CIPD Podcast 2 - Leadership

Date: 05/12/2006 Duration: 00:19:46

In this podcast key questions about leadership are discussed by experts and leaders: Duncan Brown, CIPD Assistant Director General, Gareth Jones, Visiting Professor at INSEAD and a Fellow at the Centre for Management Development at London Business School, Adrian Moorhouse, professional swimmer, Olympic Gold medallist and Managing Director of Lane4, David Taylor, Business Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust and Visiting Professor of Leadership at Warwick Business School, Sydney Finkelstein, Steven Roth Professor of Management, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, Rob Goffee, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School and Baroness Susan Greenfield, Professor of Pharmacology at Oxford University and Director of the Royal Institution.


Rajan Datar: In this podcast we'll be talking about what leadership means, what it takes to do it well, and how to deal with the shortage of candidates that so many organisations say they're experiencing.

First we ask Duncan Brown, Assistant Director General at the CIPD, why leadership is such an important issue for HR:

Duncan Brown: I don't think leadership is just a big issue for HR, it's a big issue for all of us. If you look at politics at the moment - Brown, Blair, Cameron, Campbell - or you look at my kids' history books, they're stuffed with the study of great and not-so-great leaders, and if you look at the history of management thinking and research over the last century, I think it's largely been concerned with 3 questions, there's the 'why?' question, why are we here, what's the purpose and mission of the organisation? What are we here to do and achieve? Second the 'what?' question, what sort of organisation and resources, systems and skills, do we need in order to achieve that? And finally the 'who?' question. Who are the sorts of leaders we need to achieve our goals? And how do we develop and retain them? And as US management guru, Jim Collins, said at Harrogate a couple of years ago at our national conference and exhibition, the 'who?' question is the most important because you've got to decide who you want on and who's driving your metaphorical bus, even before you decide where you're driving it to. As he put it first 'who?', then 'what?' And of course it's therefore a critical part of the role and development of the HR function, because we're the people with the professional skill set to be able to assess and develop the types and numbers of leaders who are necessary for the organisation to succeed in the future.

RD: So leadership is an issue that has been around for a long time. But recently it is an issue that has been brought into sharp focus. We asked Duncan whether he thinks things have changed.

DB: Yeah, I think there is a difference today. I think there are a couple of things in what I see being discussed at all our conferences on leadership. The first is that people are much more concerned about where they're going to get their leaders for the future. The sense of shortages of good leaders, of leaders in the future who are going to get different skill sets which the organisation doesn't have, and which it's getting increasingly difficult to find in the external labour market. So I think that's the first big change.

The second one, I think, is a big shift in the popular, prevailing models of leadership. I think we're in this uncertain, challenging, rapidly changing era and there's been a definite move away from these aggressive Lee Iacocca, or Jack Welch stereotype, the kind of kick-butt, top-down leader/management style of the 1980s and 1990s. These few charismatic individuals who single-handedly, apparently, shook-up and transformed the performance of major corporations. I think more recent research such as Khurana's 'Curse of the superstar CEO has shown these individuals were often actually damaging to long term organisational performance, and the stereotype probably wasn't accurate anyway. Jack Welch, for example, devoted considerable resources to developing capable leaders around him and for the future in GE. But we are seeing this shift to a more sensitive, more consensual, more sort of context and culturally aware, more broadly-based, more participative, more adaptive and team-oriented, more coaching model of leadership which better suits our time and our organisations today.

Of course leaders have still got to take tough decisions, but there's greater recognition that we need far more effective leaders today, at all levels in the organisation and that in order to be effective, leaders have to take their followers with them, and vary their style to suit the different situations they face.

Philippa Lamb caught up with Gareth Jones and asked him the million dollar question:

Philippa Lamb: What makes a good leader?

Gareth Jones: There's no recipe to that. If you think there's a recipe answer to that, you're going to be very disappointed. What people who aspire to leadership need to find out, is what works for them. And what works for them might be their intellect, their humour, their loyalty - I've even seen people use their physical attributes like their size as a leadership asset so the really important thing is to find out what works for you.

RD: Adrian Moorhouse, a Gold winning Olympic swimmer, is now managing director of Lane Four. Philippa asked him what makes a good leader:

Adrain Moorhouse: I think a good leader is someone who inspires people and creates something compelling enough for people to want to follow them.

PL: How do they do that? What skills do they need?

AM: For me it's been quite interesting having gone from an individual competitor in a sport, to trying to be a managing director of a business and lead people, so I've had to, I think, change quite a lot and adapt the way I do stuff, but I think this idea of a leader articulating something and starting to create a story around where the organisation's going to go and how people have a role in that, and what their role might be, and why that's important and what it means for the customer, so I think there's something about creating something compelling for people to want to be part of.

