Jun 29 2019| Leadership | conference
by Phil Eyre Founder
Our Leadership Conference last week brought together over 190 leaders from Guernsey’s finance, manufacturing, hospitality, retail, building, third sector, government and professional services sectors to be inspired and challenged in horizon thinking.
Our speakers stimulated our thinking with exceptionally insightful ideas from diverse experiences and perspectives - military, business and environmental.
There were many highlights from the evening and here are a few that stood out for me, I hope that some can be applied to your own leadership challenges.
Major General Paul Nanson, Commandant of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst
As General Paul approaches the end of his Army career, he has examined his considerable leadership experience to find the lessons he might take forward. He asked, what are the key transferable leadership skills into any context, that ensure horizon thinking and effective leadership?
General Paul impressed on us the enduring basics of leadership:
- Courage: the courage to act, the courage to change and the courage to stop.
- Competence: competence in leadership, as well as building and developing competent teams.
- Character: leading by example, doing the right thing and exuding behaviours and attitudes that engender a high-trust environment.
These require not only technical skill but relational capital; friendship, loyalty, the strengths and weaknesses of mutual understanding, drawing on strengths and compensating for weaknesses, and thinking and acting as one. These factors are the fabric that create the conditions for success.
In the modern world, this emotional intelligence approach to leadership includes relating and working with a network of leaders, and embracing multiple experiences and styles to deal with complex and variable challenges. The leadership skills of pulling in the right people and connecting with individual motivations to achieve a common objective are critical for horizon thinking.
General Paul also raised the idea of intelligent disobedience - subordinates acting with a disciplined initiative to achieve a better outcome - something that many of us wouldn’t expect from the Army. Creating conditions for upward critique in the organisation enables higher quality decisions and actions to be made. The leader who thinks they know everything, a commanding knowledge of all aspects of any given scenario, is likely deluded and potentially risky. Appropriate (intelligent) challenge brings a broader, richer understanding of the issue at hand.
With the mission objective clearly in focus, effective teams can support and challenge at every level. It is the role of the leader to foster the conditions that allow for this to happen.
How are you bringing courage, competence and character to your leadership role?
Effective leaders know when to empower their people to make decisions and when to instruct them into action. The leadership environment is increasingly uncertain, complex and dispersed, requiring a sophisticated mission command/mission control approach.
- Team trust
- Team expertise
- Team experience
With training and experience, team members can be entrusted to take decisions on the ground, applying their skills and expertise to the specific and immediate scenario. In these situations, a decentralised decision-making system produces the most effective results. Decisions can be made quickly and flexibly, applying learning and experience for optimum outcomes.
Other scenarios require a mission-control, centralised approach to decision making, especially where team experience and expertise are low, in new scenarios that require a wholly different approach. In these situations, the centre needs to be more responsible for providing direction.
Leadership agility is the ability to apply centralised mission control, and decentralised mission command approaches flexibly, fostering a trusting culture so that the team engages effectively with the required approach for each situation.
This is the essence of horizon thinking: identifying the whole picture, not just the immediate problems, considering the far-reaching impact from today’s choices, not only the immediate results. It involves investing properly in training and equipping your team to prepare for multiple scenarios, recognising the skills and experience possessed (and not yet possessed) by the team.
As leaders, are we building the right teams, investing in their expertise and experience, fostering trust and deploying the optimum mission command/mission control approach?
Leaders need to lead by example, to be present and live their values. This must be based in a “serve-to-lead” philosophy, placing other’s needs in priority, with values including selfless commitment, loyalty and respect for others. These are values that leaders need to live and actively demonstrate in behaviours, practice and attitudes for leadership to endure.
A serve-to-lead ethos requires courage; courage to do the right thing, not necessarily the expedient thing. It takes effort to work towards mutual benefit, seeking to enhance and develop other people’s strengths, abilities and positions. This will extend to service providers, partners and other stakeholders. For example, rather than point blame at a service provider for a potential failure, a serve-to-lead ethos seeks to work with them for their improvement.
By being present and living serve-to-lead values, leaders engender confidence and energy in their people.
Are you living serve-to-lead values in your leadership? How would an outside observer identify this?
Dame Mary and Doug Perkins, Co-Founders of Specsavers
In an interview, Dame Mary and Doug Perkins impressed the importance of values in achieving long-term impact and success. They communicated clearly how values cannot be mere slogans - words on walls - but need to be lived and breathed in practice daily, weekly and monthly, wherever the business operates.
“Everyone in the company knows these values; it’s how we live and work,” said Dame Mary.
For Dame Mary and Doug Perkins, these values are expressed as:
- “Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself”. Caring for each other’s interests and perspectives.
- Excellence in customer service. The customer is always in focus, providing them with a fantastic service that meets their needs.
