LEADERSHIP : End of term – Leaving on a high note

I set out with my colleagues to create distinctive focus on leadership in management education – doing the right things rather than just doing things right.”
That’s how Mike Pratt explains his aims when he joined Waikato University Management School. He leaves feeling proud that this focus has found its way into the university’s stated values. With an international search for his successor now underway, Pratt can reflect on what’s been achieved during his tenure. The school has been recognised internationally through accreditation by all three of the world’s leading quality assurance bodies in management and business education – AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA. It has also been reconfirmed as New Zealand’s number one research-based business school in the latest tertiary Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) rankings released mid-year.
These are the kind of results that make it possible for him to bow out on high note in the school’s history, reckons Pratt. “We have an outstanding faculty and management group who will ensure that the school continues to grow from strength to strength.”
Plus he believes it’s important for all managers to choose how and when to exit gracefully – whether to different responsibilities within the same organisation, or to new business completely.
“It seemed that the time was right to go because it’s going to need commitment of another five years to get through the next cycle of rankings. It’s part of our lifecycle, so having made those achievements, I thought it really is time for new dean to think ‘what is the next big challenge?’ and then to see it through.”
As to what that challenge might be, Pratt prudently leaves it for his successor to articulate the school’s future vision – though he is keen to see that its reputation for sustainability on the global stage is built on. It’s an ambition he’d like to see embraced by the whole country.
“I think the future for New Zealand, as Helen Clark has enunciated, is to become model sustainable nation for the world.”
He sees us as uniquely placed to do that on an economic, social and environmental basis.
“We should nurture, or at least not do damage, to all three. We don’t believe in compromising one for the other and see the synergy between all three of them.”
If you take holistic sustainability approach, then wins are possible across all three domains, he says, adding that he is heartened by the belief that businesses are increasingly recognising this – but declining to name the sectors which are dragging the chain.
“I can see good examples across pretty much every business activity. It’s related to the leadership of the organisation and it’s related to the extent to which sustainability is actually embedded in the business model or in the purpose of the organisation.”
Which leads the conversation to Pratt’s next focus for himself – his forthcoming book Sustainable Enterprise. It is based on similar format to Peak Performance which he co-authored (with Kevin Roberts, Ed Weymes and Clive Gilson) in 2000. This studied global sporting bodies to tease out which organisational and institutional ingredients helped create and sustain long-term performance and how these might be applied to business. Sustainable Enterprise will offer 10 stories about businesses founded on sustainability principles including Dilmah Tea, The Body Shop and, closer to home, Comvita. Pratt has done all the research and hopes the book will be on shelves early in the new year.
His other passion is Inspiron – the business he’s built globally on the back of Peak Performance. There are six partners in the business and Pratt runs it from downunder.

The value of foresight
If he could have given himself some advice on his first day in the job 18 years ago, it would be about foresight, says Pratt.
“One of the things I’ve learned is that our biggest successes came from foresight. I mean that not only in terms of the business school but what we built into the curriculum. I’ve come to understand that now. If I’d understood the importance of that when we started, it would have been an easier and clearer journey.”
How best to create value from such foresights – creating something that is little different, bit more innovative – is something else he might have mentioned. The school’s wide embrace of sustainability over the past five or six years – the early implementation of something they believed was going to become significant – is perhaps good example.
“When we first started talking about sustainability, we were almost ridiculed. Now it’s spread.”
It’s similar to the rather reluctant adoption of quality as business driver some 20 years back. There were those who claimed it wasn’t priority or wasn’t affordable – much as they do now with sustainability.
“We don’t know how to do it and no one can define it anyway,” he mimics.
It is probably no fluke that Toyota, one of the companies Inspiron works with internationally, embraced quality early and is also at the head of the sustainability pack.
“That’s why they are now the number-one car company in the world. Foresight and insight,” says Pratt.
Humanising management Pratt has seen his fair share of management trends go by and says management has donned more people-focused face over the past two decades. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, it tended to be mainly accounting based and quality-centric. This was followed by period of “right-sizing” and “restructuring” which was characterised mainly by its lack of humanity. Then came the focus on “learning” organisations which Pratt describes as the start of the humanising process firstly through tending to the organisational “brain” and later its heart and its spirit.
His own work history helps to illustrate the shifts. Before being appointed to Waikato, Pratt was chair of accounting at Massey. Running the business school was his first major management job and he felt the need to supplement his experience in discipline with people managing skills.
“We were starting up an MBA programme at the time, and nobody stuck their hand up to teach leadership and change. So I took that on – thinking it would be good way to learn about both.”
He taught it for eight years, throughout much of the 1990s, and while he claims not to have known too much when it started, he became aware that it was far from exact science.
“The more I learned, the more I concluded that the literature was confused and often contradictory. So that was the genesis of the Peak Performance project.”
The original idea was to run an upper-level post-graduate course for aspiring CEOs – but the combined academic and business leader perspectives didn’t seem to be covered in the current literature. The problem says Pratt, was that it lacked certain humanity.
“So we decided to take blank sheet of paper and see if we could look outside the domain of business for exemplary leadership, and peak performance,” Pratt explains.
The further he and his co-authors delved into the project, the more they realised that lot of the traditionally accepted ideas around strategy and management could be viewed very differently and that rapidly changing workplace environments require more people-centric approaches. Three elements he singles out are: inspiration, communication and engagement.

1 Inspirational leadership. In the knowledge era, says Pratt, goals are less clear and that requires different sort of leadership. “Whereas the traditional leader could say, ‘we must take that hill’ or ‘follow me, I know the one true way’, that [leader/follower] relationship doesn’t work in today’s knowledge economy. Instead you need to inspire people to give the best of their creativity and their dedication towards shared purpose.”

2 Communication. It helps if the leader can pull everyone in behind the shared purpose or vision. “And if we can do so in family-like environment where people feel mutual sense of support and self respect, then that creates the context in which

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