It’s easy to lead when things are going well but real leaders are ones who shine when times are tough. When the market is buoyant and margins are great then it’s not hard to run a business…. sit still and just don’t screw it up! Those of you who read these occasional columns will know I am a fan of quotations and collect them on my travels. One of my favourite quotes comes from a chap called Tom Riley who was CEO of a large successful building company that rose rapidly to stardom and declined just as quickly, asked to explain the roller coaster he said “We didn't realize we were in a building boom...we thought we were just a great company."
In fact any enterprise is easy to lead in a stable state or when things are getting better but the real test comes when those who sit beneath you in the organisation chart need you to ‘step up to the crease’.
Many business owners find themselves in leadership positions almost by default and this is not an issue until things get difficult, then being Neville Chamberlain just isn’t good enough! So are leaders born or can they be trained? A topic of debate by organisations that treasure leadership and need regular supplies of leaders but not one that I think has yet been definitively answered and in any event it’s a bit of a moot point if you are faced with having to deliver leadership because the job demands it. Whether or not you can teach leadership you can recognise traits in successful leaders and see the common behaviours in successful companies.
Good leaders have good teams! And that’s no accident, they evaluate and select, they make sure they have the right people in the right jobs. MBA is all about Recruiting Retaining and Developing Top Performing Teams and we see trends in the assignments we get from good times to bad. We’ve been around a fair time and whatever the economic climate we see companies taking on new people, the difference is that in bad times we recruit less for new posts and more because the incumbent is not performing and is in the wrong job (not bad people….. just not in the right job!). As in process improvement and cost management however it seems that the motivation for doing what should be done in good times or bad ….strive for excellence…. only kicks in when survival is threatened! The debate about whether this process of managing people out of the ‘wrong job’ is cruel or not was explored in an earlier article (Cruelty Kindness or Natural Selection) but it’s a fact, when the chips are down hard decisions have to be made.
Then good leaders provide the right environment for good people to succeed, they coach and guide, provide positive critique, they challenge people to perform. Leaders help good people to deliver to the best of their ability. Good leaders build self confidence in their people, this encourages them to stretch, take risks and achieve. ‘Take risks’? I can hear the chorus of “not in this climate!!” being shouted at the screen but leaders are brave and need the people around them to have courage as well It’s not easy to turn your back on sales when they are scarce and you desperately need them but sales at the wrong margin or that lead to bad debt are not what you want. Similarly we see companies that don’t risk bad debt at any price…. and turn away good customers in the process.
Good leaders have many other traits but the bottom line is that good teams well led are Top Performers, good teams poorly led can make it and poor teams, even if well led will fail more often than not.
Chris Ball is a Director of MBA and a member of the institute of management consultants, MBA Associates Ltd is a specialist consultancy that partners clients to Recruit, Retain and Develop Top Performing Teams. Using sophisticated and proven methods that are different to the usual recruitment agency MBA has an enviable track record of Job Matching with currently over 70% of candidates recruited still in post or promoted within the same group after one year (statistics from Harvard Business review show 14% success rate is average on CV alone!) MBA can be contacted on 01242 821 432, or through the website at www.mba-associates.co.uk
© Chris Ball May 2008