Lead To Succeed Book Chapter 1

The ‘new world of work’

Why leadership matters so much more to your people and organisation

Key Takeaway

This is an extract from Chapter 1 of Lead to Succeed : The Only Leadership Book You Need by Professor Chris Roebuck.

Many ‘leaders’ aren’t leaders

First, let’s smash the myth that someone in a leadership role is automatically a leader. Many aren’t. They may be in a role that anticipates effective leadership, but for reasons  we will see later this often does not happen. They may be a maintainer – someone who keeps the status quo ticking over and who resists change. They may be a self-obsessed climber – someone who is prepared to do anything to make sure they achieve their personal ambitions despite the cost to anyone else.

Leadership is about what you do, not what role you have or which chair you sit in.

Or they may be out of their depth – promoted to a level where their skills and capabilities do not meet the needs of the role. All of these people could occupy positions classified as leadership roles. That does not mean they are leaders.

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Leadership is about what you do, not what role you have or which chair you sit in. Just because someone is a CEO does not mean they are a leader: whether they are a leader and how good a leader they are is something only others can judge, because their own opinion may be slightly biased!

This potential bias is clearly demonstrated in a number of self-assessment studies over many years. For example, in the UK in 2010 the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), the UK’s main management professional body, surveyed more than 2,000 managers, including those from international organisations working in the UK2. They were asked which aspects of management they thought they were best at, while a further 6,000 completed a diagnostic tool to identify their real strengths and weaknesses.

Did self-perception match reality? Just over one-fifth said they were good at getting results compared with 41% that actually were; 20% believed they were strongest at managing themselves, but only 8% were; 44% said they excelled at managing people compared with 37% who were, and 14% felt they were born to lead – an interesting self- perception which sounds like a watered down version of the divine right of kings!

Even those defined as delivering high performance from their teams may not be effective leaders, but just good at pressuring people to work very hard. They are not the same, and pressure is not a sustainable approach and causes loss of service quality and higher risks.

Also – no matter what level a leader – what is also clear is that while we know good leaders deliver better organisational performance, as this book shows, exactly what the characteristics of a good leader are is more open to dispute, especially from the psychological perspective. Strangely, there is more agreement on what they are for a bad leader 4 and the significant organisational and personal damage they cause.

This personal damage impacts on societies as well via increased stress and subsequent medical costs. Perhaps one reason for these shortfalls might have been that the CMI also revealed that a horrifying 63% had no management or leadership training prior to taking up their senior posts and so, potentially, could never have been fully effective in those roles. While this is a UK survey, similar issues are reflected across the world.

Remember that getting your first ‘leadership’ role leading people does not mean you are a leader. It’s what you do in that role that defines whether you are truly a leader.

Thus one key message to anyone reading this book is that, sadly, you may not be quite as good as you think you are – hence the importance of feedback and humility.

Remember that getting your first ‘leadership’ role leading people does not mean you are a leader. It’s what you do in that role that defines whether you are truly a leader. Furthermore, to be effective, much of this capability needs to be developed. The purpose of this book is to help you be that leader, to reach your full potential and hopefully be as good a leader as you can be.

The new reality of organisations and leadership challenges

We need to understand that as well as the traditional challenges that leaders have always faced, for example motivating people, setting out clear action plans, and making things happen, the changes in the world and society in the past few years have added to those challenges. Twenty-first century challenges demand new and different ways of thinking and acting from leaders and organisations.

So what are the challenges that our organisations now face? And what does that mean for you as a leader?

The new economic reality

The economic downturn at the start of the 21st century forced a reshaping of the economic landscape. The long-established markets in Europe and the US, already slowing in their growth rates, went into recession and even the high-growth emerging markets of Asia slowed significantly. In a market that seemed to be constantly growing, organisations that had been structured and run for operation in a growing economy were left struggling in a sharply reduced one.

During this period top lines were dramatically squeezed and the income organisations were receiving from customers was significantly reduced. To counter this, organisations had two simple options: to do less, but in the same way, by cutting back on staff and other costs in the hope that the organisation remained profitable; or to meet its challenges by reviewing how everything was done, how staff were motivated and customers served to find a new way of working to fit the new market conditions.

The first option might have been viable had the downturn continued for a year or two, but as it reached three, four and then five years this became self-defeating, as this mode of operation often could not remain profitable or even viable. As the downturn continued what was needed to meet the challenge was much more than cutbacks, and the latter option, a new way of working, became the only real solution.

As funding from banks and markets tightened there was little room for error. Many organisations were forced to make deeper and deeper cuts in costs as the downturn continued, and this started to restrict their ability to deliver even basic levels of customer service. In the end, many organisations failed and this, in turn, caused further loss of confidence in the economic prospects.

This was a global problem, although worse in Europe and the US. So if simply making cuts was not enough, and a new way of working was needed, how did organisations start to adjust? Not only were markets tougher due to the downturn, but also customers were increasingly careful and demanding, given their own individual income had often reduced as well. The expansion of the Internet also allowed customers wider access to more suppliers and provided them with a greater knowledge of markets. Thus the level of competition rose. This also allowed easier market access for new competitors in many areas, or a new way of delivering products and services, often with technology, that disrupted existing markets.

So the challenge for organisations was : do more with less! But this wasn’t enough. The environment that had been created was effectively the economic and organisational version of a perfect storm, where only the strongest would survive.

Yes, organisations needed to do more with less, but they had to do it better in a new way! The doing less is easy, but doing more with less is difficult, and doing more with less but better requires a significant change in the way the organisation works to optimise performance. This applies to all organisations, be they private sector or public; the economic downturn and other factors, such as government funding cuts due to their own falling tax revenues and debt, affected the public as well as the private sector.

