CONFRONTING THE SKILLS CRISIS: My skills fulfilment - Proud of the accomplishments they built up over their career, these senior executives are putting them to use.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Proud of the accomplishments they built up over their career, these senior executives are putting them to use.

- 'Success at a senior level in organisations depends to a large extent on your leadership skills,' says Duncan Tatton-Brown, Finance Director of DIY group B&Q. 'That includes your communication skills, presentational skills, your influence and the impact you have' - areas that Tatton-Brown has worked on consistently over the past five years. 'All skills can be developed and improved. For a finance director, presenting information with clarity and impact is very important.'

Tatton-Brown has worked regularly with Khalid Aziz of the Aziz Corporation to hone his presentational skills. 'The first time was before a presentation to a City audience,' he recalls. 'Khalid helped me understand that the underlying message you convey to an audience is about more than just the words on the slide.'

Having the right attitude is vital if skills are to be developed effectively.

Not settling for second best is another part of the Tatton-Brown approach.

'I used to think that I was quite good at presentations, but now I realise I can still improve. It's a bit like a sports team - you may need specialist training to develop particular skills.'

- 'The most valuable skill I have learnt in my career is how to build effective teams. Having worked in a number of different environments - from the corporate world of Barclays Bank to running a small concern, Clearlybusiness, and now to the public sector as a Director for the Small Business Service - I've found the skill of building teams to meet challenges and solve problems has been paramount.

In today's management environment, being able to build new teams quickly - across an organisation or between organisations - is important. It can provide numerous challenges, as you have to balance the team's personality mix.

Building teams is a multi-faceted task. First, with a new team and a new challenge it is important not to dive straight into the task; instead, invest time in understanding and building trust between team members.

Second, as team director, you should never be afraid to say you need time to consider the approach to a particular problem before summarising it back to the team. We can often fall into the trap of overloading colleagues with data rather than clearly presenting the goals and objectives. And, third, you must build trust among other team members by being open and inclusive. This stops people from disengaging and allows the team to work together effectively to solve the task.'

- 'The most valuable skill I have learned in my career is coaching. The Autoglass coaching programme began with external coaches for the executive team only, but it has now filtered through the company and is carried out internally. It is our principal management style.

Coaching means allowing others to take responsibility for key decisions and letting them find their own solutions to problems, while providing support and guidance. As a management style, it allows independence by challenging and listening without directing the actions to take.

Coaching helps people develop effectively and brings out their strengths, while recognising their weaknesses and teaching ways to deal with them.

Colleagues should be confident enough to ask for the help and support that is available only in an open leadership environment. For me, the idea of being at the head of an organisation is not about cracking the whip. It's my job to encourage confidence, be open-minded, lead by example and earn the respect of colleagues.

Coaching has changed the way I work and, with positive feedback in our customer and staff satisfaction surveys and improved results since we introduced our programme, it has had a fundamental effect on our business and its staff.'

- 'The whole range of skills I developed at ICI are turning out to fit in very well with what I need to do here,' says Mike Wilkinson. His 21 years with the company as a senior manager in the paints division, seem to have prepared him ideally for his new job in a senior management role in academia. The lesson is that you cannot always know where your skill sets will lead you. 'All the management and leadership training I had over several years has been useful here. Managing projects, bringing people together across boundaries - all that comes into play.

At ICI I worked in France and Germany, learned the languages, and got to learn something about working with different cultures. So when people ask me here, as they do, 'Are you finding it very difficult working here?' I have to say, it's not so different.

Students expect value for money, especially when they are taking on loans to fund their higher education. Wilkinson believes his private-sector experience helps him regard students as customers, not as a nuisance.

Relevant skills and experience have opened up a new career path for him.

'My training at Cranfield in strategic management, and my experience of acquisitions, also helps when we are trying to manage change.'





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