Leadership, coaching, mentoring… no matter what the future holds we must harness the power of Talent through ‘getting the best out of others’
We live in turbulent times. Of course, we’ve lived in turbulent times before (9/11, the ‘crash’ of 2008, 7/7 to name but a few). But this one feels different. When John Lewis announces that its half yearly profits are down 99%, then something is definitely wrong with the world in which I am used to living. For the first time in my 50+ years of living on this earth, and in this country, I am really anxious about the future.
All of a sudden, it seems that I have become part of that middle aged cohort called ‘grumpy old men’. But whereas we used to complain about the type of music they play on the radio today (it was so much better in the ‘70s!), or why our neighbours can’t put their bins away (or is it because the refuse collectors can’t be bothered to put them back on their property?); we are now asking are more fundamental questions about our future, and more importantly, about the future world our children are likely to live in.
You get what you role model, and you get what you tolerate
Since the Brexit vote things seem to have changed, and not for the better. Life is not as predictable. As a ‘baby boomer’, I can reflect back on the past 50 years with my peer group. The questions we asked in our teenage years are being asked again, but this time with more urgency. “What is the meaning of life?”, “What are my values?”, “Who is there to guide me?” and “Where are our leaders?” And these questions are beginning to permeate our lives at work as well as in our social environment. I keep asking myself, how can we get back on track?
I am a believer in the maxim that ‘you get what you role model, and you get what you tolerate’. So in an attempt to show others the way, I ran my teams with specific ‘principles’ in mind. This isn’t easy, as today there tends to be too much focus on profit, and not enough on the people who generate it. One of the challenges I faced was that the people I want to listen to this message are too centred on themselves to hear it. For example, one of my previous bosses seemed to be overly obsessed with making money at all costs. It seemed to be his driving force every day.
Indeed, he once said to me, “When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I think about is ‘How much money can I make today?’”. When I recall this conversation to others in business, they tend to recoil. “How did you respond to that?” they ask. I replied with, “Well, that’s interesting, because when I wake up in the morning, the first thing I think about is, ‘How am I going to get the best out of my team’”. They liked that philosophy. But the real answer actually lies somewhere between the two, with a blended solution. My aim was to bring the two pillars of ‘profit’ and ‘people’ together for the benefit of both.
This really shouldn’t be that hard
However, in my 35 years of working, the mantra that is often quoted by business leaders is often left unfulfilled. Most of them declare, “We are a people business”, or “We put people at the centre of our organisation”, or “People are the reason why we are in business”. The reality is that this is often said, but rarely lived. Instead there tends to be an overly aggressive focus on the numbers. So the measures of success are based on, “How many calls did you make today?” or “How many leads did you convert in to a sale?”, or “How many hours did you work today?” These questions are all relevant and important, but they tend to focus on the ‘what’, and not the ‘why’ or the ‘how’ (though ironically, that’s often the first word of the question). This focus on numbers is based on a short termism that has become ever more prevalent in our economy and society, and thus is becoming a habit in our business psyche.
I have spent my career helping businesses to become more profitable by focusing on the people agenda. In particular, I enjoy turning high potentials in to leaders, and turning around dysfunctional teams in to winners. This has become even more important than ever as we need to offer hope to the business leaders of the future. A recent Deloitte survey found a negative shift in the millennial’s feelings about business’ motivations and ethics. Today, only a minority of millennial’s believe businesses behave ethically, and that business leaders are committed to helping improve society. There is also a stark mismatch between what millennial’s believe responsible businesses should achieve and what they perceive businesses’ actual priorities to be. And they recognise that although technical skills are necessary, so are “building interpersonal skills, confidence and ethical behaviour—all essential for a business to be successful”. I agree with them wholeheartedly. The question is how can we work together to achieve this?
The Paradigm Shift
As I intimated at the beginning, we are living in uncomfortable times. The philosophies of the last 25 years or so, that focused on ‘diversity’, and breaking through ‘glass ceilings’, and making what Covey calls, ‘The Paradigm Shift’, seem to have been put to one side. In my humble opinion, we seem to have lost our way. With Brexit on the horizon, there is a real fear that great talent will leave our shores for other places. So the questions leaders should be asking are, “How do we retain the leaders of the future?”, or “How do we ensure that teams are motivated, positive and deliver results?”, or “How can we prevent the brain drain?” Getting back to some principle centred solutions is a start. I’d like to be there to give them a hand.