The ideas in this book are effective in all sectors, be they private, public or not-for-profit. Falling tax revenues have forced the public sector across the globe to become more effective and efficient to deliver everything from healthcare to infrastructure, and in local and national government and emergency services. As suggested by many reports globally and by international organisations such as the OECD and the UN, there is scope for this to be achieved in particular by the public sector adapting approaches used in the private sector, such as efficiency, innovation and a customer focused mindset that has been embedded in the private sector for years.

Not only this but a change to leadership is key. An OECD report Improving Public Sector Efficiency – Challenges & Opportunities states clearly: ‘Human resource management practices also matter a great deal. The soft aspects of human resource management, such as employee satisfaction and morale, are considered to be the most important drivers of performance.’ Thus Mach 2 provides a vital set of tools for the public sector as well as the private sector globally.

The challenge applies even more to the not-for-profit sector, which is faced with an almost unlimited demand on its services but with more limited resources.

Challenges for the Red Cross in Myanmar

This was brought home to me when I was asked by the CEO of the Myanmar Red Cross Society to go to his country to deliver a masterclass on Mach 2 leadership. He introduced me to his leaders with the following words: ‘Can you please come to speak to our leaders, as these are the people who make the Red Cross work? If you can tell them about delivering more with less to those in need, that would be a great advantage for us.’

The humbling week I spent with the Red Cross in Myanmar confirmed to me that getting leadership right in their world is even more important than in the business world because so many lives depend upon it.

What is the impact on people?

As you would expect with reduced headcounts and cost pressures, there are fewer people in organisations to deliver the work. And headcounts have often been reduced more than workloads. As a result, employees are under more and more pressure. Research8 by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) and supported by other studies shows that between 2009 and 2012 88% of employees had experienced an increase in workload, 56% had increased hours of work and 78% had experienced an increase in the team workload.

The percentage of employees who said that they did not have sufficient time to complete the work they were expected to do increased from 32% to 55% over the same period, and the proportion of time spent multitasking increased by 15%. Furthermore, everyone is now having to deal with more information, with 76% of employees saying that they are spending more time either finding or dealing with data. This is probably distracting them from higher priorities.

UK-based data from Hay Group paints a similar picture – and is probably reflected elsewhere – where around 60% of employees globally are keen to give their best, but then 33% on average, rising to 42% in Europe and the Middle East, feel that their organisation obstructs them from delivering it!

From a practical perspective having 55% of employees saying they don’t have enough time to deliver what they have been asked to deliver poses very significant questions about the quality of existing leadership. How can you be a competent leader if you give people more work than they can do in the time you have allowed? However, this does not mean that employees could not still improve performance. It is likely that some of this is caused by ineffective prioritisation, with work that is not critical to the organisation’s success taking up too much time. Unless Mach 1 leadership engages employees, they will not be delivering maximum effort anyway. Bureaucracy also compounds the problem by removing focus from key priorities. So it is probably false to assume that these figures mean that people have no capability to add more value to the organisation.

Have organisations changed?

There are also increasing issues about frequent change and the impact on employees’ ability to focus on what needs to be delivered. For example between 2009 and 2012, 63% of employees said that the frequency of change in organisational objectives had increased. Such changes, unless communicated effectively, would cause increased confusion. The economic and organisational drivers have forced organisations to change more than most people realise. Objectives are changed faster to respond to customer and market needs. Organisational structures have had to become more matrixed to deal with the lower headcount, 50% of employees say that they have to deal with more stakeholders to get decisions in 2012 than in 2009. Other trends continue with global dispersion increasing – 57% of employees increasingly have to work with others in different locations. Generation X now makes up 62% of the workforce and these demographic changes also bring different attitudes and approaches to organisations and work/life balance.

So what are the current and future organisational challenges?

The key to continued viability in this new world is to:

  1. Maximise the top line by making sure you attract the right customers by offering them the right services or products and then getting them to use them;
  2. Maximise the bottom line by finding the most efficient and effective way to deliver those services or products to the customers.

That essentially depends on two critical elements:

  1. The right process – to attract customers and deliver;
  2. People who maximise their effort for you to make the process work.

In reality, the success of (1) is dependent on (2).

At the most basic level then, to survive and succeed in the 21st century, an organisation has to get the best from its people. But people already have to work longer and harder to deliver what their organisations want. All of the above suggests that employees are now being pushed to, and perhaps beyond, the limit of what is viable with the current leadership and ways of operating.

But it’s likely to get even more challenging!

Despite all the current challenges about workloads, complexity, demanding customers and limited resources discussed above, organisations, CEOs and investors are expecting better and better performance. The annual objectives set by many organisations demand constant improvements year-on-year.

Research by CEB shows that in general terms most CEOs and senior executives say they need a 20% increase in performance to achieve their targets. Set that against the current environment where people are already close to, or at, their limits, then something has to change to make this possible.

As suggested there is likely to be scope for some improvement, but this will only occur if Mach 2 leadership is implemented to ensure that:

  • Work critical to organisational success is prioritised;
  • Mach 1 leadership is achieving maximum effort from employees through engagement.

Don’t let profit through cost reduction become the only focus!

This comment will sound like total madness for anyone in a profit-driven organisation. However, all my experience and a number of studies, (see below) show that organisations that focus purely on maximising profit via minimising costs tend to underperform.

