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How to lead a high-performing team

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How to lead a high-performing team 1

By Matthew Emerson, Founder and Managing Director, Blackmore Four

When we think about a great team, the image we conjure up almost always includes a superstar leader.  A smiling Sir Alex Ferguson guiding Manchester United to countless domestic and European successes year after year. The conductor of an orchestra, drenched in sweat, turning to take rapturous applause from an appreciative audience.  The self-styled entrepreneur-turned-CEO who has steered their company’s share price, profit margins and brand recognition to levels of international envy.  Our bias to assign the leader credit or blame for successes or failures that are actually outcomes of a team effort is strong and widespread, and results in both positive and negative outcomes for individual leaders that often overlook any team-based root causes.

Clearly, some people are better at leading teams than others. It is quite reasonable, therefore, to try and identify the traits that distinguish effective leaders from those who consistently fail to get the best out of people they work with. Literally hundreds of research studies have attempted to see which traits predict leadership effectiveness. However, none have succeeded in identifying any set of universal traits that could reliably distinguish and predict effective leadership from the rest.

For one thing, research has shown that there is no one leadership style that works well across all situations.  A style that may be just what is needed when working with skilled and trusted colleagues to develop a team may fail badly when a newly-formed team encounters a challenging situation that requires a quick, decisive team response.

A second problem with leadership styles stems from our assumption that leader behaviour is the cause of member behaviour and team dynamics. In fact, a leader’s style may, in many circumstances, be as much a consequence of members’ behaviours as it is a cause of that behaviour.  For example, if a leader is charged with managing a team of subordinates who are both competent and cooperative, the leader is likely to be more effective responding with a considerate, participative leadership style.  However, if team members are obviously not capable in carrying out the work and, moreover, demonstrate aggression in their dealings with the leader, a much more structured, directive and autocratic style is likely to be exhibited, to varying degrees of effectiveness.  Excellent team leaders are aware of their natural styles—they know what they like to do, what they can do easily and well, and what they can accomplish.

Effective leadership

On the one hand, we tend to overattribute responsibility for collective outcomes to the team leader. Although that tendency is often exaggerated there is no doubt that what a team leader does (and doesn’t do) is highly consequential for team performance.  Instead of focusing on a leader’s generalised behaviour (style) and who they are (character, superhero), the focus should be shifted onto what it is they actually do (action).

Effective leaders focus on the four basic factors we discussed in the previous articles in this series, starting with a compelling direction and clear accountability.  The team need to know that they are a real, interdependent team and that normalised behaviours, high expectations and trusting relationships are agreed across the group.

Sometimes most of these conditions will already be in place when a team is formed and fine-tuning them will not pose much of a leadership challenge. Other times, when the focus has been on individual work not teamwork, it will take great effort to establish these four basic factors.

Behavioural leadership skills

Matthew Emerson

Matthew Emerson

Great team leaders do not rely on any single strategy for promoting high team performance. Instead, they work hard in getting all of the factors we have been discussing aligned and pulling in the same direction. However, it’s not sufficient for those who lead teams merely to know about the factors for high performance; they also need to know how to create and maintain those factors—in a word, they need to be skilled in leading teams.

Effective team leaders are skilled in executing actions that narrow the gap between what is happening in the group or its context, compared with what the leader believes should be happening.  They are also skilled at managing their emotional response, resisting the impulses of acting too quickly and dealing with one’s anxieties.

Effective leaders demonstrate their ability to tap into the collective resources and coach teams in order to exploit potential to the fullest extent.  Being able to exploit those special moments at the beginning, middle and end of task and team life cycles can prevent future breakdowns or factors that hinder high performance.

The ability to inspire others is another commonly identified, essential behavioural skill for leaders of high-performing teams.  The is no single best way to provide it, but the key is to identify which of your skills and styles can best be used to create in others the passion you feel for your work and then to hone and develop those resources as one core element in your personal repertoire of team leadership skills.

Leading high-performing teams

There is no way to “make” a team perform well, let alone sustain outstanding high performance.  Teams create their own destinies to a great extent.  After a team has launched itself on a particular path, its own actions create additional experiences which then guide members’ subsequent behaviour, which can set in motion either a cycle of ever-increasing competence and commitment or a downward spiral that ends in collective failure.

Once members have established their shared view of the world and settled into a set of behavioural routines, there is not a great deal that leaders can do to change the team’s basic direction or momentum. What leaders can do is make sure the team is set up right in the first place, action the four factors and then constantly hone and learn to develop a number of key skills specific to team leadership.

About Author:

Matthew Emerson is the Founder and Managing Director of Blackmore Four, an Essex based management consultancy working with leaders of ambitious businesses to achieve outstanding performance through periods of growth or significant change.

Starting his career at Ford Motor Company, Matthew has developed his expertise in Organisational Effectiveness in key senior HR, Organisational Development and Talent roles, predominantly in Financial Services (Credit Suisse, Barclays and DBS) and most recently as the Group Head of Talent and Performance at UBS AG.

Having worked in and across Asia for six years as well as having ‘global’ responsibility in a number of his roles, Matthew has an appreciation of international and multi-cultural working environments.  He also has a multi-sector perspective, having worked with organisations in Manufacturing, Healthcare, Education and Technology.

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Battling Covid collateral damage, Renault says 2021 will be volatile

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Battling Covid collateral damage, Renault says 2021 will be volatile 2

By Gilles Guillaume

PARIS (Reuters) – Renault said on Friday it is still fighting the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a shortage of semiconductor chips, that could make for another rough year for the French carmaker.

Renault reported an 8 billion euro ($9.7 billion) loss for 2020 which, combined with gloomy take on the market, sent its shares down more than 5% in late morning trading.

