stand apart from those who stagnate and defines those who look to the future from those rooted too firmly in the past.
Leading well - with agility - will make the difference between thriving and failing in an increasingly fast-paced world.
Blockbuster - business disruption or boardroom dysfunction?
Effective leadership is vital. I highlighted the example of Blockbuster to the conference guests and will do so again here. It is often presumed that Blockbuster failed because Netflix disrupted the film-rental business. While Netflix (and others) were undoubtedly a competitive force, Blockbuster was arguably winning, using a superior customer list and cash to invest in Blockbuster’s digital offering - Total Access.
Renowned activist shareholder, Carl Icahn, took a stake in Blockbuster, appointed two board members and frustrated the strategy of the then CEO John Antioco.
A boardroom battle over remuneration resulted in Antioco leaving the business; investment in Total Access ended and competitors - Netflix in particular - took advantage. Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in September 2010.
It might be that millions of people would now be subscribers to Blockbuster's Total Access had it not been for boardroom dysfunction. Even Carl Icahn has said: 'To this day I don’t know what would have happened if we’d avoided the big blow up over Antioco’s bonus and he’d continued growing Total Access.'
Agile leadership is crucial for success.
These are the three factors that agile and effective leaders possess:
Great leaders can make courageous decisions with conviction. They are clear about what matters and do not waste time on the immaterial. They are also keenly aware of what can be controlled, refusing to agonise over what cannot be influenced or controlled. Their ability to focus on the ‘sweet spot’ - things that both matter and can be controlled - provides them with the confidence to make courageous decisions.
Too often, we can let our fears pull us back from pressing the ‘go’ button, from doing what we know we must do. Fear of failure, fear of missing out, in some cases fear of challenging convention, can hold us back from making the right decision.
I challenge myself as much as our clients with these questions:
The ability to bring alternative perspectives to a situation and work with multiple partners as necessary gives today’s leader an essential edge.
Northern Trust was named Private Equity Fund Administrator of the Year at the 2017 Global Investor Awards, recognizing the launch of the first ever commercial deployment of blockchain technology for the private equity markets.
This breakthrough reflects the Guernsey finance industry’s collaborative approach to innovation. Throughout the project Northern Trust worked closely with a range of Guernsey-based stakeholders including the States of Guernsey and the Guernsey Financial Services Commission as well as locally-based legal counsel and technology providers to bring the solution to market.
A collaborative leader will seek perspectives from a wide range of sources. We advocate strongly for boardroom diversity, in gender and the variety of life experience as well as the ‘usual’ technical proficiencies. Creating this diversity takes confidence and trust which, once achieved, sets the scene for solving problems with agility.
Are your sources drawn from the same pool of thinking and experience, or are you drawing on a broader range of perspectives? Are you choosing to work with partners outside of your immediate organisation or attempting to overcome your challenges on your own?
Agility takes effort, a daily commitment to face and overcome challenges. A compelling vision of a better future is vital to maintain both perspective and motivation. A sense that the effort is a step forward towards a long-term, better future. And that other people (or the environment) are at the core of this vision.
The Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst has the motto 'Serve to Lead'. Major General John Le Marchant established the Academy in 1802. He had a compelling vision for an academy that would radically transform the skill of the British Army.
He met significant resistance to his idea, not least as his vision included a major shift in culture around who could receive officer training. 200 years later and Sandhurst is world renowned as a centre of excellence for leadership training.
Agile leaders have a vision for how their work and business will serve others. They hold in mind the people whose lives will be improved by their work. They seek to build a long-term legacy rather than simply focusing solely on quarterly numbers and personal bonuses.
I will pose the same questions that I left with the conference guests. Consider a problem that you face now.