Blog

< Return to Blog

Home Truths: The Best and Worst of Modern Leadership

17 July 2020

How many people had a tough week last week? I reckon plenty. I know mine wasn’t an easy one and felt thankful for the weekend. I typically spend my Saturday mornings grabbing the newspaper and mulling over the experiences of the past week. I often spend this time to write down my thoughts which might help in gaining improvements for the weeks ahead. Last Saturday morning I did something different. I caught up with an old friend for coffee and shared thoughts and ideas and reflected on the World.

This friend and I have much in common. Brought up in working-class Manchester, both from Irish immigrant family backgrounds.  We went to the same inner-city school. We both love sport and music. We reconnected after a gap of many years just over a decade ago. Some other parallels. We’ve both been Managing Directors of complex global companies. We’ve both held Board positions. We’re both parents to good young people who are making a valuable contribution in life. We both spend much of our time coaching and mentoring people to help them deal with emotional and mind-related matters. We’re both passionate about a just society. We both see paying it forward as an important part of this.  We both believe people are the key to the success of everything. A product; a service; a brand is nothing without them.  We’ve learned that big isn’t necessarily beautiful. We’ve learned it’s the relationship you have with the person in front of you at that very moment which defines you.

LEADERS WHO CARE

I told him I’ve had some wonderful experiences with people in recent weeks. People who are committed to growing together, learning together and being together despite the obvious difficulties right now.   In many instances, these groups used XVenture Mind Games to recalibrate and reignite energy and passion and tune up their communication and adaptability skills. Those leaders participating in the sessions clearly understand and care for their people. Low ego. Accessible. Involved. So important right now. These have been joyful moments in these difficult times. However, we concurred that this isn’t necessarily the norm, even in the best of times. Leaders aren’t always as open and supportive. Myself and my friend shared stories on some of the decisions being made by business leaders in relation to the future of their people. These are less than positive.  

SOME PEOPLE SHOULDN’T BE LEADERS

We know and understand the economic challenges currently being faced in business. However, we are seeing many business leaders take the cost reduction step without really understanding the full consequences of their actions or openly considering every alternative. The focus on financial matters are of course necessary but short-term and long-term implications need to be considered together. Fong Tuan Chen, HR Director at Samsung provided these wise words:

  “The hallmark of a great organisation is not how much profit it makes, how big its revenue is, how much assets it has, or how great its products are – it is how it treats its people.”

Right now, it’s not a couple of people losing their livelihood. It’s hundreds and thousands. Some of the organisations making these decisions have been “high fiving” themselves publicly for their incredible successes over many months then suddenly when things got tough, their loyal people have borne the brunt. Unfortunately, many of the people who were the source of growth and success and have now lost their jobs are highly mortgaged and struggling to support their families.  Who is recruiting? Where are they recruiting? The effective unemployment rate is now 13.3% and growing.  We know options are very limited for people in this category. The impact on their wellbeing is significant. 

We take the same view as Simon Sinek on this: "Great leaders would never sacrifice the people to save the numbers. They would sooner sacrifice the numbers to save the people."  A serious and uncomfortable question needs to be asked. Are these layoffs all down to Covid or has the organisation been poorly managed for the period leading up to it which has exacerbated the situation?

The way some of the decisions have been made and the delivery of messages regarding people’s future have been in some instances appalling. We know that bad news is always difficult to deliver. However. Mass redundancy via zoom? People finding out they have lost their jobs in a public forum. Others finding out via a third party. Some turning up for a meeting relating to promotion to be told they haven’t got a future.  Leaders believing it is really painful for them to deliver this news. Be assured. It’s not as painful as losing your livelihood. Delivering any bad news needs to be done personally. With dignity. With compassion.

We shared stories of leaders we know using the line “we’re all in this together”. At the same time the same leaders taking full pay or taking a small percentage reduction from a large salary whilst their people have been stood down on Job Keeper and sometimes even less. If this is happening in your organisation, be assured, leaders, you have lost respect, loyalty, goodwill and trust. Your result will ultimately be translated into a significant loss of performance and even greater failures. We know through empirical research that investment in people delivers greater productivity benefits than anything else (check out: T Keiningham and L Aksoy: Why Managers Should Care about Employee Loyalty 2019). Yet, right now, few see this.  A recent HBR survey drew attention to this. One female CEO of a major online group in China said this: “people and innovation are key for our business. These success factors don’t change during Covid-19 and won’t change in the future. I did not hesitate to invest in our employees’ training and development … and recruited skilled managers from other companies. These people will help us grow once the pandemic is over.” (3 Biases That Shaped CEOs’ Pandemic Response: Schmitt, Xin and Langan HBR 03/07/20).

