Why Leadership Matters – Part 1

I think I’ve got one of the best jobs in the world. Why? Because every day I learn as much from our customers and their experiences as I hope they learn from our business. It’s therefore with great pleasure that I introduce a guest writer you in this edition of Converse – Bob Philips. Bob is a Senior Strategy & Operations Director that I’ve worked with for over a decade.
In this contribution: Why Leadership Matters, Bob shares his own personal philosophy and brand of leadership built from a career leading change, performance improvement and engagement. 
In the first of a two part edition, Bob launches us into this complex topic by emphasising the importance of perspective taking for a handful of key audience groups; understanding their thought processes and ideas. He talks about the personal journey of leadership and what it takes to truly understand how you fit into the equation.
We hope you enjoy his contribution and that it sparks conversation within your business and more broadly.
Steve Bernard

Leadership matters and the classic saying that ‘if you lead you cast a long shadow’ indeed rings true. As a leader, you create the culture of your organisation; your priorities become the team’s priorities, and in an unspoken contract about observed behaviours, they follow your example (you are what you do, not what you say).

To be the best leader you can be, you need to start with yourself, but (to quote another often-used cliché) no man is an island, so in my experience, there are also four other groups of people that you need to keep in mind at all times, meaning your total focus areas should be:

  1. Yourself – who are you as a leader? What is your style?
  2. Your people – treat them fairly, develop them, and recognise they invariably know more about the detail than we do. Learn to listen!
  3. Your shareholders – get comfortable that we lead in order to enrich the shareholder by whatever measure of success is required.
  4. Your suppliers – treat them as you treat your own people. Sure, there’s a contract, but if we are reduced to arguing over the small print then we have got the relationship wrong.
  5. Your customers – despite being last on this list, they should never come last! It is by delivering here that we create the space to deliver on each of the points above.

In this issue of Converse, I’m going to cover the most immediate people: yourself, and your team. For the next edition, I will then take a wider view and look at how you can do the best for your stakeholders, suppliers and customers.

  1. Yourself

As Nick Frost wrote in his book Truths, Half Truths and White Lies: “I’m a work in progress and I hope I will never be complete”. We must start with who we are as leaders.

I would start by saying dare to be different by being yourself and playing to your strengths. (Caution however if ‘being yourself’ means sucking the air out of the room by needing to speak first and last and ‘win’ every encounter). Great leaders are humble; creating the space for their followers to dare to be different as well by also being themselves, and thereby playing to their strengths.

I have worked for just about every kind of leader there is, in terms of various leadership styles, , the best were the ones who got the most out of me and the rest of their team, who stretched us without breaking us, who gave timely recognition [I recommend planned spontaneity!] but also pulled people up when they took a wrong turn. They were the best because they created oxygen in the room (rather than removing it), encouraged debate, chaired effectively and pushed for consensus but ultimately were willing to make the decision themselves.

Understand your own strengths and weaknesses. Find your USP and work out how to apply it, then find people wiser than you to learn from by getting yourself a good coach and a mentor, and looking for learning opportunities wherever possible.

  1. Your People

You will probably have guessed by now that I believe we should empower our teams. It has been a great privilege of mine to have been part of a movement towards only recognising organisational success if you can also demonstrate that it has been achieved through unlocking the potential of your people. Give them the tools and training, set some boundaries (particularly about behaviours), let them help develop the plan, remember the following pieces of advice, and your people will do more for you than you could ever have imagined.

Be ‘a pool of calm water’ when little (and even big) things go wrong. I believe if mistakes aren’t happening you probably aren’t pushing hard enough, though the trick is start small and stay small with them. Create an environment where making mistakes is ok, then be there to coach your team to success next time. This calm water extends to remembering that good leaders ‘argue up’ and don’t ‘moan down’.

Recognise your people. Continue to be humble, and win big on delivering results by stepping aside and giving the recognition to the team; next time they will deliver even more. I carry a small notebook everywhere I go, using it to capture good ideas and to remind me to recognise the people who gave me the inspiration for those ideas. Be a confident leader by having the ability/conviction/belief/certainty/assuredness to give the team the space to succeed.

I also use the notebook to help me communicate effectively, drawing simple pictures to explain complex ideas. I draw terribly but people can see what my words haven’t delivered. My job as a leader is to create understanding, not to complain people aren’t as clever as me because they don’t get it first time.

I mentioned earlier that you should be a learning leader, but being the boss isn’t about taking yourself on the most prestigious courses; it is about investing effectively to develop your team. This allows you to tap into the value of your people to support those strengths and weaknesses you’ve already identified in yourself. Diversity is a strength here – a diversity of thinking and skills found through a diversity of cultural backgrounds, gender and other factors. As leaders we provide the vision and lead the venture, but I always look for a good planner to keep me on track. Why? Because planning is not my strong suit, and:

“The vision must be followed by the venture, it is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs” – Vance Hepner

I have found starting with these foundations has stood me in good stead (though I would never say I am perfect!) Next time, I’ll be covering how important leadership is when dealing with wider groups of people, both within and outside your business.

By Bob Phillips, in collaboration with Connectwell.

About Bob Philips: Bob has during a business career of more than thirty years, led increasingly large teams delivering both incremental and transformational change. His career has included delivering organisational design solutions, successfully deploying major structural change and delivering continuous improvement and employee engagement cultural change. Bob has always practised leadership by encouragement, engagement and involvement and continues to coach and mentor others as a part of his leadership ethos.

We’d love to hear your stories – what examples of leadership have you experienced? What do you think makes a good leader? Leave us a comment or get in touch at connect@connectwell.co.uk. Subscribe here to be the first to read our next Converse article: http://eepurl.com/wHbjv.

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