RD: In exclusive research ahead of his masterclass at CIPD's annual conference, David Taylor spoke to sixty CEOs to gain a unique insight into what leaders are really thinking and worrying about. Philippa asked David what he'd discovered:

PL: One of the issues that came out of these conversations was the difficulty of clearly stating, or, indeed, clearly establishing a vision for their organisations.

David Taylor: Absolutely. HR directors often say to me, my CEO won't share the vision with me, and I say there's a reason for that, they haven't got one. And I would say that most organisations that I know do not have a clear, concise, and compelling vision.

PL: Did that surprise you?

DT: Stunned me. As one CEO said to me, 'we're a really successful organisation - imagine how successful we'd be if we had a vision.'

RD: So setting the vision is important, but on a day to day basis, Gareth Jones thinks effective leaders are those that can adapt to their context:

PL: Talk us through this idea you have about leaders being authentic chameleons. How does that work?

GJ: What's interesting about the chameleon, just so as you understand the image, is that the chameleon adapts to circumstance, but is always a chameleon. Now our view is, that if you take seriously our proposition that leadership is contextual then leadership behaviour has to adapt to context. And in the little example in our article, if you take a week in the life of Tony Blair, he fulfils many different roles in that week and the question we have to ask ourselves is there an authentic thread, is there something common across all the role performances. If you think about your own life, do you behave the same way at home as you do at work. Do you go home and say to your husband 'it's time for your regular appraisal'?

PL: (laughing) Regularly.

GJ: 'I've been really happy with the gardening but there are areas for significant improvement.' I bet you don't, but if you did, I bet you'd get feedback. It's one of the functions of commuting, by the way, that allows you to change from one role to another. So what we've been trying to argue is that it's been a huge mistake to say that you've been either authentic or a role player. What effective leaders are, are authentic role players.

RD: To be a successful leader is a real challenge. But once you're at the top of your game, staying there is even harder. Sydney Finkelstein, Steven Roth Professor of Management, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College has been studying leadership for ten years. He's seen a lot of fantastic leaders, and a lot of leaders fail. He told us what common mistakes leaders tend to make.

Sydney Finkelstein: They do a lot of things that are wrong, and they're not necessarily opposite to what you should do to be right. The primary themes are things like lack of open-mindedness to learn, learn new things. Of course classic arrogance and hubris show their face as well. But the part that we have really been missing is the part that separates the people that have been successful for a while and continue to be successful from those that have the track record but fall by the wayside. And the things that really differentiate those two groups more than anything else is when the leaders really begin to believe they have it all figured out rather than listen to critiques of what they're doing, what the company's doing, they often go out of their way in shoot the messenger fashion to reject and hopefully remove those that are generating those alternative points of view.

PL: Recently we've seen a string of very high-profile corporate scandals - failures of leadership. Do you think situations like Enron have affected the way leaders behave, or at least want to appear to behave in the future.

SF: Oh, I think it's having a big impact, especially with the sentencing of Jeffrey Skilling, former Enron CEO. A 24 year prison sentence is going to catch anyone's attention to be sure. I think the Worldcoms, the TYCOs, the Enrons, it's a global phenomenon and I think CEOs are more and more concerned that they understand what's really going on.

RD: Researching the most common leadership mistakes has helped Sydney understand what makes a truly successful leader.

PL: So, in terms of how great leaders present themselves, what's your favoured model? Do you like the Jack Welch, highly charismatic, aggressive, punchy model or do you prefer, perhaps, the more 21st century, accessible, lower-key, lower impact leader.

SF: Charisma's okay within a certain range, but the real hallmark of a successful leader, I think, is one who doesn't always have to be front and centre in any type of decision scenario. I think what we know from a lot of research and common sense as well is that the most successful organisations, the most successful teams, are the ones where the leader generates the ideas, and the energy, and really uses the talent that he or she has. In almost every instance, it's really the team that will win, more than the leader.

RD: For Adrian Moorhouse, you'd have thought the transition from Olympic swimmer to business leader would have been a radical one, especially in terms of shifting from very individual and personal objectives to team-based ones. Philippa found out that the two aren't as different as we might imagine.

PL: I'm assuming that that was just all about you, the individual - not a team effort - about you performing at your maximum. But now it's an entirely different role, running a big organisation with a load of other people. How have you made that transition?

AM: There's two aspects to this. It wasn't a selfish - of course it's a quite self-centred existence. When you get to the Olympic level, the use of experts is quite a big part of what you do, so for me, to have a nutritionist, a psychologist, a strength coach, a physiologist, a swimming coach, I had a group of experts that were bringing their best skills to bear for the benefit of my performance. So, I think I was good at drawing in people, so right now, with Lane Four, for the legal advice we get, or the accounting advice, or HR advice, I'm pretty good at not wanting to be everything to all people but bring advice in, so that's something that carries forward. But the bit, the second part of the question, that you mention, is that a personal change around my selfish vision was around me winning races. Now, there's still a vision around Lane Four achieving, but what my realisation is, is that I'm not going to do it on my own, I've got to do with it other people, and not only that, I'm probably not going to do it with other people but they're going to do it anyway. So all my role is, it's like a 180 degree flip over, and it's around the ego I think, it's about getting off your high horse, and knowing you're not only one who's going to make this happen.

