Do not leave leadership to those with the smart titles. True, they are the ones with the ‘helicopter view' that leads to great vision and strategy. But everyone has to be prepared to take the leadership opportunities as they arise - build on ideas, inspire others, motivate and align people to the vision.
Connecting to the heart as well as the head is central to good lead- ership. Behaviour that shows people how important they are is an inspiration in itself.
Servant leaders are inclusive and take their place in the team. Serve colleagues well, and customers will benefit.
Great leaders discover their own style, keep learning, and develop strong relationships throughout the organisation.
‘To be available when someone wants to speak to you, whatever your role. Listen carefully and trust them to know their own job better than you - even if you used to do it yourself.'
Bob believes that the answers to every question are in the company, and so makes himself available for conversation. Once a concern is clarified, he encourages people to find a solution. If it is relevant, he'll be part of it; otherwise, he trusts them to do a good job.
This requires him to be fully available and Bob found an interesting solution. Above the reception area is a mezzanine floor - a grand way of describing the landing at the top of the stairs. He settles down here for the day, just him, his laptop and phone plus a table and chairs for ‘entertaining'. Most people pass this way - not least because the loo is near by - so there are numerous opportunities for a talk.
‘I am not switched on to general noise. I only notice when the tone changes.' When a disgruntled customer arrived in reception, Bob trusted it would be handled well, so just listened as the complaint was handed to the relevant person to sort out. Despite a good outcome, the customer persisted in complaining to the point of ‘wanting to speak to whoever answers for God around here'. At which point Bob looked down from on high, saying ‘You'd better come up then!'
Once the customer had got over the surprise of hearing ‘God speaking from above', he accepted Bob's invitation to explore his concerns over a cup of tea. This resulted in a satisfied customer, with a clear understanding of why CORGI had acted in the way it had, and Bob got some useful customer viewpoints that he would otherwise have missed. His belief is that the conversation you miss or avoid is lost forever, as is the opportunity to gain the wisdom that would have emerged from it.
Bob's unusual leadership style has raised trust levels in CORGI. People take full responsibility, backed by support when requested. But how do you develop this level of trust as a leader? It requires faith in human nature and the recognition that everyone will do a good job, given the chance.
Many procedures are built around not trusting people, yet if you trust them you are rarely disappointed. I have been disappointed - of course I have - and it hurts on a personal basis, but you just have to deal with it. Breach of trust is fundamental and it can make it difficult for that person to stay with the business, in which case they need to move on. But you can't go through life being wounded, assuming everyone else is going to be untrustworthy.
Problems are identified and handed over to those most affected, because they are most likely to know what needs to happen. The call goes out for volunteers from the team or secondments from another part of the company, and the group comes together to understand the issues and search for next steps. Only those with a true interest get involved and the outcomes are highly effective. Both major and minor changes have been made in this way, and Bob has been less and less involved. End result - a committed workforce, skilled in problem-solving and motivated to give the best service to clients.
Getting the best out of your people puts you ahead of the crowd. Remember: they are your competitive edge, the one thing others cannot copy. Create a positive, encouraging environment and you will maximise the talent your people bring to work each day.
Consider how willing you are to trust. If you find you are not, talk with your coach or a suitable colleague and try to understand why. Work out what needs to happen for you to change your behaviour.
Make sure you are trustworthy: keep your promises, answer queries in reasonable time, keep confidences, treat people with respect. When you make a mistake, own up and apologise.
Make a list of concerns about your area of the business. Choose one that will make most difference if sorted out.
Identify the person most concerned with the issue. Meet and discuss the issues from different angles to understand their perspective.
Send an invitation to the team and interested others, inviting them to join an exploratory discussion. Give a clear brief and state the purpose as seeking new ways of thinking.
At the end of the meeting, ask for volunteers to form a steering group. Give a clear timeline for reporting back to the discussion group.
Stand back and give support when requested, or take your place as an equal member of the team.
Everyone has responsibility for company culture. Tell stories about successes and mistakes, celebrate success and challenge, keep people in touch - this is the task of everyone who cares about the company.
Liz is often described as ‘Keeper of the Flame'.
This means paying attention to the culture, our standards and what we mean by excellence. It means asking the question ‘Is this good enough?' Sometimes it is, but sometimes it might mean saying ‘We need to get this better, folks,'
With her wide responsibility for all operational and central support services, Liz is able to take an overview of the Group's work. She builds internal networks, as she can see who has information that will benefit another part of the business. ‘I just prompt, nudge, encourage them to get in touch', and with that act, she maximises learning in the organisation.