- Genuine care for their people. Dame Mary described how important “growing our own” is when it comes to talent development, supporting and challenging their people. This includes a whole-person perspective, taking consideration not only of the business need but the unique skills, experience and needs of the individual. For Specsavers, this is expressed especially in their partnership business model, enabling partners to open their stores, facilitating and supporting the businesses of their partners.
- Make a difference; “I ask every day whether we can be MAD today,” said Dame Mary. The desire to make a positive impact in other people’s lives runs through the business; whether making spectacles more accessible to people, supporting the community or developing their people, it’s about making a positive impact on others.
Values are the heartbeat of the company or, as Dame Mary described, they provide “the green blood” that runs through the business, shaping decisions and creating the conditions that have made, and will continue to make, the business successful.
What are your leadership values? How are you living your values every day?
Dr Ellen Moon, Lecturer in Environmental Engineering, Deakin University
Dr Ellen Moon inspired us to think about leadership legacy, drawing on her recent expedition to Antarctica.
Legacy thinking requires:
- A strategy for the long term, not merely a short-term exit plan.
- Visibility, bringing the critical issues to the consciousness and maintaining a persistent focus on the high-level issue.
- Clear communication, often a challenge for the scientific community. In our work, we often observe a similar dynamic, whereby those people who carry the depth of thought and research are not so easily heard as those with louder voices. Our frequent advice to executive teams is simply to create pauses in meetings and create space for more profound thinkers to a) think and b) be heard.
- Influencing decision makers. This is true for any organisation. The best plans don’t get far unless crucial decision makers are persuaded. Blending quality research with relational influence creates a powerful impact.
We flourish in a diverse environment. Part of our global challenge is to tackle and arrest the negative impact we are making on the world’s diversity. Our leadership challenge includes challenging “echo chamber” thinking. Too often, leaders recruit in their own image and whilst this can make for smooth and easy discussions, it leads to a paucity of thinking.
Dr Moon used gender diversity in leadership roles, including in science, to illustrate, sharing the statistic that there are fewer women in leadership roles in FTSE 100 companies than men named David or John. However, the crux is less about gender and more about diverse thinking: deliberately blending people with diverse experience and expertise into our decision making bodies.
In Guernsey, we can potentially achieve a rich diversity more easily than many places. We live and work in close proximity, and leaders with very different experiences are readily accessible. Inviting perspectives from, say, a manufacturer into a financially-regulated business would enrich understanding and decisions. It simply takes intention.
What did the problems of Antarctica teach Dr Moon about leadership? Knowledge sharing; making sure that the right people have the correct information to make informed decisions.
Do you lead within an “echo chamber”, potentially blind to developing risks and opportunities? What can you do to expand your perspective?
Science, by nature, enables us to deal with issues in an agile way. The notion that good ideas are fixed in perpetuity, that what worked yesterday will work tomorrow, will eventually result in failure. Critical, creative thinking - continually testing a theory, challenging convention, exploring, seeking new ways to achieve outcomes - is at the heart of the scientific approach. This is brought into stark relief in the extreme Antarctic conditions, where the highest levels of engineering expertise are required to ensure the effective operation of research stations.
We live in an increasingly fast-paced, complex and volatile world. Leadership agility, the constant search for improvement and new ways forward, with an eye on the horizon, is critical. Leaders with a short-term perspective are unlikely to be agile leaders.
Lord Bilimoria of Chelsea, Founder of Cobra Beer
Lord Bilimoria opened his talk, titled “Boldness in Business”, by highlighting the importance of individual purpose: the desire in leaders and entrepreneurs to make a positive difference to the world and live a meaningful life. Transactional leadership might be successful over short periods but will fail to live beyond the deal. Horizon thinking has a sense of meaning and purpose at its foundation. His challenge resonates still - “have you thought about your purpose in life?”
As well as guts (bravery to act, not just to dream), serendipity (luck!) and flexibility (adapt or die!), he said success is down to the ten “p”s:
Principles of integrity are crucial for success; “It is better to fail for doing the right thing,” said Lord Bilimoria, “than to succeed by doing the wrong thing.” Our conference agreed with the sentiment and wisdom. In practice, integrity like this is challenging to live. We live in a society that applauds success and not a failure, with success more usually measured in financial results or status. In our experience, strong leaders are able to put integrity into action, frequently practising in the small things (e.g. in honest expense claims, travel practices, giving praise, taking responsibility) to prepare for the more serious issues; turning away a big client that’s not right for the business, removing a top salesperson who’s behaving badly, being transparent about mistakes so that they can be dealt with. “It’s not just what you do; it’s how you do it” that matters.
Lord Bilimoria summed up with these words of wisdom for us all to live by: “Follow your passion, not your pension, and make everyone your partner.”
We work with leaders and leadership teams to help foster the conditions that create success, advancing leadership skill and overcoming counterproductive habits. Contact us today to find out how.