Sep 05 2020| Leadership
by Phil Eyre Founder
‘This has been the hardest, most pressured period of my working career,’ said a somewhat frazzled business leader recently. This was the sentiment I reflected on in the September issue of Business Brief.
These kinds of comments have come up in other private conversations I have had with executives across the Channel Islands.
What’s interesting is that despite feeling overwhelmed, tired and self-doubting, feedback from their colleagues is very complimentary, focussing on how brilliant their leadership has been.
However, in some other situations, business heads have been notably absent. ‘We heard nothing from them for three months’, ‘I know they’re busy, but I can’t get in even for five minutes’, ‘they didn’t even show up when [people] were made redundant’.
Present or absent?
The difference in impact between present leaders and absent leaders is immense. Those who choose to face challenges and inspire others - even when conditions are intense - will take their people and the businesses they lead to new heights. They, indeed we all, grow in the process; most of our learning springs from adversity, not from comfort.
Leading by example
Highly present leaders don’t even need to always be in the room. They lead by example, setting the tone and conditions that enable other people to step up and lead. They support keenly from the sidelines rather than peering over every shoulder and the preservation of the company is what matters the most to them.
Absent leaders take a different - and destructive - approach to challenges. They may be under huge pressure, but they use that as justification to pay little attention to their people, abrogate (rather than delegate) difficult conversations and evade situations that will be predictably emotionally charged. Self-preservation is what matters the most to them.
Leaders with presence:
Absent leaders stay behind closed office doors, their body language does not invite interruption and they use their immediate team as a barrier to block interaction with others in the business.
Their behaviour does not only destroy morale and is costly in terms of human capital, but it also has a financial impact. By avoiding hard truths, absent leaders miss risk-signals and fail to act to head off a problem.
We have seen some examples in the last two months where absent leadership has resulted in good ideas falling flat, the leader not being willing to engage with the idea. In some cases, their literal absence has prompted good people to move elsewhere in the hope that they’ll work for a more interested and caring employer. Missed risk, lost opportunity and talent loss all have a detrimental effect on the bottom line.
Present leaders create a cohesive culture, bringing people together (whether virtually or physically) to achieve compelling objectives; not merely ‘getting through the work’ but pulling together towards business aims that deliver genuine improvement to people’s lives.
Present leaders are able to adjust effort and intensity and are sensitive to the needs of their people: stretching but not breaking them, knowing when to push hard and when to take a breath.
People working with present leaders are able to bring their ideas; we’ve seen examples of improvements in customer service, cost savings and new products all in the last few weeks. Present leaders can spot trouble ahead, not denying the truth but acting on it.
All of this has a clear benefit to the financial health of the company.
Presence, not absence, is crucial.
To find out more of my leadership insights, you can find my leadership series in the last 8 months of Business Brief magazine.