Customers realise that profits come before service, employees realise that profit comes before their getting fair remuneration and development, and suppliers realise that the relationship is not the ‘partnership’ they anticipated. This focus on profit often drives leadership behaviour that can have negative effects as we shall see later in Chapter 2.

A total focus on profit through cost-cutting will potentially bring a short-term burst of additional financial benefit, but in the longer term, that is anything over one year, the negative effects of this approach start to create an impact – potential loss of customers, loss of key staff/talent, lower employee engagement leading to lower financial performance and even more dangerous, an increase in risk.

Anyone convinced that by cutting costs you inevitably improve profitability should read Raynor and Ahmed’s 2012 article10 in Harvard Business Review. This looks at organisational performance (based on return on assets) for over 25,000 companies over 40 years to identify what the long-term high performers did. They looked at many factors and concluded that what delivered long-term top 10% performance was behaviour based on three rules:

  1. Better before cheaper – in other words, compete on differentiators other than price;
  2. Revenue before cost – that is, prioritise increasing revenue over reducing costs;
  3. There are no other rules – so change anything you must in order to follow Rules 1 and 2.

Interestingly research by Ambler in 2003 showed that boards spend, on average, nine times more time discussing spending and cash-flow issues than where the money comes from and how it could be increased.

There is insufficient space here for a deeper analysis of this revelation that key commonly held strategic assumptions could actually be wrong. But a good summary is in the article by Jules Goddard from London Business School, which won the CMI Article of the Year Award in UK in February 201412.

What these three rules promote is effectively Mach 1 and Mach 2 – increasing revenue and, if, along the way, people identify potential cost efficiency around them that doesn’t affect ‘the better before cheaper’ rule, then better still. The idea of better not cheaper and total focus on differentiation by quality is also a key objective of Mach 1 and Mach 2. So it is about making the cake bigger and doing so efficiently, rather than making the portion of profit in a smaller cake bigger by reducing cost.

Where is the risk?

Based on my experience of the way organisations work, I have long thought that the way an exclusively profit-focused organisation develops its leaders, communicates and conducts its activities, means that the key area of risk is not at senior levels but at middle and junior levels.

This may seem strange as the CEO and the board are running the organisation, but they aren’t the ones that make the decisions on actions that instigate problems that can turn into disasters. Middle and junior management do that. And in my view, they often do so by making assumptions about, or misinterpreting, what they think senior leaders want.

Returning to the question of maximising profit – this is often perceived by middle and junior managers as the only objective from the top; the caveats to this that any sane CEO would add being ‘lost in communication’ – managing risk, customer service, ethics, sustainability and so on.

Admittedly some senior banking leaders prior to the financial crisis did actually send that ‘only profits matter’ message out, but they – and we – paid the price. As a result of this ineffective communication and assumption, the middle and junior group can go on to take decisions that lead to problems that grow into disasters if not identified and prevented. Mach 2 leadership deals with this danger by making sure leaders at all levels know all the key messages and objectives from the top and all the associated caveats, so the communication and thus the risk management is effective.

Interestingly this has been confirmed by research from CEB SHL data for the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) from December 201313. They examined 20,000 managers about their approach to decision-making, (understanding risk and its impacts) and communications (making sure everyone is clear on key objectives and caveats). What they found from the data in Europe, for example, was that at the most senior levels, just one in 21 leaders was perceived as presenting a risk to the organisation. The global average is one in 14. At the next level down this rose to this average of one in 14, by middle management level it was one in eight, and by junior management level, potentially even more.

Junior management levels are undoubtedly worse because of a lack of experience. But the danger is at middle management level because they are able to make operational decisions that initiate potential disasters of many types. Moreover, they are in a key position to monitor and develop junior leaders. The CEB/WSJ to some degree lays the blame for this at the door of over-promotion of technical experts. I would rather say it’s a failure to make sure that any technical experts who are needed in such roles are also effective leaders. That’s one of the reasons I wrote this book – to help achieve that.

We touch on this issue again as it has relevance for both individual leaders, leaders who lead other leaders and organisations who need all their leaders to be effective. So the focus of Mach 2 is to maximise sustainable performance and profit while effectively managing risk. The performance and profits will flow naturally from Mach 2 being in place. Total focus on profit can in practice block Mach 2 from being achieved.

So how can this book help?

If further improvements are to be made to individual or organisational performance with effective risk management, what happens inside organisations has to fundamentally change. In previous years they might have been run along command and control lines, or more recently by aggressive ‘macho management’.

These tactics will no longer work.

Organisations must remove the traditional silo structures and be transformed into ‘communities of effort and collaboration’ – a phrase we will revisit again and again in this book because it is so important – that maximise effort and work together in an aligned way. They must always seek to deliver the best for the customer in an effective and efficient way that optimises organisational performance, not just do their own work.

This notion of communities of effort and collaboration points the way forward; it’s about the ‘we’ and not the ‘me’ in the future, and that’s the only way such slimmed down organisations can meet the demands of employees, shareholders, customers, stakeholders, governments and society.

This approach is vital to success. Partnership working and collaboration is key.

According to CEB research between 2002 and 2012, the relative importance to business unit profitability of individuals collaborating across the organisation as opposed to working on their own tasks dramatically changed. The importance of individual task working fell from 78% to 51% and the importance of collaboration increased from 22% to 49%. This represents a doubling of the importance of collaboration in these slimmed-down organisations, which makes collaboration with others as important to profitability as working on your own tasks. Getting 50% of employees to contribute organisationally through collaboration could add 4% to profitability, and if all of your staff reaches that collaborative level you could add 12%.

