May 26 2017| Leadership
by Phil Eyre Founder
I had the privilege of joining with 6,000 people at the Royal Albert Hall for the HTB Leadership Conference earlier in May. With speakers including Miranda Hart, Simon Sinek, Ken Costa and Cardinal Chito Tagle, it was a highly engaging, inspiring and at times deeply moving experience.
These are the three leadership insights that had the greatest impact on me:
With a mix of comedy and sharing her own struggles, Miranda Hart brilliantly articulated that we all have a unique purpose in life. Investing time and effort in exploring what we care about the most, those areas of life that truly motivate us and where we feel ‘in the zone’, is crucial for us to prosper. Being able to connect what we do - whether paid work or other activities - with our unique purpose makes for a flourishing life. We can sometimes be our own worst enemies, identifying something that we would love to do but not believing that we can or should try it. By overcoming our fears and growing in self-belief, we will achieve significantly greater satisfaction in the long run.
This often requires us to create the capacity for great things by dropping some activities that are comfortably good. Removing some of the excuses for not stretching into new and potentially more rewarding areas. Miranda described her love of West End musicals and, despite her initial inhibition about singing, she is now starring in a West End show.
This resonates with me in both my personal and working life. Identifying those areas that make us uniquely brilliant and orientating our work (and lives) towards those factors makes for fulfilment at work and in life in general. This need not mean that we all start our own businesses; Simon Sinek helpfully pointed out that we can usually orientate towards energising work within our current workplaces by better understanding why we are doing what we are doing. The now classic example of President Kennedy asking a janitor at NASA what he was doing, to be told ‘helping put a man on the moon’, illustrates this point very well.
Cardinal Chito Tagle exuded humility and a servant-leadership ethos in his interview. He described many leadership situations where engaging a community happened not only out of a sense of common purpose, but a desire to serve others. The most striking was how 4 million people in his home country of the Philippines came together for the Pope’s visit just over a year ago. The desire amongst the people to serve each other was profound, with thousands volunteering to help serve in security (the security services trained them) and administration and to serve communion.
Leaders who adopt a serving approach quickly establish trust and foster the highest levels of engagement in their businesses. Listening carefully, supporting and not being in the job just for themselves creates the culture and conditions for long-term success. Further, businesses that are clear that their products and services help to improve other people’s lives generate the best long-term returns. Ensuring that these cultural conditions are fostered is a key leadership role. When leaders and businesses lose sight of this, a culture of intimidation, fear, humiliation and a sense of uselessness can take hold. The consequences are that people are disengaged from their organisations and are not trusted to make the right decisions, which will eventually precipitate a costly mistake.
For example, the value of United Airlines plummeted in April after a film of a passenger being forcibly evicted from a flight to make space for crew went viral. This was not the fault of the crew; it implies a culture of fear and recrimination for not following procedure to the letter rather than adapting and doing the right thing.
Simon Sinek explained the serving imperative further by explaining to us that most businesses do not understand the type of game that they are in. Businesses - and in fact most organisations - should be playing an ‘infinite’ game; one that grows and develops and adapts as it seeks to make a positive contribution to the world. Something that is organic and flexible. Too many businesses are playing a finite game, seeking to generate fast returns over a short fixed period, using excessive time-limited measures of success. In this environment, rather than growing a great organisation to pass on to the next generation for them to make it even greater, leaders can focus on wringing out the most money (or other numerical measures), thereby losing both the real purpose of the business and a sense of the contribution that the businesses is making to the world. The result can be wholly unsatisfying work and, whilst short-term financial results might be impressive, over the long term even the finances will suffer.
Great leaders take responsibility for mistakes, praise others for successes, care more about others than themselves, understand the purpose of the organisation and remain focussed on the contribution that it is making to the local and/or global community.
With a mix of biology and business modelling, Simon Sinek explained the ‘circle of safety’ and why businesses that work on achieving this achieve phenomenal performance (see his book Leaders Eat Last).
All organisations experience external dangers, issues and events that are outside of their control. Whether Brexit, a change in regulation, stock-market gyrations or environmental factors, there are plenty of risks that businesses face every day.
There is also a potential for internal danger that is entirely within the company’s ability to control. These are cultural factors: fear and intimidation, people being made to feel humiliated or useless and becoming isolated. Where people within the organisation feel that they cannot make a mistake for fear of reprisal or isolation, that they must abide by every expectation of the tribal leaders or face exclusion or, worse, expulsion. We all have a need to fit in with our ‘tribe’; we have a far greater chance of surviving external dangers when we are together. But internal dangers will put us out on a limb and lead to a ‘silo mentality’, not to mention the impact on our wellbeing and happiness.
The best leaders deliberately create a safe environment, fostering a sense of belonging and togetherness. People working and relating together to achieve phenomenal outcomes, supporting and challenging each other with a ‘got your back’ attitude rather than ‘stab your back’ to get ahead. Leaders empower others to make decisions, trusting them to make the right choices. They lead with empathy. Simon used the example of the US Navy Seals, elite warriors. In selection, the Seals do not necessarily choose the physically strongest candidates; they look for those who, when all physical and mental energy has been spent, still look to help lift their co-trainees forward. That kind of empathy and teamwork creates safety.
Great leaders reward good behaviour and attitude, not just results. They kill off gossip and slander. They trust others to achieve great things. They are patient. They challenge and support their people.
For more information about Leaders or to enquire about the Guernsey Leadership Conference or the Nexus breakfast events, please contact Phil Eyre on firstname.lastname@example.org 07781 169611.