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The 7 essential qualities of great leaders

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The 7 essential qualities of great leaders

By Marianne Page, founder of Marianne Page Ltd

If you want to become the leader that your team want to follow, there are seven essential skills you need to master, to achieve your goal.

  1. Your Mindset – recognising that leadership is responsibility not power
  2. Your Team Building skills – hiring the people who share your values and buy into your vision
  3. Your Team’s Performance – helping every team member to fulfil their potential
  4. Your Feedback skills – giving feedback that inspires improved performance – every time!
  5. Your Communication skills – the golden thread running through all of the other essential skills
  6. Your Team’s Rhythm – setting the pace, keeping everyone focused on continuous improvement
  7. Your Personal Management System – protecting your own time and energy, and remembering that you need development too

Chief amongst all of these is communication.

Whenever I go into a business and talk to the team, one of their biggest complaints is always about communication – that they aren’t communicated with effectively, that they don’t know what’s going on, that they’re kept in the dark.  When they’re given information, it’s often too late, or missing important details.

To be seen as a great communicator by your team is crucial for any leader, and it’s essential for keeping your team engaged.  And we all know that an engaged team have real enthusiasm for their work, they’re emotionally committed to your team and its goals, they don’t leave you, they are way more productive and they take ownership for their role.

Unfortunately, there’s plenty of research out there that tells us less than a third of employees are engaged, and that leaders, and the way we communicate, are largely to blame for this shocking statistic.

Here are the 7 most common mistakes leaders make:

Marianne Page

Marianne Page

Not communicating enough
One of the biggest complaints I hear from teams is that they are not kept informed of what’s going on in the business, with many managers believing that information should be given on a ‘need to know’ basis.  What they miss out on by keeping their team in the dark, is the trust that comes from transparency, and the engagement that comes from a belief that we’re all in this together. Open communication really is essential to building a successful team.

Underestimating your team’s knowledge and ability
One of the biggest mistakes I see managers making is to treat their team members as if they are stupid, lazy and occasionally belligerent children.
Whether you have hired well (to your values) or not, I believe that everyone who comes to work with you is full of potential, has their own motivation, and is usually smart (whether that’s street smart or educationally smart), and it’s up to you to engage them in a way that draws the very best out of them. Treat people like stupid children, and they will usually behave that way.  Treat them as the bright and capable adults that they are, give them the training that they need, and they will blossom and shine.

Lying
Let’s be honest! We all know that leaders lie to their employees all the time.  Little white lies and big fat porky pies.  And this lying is very much linked to mistakes one and two – trying to hide the truth from the team and treating them like children.
Lying is a dangerous game for a leader to play, regardless of the motivation for doing it.  Lies have a way of being uncovered by your very smart team, and there is no quicker way to lose trust and respect, than to be caught in a lie.
Every team values a manager who is straight with them – who they can rely on to tell them the honest truth, and not sugar-coat feedback or bad news, a manager who delivers on their promises.  When you tell somebody straight what the situation is, or how they need to improve their performance, you give them a chance, and the choice, to think and act for themselves.

Being unapproachable
Many leaders wrongly believe that to be a good people manager they have to be aloof from their team. Some go on a power trip, barking orders, before disappearing behind a closed door, not to be disturbed, leaving their team floundering, and too afraid to ask for help.
As a communication strategy, this is disastrous.  All of the communication is one way – from you to the team, and certainly not delivered in a productive way.  Problems and challenges are left unresolved because your team don’t see the point in raising them, and over time, your operation becomes increasingly inefficient and dysfunctional.

Being too approachable
On the other hand, it’s also a problem to be there to answer every question and give the solution to every problem.  You want your team to think for themselves, and you also want to protect your own time, while giving your team the time and the input they need.

Over-using e mail
There are two major issues with e mail communication between a leader and their team.
One is overuse. In general we all send way too many e mails and worse still, we often expect an almost immediate response, regardless of the day or time it is sent.
The second issue is that weaker leaders hide behind e mail rather than being straight and having that honest conversation we were talking about a minute ago.
We all know the communication problems that e mail can cause, with even the most carefully crafted e mail, being misinterpreted and not received as the sender intended it.  As a result, e mail bullying (intentional or not) is a very real threat in every workplace, and it’s up to you to make sure that you don’t go down this path.
It’s up to you to create a culture of open and honest face to face communication.