So what do these highly collaborative people do, and how can everyone else replicate this? These high-performing collaborators add value to their organisations in a number of ways:

  • 63% transfer great ideas from one part of the organisation to another;
  • 71% improve procedures or process based on ideas from others;
  • 78% transfer skills/knowledge effectively to co-workers;
  • 72% provide useful new ideas for products/services or improvements to process for others;
  • 81% improve working methods, techniques or tools for others;
  • The maximum rating for how any low-performance collaborators delivered in any of these areas is 22%.

Few organisations are even aware of this critical change and even fewer have done anything about it. Yet it is key to the future success of organisations and a key element of Mach 2 leadership, which will be looked at in more detail later. But there are challenges for leaders. Hay Group found that 43% of employees don’t want to do anything to contribute to their organisation other than their own job.

Let’s be realistic!

What sort of leader do you want to be? Those at a senior level in organisations often say that people should model themselves on the great leaders of history. Here is a selection of those leaders often presented as the ones developing leaders should model themselves on:

LeadToSucceed Chapter1 Leaders

 

These leaders are considered the great leaders of history and it’s true that they achieved great things and were right for their time. But they wouldn’t, or indeed didn’t, do well in organisational settings at junior levels – many were seen as mavericks. To get the results needed in 21st-century organisations you don’t have to change the face of the world and the history of humanity, you just have to get maximum effort from your people.

Take lessons from what these leaders did well – their ability to inspire and innovate, their determination, courage and vision for the future, or as some might say, their propensity to break the rules. But they had faults as well, some of them quite significant. So don’t simply try and copy them!

Nelson Mandela’s passing in late 2013 led many to focus on his amazing world-changing ability as a statesman. However, that distracted from his real skill as a leader, which enabled the statesman to develop: the power to get the best from others. So it is not Nelson Mandela’s statesmanship that has real lessons for every leader in every organisation across the globe, but his skill as an individual leader.

The mechanics are what we learn on development programmes, in other words the processes, and this book includes much of it. But the spirit is what takes the mechanics to the highest level of true leadership.

What he did do was to show people he cared about them no matter whether they were presidents or cleaners. He showed them that there was within them a greater self that they had not yet discovered but which they could become, and that there was value in what they did and a better way. This led people to give him their effort, loyalty, support and sometimes risk their lives. He encapsulated and demonstrated what real day-to-day leadership and humanity is about, at its highest level, of integrity, impact and effectiveness.

This is the spirit of leadership, and not just the mechanics.

The mechanics are what we learn on development programmes. In other words, the processes, and this book includes much of it. But the spirit is what takes the mechanics to the highest level of true leadership. If as a leader you only ever use the mechanics of leadership you will never get the best from yourself or others. So on top of the help this book will bring, you need to think about the spirit of leadership and how you will use that to help you as well.

The spirit of leadership that Nelson Mandela used so well includes the qualities of inspiration, determination, humility, humour, forgiveness, courage, justice, integrity, charisma, clarity and simplicity, creating and inspiring vision, showing people they can be better than they are and finally bringing hope where there is little. This delivers real action that engages everyone and not just the few, and led to his power as a statesman as well as an individual leader.

You won’t get there overnight!

Unlike other leadership books, this one doesn’t promise that you will be the CEO in a year, it won’t make every reader a great leader that goes down in history, and you won’t get to Mach 2 in three weeks. But if you do what the book suggests it will start your growth, maximise your chances of being the best you can be and you will start to reap the personal and professional rewards.

The principle of this book is one of ‘aggregation of marginal gains’, an idea that’s used in areas from economics to rocket science. In simple terms, it means lots of little improvements that build up, support each other and often become greater than the sum of the parts. That’s why the simple steps the book suggests can actually build into a transformative journey for you, the people you lead and your organisation.

It may take a little time, but because it’s based on very simple, practical ideas that you can implement yourself relatively quickly, it just requires a clear plan and your focus and effort on making it happen. It’s good if you can also have the help of your organisation or team; it’s even better if they are trying to get to Mach 2 at the same time. But even if your organisation hasn’t embraced Mach 2 there is no reason why you should not. In fact, if you do, it will make it easier for them to spot the great performance you deliver amongst the mediocrity around you!

Additional online resources with useful self-assessments, exercises and checklists can be found on my website at www.theonlyleadershipbook.com .

We all spend a large percentage of our time at work and what happens there has a massive impact on our families as well as ourselves, and our satisfaction with life. If we are engaged, happy and achieving our potential at work, we are much more satisfied and we are also happier when with our friends and family, so they also reap the benefits. It’s therefore vital, to get the best out of our time at work, even if it’s for our families’ benefit and not our own.

Is leadership mystical?

The ability to lead is considered vital to getting the best out of a team, an organisation or a nation, and it is seen as something that sets an individual apart from the rest. Sometimes the aura that surrounds leadership elevates it to almost a mystical quality, which leads many to believe you can only be born with it. You will probably have heard the old myths about leadership, which may make you think that getting to Mach 2 is impossible. But these myths usually come from those who don’t really understand leadership. So let’s debunk some of them:

  • Leaders are born, not made

This is not the case. Leadership skills, like any other skills, can be developed with practice based on knowledge passed on by others.

  • Leaders must have certain, defined, qualities

No list of qualities has been formulated that can apply to all great leaders. The important factor is the behaviour you demonstrate, not the qualities you have.

Some behaviour may increase your chances of becoming an effective leader, as we will see later.

