Tag Archives: authentic leadership

The Leadership Styles That Work Best

Leadership is as much a skill as sales, accounting, engineering or programming, but is rarely treated that way by companies making hiring decisions.

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There is a lot of complicated management theory about management and leadership.  There are detailed guides to choosing the correct management style.  Should your leaders be Authoritative or Visionary or Transactional or a Pacesetter or a Servant or Democratic?  You could spend your life studying the mountains of research and still be none the wiser.  But the reality is likely to boil down to just one rule.

Don’t hire psychopathic leaders.

Leadership is as much a skill as sales, accounting, engineering or programming, but is rarely treated that way by companies making hiring decisions. A recent study has found that a staggering 82 per cent of hiring decisions concerning leadership roles select an inappropriate person. Companies are choosing the wrong person for the leadership role an alarming rate of only once in every five hires.

Leadership Talents = Engaged Employees

Gallup has spent two decades studying the performance of 27 million employees across hundreds of organisations. They have calculated that the innate leadership talents of managers account for 70 per cent of the variance in employee engagement from company to company. 

In an average company in 2018, around 50 per cent of the employees were disengaged and a further 13 percent were actively disengaged. An actively disengaged worker has a miserable work experience and would quit tomorrow if they had any other choice.

The research shows that employee engagement is strongly linked to customer ratings, profitability, productivity, staff turnover, safety incidents, staff theft, absenteeism and product quality. There is however an easy solution at hand. 

The research also shows that increasing the number of hires of talented leaders can significantly increase the engagement of employees.  If the percentage of actively disengaged employees can be reduced below 10 per cent, then earnings can be increased dramatically. 

Lowering Active Disengagement

In 2012 Gallup examined the performance of 49 publicly traded companies and compared their results with engagement results from their survey data.  They found that companies that did manage to lower active disengagement experienced on average 147 per cent higher earnings per share than companies with more typical levels of active disengagement.

Hiring more talented managers can therefore have a massive and direct impact on the bottom line and a significant array of critical business measures. Gallup’s research has left it convinced that all good leaders share just five critical talents:

  1. They motivate every employee with a compelling mission and vision
  2. They are assertive, drive outcomes and persist in overcoming adversity and resistance
  3. They insist on clear accountability
  4. They enforce a culture of integrity and honesty and build relationships that create trust
  5. They make decisions based on productivity, not politics.

In short they must be honest, empathetic and have a clear vision. Or in even shorter, they must not be a psychopath. 

The critical difference between a psychopath and the rest of us is their complete inability to feel empathy.  There care for nobody but themselves and are quite happy to use any means possible to remove anything which gets between them and their goal.  That goal is accumulating more power and money for themselves.

Power over People

As a general rule, a psychopath will be drawn to jobs which give them power over other people. Psychopaths believe they are superior to everybody and that the role of all other people is to deliver rewards to the psychopath.

Add this to their prodigious ability to charm interviewers, and their propensity to make up whatever achievements they need to get the job, and it’s easy to see how they may be fast-tracked. As a result, we can expect them to be towards the top of any corporate structure.

To the psychopath, the team that works for them need to be tightly controlled and completely compliant.  Psychopaths achieve that using classic manipulation tactics, singling out members for public punishment, rotating those with favoured status, implementing ever more detailed micromanagement and the ramping up of secrecy.  

The workplace under a psychopath is in constant turmoil.  Factions are rife, sick leave sky-rockets, staff turnover becomes endemic and productivity drops like a stone.

Power of the People

Luckily the cure is easy.  Well, easy to say.  It’s honesty and transparency.  The best place to hide a murder is in a massacre and the best place to hide a lie is in a company full of liars. It is much harder for a psychopath to use deceit to their advantage if everybody else is honest. 

Companies that ban secret communication channels, reward honesty, punish dishonesty, encourage whistle-blowing and who have strong, honest and independent human resources divisions (and boards that listen to them) are much more likely to control psychopaths and massively limit the harm they can inflict.

