6 minute read

HR Viewpoint: Michael Moran on the five themes of modern leadership

In this video, part of our Leadership in Disruption series, 10Eighty CEO Michael Moran discusses the five themes emerging from its latest research, moving from dinosaur managers in the mills of Derbyshire to a leadership style based on trust and how leaders need to stick their heads above the parapet and smell the coffee

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Edited transcript

Key themes from the Human-Focused Leader research

Michael Moran: We were very pleased with the research because in part I suspect it tells you what a lot of HR, L&D and OD professionals have been saying some time. These five themes emerged: People First, and to use the mantra, it's all about the people stupid. I'm sure we're going to explore the ‘And Beyond leader’, which I describe as sticking your head above the parapet and smelling the coffee; then there’s Technology and Communication, that great enabler (we're now part of the Zoom culture). Agility – the ability to respond quickly and nimbly; and lastly Collaboration and that thing that differentiates us from all other living beings, the ability as human beings to make one-on-one equal three. So they were the five themes.

I'm going to reference first of all Malcolm Gladwell because I do think we're at a tipping point. Yes, we have been talking about these things for some time but all of a sudden we've got some evidence to support the things we've been saying. And I'm going to take a step back in time, first and foremost, because I want to go back and address what I call the dinosaur manager. It takes us back to the 1780s. As you probably gathered from my accent, I'm from Belper Derbyshire (it's a very strong accent) and it was part of the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, in that Arkwright built his mills in Cromford and a guy called Jedidiah Strutt built his mills in Belper. And one of the famous architectural features of his mill was a roundhouse and a roundhouse where the supervisor or overseer sat in the middle so he could see, and it was he, all the workers work in their looms.

Now, what I sense from COVID-19 and remote working is we've had the technology for some time but all of a sudden we've got people working at home and indeed people I can't see. And that requires a very different type of management style. And the dinosaur manager basically says, if I can't see you, I don't know whether you're working. And actually what's really behind that is I don't trust you. And remember trust is two way and do the workers trust the management? So what we've got now is this real opportunity to move from a business where command and control was the order of the day through to a leadership style based on trust.

And I'm going to make the case, if you're going to build a leadership style based on trust, the key thing you have is mission and purpose shared by the population, and therefore organisations that can focus on mission and purpose that the employees subscribe to, then you have a trusting community. And that's going to be an 'aha' I suspect. There will be some organisations who sgo back and I have lots of feedback from clients who say managers are uncomfortable with this. But equally there's been those ‘aha’ moments: ‘do you know what Michael, whereas before we all worked in an office, now I can determine when I want to work’. And that brings back to one of my key themes: that. to be successful today, businesses have got to be employee centric. It's about building jobs around people. Just to go into that People First theme a bit further, another tipping point about COVID 19 on the plus side is looking at people in a holistic view. It's not just about coming to work – because we've had this vision, this window, into where they live. And therefore it's no surprise to me that mental health or wellbeing have suddenly come to the top of the agenda because COVID's given us this sight. Therefore going forward it is about building jobs around the people, it's putting people first, and COVID has given us a couple of things that are really going to change that dynamic: trust, meaning and purpose and this holistic view of wellbeing.

And Beyond leadership

It's very common when you're coaching, say people appointed to the SLT for the first time running a business, is you have a mindset change from being a functional or technical leader to getting an enterprise wide view. And a lot of coaches obviously focus on that. But what we're saying here is it's significantly more than just the organisation. It goes into the community in which we work. So whether it's environmental, whether it's sustainable or, what we've seen latterly, are the debates around Black Life Matters, or the impact that Marcus Rashford has had on child poverty.

Now I truly believe any leader today who is running an organisation in isolation is missing out on what are the big picture agenda. My view is you've definitely got to stick your head above the parapet. You got to smell the coffee on what's out there. And it's about building an organisation that not just serves the shareholders, and not just the employees, but the community in which it serves.

And we've got several examples of what happens when you fail to look after the community. I'm a great fan of Simon Sinek and he talks about leaders eating last and leaders being responsible for their tribe. And we've had some terrible times economically, but ultimately it's about looking after your tribe, looking after your people and your people have got children, dependents, carers. If you create community and look after your people, you will get that trust, that loyalty from your people.

By the way. If you don't look after your people, the downside will be they don't trust you, they don't give that loyalty. We come down the path of it being I’m only in it for me. And I think we have got that tipping point where organisations, as a result of COVID, have taken a much wider view. There's certainly some who've been quick to let people go, but we have seen some superb examples of organisations who've taken that longer-term view that it's not just about the numbers, it's about the people and the community you serve. I truly believe that will serve them well for the future.

This wasn't the first disruptor and definitely is not going to be the last disruptor. And I think we have got to lead a culture where we're comfortable with ambiguity. And we see it now, don't we, people want answers to COVID-19. What are the rules? The truth of the matter is leaders don't have the answers and we're making the rules up as we go on and we've got to get comfortable with that. So the two things I'm relating back to the research that emanate from are agility, nimbleness, being able to respond and particularly what I call distributed leadership: people taking decisions at the grassroots, not looking for answers or command and control, but being able to address the issue there and then.

And the second thing is around collaboration and it goes back to first of all people have to work in a trusted environment. I feel trusted. Because if I'm feeling trusted, I'm more creative, I'm sharing my ideas, and therefore the organisation itself is no longer the sum of the individual parts, it's a much more collective cohesive mass. And therefore agility and collaboration are critical success factors in this new business environment.

And we've known that for some time, but again, the great news is that the enabling technology, Zoom, that ability to work remotely at a time that suits us and to be able to share information on things like LinkedIn or Google create a much more responsive, agile, nimble organisation.

Five key behaviours for today’s leaders

So I'm going to say some of the obvious. The first thing is around caring for your people. And that means truly caring for your people and the people in their bubble. So it's about taking the time and energy to find out what's important to them, what motivates them, what are their concerns. And I come back to sculpting jobs around them.

The second thing is creating this strategy that people can subscribe to, and that's about mission and purpose – and mission and purpose, not just in terms of the organisation, but what's the organisation doing in the wider community.

Thirdly I think there's a piece around curiosity and creativity and building a platform where people truly love to come to work, and where they enjoy what they're doing. And if you like, in a sense, trusting those people to do the right thing.

And of course, as a leader, that fourth thing is practicing what you preach. There's a right thing to do. So in today's environment, looking after your people and doing the right things becomes pretty critical.

And then a final point is, as a leader, you have to lead. You've got to be up front. You've got to be out there, demonstrating the values I've just espoused. So there's no point me just thinking, what's in it for Michael? I truly do have to care for the other people. I do have to have that strategy. I do have to take the time to listen. I do have to encourage the platform. They're all the things that leaders need today. And is it new? Not wholly, but this just presents us with a real opportunity and I do think that at this time more than ever people are looking for that type of leadership: leaders that they can follow, that they can subscribe to.

To get your copy of the Rise of the Human-Focused Leader whitepaper please click here The People Space and 10Eighty partnered to run a series of web events to discuss the issues arising from the research. To watch these on-demand these please email info@10Eighty.co.uk

Published 29 October 2020
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