We reflected on the many times that people in executive positions have been helped and been supported throughout their lives and careers and then forget this. We were sad to see people choosing to ignore those who were either calling for help, support or even just a moment to connect. This seems to have become a pattern. The surface-level posts of support on social media are rife yet genuine, one- to- one connectivity, communication and relationships levels are well down. Both of us have experienced this first-hand and been called upon by people who are struggling with this experience too.

One wonderful person I know has been through two long arduous recruitment processes to find new employment, requiring him to take roles away from his family. He’s been prepared to make that sacrifice. On both occasions, the organisations had set up cumbersome processes, months-long, with poor communication between steps with little consideration on the impact for the individual. Demanding time for interstate travel, zoom meetings, completion of presentations, undertaking psychometric tests, then….silence…for weeks. The final straw… the reasons behind decisions not to appoint were simply untrue. Managers and leaders – be assured, people aren’t fools. They know when this happens, and this behaviour will bite you. It says something about your personal brand.  Being truthful about the situation is important. This individual seems on the outside to be handling the situation well. However, I know he is currently experiencing deep disappointment and sinking into a low sense of worth. I have deep concerns for this human being.

WHAT “I’M TOO BUSY” REALLY MEANS!

I have experienced my own testing time too.  An organisation I helped significantly just a short time ago, couldn’t make the time for a half-hour chat. Ironically, I was reaching out to help them.   People I know who have in the past been quick to demand urgent help and receive it, now can’t or won’t return calls, emails or texts. 

Another organisation I have had a contract with over the last two years hasn’t told me if my contract is finished, in abeyance or to be renewed! I think I get the message. It’s three months since any communication from them! Another organisation wanted to check out and review our intellectual property with a view to engaging us. Experience tells me that it was clear from the outset they had no interest in working with us. Just to gain a set of free ideas!  How have people learned to behave so badly?

Over the last few weeks, our team at XVenture has been working on a project to pay it forward to support athletes who are struggling. Our interest is to help their mental well-being. The lack of response from some leaders of their organisations has been astounding.

What’s the reason for this? Typically, the message is “I’m so busy”! What you’re really saying is you don’t care and I’m not important enough.  Here’s a test on that thought. I once said this to a CEO who constantly used this “so busy” excuse: “Imagine if I was to invite you for a coffee with a friend of mine who happened to be Richard Branson. Would you now have time in your diary?” Point taken!!   

I understand that we all have priorities but let’s not make fear, a negative headspace or laziness the barrier. Here’s the key point: You never know what something might lead to.  It could lead to one of the most exciting experiences of life. Trust me and my other ex-Global CEO friend here. We have both experienced this. Virtually every major work experience I have had was because I said “YES.” Because I showed enthusiasm and interest in someone else and their needs. The Wiggles; Ernst and Young; UK to Australia; XVenture TV; Sydney FC; Socceroos; Steve Waugh Foundation and many others.  

LET’S RECALIBRATE LEADERSHIP

Perhaps this a time to refresh and recalibrate what leadership is all about. I’m a massive advocate of “Servant Leadership.” Gandhi; Mother Theresa; Lao Tzu. All of these extraordinary people have left us much wisdom on the subject. Servant leadership doesn’t suggest you are not strong. However, you are serving as a leader. Goals should not be selfish. They are for those who are part of your Company. Note the language: “COMPANY.” We are in company with people we care for. As soon as we don’t care for those in our company, we lose trust. When we lose trust, we lose everything. How about this quote of deep wisdom:

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” Lao Tzu

 Lao Tzu and the likes of Gandhi and Mother Theresa offer much wisdom. You might say that this is rather esoteric, idealist and a long way off where we are. It’s not contemporary you might say. So, why not benchmark against a standard that is contemporary? I found that a couple of weeks ago. It’s back to school in Manchester!

A BREATH OF FRESH AIR

“Educating Manchester” is a fly on the wall documentary available on YouTube* which follows the stories and experiences of a high school for a full year. Drew Povey was the headteacher of what was considered the worst school in England. Harrop Fold in Greater Manchester. A melting pot of all the challenges any group could possibly deal with. Drew and his team were custodians of 800 young people who need to be coached; educated; trained to make something of their lives. Surely one of the most important things we need to do in life. Refugees; broken homes; teenage pregnancies; anger; frustration; adolescent relationships and sexuality; social media bullying; drugs; sickness and absence; crime.  All on a platform of low resources and measures set which are not appropriate for such circumstances. How can this be turned into a win? 