“We are in the midst of a battle to try to manage a difficult year in terms of supply chains, of components,” Chief Executive Luca de Meo told reporters. “This is all the collateral damage of the Covid pandemic… we will have a fairly volatile year.”

De Meo, who took over last July, is looking at ways to boost profitability and sales at Renault while pushing ahead with cost cuts. There were early signs of improving momentum as margins inched up in the second half of 2020.

The group gave no financial guidance for this year, although it said it might reach a target of achieving 2 billion euros in costs cuts by 2023 ahead of time, possibly by December.

Executives said they were confident the carmaker could be profitable in the second half of 2021, but that they lacked sufficient market visibility to provide a forecast.

Renault struck a cautious note, saying it was focused on its recovery but warned orders had faltered in early 2021 as pandemic restrictions continued in some countries.

The group is facing new challenges as the European Union tightens emissions regulations and after rivals PSA and Fiat Chrysler joined forces to create Stellantis, the world’s fourth-biggest automaker.

The auto industry endured a tough 2020 but a swift rebound in premium car sales in China helped companies such as Volkswagen and Daimler to weather the storm.

Auto companies globally have since been hit by a shortage of semiconductors that has forced production cuts worldwide.

“The beginning of the year has shown some signs of weakness,” De Meo told analysts, but added the chip shortage should be resolved by the second half of 2021. “We have taken the necessary measures to anticipate and overcome challenges.”

Renault estimated the chip shortage could reduce its production by about 100,000 vehicles this year.

SHARP HIT

The group was already loss-making in 2019, but took a sharp hit in 2020 during lockdowns to fight the pandemic, which also hurt its Japanese partner Nissan.

Analysts polled by Refinitiv had expected a 7.4 billion euro loss for 2020. The group posted negative free cash flow for 2020.

The 2018 arrest of Carlos Ghosn, who formerly lead the alliance between Renault and Nissan, plunged the automakers into turmoil.

In a further sign that the companies have been working to repair the alliance, De Meo told journalists that Renault and Nissan will announce new joint products together in the coming weeks or months.

Renault has begun to raise prices on some car models, and group operating profit, which was negative for 2020 as a whole, improved in the last six months of the year, reaching 866 million euros or 3.5% of revenue.

Analysts at Jefferies said the operating performance was better than expected. Sales were still falling in the second half, but less sharply.

Renault is slashing jobs and trimming its range of cars, allowing it to slice spending in areas like research and development as it focuses on redressing its finances. It is also pivoting more towards electric cars as part of its revamp.

It was already struggling more than some rivals with sliding sales before the pandemic, after years of a vast expansion drive it is now trying to rein in, focusing on profitable markets.

De Meo told journalists on Friday that the French carmaker will make three new higher-margin models at its Palencia plant in Spain, where manufacturing costs are lower, between 2022 and 2024.

($1 = 0.8269 euros)

(Reporting by Gilles Guillaume and Sarah White in Paris, Nick Carey in London; Editing by Christopher Cushing, David Evans and Jan Harvey)

 

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UK delays review of business rates tax until autumn

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UK delays review of business rates tax until autumn 3

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s finance ministry said it would delay publication of its review of business rates – a tax paid by companies based on the value of the property they occupy – until the autumn when the economic outlook should be clearer.

Many companies are demanding reductions in their business rates to help them compete with online retailers.

“Due to the ongoing and wide-ranging impacts of the pandemic and economic uncertainty, the government said the review’s final report would be released later in the year when there is more clarity on the long-term state of the economy and the public finances,” the ministry said.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak has granted a temporary business rates exemption to companies in the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors, costing over 10 billion pounds ($14 billion). Sunak is due to announce his next round of support measures for the economy on March 3.

($1 = 0.7152 pounds)

(Writing by William Schomberg, editing by David Milliken)

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Discounter Pepco has all of Europe in its sights

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Discounter Pepco has all of Europe in its sights 4

By James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) – Pepco Group, which owns British discount retailer Poundland, has targeted 400 store openings across Europe in its 2020-21 financial year as it expands its PEPCO brand beyond central and eastern Europe, its boss said on Friday.

The group opened a net 327 new stores in its 2019-20 year, taking the total to 3,021 in 15 countries. The PEPCO brand entered western Europe for the first time with openings in Italy and it plans its first foray into Spain in April or May.

Chief Executive Andy Bond said its five stores in Italy have traded “super well” so far.

“That’s given us a lot of confidence that we can now start building PEPCO into western Europe and that expands our market opportunity from roughly 100 million people (in central and eastern Europe) to roughly 500 million people,” he told Reuters.

To further illustrate the brand’s potential he noted that the group has more than 1,000 PEPCO shops in Poland, which has a significantly smaller population and gross domestic product than Italy or Spain.

The company, which also owns the Dealz brand in Europe but does not trade online, has already opened more than 100 of the targeted 400 new stores this financial year.

Pepco Group is part of South African conglomerate Steinhoff, which is still battling the fallout of a 2017 accounting scandal.

Since 2019 Steinhoff and its creditors have been evaluating a range of strategic options for Pepco Group, including a potential public listing, private equity sale or trade sale.

That process was delayed by the pandemic, but Steinhoff said last month that it had resumed.

“The business will be up for sale at the right time. It’s a case of when, rather than if,” said Bond, a former boss of British supermarket chain Asda.

Pepco Group on Friday reported a 31% drop in full-year core earnings, citing temporary coronavirus-related store closures.

Underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) were 229 million euros ($277 million) for the year to Sept. 30, against 331 million euros the previous year.

Sales rose 3% to 3.5 billion euros, reflecting new store openings.

($1 = 0.8279 euros)

(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by David Goodman)

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