She appreciates just how hard people work and constantly reminds them ‘what we are about as a business - our main objectives and our main statement of why we are here; helping by flagging up ways to see the wood from the trees.' Once a leader has set the direction, it is vital to keep people on track. With the weight of tough deadlines and challenging customers, gentle reminders of purpose become a necessity.
Liz heard someone speak about the ‘tribal tales' of an organisation and the important role they play in maintaining culture. Although she does not see herself as a natural storyteller, Liz realised the importance of keeping history alive through stories, and so has practised the skill. Stories reaffirm the roots of an organisation, explain the need for particular principles and mark the successes and failures. We have these stories in families, friendships and companies. They help people understand us. That is why exchanging stories is such a regular feature of early relationships. Similarly, we become part of an organisation and really feel we belong when we know about its past. It helps us see where we fit in.
Great companies live by their principles and culture. Without the stories, new people will hear the words at induction programmes, but will not get the feel. The ideas will reach their brains but not their hearts - which is where culture really begins. So Liz is looking to become a better storyteller, modelling the principle of ongoing learning and keeping the flame alive in one go.
Set aside 30 minutes to think about the people who work for you. Note how energised and involved they are in their work. Identify ways you can help them do their job better.
In your next one-to-one, remind each person of the business context for their work, how it fits into the business and how it affects the bottom line. Help them prioritise those tasks that have greatest impact on the business.
Do you know the stories of your organisation? If not, find someone who can tell you about the history, turning points and significant characters, and what can be learned from them.
Use stories as illustrations. In team meetings and one-to-one sessions give examples of how people behave in the culture. This way you will keep ideas alive and increase your impact.
‘Build a picture, then help people see how they fit into it. Once they have this knowledge, they will see ways of making improvements.'
Mark Davies, general manager of the motorcycle business, claims that
All I do is paint a picture. It is uncanny how human beings will progress towards the picture they have in their own mind. You don't have to dictate or tell. If the picture is compelling enough, people will mobilise themselves towards it. Once they are mobilised, you then coach them to see the value they add. Each person has to believe they are as valuable to that picture as every other individual.
During the last August issue of new number plates, when Mark was general manager of the car business, a team of five girls in logistics ‘worked their socks off' as Honda sold 17,999 cars in the month. Knowing that dealers and customers would comment only on the 20 cars that were not delivered on time, Mark asked how they were feeling. He discovered that they did not recognise the significance of their contribution, despite sitting underneath a huge board which detailed performance - daily! So he sat down and coached them to identify the part they played. Finally, they saw that without their distribution skills the company would have sold significantly fewer than the magical 17,999.
They came out of that session on top of the world, having put what they do into the context of the business. Not only were they proud, they also became more involved in the business. They now take ownership in a very different way.
Every day someone will walk through the doors with a thought of ‘bloody daft that we do things that way'. My job is to find ways of unlocking the knowledge and ideas that people don't articulate, in order for the business to improve. Put any two people together and they will have higher intellect than me and you can be surethey'll have an opinion. If the opinion is wrong, it doesn't matter. The one time they are right, you improve the business. It is really dangerous to assume that people at different levels of the business have a higher or lower contribution to make, especially if they have the right attitude.
Mark knows when to listen and when to coach. He spends 80 per cent of his time ‘paying attention' to what is going on around him and he claims that that is not enough. In Honda, everyone is expected to be a leader and take responsibility for their part of the business, bringing forward ideas and suggestions on how to improve. That is a great system and makes for a forward-thinking, creative environment - just what Mr Honda advocated. However, it works only because every leader is looking for that sparkle - or lack of it - and acting in full support of the next experiment.
You need a clear and exciting picture of your work and how it fits into the business:
If you are not clear, talk it through with your boss. If still not clear, go further up the organisation until you understand.
Develop an exciting picture of your work and that of your team/colleagues.
Use every opportunity to share the picture with your peers and direct reports - make sure you do this at least four times a day. Make it real by aligning it to each aspect of work in progress.
Celebrate success, and demonstrate how it takes the work forward.
‘Give responsibility and be present. Listen and question, but don't take over. Trust the people who do the work, but let them know you are involved. At every level, support those who work with you to do the best job they can.'
Life at Timpson is very down to earth.
We just help people do their job better, so they can earn more money. That's why people come to work - to earn money, not because we're lovely people, they have their birthday off or we send them champagne. But if you can make it good when they're there, that helps.