Drew Povey demonstrates everything we want in a leader: a listener; a supporter; encourager; decision-maker and disciplinarian at the right time. He is empathetic to students, families and his team. His one goal – improving the well-being and success of his students to live a happy and fruitful life. In the program, you see him on traffic duty; helping kids who aren’t the leaders. Giving his time and being available. Never too busy!  I loved the way he understood his team so well and seemed to connect the right member of the leadership team to deal with a specific student issue. Seriously – adults – you think you’ve got things to deal with. Try dealing with some of the students at Harrop Fold! Huge levels of emotional agility and resilience required and seen in abundance.  I would love to undertake an XVenture EARL analysis on Drew his team and students. ** It is one of the best flies on the wall programs I have seen. As an educator, tv writer and director I was mesmerised. It has energised me to roll out XVenture’s school program across the World.***   

Unfortunately for the students and parents at Harrop Fold, the higher levels of education administration set different measures of success. How often does it happen where measures of success are designed by people who are too many steps removed from the real deal? I spent last year working with some great teachers at Dubbo School of Distance Education. I saw some of their wins for their students and they were incredible. Yet, these wouldn’t typically be recognised or acknowledged.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Leaders - How do you measure your team’s success? Do you measure this before your own? Have you recalibrated these as a result of our new environment? Are they realistic? Have you considered all options? How brave have you been? Do you have to be the biggest company? Do you have to be the wealthiest organisation? Is this working for you? Drew’s philosophy is aligned to mine and my friend – Leaders as Servants.

Here is a quote from Robert K Greenleaf which I like:

“Good leaders must first become good servants. Ego can’t sleep. It micro-manages. It disempowers. It reduces our capability. It excels in control. Where there is not community, trust, respect, ethical behaviour is difficult for the young to learn and for the old to maintain.”

We know that no-one is perfect. No system is perfect. Otto von Bismarck said that politics is the art of the possible. I’ve always liked this thought. Instead of tearing down the community right now. How about building it? People - maybe there are other solutions that your Company can undertake instead of parting company with so many. People -  maybe when you get a call or a note, why not try being curious and friendly? People - when someone is struggling – perhaps offer them some time and a helping hand.   

After two flat whites, we smiled and did our weird new elbow greeting! Our parting shot. We both asked each other is there anything we could do for each other. This was natural. We weren’t afraid of the answer. This wasn’t about making money. This was about looking into the eyes of a human being and showing care and attention.  It reminds me of a wonderful quote from John C Maxwell:

“People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Thanks John Maxwell. This is a good guide. I will have a great weekend and am optimistic about the week ahead.

Postscript: Thank you sincerely to people who took some time to listen or respond positively to a call or a chat last week. You know who you are. It’s appreciated more than you know.

If you or your team are finding the current environment hard to handle or you have a grim view of your future, feel free to make contact with me [email protected] or if you'd like to participate in Mind Games head to www.xvmindgames.com

*You can watch episodes of “Educating Manchester” on YouTube by clicking HERE

** EARL stands for Emotional agility, resilience and leadership. You can complete the short 36 statement survey at earl.xventure.com.au and receive an instant overview of your scores and recommendations on areas of strength and development.

*** Nuts and Bolts of EARL - fundamentals in emotional agility, resilience and leadership,'  is a free online resource for Teachers and parents. They can use the materials to engage young people in positive conversations around leadership, resilience, relationships and teamwork. Together they will be able to explore the wide variety of videos, articles, podcasts and activities we’ve provided to help and support you and young people on a path towards happiness and success. All this has been tested, proven and where applied effectively, delivers great results. www.xventure.thinkific.com

 

Hon. Prof. Mike Conway has built and led Global teams and organisations. He’s a Leadership Expert, Writer, TV Producer and Director, Keynote Speaker and one of Australia’s leaders in individual and team growth and development. His extensive expertise spans across healthcare, business, entertainment, education and elite sport. The outcomes of those who have and are working with him have made for consistent stories of success.

img

Stay up to date on News, Products and Events

Join our Mailing List
Privacy Policy

We are XVenture.

Our Privacy Policy ensures your right to privacy and we recognise that any personal information we may collect about you will only be used for the purposes indicated in our policy. It is important to us that you are confident that any personal information we collect from you or is received by us from you will be treated with appropriate respect ensuring protection of your personal information.

Our commitment in respect of personal information is to abide by the National Privacy Principles for the protection of personal information, as set out in the Privacy Act and in any other relevant law.

Why we collect your personal information

Because you have subscribed to receive information about our company, media releases, events and services.

To whom will we disclose your personal information?