Believing that ‘I sent an e mail’ is enough
A third issue with e mail, is a leader over-relying on an e mail to get their message across to their team, or an individual within it. Not following up to check that the message was received at all, let alone as intended.  Not taking into account possible technology glitches, or an e mail getting lost in someone’s over full inbox.  Not understanding the communication needs of different individuals in their team.
So many problems are caused, and deadlines missed, as a result of this one mistake alone.
E mail is good as a back up to face to face or telephone conversation, but in a highly engaged team, it should never be the only method of communication used.

Ok, so that’s how not to communicate.  Let’s turn our attention to how to communicate well. You’ll have heard of the Shadow of the Leader; how all of your communication – everything you say, and don’t say; everything you do, and don’t do – is being observed, received and acted on, by your team.

How you show up every day, how you respond to challenges and complaints and stressful situations, how true you stay to your stated values in what you say and do, sets the tone for your team, and over time, builds your team culture. So it’s pretty damn important that you’re constantly focused on communicating well. And here’s how to do that…

Communicate in line with your values
What on earth does that mean?
Well if values are the things that are most important to us about how we want to operate and live our life – the compass that guides all of our decisions, behaviours and actions – then I’m talking about communicating in a way that stays true to what’s important to us.

Maybe it’s being kind
Maybe it’s always being straight with people
Maybe it’s always trying to find win-win solutions to problems

Sounds like it should be easy, but of course it isn’t.  We all do things at times that go against our values and leave us feeling cross with ourselves. You know, you wanted to be kind but then you found yourself gossiping about someone and laughing about them behind their back.  Or you had the opportunity to help someone with some really straight-talking feedback, and you fudged it, laughed it off, let them carry on under-performing.

When you do something that goes against your values, you feel it in your gut.  I bet you’ve caught yourself saying ‘It just didn’t feel right’ or ‘I knew I should have listened to my gut’ – well, that’s your values talking, so listen to them, because, when you communicate in line with your values, you feel really good about yourself.

Learn to be more self-aware
You can’t really be a good leader if you don’t know yourself; if you don’t know what your values are, what you struggle with, what your triggers are, what gets you ‘in the zone’.  Being self-aware helps you to be true to yourself, to be more open and authentic in your communication, to understand your successes and failures, and what you need from your team to complement or make up for the skills you have or don’t have.

So how can you begin to develop this awareness?

At least once a week, take time to think and reflect.  I know, it sounds almost too simple, doesn’t it.  It’s a lesson I learned some time ago from a fellow business owner. He told me that every week, he set aside 90 minutes to reflect on the previous 7 days, asking himself questions like:

  •  What was I aiming to achieve?
  •  What went well, and why?
  •   What didn’t, and why?
  •  Did I do anything or say anything that wasn’t in line with my values?
  •  What lessons have I learned about myself this week?
  •  What am I going to do better next week?

Of course, most leaders don’t take time to think. Some might even consider this sort of exercise a waste of valuable time – too fluffy maybe.  But the investment of that 90 minutes, or even a third of that time, once a week, could be the difference between being an average leader, and a great leader.  I’d say that makes it worth the effort.

Listen more than you speak
I’m sure you’ll have come across the saying, ‘you have two ears and one mouth so use them in that proportion’. Be the leader who listens more than they speak. All great communicators listen to their team, giving everyone the opportunity to share their opinion, their knowledge and their experience, making sure that any introverts in their team are not drowned out, watching for non-verbal clues as well as what is said.

Being known for your willingness to listen, brings you closer to your team; it shows you care about them as individuals and their input to the business.  When people feel appreciated in this way, they’re more likely to respect your opinion, which gives you greater influence as a leader.

Listening to your team gives you the chance to catch potential issues before they become big problems. It helps you tap into your team’s energy and notice when someone needs input, or a figurative arm round the shoulder, or some training. Every aspect of your role as leader will benefit from your efforts to become a better listener.

Admit when you don’t know something or when you’re wrong

Few managers want to show vulnerability, but actually, owning a mistake or admitting that you don’t have all the answers, will grow your respect with your team. If you’re honest, say you don’t know something, and ask for their help to work out the answer, you’ll be amazed at the number of brownie points that earns you with the team.

