In my Opinion: Robin Field-Smith

Robin Field-Smith, Chairman of the CMI Companions Assessment Panel, on why leaders' values and beliefs should be rooted in the common good.

by Robin Field-Smith
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Sir Peter Ellwood's piece in the July edition helpfully promoted the value of integrity - 'nothing is more important'. This is commendable, as those who lead need to take actions that are appropriate, legal and that enable the necessary outcomes. Such actions require genuine integrity, but let us delve a little deeper into the values of sound leadership by interrogating this recent statement made in the wake of details about Sir Martin Sorrell's reward package from WPP: '...shareholders have sent a clear and important message; they don't want to lose their chief executive, they want him to lead by example' (The Times 14 June).

But what example should leaders set? Is leadership just about what leaders do, or is it more fundamental, about what they are?

Being a leader involves attitudes and behaviours that act as evidence of values and beliefs. How often do we hear about people 'who don't walk the talk' or are 'two faced'? Daily we read of bad decisions or systemic failures that invite ridicule, and almost inevitably cause workers and customers to be disadvantaged. These outcomes are rarely, if at all, the result of a lack of knowledge, as available information is increasing every year. Rather, the cause can often be traced to the personal qualities of leaders who have made those decisions or who have been responsible for the systems in their organisations.

There seems an increasing trend to try to understand the world of work, and the communities we inhabit, as driven by the pursuit of material goods and a quest for performance at all costs. But is this what sustains goodwill among workforces and communities? I, for one, think not.

Over the long term, employees produce their best when they are happy and engaged. This results from the experience of leadership that is actually and perceptually working for their good, and the wider good of their society and the world beyond. The opposite is disorder, with money and power getting in the way, and leaders feeling accountable only to their own success.

I am reluctant to emphasise the term 'ethics' at this point, as I know it either turns people off or suggests a dry set of rules. But somehow it is important to get across the notion of a set of values and beliefs that enables leaders to be right and to work for the common good. These must be rooted in wider truths about what works for the common weal and earns the widest respect across all communities and beliefs. As a Christian, I can recognise them in my own faith, but I also know that they figure in all world faiths and belief systems, and there is no monopoly of worth.

The time has come for us to find an enduring way to make the world of work a happier, fairer and more effective place. We must move swiftly to a position where leaders are selected not for technical merit or charisma, and not developed in the mould of past heroes, but on the basis of who they are and the suitability of their values.

My military experience owed much to the example set by the still underrated Sir William Slim, who said: 'Leadership is of the spirit, compounded of personality and vision; it is an art. Management is of the mind ... its practice is a science.' To put it another way, management is the transactional element, whereas leadership is the transformational, getting ordinary people to do extraordinary things, because they have utter faith in, and respect for, their leaders.

Organisations depend for their success and their reputation largely on the people they employ, and the leadership they enjoy. Those people know in their heads what has to be done, helped by policies, rules, and codes of conduct. But their hearts tell them to follow a lead. Where this lead is based on an approach to living and being that is obviously or instinctively inappropriate, the led lose faith and inspiration, or worse, are corrupted.

The world of work, in all its forms, needs to embrace a better approach to leadership, espousing the art of being. Organisations must promote into leadership roles those who are not only competent and confident as managers, but who live out, by proof of what they do and who they are, a transparently authentic and ethically sustainable approach to leadership. This will involve them digging deeper into themselves, aiming for honesty about their weaknesses as well as their strengths, and being prepared to eschew the reckless pursuit of material riches in favour of a truly unselfish and transparently good way of living and being.

In essence, we must move beyond laudable codes of conduct, which talk of ethics in terms of actions, to learned and shared beliefs and behaviours which are of the heart and spirit. Additionally, the leadership and management development effort needs to take the opportunity afforded by the insights of the CMI's Business Benefits of Management and Leadership Development report in February and the BIS Leadership & Management in the UK report in July.

We must inculcate not only the science of what managers do but the art of what leaders are, with the beliefs and values needed to inspire commitment from workers and elicit performance based on a wholly ethical approach.

CV:

ROBIN FIELD-SMITH CCMI spent 30 years in the Army in education, training and people development. He was then an HM Inspector of Constabulary for nine years, covering HR and diversity in police forces in England and Wales. His portfolio now includes non-executive governance, senior consultant roles, employment tribunal membership and charity appointments.

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