NZIM : Now is the time for leadership

The critically important role of organisational reputation is one of the most profound findings of September’s Most Reputable Organisations survey compiled for NZ Management magazine by global consultancy Hay Group.
The logic is understandable, given world now saturated by cynicism at organisational and financial misbehaviour, and self-serving morality. What isn’t quite so obvious is how to respond to the new marketplace realities of distrust and its many manifestations.
Conventional wisdom suggests that reputation-building fits into the long-term goal of strategic thinking. Reputation undoubtedly grows the longer an organisation is perceived as “honourable” and “honest”, but times, priorities, pressures and opportunities are all changing.
The choice of Air New Zealand as the nation’s Most Reputable Organisation shows that obviously committed, focused and inspired team leadership can rebuild an organisation’s reputation in staggeringly short time. Such is the power, effectiveness and pervasive influence of the media, both traditional and social, when it comes to communicating evidence of what the survey’s respondents perceived as the airline’s most outstanding characteristic: its “strong and effective leadership”.
It doesn’t take library of academic or experiential case studies to prove the link between effective leadership and organisational success. But it often takes some heavy hitting to convince organisations that first, investment in leadership development pays dividends and second, that commitment to the right kind of leadership is what pays most.
So what should organisations think about when developing or searching for leadership development programme? Start by considering where the leadership discussion is currently at. And the leadership gurus James Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of the leadership genre classic The Leadership Challenge, provide good starting point.
They have just published new book, The Truth about Leadership. Its findings are based on their 30 years of research and the more than one million responses they’ve had to their leadership surveys. They have uncovered what they call, “10 truths about leadership” which suggest that, while context of leadership has changed dramatically, the content hasn’t.
“The fundamental behaviours, actions, and practices of leaders have remained essentially the same since we first began researching and writing about leadership over three decades ago,” they conclude. “Much has changed, but there is whole lot more that has stayed the same.” And that is probably the fundamental truth of leadership development.
The authors believe that each of their 10 truths have stood the test of time and “hold true globally and cross-generationally”. Their relevance and application is developed in the chapters devoted to each truth. They are:

• 1st Truth: You make difference. Before individuals lead, they must believe they can have positive impact on individuals. “When you believe you can make difference, position yourself to hear the call to lead.”

• 2nd Truth: Credibility is the foundation of leadership. In other words, once individuals believe in themselves, others need to believe in them, otherwise they won’t willingly follow. “You must do what you say you are going to do. This means being so clear about your beliefs that you can live them every day.”

• 3rd Truth: Values drive commitment. Individuals must know what they believe in. They can only fully commit to an organisation or cause when there is good fit between their personal values and organisation’s values. “This is also true for the people you lead.”

• 4th Truth: Focusing on the future sets leaders apart. Leaders must be forward looking. That is the quality that most differentiates leaders from individual contributors. They must spend time reflecting on the future. “Big dreams that resonate with others inspire and energise.”

• 5th Truth: You can’t do it alone. Leadership is team sport, and leaders must engage others in the cause. “You need to enable others to be even better than they already are.”

• 6th Truth: Trust rules. Leaders need trust to enlist others. “Build mutual trust; you must trust others too.”

• 7th Truth: Challenge is the crucible of greatness. Great achievements don’t happen when things are kept the same. Change invariably involves challenge, and challenge tests leaders.

• 8th Truth: Either lead by example or don’t lead at all. Leading means going first. “That’s what it takes to get others to follow your lead.”

• 9th Truth: The best leaders are the best learners. Learning is the master skill of leadership. “Leaders are constant improvement fanatics.”

• 10th Truth: Leadership is an affair of the heart. Leaders love what they do and those they lead. “Leaders make others feel great about themselves and are gracious in showing appreciation.”

The 10 truths are, the authors believe, fundamental to successful leadership and should form the basis of any leadership development programme. Reflect on the leadership of Air New Zealand over the past couple of years and you’ll see much of what they suggest in action. Chief executive Rob Fyfe exemplifies most of these truths.
Writing in the Financial Times earlier this year, columnist Michael Skapinker suggested that the purpose of business today is to “win respect”. The relationship between business, all organisations actually, and society must be re-thought. “There is deep unease about the way companies have been run and the role they play in communities,” he wrote.
His comment relates to another key finding of NZ Management’s Most Reputable survey. Respondents voted strongly for organisations that they perceived “contributed to the wider community”. Think leadership development today, and organisations must identify and develop individuals with the vision to understand the importance of community to organisational reputation and acceptance.
Again, as Skapinker pointed out, shareholders’ interests are no longer the only interests boards and management should consider. And profits, while undeniably essential, won’t necessarily buy you love, particularly if they are earned at the community’s expense. Love, or its more prosaic equivalent – reputation, will rate higher in tomorrow’s more community-linked world.
Enlightened and inspirational leadership is prerequisite to organisational success. And that means leadership based on good and sustainable behaviours. Not, for example, the kind of leadership that recently led Hewlett Packard’s directors to pay their disgraced CEO Mark Hurd US$28 million in cash and stocks, plus other benefits, to “resign” after violating their ethical conduct code.
As Kouzes and Posner point out, leadership is about seeing problems and accepting personal responsibility for doing something about it. “It is about holding yourself accountable for the actions you take.” That is another consideration for relevant leadership programme an organisation can take pride in.

Reg Birchfield is Life Fellow of NZIM.

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