Jul 18 2019| Leadership

IoD Seminar - Leadership Challenges

Phil Eyre spoke at a recent Institute of Director’s breakfast seminar about some of the main leadership challenges the island faces.

by Phil Eyre Founder

At the Institute of Director’s July breakfast seminar, Phil drew upon the work Leaders has done with nearly 70 different organisations across Guernsey, Jersey and the UK to identify some of the main leadership challenges the island faces

Leaders work with a wide variety of organisations, in sectors which include financial, manufacturing, third sector, government, military, retail, building and professional services; from smaller family-owned businesses to global, listed businesses. Through insights gained using psychometrics, the team is able to identify leadership skills, team dynamics and drivers, predictable strengths and weaknesses and issues that could trip up a leader or team. In particular, we can identify four key leadership motivations and their counterproductive equivalents: ambition (and a defeatist mindset), commitment (and self-sabotage), awareness (and recklessness), agility (and a martyr mindset). This has given us a keen perspective on the challenges facing leaders in various contexts.

 

These are the three top challenges that we observe in our work with Guernsey leaders:

 

1) A nimble leadership team

The ability to adapt, think energetically and take action is critical to leadership success. The idea that great ideas are formed, developed and executed in high-performing teams is well understood, yet the ability to form agile teams in Guernsey is a challenge.

We will often find that a leadership team in Guernsey comprises a mix of exceptional and less exceptional talent; there is a quality mix. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, uses the analogy of a flywheel to describe building momentum in performance. Where leadership quality is mixed, it is very difficult to build flywheel momentum, as usually energy, creativity, tenacity and performance are diluted.

We have identified various reasons for this in our work so far:

  1. Leadership appointments are being made primarily as a retention tool, rather than with the business horizon in focus. Appointments to reward long service or as ‘the next step’ for a service line manager are not of themselves a bad idea, but only if the individual can shift into a leadership mindset, with the whole business and long-term horizon in focus, not just their preferred area. We’ll often observe that this isn’t happening, i.e. senior managers appointed to leadership roles essentially continue to think and behave as senior service line managers.
  2. There is an assumption that an executive team ‘should’ comprise a large number of people. Whilst good governance requires a healthy blend of perspectives, this need not extend to large boards or executive teams. It is better, in my view, to build a smaller, high-performing team rather than an unnecessarily large executive where quality is diluted. This is not to say that larger leadership teams are inherently underperforming, but it is to recognise that the chances of appointing nine, 10 or more high performers is a stretch in our island.
  3. Some people come to the island to hide or slow down. Whilst many off-island leaders bring excellent experience and talent, we have seen too many examples where people from off-island have been recruited to senior-level roles and then severely disappointed their employers. They may have an impressive CV and experience on paper, but lack the substance that Guernsey businesses need. Arriving in the island for a more balanced life is laudable and part of our unique offering, but extra attention is needed from employers to ensure that they are hiring excellence, not someone who is seeking to escape accountability or scrutiny or begin a path to early retirement (unless that’s what a business is seeking!). Our clients who utilise Leaders’ work for selection insight are far better able to identify these factors before making an appointment.
  4. An assumption that leadership is a ’top’ position and fixed. Whilst I acknowledge that this is a stretching idea, we are encouraging some of our clients to consider a more flexible approach to leadership and influencing roles, whereby some appointments are made from within the business for shorter periods to draw on particular strengths needed at that point in time before returning to the business in a management role, more like an executive secondment.

 

This was brought home recently when working with an executive team of 11 people. At 45, I was the youngest in the room and part of a discussion about how the business could engage their Millennials and Generation Z more effectively. The executive hadn’t considered inviting anyone from this demographic to the conversation, let alone to an executive appointment. A more flexible approach to influence and authority would benefit this business and many others that we work with. That takes a different attitude to the leadership role, where it’s less about ‘pro-motion’ (and demotion) and more about bringing unique, particular skills to the business at the most opportune time.

Is your leadership team nimble, escalating in creativity, energy, resolve and performance, or cumbersome and diluted?

 

2) Leverage our relational capital

There is some amazing talent and experience in our island, all within touching distance - nowhere is far and no one is out of reach. We have the opportunity to enrich our perspectives from each other in ways that simply could not be achieved in a larger place. 

