What do leaders want from a leader?15 Nov 2013
Judges for the Leader of the Year award share insights on what makes a great leader
Great leadership is the foundation for excellence in customer service, staff engagement, an innovation culture, a strategy for sustained growth and strong financial performance.
The Leader of the Year is the final accolade to be presented at the National Business Awards, and the only award to be determined by a month-long public voting campaign in tandem with a judging panel of over 40 senior executives. A debate about leadership in the context of this year’s finalists, chaired by the Telegraph’s Head of Business, Tim Jotischky, focused on some key characteristics. So what do these judges look for in an exemplary leader?
“I was hoping to see evidence of powerful, compelling leadership; leaders who gave crystal clear direction to their teams and who possess the charisma and enthusiasm to motivate their people to drive hard to meet whatever challenges lay ahead - big goals being tackled and effectively achieved,” said Martin McCourt, the former CEO of Dyson and Leader of the Year in 2010.
Leadership consultant and author of The Challenger Mentality, Khurshed Dehnugara, was looking for something different. “I came wanting to hear from leaders acting as stewards of an entity that would survive long beyond their tenure,” he said. “I also wanted to hear about the real, messy, imperfect and vulnerable aspects of their work. I wanted to hear about new ways of describing how organisations are organised and run, ways that might challenge the military / machine metaphors that have dominated for 100 years. I wanted to hear about how corporations can contribute to our society in ways beyond responsibility to shareholders. They are as powerful as governments in their impact on society.”
Reflecting the diversity of organisations recognised by the National Business Awards, finalists ranged from the FTSE 250 to the FTSE 50 - from those employing 700 people to half a million people worldwide. However, regardless of size judges felt leaders should enable their organisations to adapt by empowering their people to make decisions and take calculated risks. “Today’s leader must have an entrepreneurial spirit and be prepared to try and fail in order to learn what works in the face of fast moving economic and environmental challenges,” said Dax Lovegrove, Head of Industry Relations at WWF UK.
What you say and how you say it
Direction, enthusiasm, stewardship and entrepreneurialism were all highlighted as key aspects of great leadership at this level but style of communication generated a lot of debate.
“No matter how experienced or intelligent a leader is, if they cannot communicate, they cannot successfully lead,” said Kanya King, CEO of the MOBO Organisation. “Communication skills enable a leader to connect with employees, team members, clients and customers to build and maintain professional business relationships. A leader with effective communication skills usually listens to the opinions of others, conveys their thoughts and reaches decisions fast.”
“Leaders are expected to use words to defend and advance with all of the vigour and skill of the military leader”, said fellow judge Michael Hayman, Co-founder of Seven Hills, in a column for the Daily Telegraph on this theme. “The battlefield is replete with victims who got it wrong. Take Tony Hayward of BP or Nick Buckles of G4S, both of whom spectacularly failed to make their case in the court of public opinion and paid the price. Take Tim Cook, Steve Jobs’s replacement at Apple. Where is the pioneering voice that characterised his predecessor, the message to change the world?”
But other judges made the point that, while communication can be improved with training, authenticity and substance must be innate. Some cited the so-called ‘quiet revolution’ of introverts becoming CEOs because of their focus on organisation, analysis, and corporate governance – which are more aligned with sustainable growth principles.
“If I’m to believe in a company’s all-round commitment to sustainability, I need to feel the CEO is leading in this space with authenticity,” said Lovegrove. “While many don’t, a few CEOs such as Ian Cheshire, Paul Polman and Marc Bolland do inspire me by the way they talk and this makes me optimistic that the private sector can bring innovative solutions to society.”
Fellow panellist Allyson Stewart-Allen, Director of International Marketing Partners, was looking for the authenticity defined by Dr. Gareth Jones, co-author of the book ‘Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?’ “Authenticity is being yourself more, with skill,” she explains. “It is about leading others through being yourself, allowing them to see some allowable flaws, making transparent your values and being true to those values at work.”
Bringing people with you is the biggest challenge for a leader – whether it’s creating a culture, transforming the organisation, or getting everyone pointed in the same direction.
“Leaders are responsible for organising and inspiring a team of people to work hard so the business can thrive,” concluded Kanya King. “This is why motivation should be recognised as a characteristic as it is of the utmost importance for a leader to have the ability and strength to motivate people to accomplish objectives.”
And the winner is…
Harriet Green was voted 2013 Leader of the Year for transforming the fortunes of Thomas Cook in 12 months. The market cap of Thomas Cook was just £150m when Harriet joined as CEO in 2012 - it is now in excess of £2billion. Share price has gone from 13p to just over £1.70 in the course of the year, and in the course of the last 6 months it has returned to the FTSE 250 (now 134).
Some of the tactical things Harriet did to achieve this included completing a £1.6bn capital refinancing with extended maturity; and creating an E-commerce Centre of Excellence and setting up a Digital Advisory Board to drive innovation. By it is her work to engage people in her vision that has impressed most.
“Harriet is an incredibly proactive leader, always one step ahead of the organization, always thinking one move further ahead than peers and competitors,” said Michael Healy, Group CFO of Thomas Cook, in support of her nomination. “Harriet has a unique combination of hard and soft (Lion and Panda) which enables her to get followership while aligning the corporate culture. And she has a fantastic way of combining short term execution focus and long term strategy and direction.”
If you would like to nominate someone for the 2014 Leader of the Year award, send details of who should be recognised and why to firstname.lastname@example.org.