Greg Dyke: 'Leadership is about the stories that are told about you'

At our Trust event last night, the ex-BBC boss explained to MT how he got his staff to like him so much...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

When ex-director-general Greg Dyke was forced out of the BBC in 2004, staff walked out to show their support for him. How many other bosses would provoke such a reaction (particularly at an organisation as political as the BBC)? How many employees really feel that their chief exec is on their side? MT got to pick his brains on the subject last night, when the former BBC man (who now chairs the BFI) was the keynote speaker at the launch of our inaugural ILM/MT Index of Leadership Trust.

So why did his staff think so highly of him? Well, the key to building up a high degree of trust and loyalty among employees, according to Dyke, is to make sure that they say the right things about you to others. In a mega-organisation like the BBC with more than 30,000 employees, it’s impossible for a leader to get to know every one who works there – so your reputation has to be built through second-hand information.

‘Leadership is about the stories that are told about you – both positive and negative’, he said. ‘You’ll be judged by those stories more than anything you say or write, and people will need to like what they hear about you. The most effective leaders are the ones who are loved by their staff. Always think as a leader: how will this be seen?’

By way of example, he cited an internal BBC meeting that he went to the morning after a serious fire had damaged his home. Worn-out, Dyke decided to go – especially as the organisers, having heard about the fire, had presumed he wouldn’t attend. ‘I put a bit of soot on my face and went’, said Dyke. ‘Why? Because it’s saying to the staff that they matter. And they’re then going to go back to their colleagues and say he’s alright – he turned up!’

‘A leader is always in the spotlight, and they are always going to be judged. Internal communication matters more than external communication because your people are your ambassadors. It’s showing people that you’re on their side.’ Ahead of MT’s interview with current D-G Mark Thompson (this month’s MT cover feature), Dyke suggested his successor hadn’t done enough of this: 'If I was Mark, I'd have done more internal selling,' he told us.

One interesting point about our survey was that the larger the company, the lower the levels of trust. The trick to fostering trust, explained Dyke, is to make the organisation feel smaller, and then people will feel happier. It all boils down to getting to know the people you manage as individuals, he reckons – making friends with them, and encouraging them to bring their emotions to work. This makes for a more human – and thus more successful – organisation.

One person Dyke has no interest in being friends with, however, is Tony Blair. Apparently, in the aftermath of his sacking, the ex-PM invited him for a clear-the-air dinner - which Dyke declined in four-letter fashion...


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Greg Dyke: 'Leadership is about the stories that are told about you'
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