Plutarch: Thoughts on People Management
Leadership Perspectives: Travis Perkins and The City
Those of us fortunate to have been managed by exceptional individuals will know the difference they can make to our performance and motivation.
We previously gathered perspectives from Paul Geddes, Katie Wadey and Bernice Samuels. Today, we are continuing to explore the qualities of managers that particularly stand out to those who have worked for them and gone on to excel in their own careers.
Paul Horton, Director at Travis Perkins
Paul is Supply Chain Director at Travis Perkins. He is responsible for the end to end supply chain of this Builders Merchant that can trace its roots back to 1797 and has about 1000 people working within Supply Chain serving about 10,000 colleagues and c 800 branches across the UK.
For Paul there are two sides to great leadership: Firstly, there is the leader with 'edge' and a point to prove. Quite often they are seeking to bring about change in an organisation, often deep-rooted change to the culture or market proposition. This requires a steely conviction, even an obsession, that in turn delivers a focus and the resources to drive differentiation and competitive advantage - perhaps on customer service, cost, quality or value. These leaders can be tough, sometimes brutal, in their unwavering commitment to the goal. When it works, it is inspiring. When it doesn't, it can be painful.
Secondly, there is the leader who is mindful of their actions and always seems to be able to find common ground, put people at ease, be calm, listen, understand and provide the most simple answer to the most complex problem. They are a great support mechanism, perhaps more of a coach than a leader, but the vital difference is the way they make you feel. This leadership style feels much more about 'you' and less about 'them', which in turn creates a rewarding and positive environment.
Which is best? Well that depends on the situation... I've benefitted from both experiences, but also seen how too much 'edge' can be quite destructive. What marks out the greatest leader is knowing how and when to blend the two.
Donald Pepper, Managing Director at Trium Capital
Donald is Managing Director of Trium Capital, a London based investment management business, but he spent the first 21 years of his career working at investment banking giants Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch. His thoughts bring a different perspective on the theme.
The economist Stephen Landsburg famously said ‘Economics can be summed up in just four words, “People respond to incentives”.’ There would certainly seem to be some business leaders who believe that leading people is just about getting the financial and other incentives right.
Donald believes well structured, aligned, incentives are key, and that remuneration is just one of the levers available to management, it's not always just money.
Donald also believes that leadership is about balancing the needs of three stakeholders:
All three are critical in order to get the best out of your business, and there is a huge opportunity cost in not getting the balance right. An unbalanced three-legged stool eventually falls over. Much of this can be put down to knowing how to lead.
Effective team leadership is also about Expectation Management. When the business is having a difficult or challenging patch, a good leader can prepare team members for bad news and help set the vision of “light at the end of the tunnel”, keeping staff motivated in such periods.
Good leadership is as much about setting strategy, as it is about listening and reacting, whether the news is good or bad. Many ivory tower leaders talk rather than listen. Town Hall meetings are often, in practice, one way. To get the message across, and encourage honest feedback, do it in smaller groups, where dialogue is more naturally forthcoming.
At Goldman, the annual review process, part of the all important bonus decision, utilised a “skip level” review. Each staff member, no matter how senior, would have both their Line Manager, and the Line Manager's manager, in the room.
This ensured more robust governance of line management. Senior Management benefitted from hearing messages directly from staff closer to the “coal face”, with no room for dilution by (potentially “good news”) line Managers. Staff members, meanwhile, by having their views aired and discussed with senior management, felt empowered, achieving loyal and productive team members.
Plutarch in no way claims to offer comprehensive statistical reports – the absence of numbers reveals that much, and individual confidentially remains his priority. Nonetheless Hunter-Miller's vast network offers compelling anecdotal evidence, and some occasionally interesting insights.
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