Henri Eliot: Leadership in today’s business – Rob Campbell
9:30 AM Monday Oct 13, 2014
Rob Campbell has over 30 years’ experience in investment management and corporate governance.
Rob Campbell has over 30 years’ experience in investment management and corporate governance. Rob is currently Chair of Summerset Group Holdings Limited (NZ), Tourism Holdings Limited and a director of Guinness Peat Group Limited (UK), Precinct Properties and Turners and Growers. He is a director of substantial private companies based in Australia and New Zealand.
Rob talks to Henri Eliot on his perspectives on leadership following a recent Leadership Day at Turners and Growers.
How does modern global business work and how do leaders in the business contribute to it?
If you look at most organisation charts a business looks very hierarchical, with a Board depicted at the top, an executive management group, and then various divisions (by country or product or function) which are in turn headed by an executive managers, which in turn control smaller divisions or processes, or places again with their own executive managers. If this chart reflects the way a business actually works, then I would say it will not be able to realise its potential and has a high likelihood of failing in today’s world.
In practice a modern global business is more like a living organism than a static chart. It will function like a plant or creature in a forest ecosystem, drawing on and contributing to its surroundings, and adapting to those surroundings. It will prosper as its ecosystem prospers and will die if it gets isolated, replaced by plants or creatures which function better.
The older management models derive from either a military structure based on command and control, or a mechanistic model. This latter model reflects the industrial era which is in so many ways being bypassed. But too few businesses have recognised that they do not or a least cannot operate like a machine rather than a living organism within an ecosystem of other living things.
Now what makes a modern global business work in this way?
At the Board and executive manager level we have a responsibility to see the big picture clearly, where we can grow healthily, where we might be better pulling back and making sure that the active parts of the business have the resources they need to achieve that healthy growth. Frankly, that is the easy bit.
The action happens out at the end of the branches, shoots, antennae or whatever metaphor appeals to you. Where one of our people interacts with a supplier or possible supplier, a customer or possible customer. That is where we find the drops of water, the food, and the sunlight and oxygen that make growth occur. If that is not healthy, then the whole is not healthy.
That is why in the new Turners and Growers there has been such an emphasis on skills, on training, on commonly created and agreed values. The edge, where interaction happens, or what economists call the margin, is where change, growth and death happen. We can observe and count the outcomes at the centre but we cannot make them happen.
Notice another thing about this way of thinking about the modern global business. All communication is two way. The messages about what is happening as our organism interacts with its ecosystem are not just as important as the messages sent from the centre. Those messages are the key to our life and growth. That’s where we learn what is about healthy growth and what is not. If we cannot get those messages clearly, we cannot process and allocate the resources needed for healthy growth.
Take it a step further. This is not, when you think about it, a story about collecting information or fuel for a central brain to make decisions or allocate. Rather it is what one might better think of as a “distributed brain” or “distributed sensitivity/activity” throughout the organism. There is no separation between activity and thought, the two are fused and continually renewing (or dying if they are not working well).
So here is where leaders come in. At every part of the healthy business organism there have to be people who understand and are in tune with this process. The more the better. Because the people in the business, and our ecosystem, are always changing, there is a critical role for renewing our processes and helping others see and act in tune with the process. I think its an exciting way to think about being a leader – far better than just measuring activity or other people others and dishing out orders.
What are your top tips for leaders today?
1. Be open to the model of business as a living organism within a living ecosystem, and think about your activity that way;
2. Be a leader in every way, not just in your job description. The way you behave with others, your attention to safety, your attention to costs and waste, all shape how others relate to you;
3. Be open with information. There is a saying that knowledge is power. But leaders are not after power, they are driven by assisting those around them to be the best they can be, this is best done by spreading information (and with it, power);
4. As part of this don’t hide your mistakes or the mistakes of those around you. Be the one to identify the mistakes and the process to correct and avoid them. Be constructive about this all times.
5. Encourage others to lead, to take responsibility and to improve.