Ask for feedback

‘What can I do better to help you improve your performance?’ is a great question to ask your team members, particularly during performance reviews and 1:1s.  How can I improve? What can I do better? What blocks can I remove that will help you to operate more efficiently/ give our clients a better service?

These questions all show your team that you care, that you know you’re not perfect, and that you value their opinion.  Of course, you then have to reflect on and respond to their feedback, acting on it whenever possible.

Have some fun

Just because you’re the leader doesn’t mean you have to stop having fun.  Some of the most productive teams I’ve ever worked with put having fun right up near the top of the agenda, and there are loads of studies out there that will tell you that a happy team perform way better than an unhappy one.
What can you do to bring some fun into your workspace?

Know your people

Get to know the person behind the employee, from day one and to be prepared to communicate with them about their life beyond work.

Talking to your people about the things they care most about – their children, their pets, their car, their football team – showing that you’re not just interested in what they can do for you and the business – allowing them to bring a little of what they love into the workplace – inspires much greater engagement in your team.

Be kind

In these days where kindness is at a premium, be a kind communicator. Be firm, be straight as I’ve said before, but also be friendly, consistent and above all fair, finding win-win solutions whenever you can.

Be consistent
Being consistent both in terms of what you communicate and how you communicate will win you an awful lot of respect from your team.

Communicating consistently about the key focus for your team – where you’re headed, what your three big goals are this year/ this quarter/ this month, what progress you’re making, what’s working, what’s not.
Communicating with clarity – keeping things simple, keeping your communication regular. Communicating with confidence.

When you are consistent in the what and the how of your communication, your team know where they’re at and able to work productively with confidence in your leadership, knowing that if there is something they need to know, you’ll tell them.

Communication is the constant, golden thread that runs through every element of your role as a leader.  The degree to which you master these skills, and the effort you put into improving them every day, will determine your success in becoming the leader your team want to follow.

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Return to Work Doesn’t Mean Business as Usual When it Comes to Travel and Expense

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Return to Work Doesn’t Mean Business as Usual When it Comes to Travel and Expense 1

By Rob Harrison, MD UK & Ireland, SAP Concur

The last few months have been an exercise in adaptability for businesses across the UK. With the sudden mandate to work from home, company processes that were ingrained in employees’ day-to-day routines were either put on hold or turned upside down. The new office normal now includes virtual meetings, conversing through instant messaging instead of in the hallway, and the redefining of “business casual” attire.

Many of the processes that have undergone changes fall into the category of travel and expense. With most business travel on hold and the nature of expenses changing, finance managers have had to adjust policies and practices to accommodate the new world of work. Recent SAP Concur research found that 72% of businesses have seen changes in the levels and types of expenses submitted, but only 24% have changed their policies to support this. Examples of travel and expense related changes that were made at the beginning of work from home mandates include:

  • A halt to business travel and its associated expenses.
  • Temporarily ending expensed meals for business lunches, dinners, or in-office meetings.
  • Increase in office expenses like monitors and chairs as employees furnish their home offices.
  • New expenses to consider like Internet and cell phone bills for employees who must work from home.

Now, as companies begin thinking about return to work plans, finance managers are discovering it’s not simply business as usual again. SAP Concur research found that many expect finance will return to normal quicker than general workplace practices, but vast majority see the process taking up to 12 months. New policies and processes need to be put in place to accommodate travel restrictions and changes in expenses. While finance managers need to stay flexible as the business environment continues to evolve, spend control and compliance should still be a high priority.

Here are a few questions that can help finance managers prepare for return to work while keeping control and compliance top of mind:

  • What will travel look like for the company? Finance managers must work with travel and HR counterparts to determine the need for employee travel, if at all, and how to keep employees safe. At SAP Concur, we surveyed 500 UK business travellers and found that health and safety is now seen as more than twice as important than their business goals being met on trips (34% versus 16%. Clear guidelines should be developed, even if they are temporary or evolving, so it’s clear who can travel, when they can travel, and how they can travel. Duty of care plans should also be re-evaluated and businesses should ensure they know at all times where employees are traveling for business and how they can communicate with them in the event of an emergency.
  • Who needs to approve travel and expenses? While it may be temporary, businesses may have to implement a more stringent approval policy for travel and other expenses. Due to health concerns related to travel and the need to conserve cash flow, business leaders like CFOs may want to have final approval over all travel and expenses until the situation stabilises. To help ensure new approval processes don’t cause delays and inefficiencies, finance managers should implement an automated solution that streamlines the process and allows business leaders to review and approve travel requests, expenses, and invoices right from their phones. According to SAP Concur research, 11% of UK businesses implemented some automation of financial processes in response to COVID-19. This is definitely set to increase post-pandemic.
  • Rob Harrison

