Chris Roebuck : The ripple effects go much further than we think
In discussing his latest book, Lead to Succeed, Professor Roebuck explains that
his book presents an effective roadmap to help HR prove their significance to
organisational success. Ignore it at your peril.
This book, which was published on 10 May 2014, has already made an impact not only with HR folk but also with CEOs, board directors, marketing and finance leaders. It is as relevant and applicable to the SME market and not-for-profits as it is to the public sector or large corporations. We spoke with Chris to find out why the book was written and what its key messages are.
Why did you write this book ?
Chris : It’s been clear to me over the past 30 years, as a former leader in major organisations and as an advisor to a wide variety of organisations about developing leaders that there’s good leadership, bad leadership and above all, a lot of average leadership that could be much better with a little extra help.
This lack of help has significant effect on the leaders, on the people they lead as well as the organisation and society in general.
Most times, when we think about leadership and its impact, we tend to think of it in terms of the individual leader and their leadership. But it’s far more than that.
It is about their development as well as their ability to enhance the working lives of people who work for them. It has an impact on their private lives, their families and consequently, the organisations they work at. Developing leaders creates ripple effects that go much further than we think. What I wanted to do here was to pull my experiences from the last 30 years together and provide a simple, practical guide that combines the development of individual leaders and the development of leadership within the organisation, which most books do not do.
The CEO needs both individual and organisational leadership support. There are people who are leaders and there are those who lead leaders. So, you need to understand how to do both.
“A leader is someone who demonstrates what’s possible” – Mark Yarnell
Failure to do so and assuming this applies only to senior leaders will mean that those below board level will have no idea about what the organisation is doing at a more strategic level nor understand things beyond their own role. That severely restricts their contribution to the organisation.
If the organisations of the future are going to continue to expect people to do more, they need to consider how they can help their people deliver this.
There’s a lot of resources that people put into developing strategic leaders but most books tend to forget, that for an organisation to work smoothly, every leader, especially leaders who are leading other leaders, need to understand the holistic picture.
This is driven by the fact that organisations are more slimmed down than ever before. There are fewer people doing more of the work. If you are doing more than what your job description sets out, you are under tremendous pressure, physically and mentally. If the organisations of the future are going to continue to expect people to do more, they need to consider how they can help their people deliver this.
What are the key messages from it for leaders ?
Chris : Build a community. Maximise the effort of your people. Make sure that everyone is focused on what really matters. There’s pressure to do everything possible but often we could very easily be doing the wrong thing simply because we are misinformed or we have misunderstood the gameplan. Help individuals meet their aspirations as they enable the organisation deliver its objectives.
The organisation wants things done but people have their own needs and aspirations. The more that you can get an alignment between the two, the better the organisation performs. This is the heart of leadership.
In my view, in most organisations, it has become more complicated than it needs to be. The systems and processes we often create block what we are really trying to do.
People tend to believe that their situation is unique, that the forces they face, the technological upheaval they confront and their work environment is indeed different compared to those before or after them. What makes you believe that we are, indeed, in a new world of work?
Chris : We know, from research and from personal experience, that there are things people like and don’t like in life. We like to be treated decently, to be told what’s happening, to be asked for our ideas. As for the things we don’t like, while you may not realise it, it will trigger sub-conscious responses that make you resist even if you don’t want it to.
There are certain basic things you can do regardless of location or culture to get extra effort from people. It is then a question of tweaking and refining for culture.
Take individualism in the US – you tone it up in the US but you tone it down in Asia. When you look at organisations which have now slimmed down considerably, you notice that fewer people are doing more work and this is driving a need to collaborate that’s twice as important now than it was five years ago.
There’s more to process, more involved in decision making, more outsourcing etc. Consequently, you are looking for people who are better, who see the big picture, who can collaborate better, who are focused on not only the inside but also outside of organisations. These are things we must look for not just in our senior leaders but in middle and junior leaders as well.
In your book, you talk about Mach 1 and Mach 2 Leadership. What do you mean by this and why do you believe that it is a critical issue to HR?
Chris : There are so many models of leadership out there and I wanted to create one that is really simple to understand.
Mach 1 is related to the speed of sound.
Mach 2 is twice the speed of sound.
Most aircraft fly under Mach 1. The Concorde was the only civilian aircraft that flew under Mach 2 which goes to show that when you get things right, you can be at the leading edge. That is the ethos of Concorde, which ultimately was capable of flying faster, than most military jets, as a civilian plane. So Mach 2 is about being at the leading edge of leadership.
Mach 1 is about putting in place, the right leadership, to maximise your own performance and through that your people giving you maximum effort. Mach 2 is about ensuring that once you have that effort, that it’s applied to only the things that make the real difference in terms of driving performance.
