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9 April 2011

The Centre for Leadership innovation

Tag(s): Innovation, Leadership & Management

This week I was invited to attend the launch of the Centre for Leadership innovation (CLI) at the Palace of Westminster. The Centre is being established by the University of Bedfordshire in order to develop research and practice which addresses three core questions:

·         What are the challenges facing today’s leaders, at all levels, and their organisations?

·         What does “leadership” involve doing to enable successful, innovative and authentic organisations?

·         How can forms of leadership be developed and enabled?

I was also invited to participate in a panel discussion to kick off the Big Conversation the directors wanted to hold to shape the direction of the research programme.

On the platform with me were

·         Penny De Valk, CEO, Institute of Leadership and Management

·         Terry Morgan, Chairman, Crossrail and President, Chartered Management Institute

·         Dean Royles, Director NHS Employers and Chairman of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development

·         Linda Holbeche, CLI Co-Director

The event was facilitated by Dr Nigel MacLennan, CLI Fellow and prolific author in the field of leadership coaching with 57 publications to date.

Penny began by discussing the shifts in world trade and demography; the development of consumerism; and the need to use your people as a source of competitive advantage. She asserted that what made us successful in the past would not work in the future. She asked us to challenge the mythology of leadership and cautioned us against two stereotypes of leaders, the “conquering hero” who arrives on his white horse to save us or the “expert” who is the one with all the answers. In seeking innovation in leadership development she advised us to focus on three stages of behaviour:

1.       Knowing i.e. having the knowledge of what to do and how to do it

2.       Doing i.e. getting on with it

3.       Being i.e. knowing oneself, and here the need to establish trust has never been more important.

Terry thought the key was doing what feels right. As an engineer with a manufacturing background he does not accept that the UK only has a future as a service economy and wants to see manufacturing restored to the heart of the economy. He thinks the problems of the last few years have come largely from the service side of the economy. In his previous roles heading up large engineering organisations like BAE Systems and Land Rover he never had a problem recruiting the right skills but he had to do it on a global basis. He believes that what makes great companies are great leaders but not just at the top. This is well established and he would not want to see innovation for its own sake.

Dean put up a brave case for the public sector. He bemoaned the fact that few public sector leaders other than politicians are well known to the public which meant there were few role models. He asked us to sympathise with the democratic challenge that civil servants have to lead with enthusiasm whatever their political masters hand down to them as policy while remaining true to their personal values.

Linda was concerned about the cycle of short termism which had eroded trust. How could employees trust their leaders if they could not trust them to protect their jobs? Her chief advice to a leader was to be authentic.

In my piece I told two stories: one of Akio Morita (see my blog Memories of Akio Morita 11 July 2009) and Sebastian Piñera and the Chilean mine rescue (see my blog The Chilean Way 23 October 2010) The best leader I ever saw was Akio Morita -the co-founder of Sony. Morita-san used to speak of the need for positiveness in leaders – he used the Japanese word – neaka. A negative-minded nekura person is not qualified for management.

I believe Leadership is quite easy to understand but hard to do. Leaders need to articulate a vision, engage their colleagues in committing to that vision and above all deliver with enthusiasm and precision.

So our leaders need to be able to think through the issues and unravel the complexity. They must have courage to face the truth of a situation. They must then have the ability to motivate, not through bags of gold but by getting their people to reach beyond their known limits. They must also have energy and a willingness to get things done.

But that might suggest that we’re looking for Messiahs to lead us –Penny de Valk’s “Conquering Heroes”- and that is not what I mean. That way lies danger because very often such people are actually deluded, do not face the truth and lead their people over the cliff. Leaders take their people with them though patient explanation of issues, of how as much as where.

This is often done in teams - leadership is a team sport. When I was at Sony I formed the Leadership Group consisting of the top 25 managers in the company. They were not all accustomed to working together or involving each other in key decisions but gradually that changed and I believe the group is still in existence today.

Political leaders seem to have lost their way and the nation's trust while business leaders have all been tarred with the same brush of the bankers who borrowed short to lend long. But many great businesses were founded in recession. Sony was founded in the ashes of Tokyo in 1945 but with a vision to create new kinds of products from combining the science of electronics with the engineering of mechanics. From that vision emerged the transistor radio, the Trinitron TV, the compact disc, the Walkman and many more.

30 years ago I was living in Chile when it went through one of the deepest recessions in modern recorded history; the deepest was in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. The next deepest was in the United States after the Wall St Crash. The Chilean recession of 1982/3 was the seventh on that list.

But Chile over the past 20 years has become the most dynamic economy in South America. Last year it experienced an earthquake of massive proportions, 8.8 on the Richter scale. In one night 20% of GDP was wiped out. I wonder how the British nation would react to such an event. But Chile has already rebuilt most of the damaged infrastructure, roads harbours, bridges, hospitals, schools, homes and office blocks. The nation is back on its growth trend. And then faced with a mining disaster last October it demonstrated to the world how to lead by taking control of the problem and not resting till the last miner had been rescued. President Piñera followed my three steps. He set the vision, to rescue every one of the miners; he engaged his cabinet colleagues and many others in Chile and around the world, and he executed the plan with tenacity and courage until the last man emerged safely.

The goal of the new Centre for Leadership Innovation is to explore the nature of leadership needed for healthy, effective, high performing and sustainable 21st Century organisations which also add to the public good (health, wealth and welfare).

The Centre will do this through research and providing thought leadership, provoking debate and challenging holy cows, influencing and inspiring opinion formers in public life as well as developing real organisational leaders by stimulating new thinking and engaging them in co-creating new practice.

It is setting out to close the knowing – doing gap and create new leadership practice more appropriate to the changing needs and aspirations of tomorrow’s workforce and other stakeholders. It intends to act as a leadership laboratory, with lessons from practice inspiring new research and vice versa.  Judging by the quality of the debate that was stimulated in the Palace of Westminster and the first white papers it has published it has made a good start.


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