RD: Not all organisations are getting it right though, according to Gareth Jones.

PL: Every organisation I talk to says they are short of good leaders. Why is there a shortage of good leaders?

GJ: Because many organisations are killing it as fast as they trying to find it.

PL: How do they do that?

GJ: Well, they produce this mind-numbing conformity. The reason why big organisations have this deficit, as we call it, is that many of them have this structure, this culture, not to develop leaders, but to kill it off.

RD: Rob Goffee, from the London Business school co-wrote the acclaimed best-seller, 'Why should anyone be led by you?' with Gareth. We asked him more about the shortage of good leaders.

PL: I was interested, also, in a comment that good leaders seem to share a tendency to have perhaps encountered adversity, or at least got out of their comfort zones when they were younger. That intrigued me because most of the stellar bright people that come out of university these days, don't have that experience do they. We channel them, they get taken up by corporates, or Government departments, and fast-tracked onto great things. So is this part of the reason why we have this shortage of good leaders?

Rob Goffee: I think you don't build good leaders in lecture theatres. You've got to get people out of their comfort zone. There's a few Swiss business leaders in our book. It's one of the few places that still has conscripted armed services. You talk to people who have had two years in the army against their wishes between the ages of 18 to 20, or whatever it is, it's a very out-of-your-comfort-zone kind of experience, and not necessarily very pleasant. But I suspect that it's one way that people learn a lot about themselves, very, very fast. And I'm kind of, well, I am convinced that what companies need to be doing is using the kind of diversity they've got inside of their organisations to expose people to lots and lots of different experiences.

RD: That was Rob Goffee. Baroness Susan Greenfield has been director of the Royal Institution since 1998 and is the first woman to hold the post. We caught up with her to get her secrets of successful leadership.

PL: From what I hear you've rather sent the wind of change through the Royal Institution. What have you learnt about that since you've been at the Institution?

Susan Greenfield: It's been wonderful. I've learnt a lot and have been on a real learning curve. I think the first thing that you have to do is realise that if you want to lead, then you have to have the respect and confidence of the people that you're going to be doing it with. And the thing they're most frightened of is that they're going to be blamed. That's the first thing so I remember when I wanted to do something, and someone said 'What if we get egg on our face' and you have to say 'it's my face.' And I think that increasingly nowadays, in the workforce, people are not allowed to take the credit and they're not allowed to take the blame, certainly in the public sector. And it's a very scary but exciting role to do that, so that's the first thing. The second thing I think you need, is that you have to believe in what you're doing. You shouldn't be doing it just because you're paid to it, or you think you're going to get some kind of reward for it, or because people will think you're a great and wonderful person. You have to do it because you really believe its an important thing to do. Because it's only if you believe in it that you'll have a passion and excitement for it. And in my own view, passion, excitement, and enthusiasm trumps everything else.

RD: Susan Greenfield there. We've heard some fascinating insights on leadership but what does all this mean for HR leaders? And what if you're responsible for developing the future leaders of tomorrow?

DB: There's clearly no magic, universal formula, for good leadership or leadership development. You certainly can't import a single model into your organisation which will give you a production line with tomorrow's successful leaders rolling off the end of it. Too often, I think, management and leadership activities exist in a bit of a vacuum. They're accepted broadly as good thing by organisations but there's no real grounding for them in what the organisation needs to do in order to succeed or judging whether or not the initiatives are successful. So first of all HR, we've got to create a clear business case and support at the top of the organisation in terms of what types of leaders we're going to need in the future, how they're going to be developed, the resources and investment required and how we're going to judge the return on that investment. Investors themselves, never mind board directors, are getting increasingly interested in a company's bench strength, as the Americans call it - that's the talent and depth of capability you've got in the organisation - and what you're doing to develop and secure it.

Second, I think you need the right blend of methods and techniques to populate and grow your leaders. I really mean 'blend.' One of the most positive developments I know at the moment is that we're seeing organisations mixing and melding different techniques and development approaches - internally, externally sourced, formal and informal methods, face-to-face and online development - they're searching to find the right mix of methods to suit their people. So, the method really is, forget fads and fashions and seek the best fit.

Finally, you've got to build this into the real, day-to-day life of the organisation so that it's not just a theory that can be got over on a training course. And HR's got to be in the lead on this and show the courage that's required to make sure that employers are prepared to invest in this for the long term, because there aren't any quick fixes in leadership or its development. But that's also a great opportunity in today's talent short environment for HR to really lead the way on this and ensure our organisations have got the leaders in place that they need to succeed tomorrow.

RD: There's certainly plenty of food for thought here. Of course leadership isn't something you can bottle and distribute with the pay slips but it certainly sounds like there's a role for HR in developing the leaders of the future.


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