IN MY OPINION: Institute of Management companion Val Hammond, CEO of Roffey Park Institute, argues that leaders must learn to inspire with verve and style

IN MY OPINION: Institute of Management companion Val Hammond, CEO of Roffey Park Institute, argues that leaders must learn to inspire with verve and style - A visitor from another planet scanning our newspapers and screens would quickly come to the view t

by VAL HAMMOND, CEO of Roffey Park Institute
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

A visitor from another planet scanning our newspapers and screens would quickly come to the view that we are in deadliest peril. Maybe we are. Never have we had so much access to news of disasters both natural and man-made. We have live coverage of disaster and devastation, stories of heroism and survival against the odds, and in-depth analysis of why it happened.

Journalists risk becoming disaster junkies, flying around the world to comment in situ or assuming the role of inquisitors to discover cause and distribute blame. There is scarcely a difference in the level of angst about the most savage of wars, the disgrace of a politician or the fall in stock market value of a household brand name.

In these times, leadership has never been more vital and yet, as identified in the Institute of Management's recent research project 'Leadership: the challenge for all?', on whose advisory panel I was pleased to serve, there is a widespread perception that it is lamentably lacking in our businesses and civil society. This must encourage those of us in any leader-ship role to review our own performance.

Survey participants said that those they identified as leaders were knowledgeable and ambitious, but that inspiring leaders with the capacity to think strategically would be even more valuable. It is as if in our thirst for, and emphasis on, important knowledge and objectives, we have overlooked the need to tell a story in which everyone can play their own part with gusto and delight.

More than that, we have forgotten what every child would tell us: that the joy of the story is in the re-telling. In our quest for progress, we risk being mistaken for those cobblers fabled for leaving their children the least well shod. We overlook the need to constantly reaffirm what we aim to achieve and why, to enthuse as well as to inform.

In the eyes of our staff we're but pale shadows when contrasted with media, sports and entertainment personalities; and yet it does not have to be. Putting our message across with verve and style is a skill that can be learned. At Roffey we emphasise self-awareness and recognise that people need the opportunity to experiment with different approaches so that we increase personal effectiveness but stay true to ourselves.

As leaders, we must keep in touch with reality and tell it how it is. In the darkest days of the second world war, Churchill inspired the nation to stand firm by admitting that he could promise only 'blood, toil, tears and sweat' - and so, for many, it proved to be before the longed-for victory.

In my experience too, ensuring people have a true picture in good times as well as in difficult times not only instils a sense of common purpose, it unleashes creativity and energy.

We must scan the horizon, look ahead, watch for hazards as well as opportunities for greater achievements. This enables us to develop our strategy. Again, this does not have to be the preserve of senior people. Many computer games depend on uncovering problem-solving pathways. If the young are already acquiring the rudiments of strategic thought and planning processes, how much more might our experienced colleagues contribute to the planning of the business?

We are wise to welcome and seek this participation; it brings skills, knowledge and application of boundless proportions.

While standing firmly in the present, we should also have an eye for history and remember that whether our leadership span is for many years or just a few, we are guardians of the enterprise, trusted to grow and develop it and all its people. It is by the choices that we make, as much as the capabilities we have, that our contribution will be judged.

Whether we like it or not, our example will be remarked and recorded, and this will influ-ence how others behave. If we want to be remembered for posterity, it is worth noting the Korean proverb: 'Power lasts 10 years, influence not more than a hundred'.

It's often remarked that leaders have large amounts of energy, bringing focus and determination sufficient to overcome most obstacles. This is the oxygen that comes with the job. One way of increasing our 'inspirational' rating might be to use this energy in a different way - to keep everyone fully engaged, sharing the feeling of progress and fulfilment.

This is more important in organisations such as mine, where there is a flat structure and personal progress cannot be measured simply by climbing up the face of the pyramid. Each of us - not just those at the top - has our own aspirations and goals. When individual dreams are unlocked and built into the bigger picture, the team becomes unstoppable.

Throughout this column I have developed a mnemonic as my personal check. One might say: our people demand that we look ahead, energise them, build on their aspirations, show determination and example, maintain a sense of reality, demonstrate that we think strategically, keeping in mind that history will judge our efforts to inspire them and, above all, that we seek their participation.

If we do so, then we will show leadership.

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