  • Leaders in one situation must be leaders in others

A person becomes a leader because they are the best choice to lead the team for a specific task; they may not be the best leaders for a different task. Thus, as a leader, you must be aware of all the likely situations your team will potentially face and ensure you have all the skills required to make sure you are the best choice for leader in any of these.

  • Leadership can’t be taught, only developed by experience

Development of any skill is a combination of passed-on, taught knowledge and practice that builds experience. Otherwise, everyone would rely on trial and error and one generation would not learn from previous ones.

  • Leadership is not a popularity contest

No, it’s not, but your people must be willing to work for you and support you rather than be happy to see you sink.

In the real world, leadership skills do not automatically accrue as you become more senior, but the damage that bad leadership can cause does! Also, as you get more senior, fewer people will be prepared to risk telling you that you aren’t doing a good job. So for senior leaders, getting to Mach 2 is even more vital, as is genuine self-awareness and the courage to seek honest feedback.

Despite the fact that many people say that it is complex and mystical, getting leadership right is very simple. Here is a simple example of what really matters in leadership.

Leadership in two questions

At one time in my career, I served as an officer in the British Army. I had to successfully complete the assessment course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. This I did, and on the last night, I was there I spoke to the most experienced instructor who gave me his insight into leadership. He was a sergeant major of one of the top British Army regiments with 25 years’ military service. ‘If you can’t remember what you learnt on the course, sir’ he told me, ‘remember this: that whenever your soldiers look at you, they will have two simple questions in their minds. You have to be able to convince them that they can answer yes to both. They will be thinking, firstly: does he know what he is doing? And secondly: do I trust him? If they can answer yes to both, they will work hard for you, they will support you, and if required, they will die for you.’

I will never forget those words. One week later I was in front of 40 soldiers all of whom were asking themselves those two questions of me. I was able to get two yes answers.

You can’t get simpler than that! And that’s at the heart of what Mach 2 is about – the ability to build strong trust and get maximum effort, then know how to use that trust and effort to its full value.

It’s about the organisation as well as individual leaders

Unusually for a leadership book, developing the organisation is covered as well, because while it is important for you as an individual leader to get to Mach 2, it doesn’t solve the performance challenges of your organisation as a whole. As we have seen earlier, the challenges for 21st-century organisations mean that there is little or no room for error, and there is no room for under-performance. Headcount and cost reduction  have produced slimmed-down organisations, meaning fewer people are having to do more work, with 55% saying they have more work than they have time for. Organisations are therefore reaching the limit of their capacity to deliver their objectives.

So Mach 2 is also needed for the organisation to work smarter and focus on what is key to success.

As an individual, no matter how good you are your efforts alone will not be sufficient to significantly increase the performance of your organisation and get it to be a Mach 2 organisation. This means that the organisation also has to have a plan to become Mach 2.

This involves two key elements:

  1. Maximising the number of Mach 2 leaders in the organisation at all levels;
  2. Then getting them to work well together as an integrated team through collaboration.

Too often there’s an assumption that if an organisation makes all its leaders better, then by some act of fate the organisation will automatically be better. It won’t. It just means that you have a lot of good individual leaders in the same place, and that doesn’t make a great team. Someone has to get them to work together on a day-to-day basis just as you have to do with your people.

That’s why this book also contains chapters on how organisations can get to Mach 2, which explain the foundations that need to be in place to be successful, and the steps to take to achieve that. It’s about the organisation making sure that everyone is at Mach 2 and aligning their efforts onto what needs to be done to ensure success.

The more people you lead, the harder it is.

Leaders at all levels

People often assume that unless you’re a chief executive, a general or a president, you’re not really a leader. This is patently untrue. If you run a team of any sort, even if you have only one other person reporting to you, if you have the ability to influence other people, you are a leader. Those who lead large groups just need more effective leadership skills.

The more people you lead, the harder it is. That’s primarily because you have to lead through other leaders, so it’s indirect leadership. This is much more challenging than the direct leadership of the line manager.

Although surrounded by a mystique not associated with other skills, leadership is really a simple idea: it is the ability to get the best out of the people around you in any given situation. If you can do this, everyone will benefit.

Most people can give up to 30% effort if they want to. One of the keys to moving up to Mach 1 is to get this maximum ‘discretionary’ effort from people. The problem is that you can’t tell if they are not giving it. They can still be rated as satisfactory in appraisals even if they give no discretionary effort. But if they do, their performance can rocket by up to 20%. This will deliver Mach 1, the springboard to Mach 2, which then focuses that effort onto what really makes a difference to individual, team and organisational performance.

Lead To Succeed Book Chapter1 Mach1+2

 

 

In simple terms, basic leadership is what most organisations have, which just about keeps things running. It maintains the status quo; it stops disasters happening and keeps customers more or less content. But no one is really inspired; there is no desire or drive to be the best, just to be good enough to get by. Leaders here probably lack many of the core skills they need through no fault of their own, as they haven’t been developed well. In the more challenging 21st century world this isn’t a route to success.

The reduced headcounts, cost pressure, demanding customers and pressure to improve performance mean that, in reality, this approach is a recipe for slow decline towards failure. Such failures are happening every day across the world.

So what happens in basic leadership teams and organisations?

• The customer is given pretty much what the organisational process decides they will get more product delivery than service provision;

• People are unclear on what they have to do. Time and resources may be wasted and the work may not be done properly;

• The team or organisation is not motivated. People take longer than they should, to do the task, or may not even complete it;

• The individuals are not working as teams, and will not perform as well as a motivated team would;

• Under pressure the teams and organisation will probably not do enough to get the job done and not be able to sustain workload;

• More individuals, especially talented ones, will leave, as they will not wish to stay in such an environment;

• Skills will not be developed and thus the organisation will be unable to deal with new situations or challenges;

• There is no capability to be ‘entrepreneurial’.

