The Economist recently shared a reasonably scathing analysis of British leadership.   They identified a common characteristic in UK leaders; having David Brent-esque offish approaches. The article started by stating that, ‘Britain no longer punches above its weight’ in producing world-class companies – the result is an underperforming economy.

The international comparison figures produced by the ONS show that the UK is in a dismal state. The average labour productivity figures, worked out as productivity per labour hour were 15.9% less and output per worker was 16.7% less in the UK in 2015 when compared to the average of the other G7 economies.

The slump in UK performance started in the last quarter of 2007, at the beginning of the economic downturn and has continued to fall – as recently as Q1 2017 we lost a further 0.4%. Through this period leadership pulled in the rains – we were asked to do more with less. Rather than leaders focusing their strategy and resources on defining and prioritising business activities, the call came for more with less.

When you talk with people both working and leading through this time, they experienced infighting. Without the defined direction and the measurement of the highest valued actions leaders misaligned within businesses, competed for scarce resources. A reactionary process of political infighting and backstabbing sored. For front line employees stress levels rose, engagement fell and a sense of entrapment and despair were talked about. Not surprisingly the outcome was less with less.

I don’t find it surprising that 50% of business failures are put down to poor leadership. One of the founding beliefs that caused the inception of Vantage People is that there is a different way. The UK as a country values its traditions, ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!’ – the current trends and data show that it is quite broken and we need to fix it.

With Brexit there is no doubt going to be an increasing number of bumps in the road, which will have a significant impact on the UK economy and in turn business. There is a lot leaders can do to perform better.  Look at the top performing organisations; they do things differently – ‘that’ different is unique and authentic to them. It fits the ethos of the company, who they want to be and it’s also aligned with the needs and values of their employees and the markets they seek. It comes from getting curious and understanding.

For many businesses this will mean disrupting traditionally held views of business and how we work with people, communicate and deliver personally in a professional context. To be effective at an organisational level the leaders reach must stretch deep down within the organisation; policies and communications must be aligned to support value beyond the immediate hierarchy.

Leadership needs a clear story and focus that defines the direction of the organisation, to create real purpose in which people believe and are motivated by. Leadership should be positive and drive strategy through structure, culture, operating models founded on excellent communication and an aligned understanding of its clients, markets and employees. Leadership must act with integrity, modeling values and taking difficult decisions to drive the culture it espouses.

For me excellent leadership starts with deep self-awareness and the ability to listen at a profound level. Leaders who are self-aware will in turn be aware of the people within their organisation. Leaders who can listen, be curious and ask searching questions will uncover and understand the real strengths and possibilities that are in their gift. The outcome of this is the ability to work alongside people to develop and deliver a strategy that is engaging and energising.

Leadership needs to recognise that it is less about empowering people but enabling them – to use the strengths they have and perform at their best for their organisation. For this reason a key responsibility of leadership is to create leaders across the organisation that drive high performance.

In James Kerrs book Legacy he states ‘Leaders create leaders by passing on responsibility, creating ownership, accountability and trust.   This requires a change in mindset, leaders need to get themselves out of the way, the days of the heroic corporate leader as humorously satirised by Brent are over. To survive and thrive in complex, uncertain and changeable times organisations need to be flexible, switched on and responsive. This is not the feet for one person.

The figures give a clear business case for leadership reform. More importantly for me it is the right thing to do, leaders and in turn businesses must act with integrity and respect. The respect a leader shows the most junior member of their organisation, will be the respect the organisation holds for its leaders. I believe society demands this and business performance needs the whole organisation aligned to succeed.

Leadership is a balance in which the effectiveness of people is central. I passionately believe that the leadership of people must be ethical, respectful and responsible. Acting with character and delivering purpose, engaging deeper within organisations will drive change. This is fundamentally why Vantage People was formed, to work with people that want to transform and deliver at their best within organisations.

Just saying…

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Contact us if you would like discuss how Vantage People could help you or your business.

Jemma Barton, Director & Coach

E: jemma.barton@vantagepeople.uk

T: +44 7717 131 434

W: www.vantagepeople.co.uk

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