This will not stop you employing psychopaths but it will ensure they are working for the greater good of your company rather than destroying its culture and its future.

The Art of Self-Mastery In Indirect Procurement

Self-mastery is a critical skill in indirect procurement but you might have to endure a few steep learning curves before you nail it.

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Indirect procurement is a function with high requirements for stakeholder management.  Cultivating excellent stakeholder management skills means developing self-mastery – a key part of authentic leadership.

In the workplace, ‘Just being yourself’ doesn’t  mean  letting it all hang out, unfiltered. It requires a self-mastery founded in self-awareness. It means building on this to calibrate ones own reaction to and interaction with colleagues. I’ve had experiences from good and bad bosses along the way and I’ve made mistakes that have helped me learn to be a more authentic leader.

The blind spot of conviction

Early on in my career I was lucky to be part of a small, young team developing the, then new, idea of strategic sourcing in indirect procurement for a large bank.

We had an innovative boss, Harry, who inspired us with his passion for the new concept. And, with just 10 of us, and a supportive CPO, we were starting to make a big impact.

However, there was a new CFO who  didn’t understand what we were doing. He simply didn’t care about the hundreds of millions of savings the team was generating.  As you can probably guess, this was before the banking crisis!

Harry had a choice to make. He could have decided to keep a low profile and deliver value in other ways. After all, there were plenty of projects to work on that didn’t require massive change management and senior sponsorship.

Instead, he made an ultimatum to the new CFO, so convinced that he was right and that his arguments would be compelling.

It didn’t turn out the way he had planned. The team closed and disbanded one month later. Unfortunately, Harry’s lack of self-awareness made him naively unaware of the politics of the business and the consequences he might face.

Leading a team through change

The procurement management team I was working on at a large Swiss company was about to go through a major transition with the retirement of our charismatic CPO. He  had many great qualities but led by command and control.

His manager, Peter, knew we needed to evolve to be capable of running the business independently. The stakes were high for him due to a high level of outsourcing in direct procurement and high savings commitments in indirect procurement.

The first shake-up was a reduction of the team. Peter joined the meeting with the new smaller group. I didn’t know him well, and was nervous about what his expectations were.

He told us that we had to be ready to lead procurement differently as our new boss was not a procurement person. He admitted that our new team wasn’t yet ready for the challenges ahead but that we would be supported to grow and develop.

Over the next year, Peter joined our meetings regularly to give us input and encouragement. He didn’t discuss the pressure for us to become an independent team. He backed up the risks we were taking with new high change projects. He also gave his personal support with one to one time.

Much later, I asked him about that time and how much pressure there had really been. He told me he hadn’t been sure the team would make it and that the pressure from the CEO had been intense.

His self-mastery at that moment allowed us to have space to grow and successfully step up to the plate.

Not filtering and scaring my team

It was the end of summer and we were in the second year of our indirect transformation. The team had delivered the first year, but our credibility was far from cemented.

One of my team leads, Mary, revealed that her team’s numbers were not sure for the year. Worse still, we had recently submitted an updated forecast to senior management.

Mary and I reviewed her project details. She couldn’t answer all of the questions to the level I needed in order to be able to revise the numbers.

I was surprised at this; she was highly capable, but she hadn’t yet fully learned how to measure savings in financial terms or to appreciate the importance of forecast accuracy.

We were under a lot of pressure and I panicked.  Having scrutinised the details with Mary I understood the situation,  but the cost was high and I was unsuccessful in shielding my stress from the team.

Fortunately Mary followed up with me. She explained what the effect of my unfiltered actions had on her and the team. She felt undermined and made to feel foolish in front of her team and her team members themselves were frightened.

I had failed my team by allowing high pressure from upwards to go unfiltered downwards.

After apologising to Mary, we talked frankly about what had happened. She got more insight into what she needed to do and I agreed to never behave in that way again.

