Leadership is everything. It’s the embodiment of every business. It’s the vision, the goals, the challenge, the culture. It’s the ability to inspire, to draw together a team; it sets the example, it provides the excitement and the glue that pulls the team together and drives their achievements.
It’s a myth that there are natural born leaders. It’s learned like any other skill – though exactly how is not clear. But the quality of that leader comes from the innate character and personality of the leader him or herself.
“leaders must bring clarity to the operations. to do so will mean they need time apart to understand the information, its quality and what the business needs”
It is far more instinctive than anything taught or pre-meditated but it is acquired somehow through the experiences of everyday life, and the study of others.
Leaders set the goals and drive the agenda. They bring their senior management team with them, to want the same goals and to want the change that becomes necessary to achieve them.
They work tirelessly towards the goals, they set the example to all their team. They’ll get in the boat and grab an oar along with their team – they won’t sit in the back of the boat exhorting their team on while they sit there doing nothing. Nor will they sit on the boat wielding a whip over their team as if they were slaves and frightening them to death.
They will work as long and hard as the team do. They will do it because they want to, they enjoy it, they need to do so to do their job well but all the time they know that they set an example. They’re honest, transparent and set the standards of performance for the company.
But there is one thing that leaders must do more than any other member of the team and that is to stop to think. Their minds will at all times be focused on the company’s goals. They will always be questioning, learning, reading. A Chinese proverb goes, “Learning is like rowing upstream; not to advance is to drop back.” The real objective of reading, studying and learning is to ensure that you are always challenging and asking questions.
Assessing all that information means that leaders must see the wood from the trees. They must bring clarity to the operations. To do so will mean they need time apart to understand the information, its quality and what the business needs.
When I was at university a famous Lord Chancellor, in a lecture to the law students, when asked what was the best piece of advice he could give to a student, replied “take a lot of baths”. This was not, I believe, a reflection on the general standards of hygiene among the students (though I can’t be sure) but more a reminder always to stay focused on the ultimate goal. Rob Parsons, a lawyer who now runs a major family charity, in a similar vein once wrote that we should all take time out to kick leaves.
One of the challenges of running companies large or small is that there is a proliferation of information, papers and data. There appears to be a general view that you can’t have too much data but that is simply not true.
Research is good. Of course it is. But, if you let it, it can often distort your thinking. Nothing should replace your instinct, your experience gained over years leading your business.
If you have any doubt read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, who spends over two hundred pages telling us to trust our judgement, which can be far more effective than the reams of research that we are often faced with.
Donald Keough, the former president of Coca-Cola, writes, “Someone or some few people must actually apply wisdom about the direction and goals. Someone must have a vision of the future.
“The data alone do not get you there. I believe in research but I don’t expect the research to give me much more than a glimmer, an imperfect snapshot of a moment in time. Thinking is the best investment you’ll ever make in your company, in your own career, in your life.”
Time to think is not a luxury or a “nice to have” for a leader. It’s a necessity. As Goethe said, “action is easy, thought is hard”. Yet, time and again, chairmen and CEOs get carried away by the momentum of their businesses, by the detail, by the moment.
In the area of mergers and acquisitions deals get underway, the momentum builds and the deals get done no matter what is revealed, no matter what the team learns. It turns into a game, a form of winning.
The teams convince themselves that the numbers add up, that the culture will change. Unless there is someone who will stop to think, the same mistakes get made over and over again. Stop to think.
By Darryl Cooke