Who is this ‘enlightened leader’ you refer to in your talks and blogs?
It’s a good question. Yet before we go into characteristics, we should really look at the increasing need for the enlightened leader in modern business.
The business world is changing rapidly as we move away from the traditional ‘incremental innovation’ notion of progress towards radical innovation and rapid change. Driving this change is ground-breaking technological developments and generational movement in the workplace, as old order gives way to new. With these huge shifts comes the need for new, responsive leaders.
Now that the model of incremental innovation is diluting in relevance, the question is how and when to make the changes to respond effectively as a business. Businesses can no longer be stiff organisations with rigid hierarchies; relationships can no longer operate in silos. It is now about bringing the organisation together as one, which requires cultural elasticity to be effective. The average business is expanding to accommodate 2, 3 even 4 generations and we all have to work together and share ideas. These are not just ideas coming from top down, but also from bottom up – from the millennials and younger workers whose fresh approaches often compensate for their inexperience. It is about encouraging people at all stages to think above and beyond.
An enlightened leader is someone who can harness this cultural elasticity to work for the advantage of the business. We recognise this at Brother UK, and are busy implementing a brand new organisational structure relevant to today’s needs.
How do you go about implementing cultural elasticity at Brother UK?
At the heart of it all is the idea of employee ‘alacrity’ – meaning a state of readiness and happiness. We want our community to be an agile workforce, ready and happy to take on whatever is thrown at them. We can’t completely predict the future in this world of radical innovation, so we must be ready to react accordingly – although, ideally, alacrity will move us out to the front as leaders rather than reactors in bringing on and retaining talent.
Once the willingness is there, the next step in instilling the right values in our people. The right values will help endorse the cultural transformation we are looking for. Yet we’ve got to be realistic. The likes of Google and Silicon Valley have conjured up this image of controlled chaos in the workplace – where playground slides have replaced elevators as the means of moving from one floor to another. It’s an interesting idea but extremely difficult to implement in a long established business. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of organised chaos and complete freedom of creative expression – I’m fortunate enough to have seen it in action – but the number of businesses who can realistically subscribe to this way of working must be 1% at most.
Likewise, too much change too quickly can become initiative overload, which is damaging for a direction and morale. You’ve heard of the trough of disillusionment, part of the hype cycle, right? Well it can happen for real, and quite quickly. It takes time to change the culture of a business. You can’t retrofit new structures or expectations overnight. It requires careful planning and testing before you can be confident it will work across the business and gain the outcomes you desire.
What is your role as leader in all this change?
Leaders are critical for the development of an organisation’s culture. Often culture is offset onto the HR team, but this is a mistake. HR plays a crucial role in any business yet leaders set the vision and expectation; leaders inspire and deliver. It is about setting the right tone.
Enlightened leaders understand the importance of extending their learning to outside of their organisation. It’s about learning and integration to keep the organisation relevant. I would say that 33% of my time is spent working outside of the business, picking up new ideas and concepts from a range of sources, with another 33% spent reflecting on their impact to our direction of travel and 33% on ‘WHAM’ – which I refer to as ‘winning hearts and minds’ on any planned change. How you position new ideas into the business is crucial if they are to be picked up and endorsed.
Most importantly it is not all about me. I have a brilliant team around me helping to support my initiatives. When I made the transition from Marketing and Sales Director to Managing Director at Brother UK, I initially found it difficult to let go of responsibilities and areas that were formerly under my direct remit. I wanted to still be involved in everything as a natural point of bias. It didn’t take me too long to realise that I needed to give some things up and allow others to take control. It is an essential learning curve for all new and established leaders: know when to delegate and trust those around you.
Trusting your people is very important. A lack of trust is a massive obstacle. This is why I ensure that the team around me contains all the right people – I design it so, including psychometric tests to help me get the right characteristics and balance in the team. Personality diversity among a team of leaders is important to me, otherwise you will forfeit challenge and innovation for status quo, familiarity and lots of easy agreement. When you know your own shadow/bias you can also be honest about your weaknesses too.
You must have loads of good tips on engaging employees – care to share a few?
I’ll give you three that relate to what we’ve been talking about.
- The Brother UK business motto is ‘to grow ourselves by growing others’. This perfectly encapsulates our values as an organisation. As a business we want to grow, and this means a focus on growing our customers and each other as our main effort to achieve that. It is a very simple and effective message – put other people first. At the heart of it is the very human notion of reciprocity. I find this a great way to engage employees with the big picture of a purpose beyond a product portfolio. Purpose will bring talent and retain talent.
- As I’ve already touched on, leaders need to know when it is time to stop meddling and trust their team members to deliver. I call this the ‘bungee jump of delegation’. At first it’s terrifying but you will quickly realise that the view is pretty good if you make the jump. A sure fire way to increase your agility is to push decision making through your organisation.
- None of us like bad news, yet hoarding it in business only makes it worse. Failing projects and bad investments are unfortunate. No one wants to go to their boss with bad news, but keeping hold of it, or investing more resource into a doomed project, is both an unnecessary distraction and a waste of time. At Brother UK we have a philosophy of ‘bad news early in the business’ which is meant to encourage sharing of problems at an early stage in the hope of resolving or implementing an early countermeasure to any issue. This encourages a more entrepreneurial culture as people understand our attitude to risk.