Sunday, June 24, 2012

What Inspires You to Want to Be a Better Leader, Each and Every Day?

Too many articles and discussions about leaders only concentrate on ‘high level’ leaders, at the CEO’s and Executive level – but in business, leaders exist all over the organisational structure and it’s at these lower levels that the ‘great’ leaders of tomorrow need to be developed. You have team leaders, project leaders, departmental and divisional leaders, branch and store leaders, to name a few – there are leaders everywhere and the problem with some of the current rhetoric on leaders and leadership is that it tries to make the subject to complicated and elusive, when the foundations of leadership are actually quite simple.
We ‘learn’ and start forming our ideas about leaders and leadership from an early age, through the interactions we experience with our families, our schooling and our first step onto the career ladder – where the ‘leaders’ we meet and interact with at an early age start to influence our perceptions about leadership, both consciously and subconsciously, and influence the types of leaders we might eventually become.
To be a good leader, at any level, you need a good solid ethical foundation to work from, along with a basic understanding of the concept of ‘treating people as you would like to be treated yourself’. Then you need to add the behavioural, visionary and communication skills to these basic principles to have any chance of becoming a good leader – let alone a great one.
During my career I’ve had the pleasure of working with great leaders and the unfortunate displeasure of having to work with appalling leaders too (though the good news is that you can learn from bad leaders, about the real dangers of this kind of leader and the negative impact they have on people and organisations – the type who will stab anyone in the back to protect their turf and realising just how dangerous an ‘animal’ these people can be).
Two great leaders stand out for me over the last 25 years, who have influenced my life, career and leadership style. The first is someone I met back in 1989 called John Stanbury – John has been the CEO of many great organisations including Foskor, Outspan International and Capespan. He has a solid ethical foundation; the ability to be a ‘driver’ and a ‘team player’; an insatiable appetite for knowledge – where he would know an organisation, its products, and its customers, better than anyone else.
He had boundless energy, never seeming to tire; always managed by walking around, getting to know staff at all levels, what they did, what their problems were – yet while doing so helping each employee to understand their job better and how they contributed to the organisation; he was a hard task master, with very high standards but had that uncanny ability to get the best out of his people.
Was he liked by everyone – nope; why – because he would quickly identify those people who had simply been over-promoted or who had lost the ‘drive or will’ to develop within their current jobs – something this ‘type’ of person never likes to be ‘discovered’ often hiding behind their ‘teams’ to avoid detection; yet even in these circumstances John would always give them the opportunity to get back on track again. 
He is a great speaker, very humble and willing to impart his knowledge to those who care to listen and many of his managers over the years have now gone on to be successful CEO’s themselves.
The second person is, Parkin Emslie, someone who I met more recently but who has those ‘natural’ leadership qualities that makes you admire them and what they have achieved. Parkin has developed his own successful business from scratch and is a firm believer in generic growth. If you met him out in public you’d never know how successful he is – he’s totally unassuming, very relaxed and laid back – but underneath beats the heart of a great and proven entrepreneurial spirit. One outstanding reflection of his style is that his whole workforce respect him more than any leader I’ve worked with – and he respects them right back.
Interestingly at the other end of the spectrum the two worst leaders I’ve ever encountered both work for the same institution – the Warwick business school – and I had the displeasure of meeting them both recently.  It’s not surprising that they both come from the same establishment as it has been shown that bad leaders attract other bad leaders.
Between the two of them they encompass everything that is bad about a leader. Mark Taylor, the Dean of the business school is your colonial, power driven, narcissist – who rules by power, like some glorified roman emperor – sending those that even catch his eye to meet the lions in the coliseum, as he watches on with that power crazed look in his eyes. It’s all about being right – demanding respect – loving the feeling of ‘power’ in his hands, the ability to ‘dictate’ – the kind of person you imagine was bullied at school, and now loves bullying back. Those that put up with this style are a combination of other bad leaders, who have learnt that in order to survive they must have their lips permanently sealed to his bottom; those who are scared and who hunker down under their parapet hoping not to be noticed; and those who have little choice in a tough job market, but to stick it out – where they know they are working for a monster, but have to put up with it, as they need the income to survive – and pray for a day in the future when the ‘dictator’ is deposed.
The second person is Alison Bond, the Head of External Relations, who’s moral compass is so messed up, it’s amazing she can find her way home. Here you have the classic example of someone who has been over-promoted – yet rather than being ‘woman’ enough to admit their failings has found a way to hunker down and survive. These are your most dangerous of ‘animals’ as they will ruthlessly defend themselves, for fear of being found out. They know when to give that fake smile, pretend to be your ally, etc – but all the time they are using other people to ‘promote’ themselves.
For me it’s not just the John’s and Parkin’s of this world that inspire me to want to be a better leader each and every day – having seen the positive impact these great leaders have on their staff and their organisations; as well as how much they give back to their communities. But I’m also inspired to be a better leader by seeing the chaos that is caused by bad leaders like Taylor and Bond, who just make me want to create an environment where people enjoy to work and where I can inspire others to want to be good leaders as well – showing the different effects good and bad leaders have on their environment.
But the question is: What inspires you to want to be a better leader, each and every day?

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