    Rob Harrison

    What types of expenses are within policy? Prior to social distancing, employees may have been allowed to take clients out to dinner. In-person team meetings held during the lunch hour, may have included expensed lunches. As employees return to work, finance managers need to determine if these activities and expenses will be allowed again. Clear guidelines must be put in place and expense policies need to be updated to reflect any changes.

  • What happens to home office items that were purchased? While new office equipment may have been purchased for employees’ home offices, they remain the business’s property and what to do with them as employees return to work needs to be determined. Perhaps employees will continue to work from home a few days a week and need to keep the equipment to ensure productivity. However, if a full return to work is expected, finance managers have options that can maximise their asset investment and possibly save the company money, like replacing old office equipment with the new purchases, reselling to a used office furniture company, or donating to a non-profit.
  • How can cost control be ensured? For many businesses, cash flow will be tight for the foreseeable future. Spend needs to be managed to help ensure recovery and stability. An important aspect of controlling costs is having full visibility of expenses throughout the company. Implementing an automated spend management solution that integrates expense and invoice management brings together a business’s spend, giving finance managers an understanding of where they can save, where to renegotiate, and where to redirect budgets based on plans and priorities.

Once finance managers have asked themselves the questions above and determined how they want to approach travel and expense procedures, it’s vital they create guidelines and communicate clearly to employees. Compliance can only be ensured if employees have a clear understanding of what has and has not changed with travel and expense policies and what’s expected as they return to work.

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Spotting the warning signs – minimising the risk of post-Covid corporate scandals

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Spotting the warning signs – minimising the risk of post-Covid corporate scandals 2

By Professor Guido Palazzo is Academic Director at Executive Education HEC Lausanne.

A recent report from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) found that almost seven out of 10 anti-fraud professionals have experienced or observed an increase in fraud levels during the Covid pandemic, with a-quarter saying this increase has been significant. Almost all of those questioned (93%) said they expected an increase in fraud over the next 12 months and nearly three-quarters said that preventing, detecting, and investigating fraud has become significantly more difficult.

For corporations, banks and financial directors, this is a clear warning signal of new risks ahead. Indeed, it’s not difficult to predict that the birth of next big corporate scandal will be traced back to this period. As the ACFE put it, the pandemic is “a perfect storm for fraud. Pressures motivating employee fraud are high at the same time that defenses intended to safeguard against fraud have been weakened.”

If we want to stop corporate misconduct, where should we be focusing our efforts? What should we do to minimise the chances of corporate scandals, fraud and unethical decision-making? Compliance and risk management are obviously critical in detecting fraud, but given that corporate scandals keep happening, perhaps it’s time to ask ourselves whether we need to take a different, more holistic approach to combat unethical behaviour.

Bad Apples or Toxic Cultures?

Most compliance is based on the premise that we need to keep bad people in check and to root out the ‘bad apples’ who usually get blamed when there’s a corporate scandal. When the scandal breaks, we all ask, “how was that possible? What were they thinking?” And we also tell ourselves that we could never behave like that and that it could never happen in our organisation – it’s not our problem.

But are those who succumb to this temptation really ‘bad apples’ or rather people like you and I? Most models of (un)ethical decision-making assume that people make rational choices and are able to evaluate their decisions from a moral point of view. However, if you made a list of the character traits of a rule breaker in an organisation and then compared it to a list of your own, you might be surprised to find a lot of overlap.