Moving to Mach 1 is the first level to be achieved by you and the organisation. This is the foundation for the move to Mach 2. Here the leaders in the organisation are aware discretionary effort can be obtained and are starting to get it. So Mach 1 is about getting much higher effort and performance levels from everyone than in basic leadership organisations.

Mach 1 is about maximising the effort you get from everyone

• The team or organisation works as a team and not just as a group of individuals;

• The team is able to understand their own objectives and how these fit in with overall team objectives;

• Teams members support each other;

• Everyone is prepared to put in extra effort when required;

• Everyone aims for ‘excellence’ and not just ‘doing the job’;

• Everyone knows what they have to do and why;

• People are developed and inspired on the job to perform even better.

Once discretionary effort is building up, Mach 2 applies it in the best way to serve your customers and make your organisation as efficient, agile and entrepreneurial as possible. Mach 2 takes all the new extra effort of Mach 1 and targets it exactly where it delivers most benefit for you, your team, the organisation and its customers. So if Mach 1 is about working harder, Mach 2 is about working smarter.

Mach 2 applies the maximum effort where it delivers the best return on investment (ROI) and customer service

• Everyone focuses relentlessly on delivering the best customer service in the most efficient and effective way;

• Everyone understands the needs of the external customer;

• Everyone collaborates with others to deliver what the organisation needs to achieve and not just their own work;

• Individuals understand how what they do fits in with the organisation’s key objectives as well as the teams and supports it;

• Everyone takes personal responsibility for his or her actions;

• Risk is optimised, not minimised;

• The organisation’s leaders become an aligned, networked and mutually supportive team wherever they are;

• Innovation, creativity and challenging the status quo are encouraged;

• Every leader uses entrepreneurial leadership to underpin every action;

• Support functions as well as ‘front line’ areas are entrepreneurial;

• Leaders take proactive personal responsibility for not only delivering their objectives but also collaborating to deliver the organisation’s key objectives.

But you cannot go straight to Mach 2 from basic leadership. Mach 1 has to be in place both individually and organisationally before it is possible to achieve Mach 2. Your staff will not engage your customers unless they are engaged with you as their leader and the organisation first.

Your experience of leadership tells you what really matters!

In fact, you are a leadership expert as well! You have probably seen and experienced both good and bad leadership and know what effect it has had on your motivation and attitude to your boss and organisation. It’s also linked to whether or not you gave any discretionary effort, and why that was the case or not.

You might not have called it that at the time, but over your career there will have been times when you gave every little bit of effort you could because you wanted to get the job done to the best possible level, and your boss inspired you to do that. That was discretionary effort, and probably the reason you gave it was because your boss was someone you felt you wanted to make that extra effort for. In other words, he or she was your ‘best boss’.

Those moments where you gave that extra effort were in effect you moving from basic leadership to Mach 1 and on to Mach 2. So you know what Mach 1 feels like. And what led you to do that gives you the understanding you need to start your journey to Mach 2. So take a few moments to think about that ‘best boss’ who you really respected, trusted and gave that extra effort for.

Think about what they did day-to-day that made them special; the things that this leader did that made you want to give that extra effort for them. Then write down those key actions – most people can think of half a dozen without a problem. Keep that list for later, when we look at what other people said across the world.

This list is important because it gives you a clear idea of the things you have to do to start moving to Mach 1 yourself, and then on to Mach 2. If the things this boss did motivated you, then those actions will probably be how you could motivate others as well. We will look in more detail at motivation, and the idea that what motivates you probably motivates others, and conversely what demotivates probably demotivates others. In other words, all human beings have a consistent view of what they want out of life, work and their leaders in terms of general principles.

How do I know this?

Because I have asked thousands of people in organisations over the past 20 years the ‘what made you give maximum effort?’ question. And the list they come up with, usually containing about 20 items, is always the same in terms of general themes if not specific words. Whether the answers come from board directors of global organisations, first line managers, MBA students, cleaning staff, technical experts or charity workers, they all say they want the same things from their boss in order for them to give this extra effort. It doesn’t matter where they are or where they come from, whether it’s the US, Asia or Europe. It seems to be totally consistent everywhere – people are driven by common human needs.

It’s these very simple things that make you give your ultimate effort at work. It’s what you want from your current boss and what you measure them against all the time, even if subconsciously. It’s also what your people want from you!

But as well as focusing on the task this also emphasises the importance of thinking about individuals, and indeed the team. This theme is developed later in more detail but the optimum balance of task, team and individual focus must be present to get to Mach 1 and then to progress to Mach 2. From your organisation’s perspective therefore every leader needs to be doing the same as you to get the whole organisation to Mach 2. This is why there has to be coordination to enable an organisation to get to Mach 2: it won’t just happen on its own.

Can your organisation get to Mach 2?

If you are a senior leader or in HR you will be asking the obvious question about how you take a whole organisation to Mach 2.

It’s much easier as an individual. However, it is possible to take the whole organisation up to Mach 2. Certainly the initiative I was involved in at UBS between 2002 and 2006 showed that it is possible to get an organisation working at Mach 2 levels. This was evidenced by the various awards, including Best Company for Leaders in Europe 2005, top 10 2007, and the fact that Harvard Business School wrote a case study on it, UBS Towards the integrated firm.

Other organisations I have worked for or advised, and studies from around the world, some of which are referenced here15, all confirm that the core elements of Mach 1 and Mach 2 can improve organisational performance.