John and James lead in a way that is both hands-off and highly visible. ‘We go to every shop at least once a year. We also go out with the area managers every year, often totally unannounced. For better or worse most people know who we are.' Since the time of writing, Timpson have bought the Sketchley group, and so now have 800 shops, but they still intend to visit as many as is humanly possible.
This could be seen as controlling, but managers have a high level of autonomy in how they run their shops.
It is important not to hand over authority, then go off fishing. That would be a disaster. We know a lot about the detail of the business, but rarely look at figures. We create a relaxed atmosphere, but have tight control. We know what the bank balance is every day, and exactly how much money each shop makes each month. Each week we get a detailed breakdown by department and shop, but don't often look at it - we already know it.
The end result is colleagues who take full responsibility for their particular part of the business, knowing they are well supported.
The basic philosophy is to get the best people, point them in the right direction and let them get on with it.
It is a blindingly obvious conclusion. If we want to amaze our customers, we are entirely dependent on the people who are in the shops now. So we trust them and give them authority. We always trust them to do whatever they think right to look after the customer.
The most common mistake when giving responsibility is to abdicate. John and James Timpson avoid this by staying in touch with their people and ensuring that they know the state of the business day to day.
Make a list of the work you have delegated, plus projects undertaken by your team. Write down all you know about the work - ie, is it on time? Is it delivering the required results? Is information being given to relevant people? Etc.
At the first opportunity, speak to your people and fill in the gaps.
Devise a procedure to ensure that you have the information you need in the future. Agree how this can be achieved and the regularity of reporting required. Look for a balance that keeps you informed without taking responsibility away from the individual.
If you see figures/outcomes that concern you, do not take over. Make sure you understand the situation fully - what is working well, what is working less well, and how the person plans to go forward. Help them see the implications of their choices, and consider alternative ways forward if necessary. Support them in taking the work on to the next stage. If you take control, the person will never learn and you will retain the responsibility.
The stated principles and aims of a company are often mismatched with actual behaviour. Great companies go out of their way to make the cliché live - they ‘walk the talk'.
If you have attended a presentation skills course recently, you know that only 7 per cent of communication is through language. We convey most through our behaviour, demeanour and body language. Makes you think, doesn't it? All those wise words you use to your colleagues, team or company mean nothing if your behaviour does not match up.
At Flight Centre, Gary Hogan, MD, demands that
We lead by example - there are no administrators or secretaries of any kind. You have a measurable role and you perform in that role. In a shop you lead by example. We changed titles from ‘manager' to ‘team leader' to make that point. Lead by example in everything - the way you dress, the way you talk to customers, the way you treat your staff.
This is not an easy ‘ask' - acting on wise words is very demanding. However, it is also satisfying and productive. Think of leaders you have known whose behaviour is out of line with their stated principles - my guess is you feel cynical as you recall them. Yet leaders who have shown integrity and truly ‘walked the talk' will have gained your respect.
John Crabtree, senior partner of Wragge & Co., told me of a time when he encouraged the lawyers to share out work. Normal practice was to behave like a sole trader and do the work you were handed. He wanted the firm to develop experts who built relationships in their chosen field. He told his colleagues to ‘think of the firm, rather than behave like Burglar Bill'. Fine words, but how did he feel when the next interesting piece of work landed on his desk? It was a tough moment - it looked exciting and challenging and he really wanted to do it himself. So he picked it up and walked down the corridor to the specialist colleague and handed over the brief.
That one act was the strongest message he could have given in support of the change he espoused. His message to the team was unequivocal, the best way to encourage others to follow the plan. The company is now known for its experienced business sectors specialists, which has proved to be a strategically sound move.
Do not bother with strategy meetings, business plans and cascades unless you are prepared to truly embrace the change yourself. People will follow what they see, not what they are told - so clean up your own act if you want to be a change agent.
Think of one person who is a role model for you: identify what you admire about their style/work. What would cause you to change your mind? How does your own behaviour match up?
Look back over your day and identify three times when you lived to the principles and three times when you did not. Go back to those people who were affected by your lapses and apologise, providing a positive role model for how to handle mistakes. Make sure that you do not repeat the same behaviours a second time.
Allow 10 minutes at the beginning of team meetings to give each other feedback on living the principles. Appreciate the positive and challenge unacceptable behaviour.
When the team meeting is too public a place to confront some issues, use the one-to-one sessions with direct reports to give feedback and suggestions for improvements.
Once the standard is improved, celebrate at the team meeting.