To better understand the ingredients of great business leadership, we caught up with successful business consultant and speaker Jeff Grout. With in-depth knowledge and wide-ranging oversight from his past and current roles, Jeff specialises in leadership and business performance.
We asked Jeff about the secrets of being a successful business leader and the evolving role of data in business leadership.
What are the most common challenges to effective business leadership?
Too many business leaders are stuck in day-to-day issues, involved in managing rather than leading.
The most difficult thing to do is to change. This is particularly true when things are going well. Often leaders don’t want to tinker with a winning ‘formula’.
Top business leaders are constantly looking to improve. Huge disruptors such as Uber, for example, have embraced change.
Create time to look up and look ahead
Leadership is about the future. It’s about setting targets and figuring out how to get to them.
Consider all scenarios
For example, a leader who says that Brexit may not happen – and doesn’t plan for that eventuality – is not an effective leader.
You have to look at all scenarios and ask yourself what you need to do to successfully navigate the potholes.
Remember your title can act as a barrier
Whether you’re an MD, CEO or ‘Head of’, what you’re really aiming for is for people to be honest.
You want to create an opportunity for your employees to articulate their issues freely.
Is there any difference between a leader and a business leader?
No. But there’s a difference between a manager and a leader. The difference is about organisation.
Management is about systems, procedures and guidelines. Leadership is about setting the tone and creating a culture in which people choose to give their best.
What makes a successful business leader?
A leader has followers
A prerequisite of leadership is that people follow you. Successful leadership is about creating an environment in which people want to follow you.
A good leader acts as a compass
As a leader, it’s your job to provide direction and focus your followers on a clear objective. Once you’ve set the objective, you need to spend time talking about it, measuring it and removing obstacles.
As a business leader, you must also chart where your company has come from, where it is now, and where it’s going. You provide the vision and mission for your organisation.
Leaders come in all shapes and sizes
There’s no cookie-cutter approach to leadership. Great business leaders have the ability to adapt. So it’s essential for you to be able to change leadership style.
Effective leaders can change gear from present day to future, from internal to external, from taking control to letting go. You need to know which gear is best for a particular situation.
How do you create a high-performance culture in business?
Listen to your followers
You can’t impose a high-performance culture. You have to create that environment. If people feel you are listening to them, if they feel like they are contributing, they will be much more engaged. So involving the people in your organisation is essential.
This makes communication very important. Too often leaders resort to telling, or simply transmitting information. In contrast, great leaders ask questions and listen effectively – and are much more likely to motivate people this way.
If you’re listening effectively, you’ll know what your employees need from you in order to do their best.
Prioritise values, attitudes and behaviours
Getting the people right will have the biggest impact on your organisation.
The most common issues I encounter are people issues, around performance or lack of performance.
In my experience, business leaders don’t look sufficiently at values, attitudes and behaviours during the recruitment process. These are the most important things to think about when hiring people to work for you.
What’s the role of data in business leadership?
Data can help you make the right decisions
Analysing data successfully can help you to remove barriers and ensure everyone is pulling in the same direction.
It’s important to create time and space to do this properly, though. Leaders can be distracted by the noise of the everyday.
Seek out all the data you can
Make sure you have all the available data. Sometimes you need to have the courage to say that you can’t make a decision now because you don’t have all the information.
However, you have to be able to recognise when to make a decision, even if you don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle.
What’s the role of vulnerability in leadership?
Surely, as an employee, you want to work for someone who has a vulnerable side?
One leader I work with has a speech impediment, but stands up and struggles through a company-wide speech once a year. People admire and respect this.
Authentic leadership, asking people to accept you as you are, can be very powerful.
What responsibility do business leaders have to the environment?
People are much more concerned now about corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Social media is a very effective forum to criticise organisations not concerned about their social impact, or disingenuous about their CSR efforts.
So if your organisation is not environmentally friendly, or concerned about stopping climate change, for example, you may well lose a significant chunk of your customer base. Ignore CSR today at your peril.
How do you see business leadership changing in the future?
Access to consumer data is likely to become more important in how leaders come to decisions. But the basic tenets of leadership won’t change.
Good business leaders will always have to adapt and will always need to create an environment in which people want to give their best.
Jeff Grout is a successful business consultant and speaker specialising in leadership and business performance.
Formerly UK Managing Director of a leading international recruitment consultancy and Business Manager to former England rugby coach Sir Clive Woodward, Jeff holds a number of corporate advisory and executive coaching appointments and is also a successful business author. He has written two books on leadership: ‘What do Leaders Really do?’ and ‘What You need to Know about Leadership’.
Listed in the '100 Best Business Speakers in Britain', Jeff Grout is in considerable demand as a business speaker. Jeff has spoken at Henley, Ashridge and Cardiff Business Schools, the Danish Centre for Leadership and companies such as Amazon, British Airways, BT, Deloitte and Waitrose.
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