The problem is that in most places this just isn’t happening.

So this book sets out the key steps organisations as well as individuals have to take to get to Mach 2 leadership. But if you also have responsibility for others over and above your own team, for example for a department or a division within an organisation, you can also use the relevant sections to help mould your developing Mach 2 leaders into an integrated team and bring your area and organisation to the levels set out previously in this chapter. If you are in a senior leadership or HR role these sections will form the basis of a Mach 2 strategy for an organisation you can work with senior leaders to implement.

Don’t cut corners

Strangely, many people seem to think that if they were to skip to the end of a book like this and implement the last chapter it would save all the time and effort of having to do the things that came before. A clever idea, but that’s like trying to build a house before you have laid the foundations – doomed to inevitable failure. Like anything else you have to make sure that the very basics are in place before adding the more complex elements. In this case the chronology is:

Mach 1

  1. Manage yourself – if you can’t organise your own work effectively then you won’t be able to organise others;
  2. Manage others – you need to be able to get people to do basic tasks for you by managing them;
  3. Maximise the discretionary effort the team give you by motivating and inspiring them.

Mach 2

  1. Deliver maximum benefit by focusing that effort onto what really matters;
  2. Get everyone working together as an aligned and collaborative team, including those you work with outside your team.

You can’t cut out any of these stages. It’s all or nothing. You may be some way down the path already, but make sure that your assessment of where you are is honest and realistic.

Leadership or management?

Some will be asking the question as to whether this book covers management as well as leadership, or if management is part of leadership, or whether there’s a difference between leadership and management. Some say that leadership is part of being an effective manager, whereas others consider management part of being an effective leader. Views on this would fill the book. But I am going to concentrate on what works in the real world and not worry too much about whether it falls into the leadership box or the management box.

To help you think about the distinction, it may be a good idea to look at management as dealing with the preparation, planning and decision-making aspects of a project, and leadership as getting the people to complete the project, the inspiration, motivation, actual delivery and supervision. So you could say that management turns ideas into plans and leadership turns plans into successful action. For any job to be completed successfully, you need skills in both areas.

To get to Mach 2 you need both and so both are covered when and where they need to be in this book. No matter which definition you prefer you need both management and leadership elements, but above all, whatever you call these actions, to achieve Mach 2 you have to make them work in practice!

The non-negotiable principles

Before you, your team or your organisation start the move to Mach 2, there are some very basic principles you have to use to underpin everything you do, otherwise you simply will not get there. These basics are so simple that many people will say that they are obvious or common sense. It may be called common sense but often in organisations it isn’t that common. Not adhering to these principles are some of the key reasons why people and organisations fail.

Principle – Treat others as you want to be treated. Trust, integrity, fairness, decency and honesty come first

It may seem strange but unless you are prepared to treat the people around you – and that includes those below you – with integrity and decency, you might as well throw this book in the bin now, because it’s not going to work. Everyone says that they abide by this principle of treating others as they would wish to be treated, but sometimes we wander from this path and have a tendency to look after ourselves to the detriment of those around us.

We can get away with that once or twice, but then those others will ask themselves why, as we seem to always be putting ourselves first, they should help us. They will then cease to work effectively with us and as a result our effectiveness is compromised. That’s why working for a ‘win/win’ makes sense.

Trust, integrity and honesty are the same: once you are seen to compromise what others see as their core values of integrity and honesty, no one will trust you again. Furthermore, these qualities are proven to encourage people to work harder for you than otherwise, by up to 27.9%16.

This applies to organisations just as much as individuals. If your organisation does not treat people decently, lies for its own ends or fails to demonstrate integrity, then Mach 2 will never be achieved. In October 2013 the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the London-based HR professional body, conducted a survey of 3000 employees17. This survey found that 31% did not trust the senior management of their organisation, a figure that would doubtless impact on organisational performance. However, the findings that 92% trusted their colleagues and 80% their line manger, may help to rebalance the effect.

But that then poses the bigger question: how can organisations do well if 20% of employees don’t even trust their own line manager?

I have no reason to think that the UK and Europe are isolated in this respect –conversations I have had with employees across the globe confirm this reduction in trust. We will examine the organisational requirements of this basic principle in more detail later.

Principle – show humility, listen and learn

As you travel on your journey to Mach 2 the fastest way to get better is to learn from how others see you as well as what you see of yourself. It’s also about listening to what others have to say and the ideas they might have – this is likely to motivate them to give you more. It’s about seeking every opportunity you can to find out how you can get better. It’s about accepting that people below you on the organisation’s hierarchy can possess information, opinions, ideas and perspectives that are of value to you, and encouraging them to share them with you by asking them for their input, listening and showing humility.

Principle – work in partnership and collaboration for common good

It’s not just about you – it’s about how you can help others and how they can help you in turn. If you help other people with their challenges they will help you – and that creates an organisation that is agile and very effective when dealing with problems.

In fact, as we saw earlier, it is a critical factor in success for 21st century organisations. If everyone feels that they are working together for a common outcome this significantly increases the performance of both individuals and organisations. So you have to make an effort to help others, show your dedication to the common vision and make sure that what you do helps rather than hinders others. It’s about the whole organisation being one aligned and mutually supportive team.

‘We’ is more important than ‘me’.

Principle – beauty is in the eye of the receiver, not the giver

Just because you think your proposal, what you do, or your service to customers is excellent, it doesn’t mean the person on the receiving end does. The effectiveness of what you do is not measured by what you think, sadly, but by those receiving it. You therefore have to make sure that no matter what you think or feel, what you supply them meets their needs as they have expressed them. This applies in particular to your customers. If you aren’t sure about that, the solution is simple: ask!

