What do leaders really do? It’s a big question; one which is asked and answered by Vistage speaker and author Jeff Grout. As Jeff puts it, we all understand the importance of leadership, the significance of being the person at the top, the person who holds ultimate responsibility - but what about the practical realities of what leaders actually do?
At inception, the business leader is everything to everyone. There are few successful enterprises that haven’t had a strong, visionary leader at their epicentre; setting the compass, charting the course, making sure everyone is on board and guiding important decisions.
The first task of all leaders is to recognise that uncertainty is the primary characteristic of the 21st century. We live in a constantly changing and evolving world where no two weeks look the same! Leadership needs to prepare for this by keeping an open mind. This is for three main reasons: it allows them flexibility; it allows the pursuit of unity; and finally because ‘opinionated certainty’ and the rigidity it engenders is a hallmark of mediocrity.
What makes a leader truly great? Each year, thousands of books are written on leadership, seminars are attended all over the world and business leaders go in search of the holy grail: how to become the best leader they can be.
With Brexit around the corner and economically uncertain times ahead, business productivity (measured as output over time) has never been more crucial. Yet, in the UK, many companies are struggling to achieve anywhere close to their optimal output.
Any first year MBA student can write a business plan, and it’ll probably be a good one - in theory. But a business is much more than strategy, numbers and the bottom line. Your business is a collection of people; and while some may be motivated by the basic numbers, many more want to feel part of something bigger; something meaningful. We’re talking about company culture.
A healthy business culture operates as a workplace democracy of sorts, where each member has their own voice, but the final decision ultimately falls at the feet of the person in charge. In some newer startups, the trend edges a little closer to collaborative socialism where hierarchy is dismissed entirely.
But a toxic business culture - where employees are unmotivated and unappreciated - runs the risk of becoming a dictatorship.
Dictatorial leadership isn’t always deliberate, and a toxic business culture isn’t always as dramatic as a Trump presidency, but the effects of aggressive leadership are felt by employees, stakeholders and customers alike. Employees who feel stifled and controlled at work may, at best, become disengaged; at worst, actively rebel, sabotaging from within and giving away secrets as freely as US government employees on Twitter.
I recently presented this talk to Vistage members.
72% of CEOs indicated that the inability to attract and retain employees with key skills threatens their growth prospects, according to PwC's 2016 global survey of CEOs. In response, as many as 41% of CEOs are revising their work culture and behaviours in an effort to engage more closely with the people their businesses need to remain relevant and competitive.
A critical factor in improving the working environment is trust. Employees and employers need to confidently rely on each other to produce results. Where there are high levels of trust, employees are more committed to the company and are more likely to recommend it to other potential candidates through peer review sites such as Glassdoor.co.uk.
Executives who have a bold strategic business plan perform better than their more timid counterparts, according to McKinsey.
When tackling strategy, it helps to aim for a continuous cycle of improvement, with execution of goals at the core.
But before you get to work on a strategic business plan, you need to know how you personally approach strategy.
Take our quick quiz, and answer honestly, to find out what type of strategic planner you are.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” according to a quote attributed to management guru Peter Drucker. Your organisation’s strategy is easy to define and can be changed with the stroke of a pen, but your culture? That’s made up of thousands, sometimes millions, of decisions, attitudes, messages and relationships. But if culture is so important and so hard to define, how do you set about changing it?
In 2006, the BBC decided to move a host of major departments, including Children’s TV, Breakfast News, Dragons’ Den and Match of the Day, to a brand new base in Salford. The move cost hundreds of millions of pounds and saw nearly a thousand staff relocate from London. BBC North promised staff a better working culture. I was part of the team that had to deliver it, and here are my observations.