When we examine corporate scandals, what we invariably see is good people doing bad things in highly stressful circumstances. If you put sufficient pressure on an individual and they start making ill-advised decisions or behaving unethically, the first reaction is fear as they realise what they are doing is wrong. But then they will start to rationalise their actions to justify what they are doing. Over time, such behaviour becomes normalised and they convince themselves that there is no wrongdoing involved. That’s something that my HEC Lausanne colleagues, Franciska Krings and Ulrich Hoffrage, and I have termed ‘ethical blindness’, and it is a phenomenon that plays a fundamental role in systematic organisational wrongdoing.

Professor Guido Palazzo

Professor Guido Palazzo

The trouble with conventional technical and regulatory compliance strategies is that while policies, codes of conduct and formal processes are all very necessary, they don’t take into consideration the importance of leadership behaviour or human psychology.   We can’t pre-empt those who succumb to the temptation to do bad things in difficult circumstances unless we understand why they behave in the way they do. If we simply attribute problems to the psychological failings of ‘bad apples’ while ignoring the context, culture and leadership style which made their wrongdoing possible, then the barrel will still be contagious.

So what can be done to reduce the chances of new corporate scandals emerging in these challenging times? One take-away from previous scandals is the learning how to read the warning signals. This entails a deep understanding the psychological and emotional factors behind human risk, which surprisingly is not included in most compliance and ethics training. These small signals viewed in isolation may seem insignificant, but over time they can combine to create a dysfunctional context and culture where it can be all too easy for people to slip into the dark side.

Develop a Speak Up Culture

One of the most potent antidotes to that sort of dysfunction and the ethical blindness it encourages is a culture in which individuals at all levels feel able to speak up to their superiors about problems and ethical issues without fear of retaliation. But that will only happen if their own bosses are prepared to speak up and the tone for this must be set at the top. So, the critical question every executive needs to ask themselves is, “do I speak up?” Then they need to reflect on whether people come to them and speak up freely without fear of the consequences. That’s an approach to compliance that offers real protection against the onset of ethical blindness in a way that no conventional strategy can match.

This understanding of human risk element also elevates compliance to a leadership topic with all kinds of positive implications beyond compliance.  Whilst on the one hand, this approach helps to boost the status of the compliance and risk function, my experience of working with senior executives is that when they start to understand the psychological elements of the dark side, it shines a light on their own behaviour. One thing they realise is that, yes, it perhaps could have been them doing those things in one of those scandals. The other is understanding that their leadership style can unwittingly creating the context for unethical behaviour.

That’s one reason I invited two former senior executives who were involved in corporate scandals to share their first-hand experience as teachers on our new certificate in ethics and compliance. Andy Fastow is the former CFO of Enron and Richard Bistrong is a former sales executive involved in an international bribery scandal. Amongst other things, the valuable insights of people like these can help others to understand how risks accumulate over time and how this can impact the integrity of an organisation. Their stories also highlight the temptation that people can face as a result of the tension between the pressure to succeed and the pressure to comply.

Traditionally, compliance training and development has been technical and regulatory – what are the rules, what are people allowed to do or not allowed to do, and how do we demonstrate to the authorities that we did everything possible to ensure that people understand the laws and regulations? But what’s becoming increasingly clear is that it’s time for a multi-disciplinary approach if we are to start redressing the balance between the legal dimension of risk management and the human element.

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Trust is a critical asset

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Trust is a critical asset 3

By Graham Staplehurst, Global Strategy Director, BrandZ, explains how it’s evolving.

Trust is what makes us return to the same brands, particularly during times of uncertainty and crisis.

Pampers is an instinctive choice for many parents. It’s the go-to global nappy brand whether they shop online or in-store. By our reckoning, it’s also the world’s most trusted brand, driven primarily through its perceived superiority over competitors, which it has honed through a relentless focus on technological improvements that make its products the best in the category.

BrandZ has been tracking Trust since 1998 because it’s a critical ingredient in delivering both reassurance and simplifying brand choice, thereby boosting brand value. It’s also become extra critical in delivering business performance at a time when consumers are uncertain and often anxious.

Even brands that haven’t been available during Covid-19 lockdowns, brands that are already trusted, have found that they are more reassuring to consumers when they start returning to market with new safety measures such as protecting staff, which will be seen as evidence that the brand will take similar steps to protect customers.

With a growing demand from consumers for more responsible corporate behaviour, this in turn amplifies the need for brands to make a positive difference.

