Mar 25 2021| Leadership | Interview
by Phil Eyre Founder
Our mission is to advance excellence in leadership in any organisation with the aim that all workplaces are an environment where the people flourish and thrive.
On Monday 8 March, we celebrated International Women’s Day, and over the course of the week we interviewed four excellent leaders in the Channel Islands to identify what makes for great leadership, bringing their perspectives together and drawing out the themes which resonated with them all.
With thanks to:
Personal values are an essential foundation for effective leadership. All of the women that we interviewed are clear about what’s important in life and therefore in business. These firmly held beliefs shape decisions, actions and behaviours providing a secure filter through which problems and opportunities are assessed. They are not contrived “words on walls” but are part of what makes the leader the person that they are.
Integrity is a strong common theme throughout:
“Integrity, honesty and openness. I believe in being transparent, saying it like it is, not engaging in office politics. People respect you more if you’re honest and, in my opinion, honesty breeds integrity and the sense of always doing the right thing.” (Fiona)
“Integrity is important to me. I see that as doing the right thing even when no-one is watching and I believe this makes me an honest and open person to deal with” (Teresa). “I have to do the right thing. It’s me, inbuilt, whether it’s a business decision, a staff decision or a client decision.” (Zoe)
Integrity is doing yourself what you expect of others. This means in major issues or being open in contracts through to day-to-day issues like where to park and which coffee to use. Integrity is resisting the temptation to make yourself an exception given your senior role.
Far from being soft, values like kindness, compassion, integrity and empathy require courage.
“Kindness is such an important value. The more I think about it, the more I realise how important it is to be kind. Kindness and showing people you care goes a really long way.” (Lindsey)
Leaders that are authentic are always true to their values. They apply the same values to work and non-work. They are the same person in all settings. This authentic approach to life and leadership in turn builds trust, an essential factor in sustaining excellence, whereas those who are more pretentious struggle to maintain momentum.
Leaders who are more secure in themselves and their leadership do not feel the need to spin stories, evade the real issues or pretend. They are clear about what matters the most, open and communicative.
“A believable authenticity matters. That means more than bringing to work some ‘expected’ way to behave, people see through that falseness. You need to be honest and true to yourself.” (Fiona)
All of the women that we interviewed placed a high value on trust, both being trustworthy and fostering a high-trust environment. Excellent leaders are trustworthy leaders. They are open and honest about where the business is going and what matters the most. They trust their people with vision and strategy, including the whole organisation rather than holding back just in case things don’t go to plan.
“Honesty and transparency is important too. Knowing how our work contributes is motivating. People need to know that what they’re doing is making a difference. I make sure that our team know how they are contributing to something better. In our case we are contributing to making people’s lives nicer, not just supplying materials, but helping to make homes. That’s motivating!” (Lindsey)
Trust is essential for achieving excellent performance. “High performing teams are created from a level of trust, a positive culture in the organisation and working together for the common good, whatever that might be depending on the type of organisation. Does the team understand the purpose, what they are there for? Do they understand the strategy, and do they understand and respect each other? A positive culture should engender that trust between team members”. (Fiona)
Genuinely listening to other people is another hallmark of a trustworthy leader. They listen to learn, not to defend, willing to receive feedback in order to improve their ideas. “I’m keen to listen, genuinely listen and be sensitive to what’s going on and making sure that I take action to stabilise the situation. Holding people’s issues in confidence, not spreading their troubles but helping them to deal with it is really important.“ (Zoe)
“Listening is really important. I don’t pretend that I know everything and I ask for advice from my team all the time. Is this how you want me to lead? Is there anything else that you think I should be doing?” (Lindsey) "When I joined my team, I told them I’m human, I make mistakes, I’m fallible; if you think I’m going to make a mistake, then tell me” (Teresa).
Trust includes effective planning and focusing the effort on the most important activity. “It’s setting the strategic objectives and inspiring others toward them. And then it’s through problem solving, being curious and encouraging my team to achieve their objectives”. (Lindsey)
Without trust, there can be little empowerment or delegation, which stunts growth and stymies creativity. Instead, high trust leaders actively pass responsibility, including prestigious roles, to others. “I love a team where you don’t know who the boss is. It’s having a team that is inspired, engaged and permitted to act.” (Zoe)
Trust is also built on delivering results. Even the most charismatic leader won’t be trusted if they fail to deliver on their promises. Trust spreads, too. All the leaders we interviewed for this article described how important - and enjoyable - it is to work with trusted colleagues. When people hold each other in high regard, results multiply. Individual strengths are harnessed and weaknesses overcome. Good ideas are refined into great ideas.