How does that come about?
By getting the concept out there to every level of the organisation.
To every single leader and line manager.
There are 17 – 20 things that come up every time, of what people want from their boss, in order for them to give maximum effort. Some of them include :
- they develop me as a professional in my field;
- they accept and treat me with respect;
- they tell me what’s going on;
- they help me develop my skills;
- they act with honesty, integrity and fairness;
- they set challenging targets; and
- they understand I make genuine mistakes.
It’s not complicated. If you know what your people want and give it to them, they will start reciprocating.
Everyone needs to know what’s important and what’s right and often this is where things break down. This leads people to either not do what they should have done or to do something they should not have done.
But then you need Mach 2 to follow. Focusing on what the organisation thinks is critical ie it’s a simple form of prioritisation. However, the reason it doesn’t work most times is because you can only do it well when the communication is effective at all levels.
Everyone needs to know what’s important and what’s right and often this is where things break down. This leads people to either not do what they should have done or to do something they should not have done. This has been the cause of most major disasters in the past 50 years.
In many organisations, leaders simply do not communicate sufficient information to allow for optimal decisions especially if things go wrong. So, others involved do not get the big picture – they understand things only in relation to their role.
I don’t think that leaders have higher expectations of HR – they just want the functions to support the organisation better.
The point of Mach 2 is about an aligned community of effort and collaboration – which deals with this issue as everyone does know what to do and wants to do it.
In an interview with us some time ago, discussing the meaning of personal responsibility for HR, you said, “To be blunt, business doesn’t care if it’s best practice or not or whether it’s leading edge or not. What leaders do want is something that can either solve a current problem or make something better in their current situation”. Looking at where leadership intersects with HR, do you believe HR is as business oriented as organisations believe it should be?
Chris : No, but it’s not just an issue with HR. It is an issue with all support functions, eg finance as well. I don’t think that leaders have higher expectations of HR – they just want the functions to support the organisation better. The additional role HR possesses, of facilitating the development of people, simply means a wider responsibility. This book is aimed at giving HR a roadmap to help them prove that they can help deliver success. The fact is the book is now out there, the roadmap is public – if HR does not take that step, and is ignored, it can only be their fault.
Having spent five years in the Army some time ago, I embrace the military mindset that you need to keep things as simple as possible and inspire everyone. Every time you add a step, you increase the chance for mistakes. Communication must be utterly clear so everyone involved knows what needs to be done and inspirational, not just logical. After all, we are human beings and not machines !
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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Chris Roebuck is Visiting Professor of Transformational Leadership at Cass Business School in London. He has held senior roles at UBS, HSBC and KPMG, has served in the British Army, and is one of the top 15 Human Resources (HR) thinkers in Europe. As Global Head of Leadership at UBS, he helped deliver leadership and development strategies, resulting in one of the most successful recent corporate transformations. This is now a Harvard Business School Case Study on transforming organisational performance.
A sought-after advisor and leading authority on entrepreneurial, engaging, ethical and effective leadership, Professor Roebuck shares his insights and experience to help audiences develop a simple route to rapidly become a member of the elite group of truly effective, inspiring and respected leaders in their organisation, today and in the future. This is achieved via his new approach to leadership – Mach 2 – that has been described by a leading Professor of Psychology as a “breakthrough” in thinking and which Harvard Business Review have interviewed him about in Beijing.
Author of Lead to Succeed, he has advised major global organisations at board level on improving performance through their people, including the UK National Health Service (1.4m staff), global banks and law firms, and organisations in sectors such as logistics, consultancy, transport, engineering and healthcare, even the Chinese Space Corporation. Local governments and non-profits, including the Red Cross, have also benefited from his expertise. His speaking engagements regularly take him to cities across the USA and Europe, to Moscow, Dubai, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar and Hong Kong.
Often quoted in globally recognised publications, including the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, New York Times, Time Magazine, Straits Times, China Securities Journal and Gulf Times, he has been interviewed on leadership and management issues more than 230 times globally on BBC, Sky, Bloomberg, Al Jazeera, Swiss and Russian TV, ITV, CNBC, CNN, Voice of America, the BBC Today programme and World Service radio. He is a regular author for CEO and HR Magazines. Chris Roebuck’s book is already in demand globally with great reviews from USA, Europe and Asia. Harvard Business Review published an interview with Chris on his book and his views on the Blue Ocean Leadership model. The original article is in Chinese but there is an English translation available from Chris’s website (pdf links here). Vist the Lead to Succeed website.
This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of HR Matters Magazine. Headline image courtesy Stefanus Martanto Setyo Husodo@unsplash.com. Chris Roebuck and book images courtesy Chris Roebuck.