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Blog : High-performing leadership

Blog

High-performing leadership


By Jo Harley - Director

It’s supposed to be summer and yet again it’s raining, which can only mean one thing – Wimbledon fortnight. Although I haven’t actually been to Murray Mount nee Henman Hill, I have had a couple of the matches on in the background. 

I was, along with other tennis fans, caught up in the moment and very excited to see how far British boy, Andy Murray, could go. The big question was surely this could be the year he made the final? And as seen yesterday, it certainly was, with him becoming the first Brit to make a Wimbledon final since 1936.

It’s very easy, when watching, to think that the success (or otherwise) of this one player is purely down to Murray; his talent, his drive, his ambition. Yet as the Independent and the Mail on Sunday have both pointed out, Mr Murray has a team of 11 in his ‘camp’.  These people, from his mother to his coach to his management team, all have one clear goal – for Andy to win a grand slam tournament. This team has all the ingredients to make it happen, they all know exactly what the end goal is and they all work tirelessly to ensure that brand ‘Murray’ is the best it possibly can be. It strikes me that businesses can learn a lot from this focus; most interestingly, how we could adapt this to principles of leadership.

There has always been an emphasis on the leader to take responsibility for how good they are. Worryingly, however,  the 2011 Global Leadership Forecast from DDI found that only 36% of UK leaders rate their organisation’s leadership quality as high;  that 45% of employees think they could do a better job than their current manager, and only just under half would actually want to do their job.

Isn’t it then time that we took some of the principles of high-performing sports figures and encouraged people to take responsibility for their leaders? Imagine if, instead of expecting to be ‘managed’, people started viewing leaders in the organisation as their ‘Andy’. What would it be like if we all woke up tomorrow and thought, ‘How am I going to use my specialist skills to help my manager be the best they can be?’ We all know the old adage of surrounding yourself with people that are better then you are, but what if these people took it a step further and really supported and encouraged their leader; taking ideas to them and didn’t mind not always getting the credit, had the confidence to strive without the need for consistent praise and feedback, had mutual trust and respect. If you could do this for your manager/leader then perhaps issues and conversations around poor leadership would disappear. According to the DDI, employees stated their ‘best ever’ leader would:

  • Recognise me appropriately for my work and achievements
  • Support me without taking over
  • Involve me in decisions
  • Listen to me
  • Take time to explain the rationale for their decisions
  • Take care to maintain my self-esteem

Straightforward stuff, and pretty easy to do if you are engaged with your people and want to be a great leader, however aren’t these the characteristics of a great employee too? Before we bemoan the quality of leaders shouldn’t we also look at the type of employee we are? And by doing this surely we will naturally learn the qualities that it takes to be a good leader.

I’m also guessing that when supporting Andy Murray there are no ‘command and control’ relationships between him and his team. As the lead article in June’s Harvard Business Review discusses, ‘Leadership is a conversation’ and by its very nature should be a two-way relationship. The article explains how four elements of organisational conversation can shape leadership:

  • Intimacy - how leaders relate to employees, encouraging them to engage in idea exchange
  • Interactivity - how communication channels are used, interacting with colleagues through discussion forums
  • Inclusion - how content is developed, employees act as brand ambassadors and thought leaders
  • Intentionality - how strategy is conveyed, employees take part in creating strategy.

‘Smart leaders find ways to use conversation—to manage the flow of information in an honest, open fashion. One-way broadcast messaging is a relic, and slick marketing materials have as little effect on employees as they do on customers. But people will listen to communication that is intimate, interactive, inclusive, and intentional’. They will also, I believe take more responsibility for the organisation and it’s leaders and start thinking of the whole rather than the individual. Organisations such as Coca Cola and Infosys are already way ahead of the game in regards to this and are seeing vast improvements as a result.

Despite a strong performance, sadly Murray lost out to Federer yesterday. However rather than wallow, I bet all of the people sitting in his camp woke up this morning thinking 'How am I going to support Andy in getting through to another grand slam final and this time winning...'

Do you think organisations can learn from high-performing sports professionals? How do you think setting up 'camps' around leaders would work in your business?

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