Alongside Pampers, other brands in this year’s BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Brands ranking that have strengthened their trust and responsibility credentials include the Indian bank HDFC, which has supported customer initiatives across its consumer and business banking and life insurance operations – with innovations such as mobile ATMs, and DHL, which has proven itself even more essential as a delivery service during the COVID-19 outbreak.

New brands too have managed to grow Trust relatively rapidly. Second in the Top 10 most trusted brands was Chinese lifestyle brand Meituan with a trust score of 130. This delivery and online ordering brand, which was launched just over a decade ago, has clearly demonstrated its understanding of what consumers want and developed a strong reputation for customer care.

Then there’s streaming service Netflix – founded in 1997 but which only became a streaming service in 2007 – which scored 127 and was the fifth most trusted brand in our ranking. Netflix has created a strong association with being open and honest compared to other ‘content’ platforms, despite the fact that it uses customer’s personal data to suggest future viewing options.

Top 10 Most Trusted Brands in the BrandZ Top 100 Ranking 2020

Position Brand Category Trust Score (Average is 100) Position in Top 100 ranking
1 Pampers Baby Care 136  70
2 Meituan Lifestyle Platform 130  54
3 China Mobile Telecom Providers 129  36
4 Visa Payments 128  5
5 Netflix Entertainment 127  26
6 LIC Insurance 125  75
7 FedEx Logistics 124  88
8 Microsoft Technology 124  3
9 BCA Regional Banks 124  90
10 UPS Logistics 124  20

What defines trust?

The nature of trust is evolving with ‘responsibility’ to consumers forming an increasingly large proportion of what builds perceptions of trust.  This amplifies the need for brands in all categories to act as a positive force in the world.

Traditionally, consumers trusted well-established brands based on two factors:

  • Proven expertise, the knowledge that the brand will deliver on its brand promise, reliably and consistently over time.
  • Corporate responsibility, which is about the business behind the brand. Does it show concern over the environment, its employees, and so on?

In recent years, the latter factor has become increasingly important. It is now three times more important to corporate reputation than 10 years ago and accounts for 40% of reputation overall, with environmental and social responsibility the most important component, alongside employee responsibility and the supply chain.

Companies such as Toyota, with its emphasis on sustainability, Nike, with its campaigns around social responsibility, and FedEx focusing on employee responsibility, highlight the fact that responsibility is high on the agenda for many brands in the BrandZ Global Top 100 Most Valuable Brands, which has been tracking rises and falls in brand value via a mix of millions of consumer interviews and financial performance data since 2006.

Such actions explain why trust in the Top 100 brands has been increasing not declining, filling the gap as trust declines in other institutions like government and the media. This is being driven largely by consumer concerns over the bigger issues including sustainability and climate change that society faces today.

One of the challenges that we face in assessing trust is understanding how and why consumers will trust brands they hardly know or have never used? Why do we trust Uber the first time if we’ve never used the platform before, or Airbnb the first time we rent an apartment or holiday accommodation?

The answer is that there are three elements that build trust and confidence when a brand is new to a market. These are:

  • Identifying with the needs and values of consumers
  • Operating with integrity and honesty
  • Inclusivity, i.e. treating every type of consumer equally.

New brands that can develop these associations not only build trust rapidly and more strongly but also tend to outperform their competitors in growing their brand value.

As a result of this new understanding we have added an additional pillar to our previous understanding of Trust builders. Alongside proven expertise and corporate responsibility, we have a new quality of ‘inspiring expectation’ driven by our three key factors of identification, integrity and inclusivity.

Airbnb, for example, has long had promoted a platform of inclusivity for both renters and users of properties on the platform, helping it to build an overall Consumer Trust Index of up to 105 – and 110+ on the specific dimension of Inclusivity.

Flying Fish in South Africa is a premium flavoured beer that has gone from a launch in October 2013 to being the second-most drunk brand in the country, with trust equal to the vastly more established Castle and Carling brands.  It has appealed to a new generation of beer drinkers with strong integrity and inclusion, using a playful mix of young men and women in its messaging to portray South Africa’s multicultural society.

Brands have a unique opportunity to earn valuable trust and create change, providing this is seen to be genuine. Being sincere, empathetic and ensuring your brand remains consistent with its core values will ensure your corporate reputation is not compromised.

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