The best leaders are keenly focused on the people. “I’m all about people. If the people are happy, then the ship is happy, it’s that simple for me” (Zoe).
Leadership is recognising, celebrating and elevating human potential, treating the people as the lifeblood of the business and not merely cogs in a machine. Good leaders cannot distill their people into just a number; even when tough decisions are needed, good leaders treat people with compassion and respect.
“If 2020 has shown us anything it’s that we need to be kind and we need to understand that we’re all in the same storm but on different boats; one small act of kindness can make such a difference to other people” (Teresa).
Good leaders don’t just talk about supporting their people, they actually do it, even in small ways. The women that we interviewed all spoke with some passion about how they’ve been moved and motivated to care for their people during the pandemic.
“It was one of my team’s birthday this week and I went out to pick up some gifts and left them on his doorstep. I’m so excited for him to be surprised and feeling good.” (Lindsey)
People-centred leaders naturally seek to connect with others person to person. They don’t distance themselves into a C-suite or project their title over others. “Some of our new starters have said to me that in their prior roles they’ve never had the managing partner want to take the time to have a coffee with them.” (Zoe).
A heartfelt concern for people is not at odds with delivering results. In fact, ensuring a healthy and motivated workforce is a basis for achieving phenomenal performance. A genuine focus on the people catalyses great results.
“I am most passionate at work when my team are achieving what they wanted. It’s about being proud of what people achieve and helping them to get there.” (Lindsey)
With a high focus on the people, describe how satisfying it is to “see the hard work pay off”? “It’s all about the people. I’m energised by people and if I have a great squad, it makes me want to do well.” (Zoe)
The key here is that it is a genuine concern for the people that provides the conditions for achieving great results. Textbook tactics come over as inauthentic and manipulative, causing the opposite response.
“We don’t get the best from our team when they don’t feel that they can be open and honest. If we’re not getting the best from our people, we won’t achieve the results that we could.” (Teresa). “If you’ve recruited a great person, they are an asset to you and probably an expensive one at that. How do you look after your best asset if you don’t know the first thing about them?” (Zoe)
Putting people at the centre of your strategy for growth is the hallmark of a great leader.
Successful leaders think to the future, beyond their own tenure and impact. They put their self-interests to one side when making choices and planning for the future. Rather than be threatened by talented people, great leaders actively recruit brilliant people. “Some people don’t like recruiting people who are better than them. I see it as a positive. I’m thinking ‘get in, just get in now!’. All my best recruits are formidable. I couldn’t be them; I’ve brought them in because they’re better than me!” (Zoe)
Given the natural temptation to put self-interest above others, good leaders are reflective, frequently testing their decisions and attitudes against their values and the best interests of the business.
Great leaders will also plan beyond the next quarterly results, pressing for more compelling outcomes. It’s not to ignore the short-term data, it’s to keep it in context. It’s one step towards something much better rather than an end in itself. With this in mind, good leaders invest keenly in others. Whilst this takes time and budget in the short term, developing others sets a powerful basis for achieving stellar long-term performance. Building great teams for the long-term takes determination. “You have to train the new people coming in, not only in the job but in the culture of the firm. Then it’s supportive supervision and regular contact; checking in on how they are, not just the tasks they’re performing.” (Zoe)
“I think people are too short-term and just think about now. Some people think about their own position rather than what will happen in the future. If you’ve built a strong team, they should go on to thrive after you leave. You have to give individuals authority, autonomy and respect their skillsets. A great legacy would be helping the leaders of tomorrow to fulfil their potential.” (Fiona)
Developing future leaders will require a keener emphasis on emotional intelligence, not just technical prowess. “Emerging leaders want a positive experience at work. they want to be authentic and will seek an employer that lets them be themselves.” (Teresa) Getting this right early on can make a significant difference. “Coaching skills, teamwork and a collaborative culture change how you lead all the way from the beginning of and throughout your career.” (Fiona)
It is a privilege to spend time with excellent leaders like Fiona, Zoe, Teresa and Lindsey. It’s very encouraging that we have many examples of effective leadership in the islands.
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