A large part of effective leadership for CEOs of global businesses today demands having the self-confidence and discipline to allow others to make decisions. It’s about understanding an organisation inside and out but also knowing that delegation will create a culture that provides a serious competitive edge.
Mark Phillips, Senior Vice-President of Medicine and Process Delivery for GlaxoSmithKline, says: “These days, in any sizeable organisation, the major challenge senior leaders have is the efficient use of the very capable people around them. The days of the heroic leader are just about done and dusted. It isn’t needed and generally isn’t very efficient.”
Quite simply, CEOs have to realise they can’t control everything. Sir Stuart Rose, Non-executive Director at commercial property managers Land Securities Group, says: “You’ve got to make sure that you delegate within the right framework and that people know exactly what they can do and can’t do without referring up.”
The size and complexity of organisations means delegation is the only sensible option. Sir Stuart continues: “In organisations separated by time zones, locations and sheer scale, it is incredibly difficult for chief executives to keep their fingers on every button at all times. Those businesses that have the right people empowered to the right level are going to be able to move faster than those businesses that keep decision-making at the centre.”
‘Empowerment’ is the term often referred to by successful leaders. Mark says: “As a word it is much misused as, really, it is nothing more than holding people accountable, but with a different management behaviour and perspective.”
In practice, it’s about acknowledging someone’s capabilities and giving them clear instructions to fulfil them to the best of their abilities. Gavin Lewis, Finance Director for Royal Mail Estates, says: “There is no point empowering someone if they aren’t capable. By equal measure, it is good to look at delegation as having something done in the way you wouldn’t have necessarily done it yourself. Although it may not be the way you wanted it, you recognise before you delegate that the result will still be effective.”
So what can be done to encourage leaders to delegate properly? Nicola Yates, Group HR Director of housing provider UNITE Group, explains: “The best learning is gained by having first-hand experiences. If an organisation is big enough, it is often able to give its top talent responsibilities in various parts of a business or projects. They can experience a lot in a short space of time.”
Most of all, you need to understand that failure will occur. “Experiencing both major wins and epic fails all combine to make a leader who they are,” says Nicola.
Keep a perspective
On a regular basis, business leaders should reassess and if necessary reinterpret the context of their roles. Kevin Murray, Chairman of public relations company Bell Pottinger and author of The Language of Leaders, comments: “Of the leaders I’ve worked with over the last couple of decades, raw intelligence wasn’t the mark of success or failure. What enables people to be more inspiring is recognising that the people you lead want to be leaders themselves: empowered and enabled to get on with the job.”
Graeme Yell, Director of UK financial services at consultancy firm Hay Group, says: “In the past, bosses were expected to zoom in on the tasks and projects and pace-set or pick through the plans. Now, it has been turned on its head – leaders must focus on the individuals performing those tasks and concentrate on their interactions with them. They are expected to create the parameters needed for people to succeed, rather than layer on systems to control those tasks.”
Of course, there will be occasions when a CEO has to become more visible within an organisation. Rob Woodward, CEO of media provider stv Group, suggests: “When a company is clearly in crisis, there is a requirement to operate with a command and control mentality, although that isn’t sustainable and is not how you build great companies.
“Because most things that we do [at stv] involve multiple parts of the organisation, we’re now largely a consensus-based management. However, there remain moments... [like] setting the strategy and key performance targets for the future, that fall very much to you as the leader. How you deliver those targets, I see more as a collective responsibility.”
Simon Johnson, UK MD of publisher HarperCollins, takes a slightly different view: “In low or steady growth environments, command and control management or a focus on operational efficiency will often deliver the best results. In times of huge disruption, for an organisation to thrive or even survive, you need to break down the rigidity of the traditional corporate control structures to encourage more innovative thinking and behaviour.”
The secret is to have the right people around you. Donald Brydon, Chairman of global technology organisation Smiths Group, says: “You know when it is appropriate to shift from a command and control style of leadership to a more collaborative approach when you have built a team in whom you are prepared to place trust. It is fundamental for leaders to trust their senior management team, but it is not unconditional and has to be constantly earned; that creates a distinction between the leader and the team members.”
Sir Stuart says: “It is important that leaders are aware of their own limits. It is increasingly important too that they understand what they can and can’t do because of the number of different ways you need to operate in a business. You can’t possibly have all of those skill-sets demanded of a leader, but a good one will be able to delegate. The best businesses have leaders who are clear and articulate but able to devolve powers.”
Tempting as it may be to always lead from the front, in today’s global marketplace there is simply too much for ‘one pair of hands’.
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