We do not disclose your email address to any other party. We only collect this information to send you news and information about our company, products and services.

How safe and secure is your personal information that we hold?

We will take reasonable steps to protect your personal information by storing it in a secure environment and when the information is no longer needed for the purpose for which the information was used or disclosed, it will be destroyed or permanently de-identified.

We will also take reasonable steps to protect any personal information from misuse, loss and un-authorised access, modification or disclosure.

Changes in our Privacy Policy

We are constantly reviewing all of our policies and we endeavour to keep up to date with market expectations.

Technology is constantly changing, as is the law and market place practice.

As a consequence we may change this privacy policy from time to time or as the need arises.

This privacy policy came into existence on the 1 January 2014.

Disclaimer

We are XVenture.

This web site is provided by Australian Institute of Leadership Pty. Ltd.

Your access to this website and your use of the services provided through it is subject to these legally binding terms and conditions. Please read them carefully.

Disclaimer of Warranty and Limitation of Liability


Use of Website

You acknowledge that:

  1. this website is designed to be used in conjunction with the following web browsers and that you may experience difficulties with use and access to this website unless you use such browsers:
    • Internet Explorer 5 or greater,
    • Netscape 5 or greater.
  2. the Internet is not error or fault free and that you may experience interruptions and difficulties accessing this website from time to time;
  3. we may immediately and without notice suspend the operation of this website:
    • during any technical failure, modification or maintenance involving the website; or
    • if we, acting reasonably, deem it necessary to protect against fraudulent or illegal use or to otherwise protect us or our service providers from legal liability.

Registration and Passwords

We may provide you with a username, password, telephone number and other information to enable access to parts of this website.

You agree that you:

You are aware that it may be possible for a third party to obtain your username and password by un-authorised means via your computer. It is your responsibility to take steps to prevent this from occurring, by means such as regularly changing your password and installing security software on your computer.

Misuse of this website

You must not:

  1. Hack into this website or our computer systems.
    Hacking means malicious damage or interference and includes, without limitation, mail bombing, propagating viruses, worms or other types of malicious programs, deliberate attempts to overload a system, broadcast attacks or any other method designed to damage or interfere with the operation of a computer system or website;
  2. Use robots or any other automated system to take information or data from this website.

Intellectual Property

You acknowledge and agree that the content (including without limitation the text, graphics, photographs, sound or other material presented on this website ("Content") is protected by copyright, trade mark, patents or other proprietary rights and laws. You are only permitted to use the Content as authorised by Australian Institute of Leadership Pty. Ltd.

General

These terms and conditions are be governed by the laws in force in the State of New South Wales, Australia and each party hereto irrevocably submits to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Courts of that State.

Disclaimer

We are XVenture.

This web site is provided by Australian Institute of Leadership Pty. Ltd.

Your access to this website and your use of the services provided through it is subject to these legally binding terms and conditions. Please read them carefully.

Disclaimer of Warranty and Limitation of Liability


Use of Website

You acknowledge that:

  1. this website is designed to be used in conjunction with the following web browsers and that you may experience difficulties with use and access to this website unless you use such browsers:
    • Internet Explorer 5 or greater,
    • Netscape 5 or greater.
  2. the Internet is not error or fault free and that you may experience interruptions and difficulties accessing this website from time to time;
  3. we may immediately and without notice suspend the operation of this website:
    • during any technical failure, modification or maintenance involving the website; or
    • if we, acting reasonably, deem it necessary to protect against fraudulent or illegal use or to otherwise protect us or our service providers from legal liability.

Registration and Passwords

We may provide you with a username, password, telephone number and other information to enable access to parts of this website.

You agree that you:

You are aware that it may be possible for a third party to obtain your username and password by un-authorised means via your computer. It is your responsibility to take steps to prevent this from occurring, by means such as regularly changing your password and installing security software on your computer.

Misuse of this website

You must not:

  1. Hack into this website or our computer systems.
    Hacking means malicious damage or interference and includes, without limitation, mail bombing, propagating viruses, worms or other types of malicious programs, deliberate attempts to overload a system, broadcast attacks or any other method designed to damage or interfere with the operation of a computer system or website;
  2. Use robots or any other automated system to take information or data from this website.

Intellectual Property

You acknowledge and agree that the content (including without limitation the text, graphics, photographs, sound or other material presented on this website ("Content") is protected by copyright, trade mark, patents or other proprietary rights and laws. You are only permitted to use the Content as authorised by Australian Institute of Leadership Pty. Ltd.

General

These terms and conditions are be governed by the laws in force in the State of New South Wales, Australia and each party hereto irrevocably submits to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Courts of that State.