Why Leadership Matters – Part 2

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In last month’s edition of Converse, our guest writer Bob Phillips introduced his personal reflections on leadership, including how to understand and make the most of your own strengths, and how to get the best out of your team. For this edition, Part II, he takes a look at the importance of leadership when dealing with wider groups of people; how to champion your customers, respect your suppliers and deliver for your shareholders, completing his 5 areas of focus:

  1. Yourself – who are you as a leader? What is your style?
  2. Your people – treat them fairly, develop them, and recognise they invariably know more about the detail than we do. Learn to listen!
  3. Your shareholders – get comfortable that we lead in order to enrich the shareholder by whatever measure of success is required.
  4. Your suppliers – treat them as you treat your own people. Sure, there’s a contract, but if we are reduced to arguing over the small print then we have got the relationship wrong.
  5. Your customers – despite being last on this list, they should never come last! It is by delivering here that we create the space to deliver on each of the points above.
3. Your Shareholders

All companies operate guided by certain priorities – and they should be honest about what these priorities really are, especially when responsibility to shareholders is involved. In my experience you learn about an organisation’s priorities from where it spends its time and energy. If you say your priority is ‘safety’ then this should be a focus by coming first in anyone’s performance review, for example. What conclusion must we therefore draw about an organisation that declares safety first, customer next, followed by finance and lastly people, if 70% of the time and actions are about financial matters? Be honest: if that is what really matters, then declare it.

I once had a job interview with a major outsourced services provider and at the start of the interview my potential new boss began with the statement “Let us be clear, we are only interested in the financial bottom line and if that isn’t for you then you won’t fit in here”. It wasn’t for me, but it was a refreshing outbreak of honesty nonetheless.

4. Your Suppliers

Why do so many companies think it is ok to squeeze their suppliers until they squeak? If we see them as an extension of our people and we are serious about empowering our people, then we should empower them as well.

We are the leaders in the relationship, so why not create the environment where suppliers want to supply you because you treat them fairly and recognise their contribution. You may be a tough negotiator, but remember that if you only leave them crumbs on the table, the chances are they may be cutting corners to supply you. As with your own teams, deal with mistakes (i.e. non-compliance), be prepared to share the plan and take their input, and recognise good contributors.

5. Your Customers

You are the starting point for delivering for your customers; if you champion the customer, so will your team. Be the ‘voice of the customer’ and make sure you recognise those who go the extra mile to fix customer issues (even if the cost of this caused your pool of calmness to have a small ripple). Remember that we allow small mistakes, and coach for success; this is a great opportunity for a coaching intervention. “Great work for our customer, well done” will be better appreciated by your team than other approaches and will therefore yield more fruitful subsequent discussions around finding a more cost-effective solution next time. Facilitating a: ‘fix the problem through others’ (rather than fixing it yourself) also has the benefit of increased responsibility and knowledge within your team; although you want to know a problem is fixed, you need other people in the team to fix it if it is going to stay fixed when your attention moves elsewhere.

A final word of caution regarding customers: did you know they aren’t always right? In the spirit of the contract we make with our customers, us going the extra mile is what they need and are entitled to expect, but we need to make sure we are balancing their needs and expectations with the need to deliver for our shareholders.

So where do I put the majority of my discretionary effort? I believe I put it wherever I can do the most good to deliver for shareholders and make a success of my team. I keep a close eye on suppliers and I never ever forget the importance of the customer.

Those who know me know I have failed miserably at all of these rules at one time or another, but I have been lucky enough to make mistakes and learn from them. People will also tell you I have broken my own rules and continue to do so, but that is why leadership matters: because we who have the honour to lead are allowed to break new ground and if we do leadership well our people will follow us.

This has been merely my own personal reflection, but I hope it has helped you in your leadership journey. Now I am going to go and reflect on how I can improve my leadership for next week…

By Bob Phillips, in collaboration with Connectwell.

About Bob Philips: Bob has during a business career of more than thirty years, led increasingly large teams delivering both incremental and transformational change. His career has included delivering organisational design solutions, successfully deploying major structural change and delivering continuous improvement and employee engagement cultural change. Bob has always practised leadership by encouragement, engagement and involvement and continues to coach and mentor others as a part of his leadership ethos.

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