It was a deep learning experience in the importance of maintaining self-mastery, especially in high-stress moments.

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Indirect Procurement: Leading By Taking Responsibiity

Authentic leadership is especially important in indirect procurement. Pauline King discusses why taking responsibility is a key aspect of this.

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I was recently at a lunch with a former member of our indirect transformation program. I wanted her view was on how we achieved so much and so quickly. Her answer surprised me.

She made no mention of classic procurement methods; it was all about authentic leadership. Indirect procurement, with its high change impact, power struggles and need for excellent business partnering, is especially in need of this kind of leadership.

But what does this mean in the day to day? Thinking back over authentic and inauthentic bosses and my own mistakes in aiming to be an authentic leader, one theme is about taking responsibility. Here are three examples from my past experiences that demonstrate this.

  1. Be confident to make tough decisions 

I’ll never forget the first leadership team meeting with the best boss I ever had.

Bruce told us that each of us should be doing our own job and not the job of our direct reports. This was a powerful message for me because I realised that I had been covering and doing damage control for one of my team leads, Dirk.

Dirk had many talents, but he was not comfortable challenging the business. In indirect procurement, this is fatal.

It was September and we were setting up for the following year’s project pipeline and savings commitments. The numbers were not on track.

We were reviewing his numbers when I realised he hadn’t completed the final, and crucial, step of getting the senior business managers’ sign-off.  With a sinking feeling, I saw I would have to step in and ‘do his job for him’.  It was time for a hard decision.

In this case, it was especially difficult because I had worked closely with Dirk and appreciated his knowledge and skills in many ways.

But, he deserved to hear it straight that he hadn’t stepped up despite many feedback sessions. I didn’t see him being able to develop this particular skill. We instead focused on his considerable strengths and worked successfully to find him a new role. He went on to have great impact.

  1. Manage Relationships Effectively 

During a particularly difficult phase of a worldwide P2P rollout, my responsibility was to lead the global indirect implementation. This was in coordination with my teammates, the regional heads.

One of the most complex regions was in Europe with its many countries and languages. There were endless calls between global and region Europe to hammer out the operational details. One particular teammate, John, the head of Europe seemed to be putting roadblocks in place that didn’t make sense.

I made an error in blaming John and, worse still, being vocal about it. I didn’t take the time to understand his reality on the ground.

Luckily for me, our boss was very blunt and told me:

  • Work with your colleague to fix the disagreement
  • Never complain in public about a team member

I apologised to John and spent time with him discussing how we both thought we could bridge our differences.

Ultimately, he became one of my closest colleagues and together we led the rollout in Europe to success.

  1. Train your team to be independent 

The best way to coach people to take responsibility is by giving them the space to act alone.

I was once working on a series of difficult projects, one of which was reducing travel cost by implementing high-end video conferencing. In order for it to be impactful, a fast worldwide rollout was needed.

Serge was the procurement lead and had never done such a project before.  He had, however, developed a great relationship with his business client. I was convinced, with some support, that he could do the job.

One of the first tasks was in finding a clear way to measure the savings and bring that to the P&L. Together with the travel manager, we did some brainstorming on how to get the data and make the case, reviewed what external case studies we could use from providers and what the storyline could be for senior management. Serge went away with the task to put together a first draft with his colleague.

What he came back with was terrible: no clear story line and fuzzy numbers.

We did another brainstorming session and gathered some more data. At the end of this round, I thought Serge had enough to bring everything together. But, once again, he again came back with meandering slides and no clear way to measure the savings.

I knew he could do better.  I looked him in the eye and told him he had what he needed to pull the deck together and that I was convinced he could do it. And sent him away.

Several days later, Serge came back with the frame that we then polished and successfully got approved. With this success behind him, he stepped up and drove the project through, not only deepening his relationship with his business client, but also increasing his visibility in the company.

Believing and then saying, ‘I have full confidence’ to an employee is a powerful message.

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