Corporate Culture: Confidence & culture – the new leadership currency

Today’s leadership currency is confidence, according to corporate culture expert Marcus Child. “This is the age of enterprise and the age of confidence,” – major shift from the structured, constrained mindset of the industrial age.
“It used to be following rules and doing what you’re supposed to do. For my parents’ generation, work was the thing you had to do to get to the end of the week to get your money. Those were the days when we had conscription, you had to salute the flag; rules governed and you had to do as you were told and if you did it for long enough you got promoted,” Childs explained.
“These days things spring out of nowhere and in this world confidence is everything. The person who’s prepared to have go is more likely to be successful than the one who’s just prepared to do his or her duty.”

A successful CEO must be able to take risks and be flexible in their thinking. “You need to know your ‘true north’ but be able to flex and find ways around things – be canny and smart,” said Childs. “Be prepared to think laterally and try new stuff.”
He emphasised the ability to build relationships. “People management is even more important than numbers management in this environment.”

Research conducted by Beverley Alimo Metcalfe, formerly of Leeds University, asking employees what they follow – what really keeps them engaged – identified genuine concern for others. “The first thing that people follow is does this person genuinely care about me. Way down the list was the ability to gather people around shared vision,” explained Metcalfe. “The visionary stuff, being great leader, great orator, doesn’t get close.”

While the ability to take risks is important, it’s not about wild gambles, believes Child. “It’s more about taking risks with people; with someone you think can make things happen and give them their head. New ideas come from lots of us trying new things and someone getting breakthrough, but you have to be prepared to give enough power – give enough freedom to act.”
When many of the key elements of leadership appear to be so simple, why do we get it wrong so often? “Maybe it’s easier to focus on the negative,” surmises Child. “Ultimately it’s easier and lazier; you don’t have to ask much of yourself and other people will let us get away with it because they like us and love us.”

He says it has lot to do with culture. “There are macro and micro cultures: family’s culture, team’s culture and an organisation’s culture. You could argue that the macro culture, especially in England but in lots of other places too, is rather negative. Newspapers sell because they give us bad news. We can break that pattern by our own micro-cultures. That’s why I like to work with companies and say ‘if you get your culture right and robust and really secure then the chances are that that other stuff won’t leak into your system quite as much as it will in other places’. The cultures that are strong and resourceful recover best.”

And what about the failure of leadership in times – like now – of massive change? “I think leaders can lose confidence and as soon as they lose confidence, they listen to other leaders, and economists and people in authority. If their confidence is damaged then they can pass that on easily to their organisation. I think that when you start to cut costs, that’s the end actually. That says to me you’ve run out of ideas, and you’ve run out of options and you’ve run out of hope. That’s why organisations like TEC are really powerful. Where else do you go to get that kind of nourishment?”

Being CEO can be lonely place says Child. The media and your team can be saying negative stuff and there’s nowhere to get proper nourishment. It requires real self-determinism, which is hard when there’s so much negativity. And that’s why people gravitate towards organisations like TEC, he says. Whatever happens, you’ve got to find somewhere to get the nourishment from.
A lot of responsibility for organisational performance is vested in the person at the top but Child says engagement is two-way street. “As leaders we can beat ourselves up and say we haven’t engaged our people. When working with groups I say to people that it’s their responsibility as well: ‘You came to this place to get engaged; that’s what you were like on your first day. If there are things you aren’t getting – the Gallup 12 Questions – then you should be asking for them.’ There’s responsibility at every level for this, but the responsibility for the initiation of that conversation should be the leader’s.”

And finally, Child says the best training ground for CEOs is found less in books and more in practice, ie you learn more from other CEOs.
“MBAs prepare you for corporate life: how to manage the corporate politics and get things done in huge machines. lot of the corporations I really admire have had people [leaders] come up from the shop floor.” M

Connecting CEOs
Where do CEOs and senior executives go to get support and learn from their peers? Some of the traditional old boys’ clubs don’t cut it anymore for contemporary high fliers – aside from the whole gender issue.

There are endless opportunities for more formal leadership and skills development, but fewer options to have the conversations with others leading their organisations in an increasingly complex and challenging world.

The Executive Connection (TEC) is membership organisation that combines management training, peer group support and mentoring. It is part of Vistage International, which claims to be the only one of its kind and the world’s largest CEO membership organisation, with 14,000 plus members in 16 countries.

TEC’s mission is to increase the effectiveness and enhance the lives of business leaders. Every month TEC brings guest speakers New Zealand to present to groups around the country. It also has leadership events few times year.

What shapes culture?
Adapted from the writings of MIT’s Professor Edgar Schein on shaping an organisation’s culture: 80-90 percent of behaviour in organisations is determined by these three points:

• What the leader attends to, measures, rewards and controls.
• Leader reaction to critical incidents.
• Leader role modelling, coaching.

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