Sunday, 23 October 2005

real leaders show, not tell

Originally extracted from (Filed: 27/10/2005). Link no longer available.

Senior international business figures have agreed to share their experience with Fifty Lessons. This week: Clive Mather, president and CEO of Shell Canada

When you get to the top of an organisation you might think you have lots of levers you can pull.
Actually the most important lever you have is how you demonstrate what matters to your organisation.

I think it was St Francis of Assisi who said: "Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use words." In other words, it's your actions that matter. At times in my career I've disempowered myself by thinking: "I can't change this; it's too big, it's too difficult, the levers don't exist, I don't have the authority or the resources." It may be true, but never ever underestimate the impact of who you are and how you spend your time. So one of the things I've been doing is to spend as much time as I can out of the office at the front line.

Why? Well, first of all you learn tons: far more than the formal system will ever tell you.
Secondly, you interact with the people who are really making the business what it is, and thirdly you have this precious opportunity to communicate through your words - but more so through your actions - what matters.

If the issue is around safety or customer satisfaction or cost efficiency - whatever it is - you demonstrate that with the people at the front line, and that's really the message. It is about using your personal leadership. Be out there, be visible and model what matters to you.
I believe that there are three key things about leadership, and the first one is purpose. The very least anybody who is being led can expect is that they should know where they're going, because to me that is a condition of putting trust in a leader.

The second one is passion, which is about keeping whatever that purpose is, alive.
On good days, when the results are great, it's easy to be passionate about your leadership. But when the organisation needs you most is when things are not going right, and that's when the leader has to be seen to be supportive, strong and encouraging.

Lastly, leadership finds its most powerful expression in other people. There is a sort of North American cult of CEO, which says that the single individual at the top of the organisation is the only thing that matters. It's not.

What matters is whether you can get your people to do things that they wouldn't otherwise do - and that's empowering leadership.

That to me is all about a challenging care for people that gets them to do things that they don't think they're capable of doing: in other words, really bringing the best out of people.

My lasting learning over my career is just the influence and power that comes from you as a person putting yourself truly behind the organisation, a goal or a strategy. I think everything is possible if people genuinely commit and show to the organisation that they commit. By what they say, yes, but much more importantly by what they do.