For example, in briefly attending the Women in Engineering conference recently, I met a brilliant woman, currently working at the Guernsey Dairy, who’s worked at the highest levels in cricket, testing whether bats have been enhanced for performance and helping to design machinery to produce high-standard cricket balls. Who knew we had this talent on-island? I could wax lyrical here with many similar stories; identifying and harnessing this talent requires higher quality (and frequency) of conversation across our usual, comfortable areas of experience.

We frequently help to bring leaders together, so that finance can learn from manufacturing, professional services can learn from government and so on. It’s too easy to get so focused on our own fields of expertise and even within our own businesses that we fail to look around us and learn from our neighbours. If we’re not careful, an ‘echo chamber’ can then form, diminishing the quality of decisions and actions.

Thinking outside of our bubbles takes intention, it’s not natural to us and especially so, it seems, in our island. The need for individual recognition seems that bit more pronounced in Guernsey (and Jersey) than other places that we work, which can limit co-working.

If we’re too focused on claiming credit for an idea, we run the risk of failing to develop a good idea in the first place. There is a challenge here in holding competitive thinking and trust in tension. Being open and therefore vulnerable requires trust that issues, problems and potentially competitive ideas won’t be leaked or used against you. The challenge is to build trusting networks and partnerships (formal and informal) that allow for greater insight, creativity and outcomes for our island than would otherwise be achieved independently. We’re working to help achieve this ambition.

What could you do? Go to a seminar or networking event that’s unusual for you, that has little to do directly with your work, and make new connections. Make an appointment with a leader in an entirely different business or field of expertise to explore how they would tackle an issue that you’re facing (we can perhaps help you with that if needs be).

 

3) Focus on the essential 

As a small island, we each need to focus on what we do essentially very well and do it better than anyone else, anywhere. Quality commands a higher price; whilst a volume approach to work and business is possible, it’s especially difficult in our environment. Best for us, therefore, does not necessarily mean bigger. Within our businesses and organisations, attempting to diversify can too easily result in spreading our limited resources and talent too thinly and achieving results that are merely good rather than great. We need to be able to offer the highest quality and charge appropriately for it.

We challenge our clients to focus on what makes them essential and unique; what ‘one thing’ differentiates them and what are they doing to be world leaders in this field. This nearly always comes down to three factors:

  • Providing excellent service. This is true at every level in every sector that we work in.
  • Developing our talent. Recruiting well is only part of the picture; developing and enhancing talent, including (and especially) in leadership roles, is a differentiating factor.
  • Choosing to say ‘no’ to some opportunities in order to orientate precious capacity towards higher-value work. Practically everyone that we work with is either ‘busy’ or ‘very busy’, in other words, we have a capacity problem. This makes it even more essential that time, finances, energy, people - all resources - are allocated to high-grade work. It takes leadership and courage to identify what must be done (rather than what could be done) and to turn down an opportunity in order to make room for better. In my own experience this year, I recognise that this is harder than it sounds, having said ‘no’ to work that could have been financially rewarding but would not have drawn on our particular, unique expertise.

 

When was the last time you turned down an opportunity? How would you rate the quality of your service? What investment are you making in your leadership?

 

We’re here to help support and challenge your leadership. If we can help you identify and overcome your organisation’s challenges, do get in touch.

About The Author | Phil Eyre

Phil is Leaders’ founder. He has an enthusiastic and inspiring style, drawing on his experience in business, academia and social sectors to help any leadership team to achieve phenomenal performance. Phil has sophisticated expertise in psychometrics and in the application of human data for individual, team and organisational success. He has trained with, and been mentored by, global leaders in this field, notably Dr Chuck Coker in the US. Phil began his career in the UK offshore finance industry in 1994, working for a wealth management company in Guernsey, Collins Stewart (CI) Limited, now Canaccord Genuity Wealth International. Phil was head of the company's Guernsey division, with a staff of 120 and assets under management of £4.5billion before resigning from executive responsibilities in 2008. Phil has served on the boards of three charities, including BMS World Mission, a UK charity with over 80 employees and a global reach. Phil also ran the Guernsey hub of a national theology college, received accreditation as a pastor in the Baptist Union of Great Britain and served as a non-executive director for Canaccord Genuity Wealth International. Phil is a member of the NED Forum and the Institute of Directors.

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