Principle – keep everything simple

Recent research has shown that most organisations could perform by between 10% and 20% better if they made things simpler. We have a bad habit of making things more complicated than they need to be to deliver what we want. This often comes from either trying to impress others with how clever we are, in an attempt to minimise risk, or just bureaucracy. The simple fact is that every additional unnecessary step in an action plan increases the risk of it going wrong, takes more time and reduces the chances of success.

So the question you should constantly be asking is: is this as simple as we can possibly make it?

Principle – keep asking why

Why are we doing this? Why do we do it like this? Why can’t we make it better? Too often we follow the normal organisational systems and procedures and do things in a certain way because they have always been done that way, and we get into individual habits of doing things in a certain way. However, in so doing, we often end up either doing the wrong thing, doing the right thing in the wrong way, or missing the point. One of the key problems is that operational teams often do things that don’t support the organisation’s key deliverables as much they could.

Everything you do should have a clear answer to the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions, and you should be able to fully align what you do to the overall objective of your organisation. If everyone questions everything they do in this way, then it’s logical that everything done will contribute to the organisational objectives in an aligned way. As a leader it also enables you to identify things that don’t so you can stop doing them.

When applying both the simplicity principle and the ‘why’ question in practice, I have seen too many organisations trying to implement a ‘traditional’ process in a situation that is not viable and that requires a totally new solution. I worked with a financial organisation that had a year-end process for setting objectives that, in the previous year, had lasted three months. Various circumstances meant they had only three weeks to do the same process that year. There were clearly steps in the process that could be removed or changed to speed it up and make it viable in terms of both the timeline and the quality of delivery.

However, they insisted on trying to get the normal three-month process into three weeks – an outcome that was not as effective as it could have been, and resulted in unacceptable additional stress on everyone involved leading to mistakes and loss of some talent.

Your own experience holds many answers

Earlier I asked you to list what your best boss did that made them a good boss. If you review that list you will probably find that your boss did some of the things we have just discussed. In the final analysis, the most basic principle to remember is to treat others as you would wish to be treated. If you follow this golden rule you will be using the majority of the key principles outlined above.

You should think carefully about this: if you are not able to abide by the principles of leadership behaviour, then perhaps you should rethink the reasons behind your desire to be a leader.

Why your example is so important

These principles determine not only the way the members of your team react to you, but also the way they act as well. They will respond to your actions, and you are responsible for determining how the relationship develops – well or badly. It is important that you set a clear and positive example to your team using the principles outlined above. It sends out important messages that may influence team values.

Values and example may sound old-fashioned, but team members copy the behaviour of their leader, as it is felt that whatever the leader does must be acceptable. Much of this happens unconsciously. You need to behave in the way you want team members to behave. The old military phrase ‘lead by example’ is a good maxim.

Example matters – humans really don’t change that much

The importance of example and its effect has been recorded throughout history. In the 16th century, Sir Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor of England, scientist, philosopher and writer said,

‘A man that gives good advice and good example builds with both hands, but a man that gives good advice but bad example builds with one and tears down with the other.’

Whether you like it or not, you will set an example to your team. The only question is whether it is a good or bad one. Don’t forget, in leadership, actions speak much louder than words. But even the most senior leaders seem to forget this simple principle sometimes.

Recognising what you can and can’t control

I have often met people frustrated and stressed by things happening around them in their organisation, as in life. As we aren’t all superheroes we have to recognise that there are some things we can control and some we can’t. As former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: ‘Stuff happens.’ We can all influence things and we are all concerned about things. The secret for effective leadership is to balance the two.

In the simplest terms don’t get too concerned about things you can’t influence. There’s no point – you can’t do anything about them.

It’s a good idea to make a list of all the things that worry you and indicate the ones you can actually influence. Concentrate on those and forget the rest. That way you’ll stay sane. The ability to work with within the real world as it is, (where you can’t control everything) rather than the world you’d like it to be (where you think you can) is key to effective leadership and managing change. The graphic below summarises this:

Lead to Succeed Book Chapter1 Stress and Happiness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The responsibility of power

Finally, if you have been given the power of leadership you must also accept the responsibility that goes with it. You should always remember that you have a duty to do the best for your team, both personally and professionally, to enable them to do their best for you. ‘Serve to lead’, the motto of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst where UK army officers are trained, sums it up well. To lead effectively, you must, by your actions, enable and encourage the team to do their best for you.

This is confirmed by many studies, including the aforementioned October 2013 CIPD report. This summarises the views of employees as wanting ‘a simple and common sense style of leadership to engender and create a climate of trust. Employees talk about ‘approachable’, ‘competent’ and ‘consistent’ leaders ‘who act with honesty and integrity’ and ‘lead by example’. This the simple and practical objective that this book will help you and your organisation achieve.

Setting your example as a leader:

• Demonstrate integrity, fairness, honesty and humility;

• Listen, learn, collaborate and work in partnership for the common good;

• Remember that beauty is in the eye of the receiver, not the giver;

• Keep it simple;

• Lead by example;

• Constantly keep asking how I/we can be better and develop performance.

If you keep applying these basic non-negotiable principles at every step, getting to Mach 1 and then to Mach 2 will be much easier. Now it’s time to start that journey. Good Luck!

Professor Chris Roebuck gives an overview of how his unique Masterclass helps leaders get the best from their people and focus that on what delivers success using their own experience.

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