What leaders do (and non-leaders don’t)

May 1, 2014

In 1984, the late Robert Townsend, CEO of Avis published his second book “Further up the organisation”. The sub-title read – “how groups of people working together for a common purpose ought to conduct themselves for fun and profit”. Among the many words of wisdom – and common sense – was a table in which he contrasted leaders and non-leaders on 50 separate points of behaviour. He ended his list by adding that the reader “now knows more about leaders and leadership than all the combined graduate business schools in America.”

I agree with him.

There is no room here to reproduce the complete list but I’ve selected just 10 which can be practiced by anyone who manages others at whatever level in whatever organisation.

tableI’m going to pick just one from above – “does dog-work when necessary”.dog_working

Heard about a NUM (Nursing Unit Manager) recently. She’s old school – she refers to her nurses as “my girls” and helps out with the bed making if they are short staffed.

Then there’s Ray Creen, head of the NSW Ambulance Service. A paramedic himself, he still rosters himself on one shift a month. “Creen is well aware his staff respect him. He knows exactly what he’s doing when he puts on their uniform and goes out on their jobs. He’s not only practising the profession he loves, he’s nurturing the roots of his authority” wrote journalist Mark Dapin. The NSW ambos are so impressed they have built a Facebook page around him – Ray Creen – Ambo Legend. Morale in the service has risen to unheard of heights since he took the reins in March of last year.

I’ll finish with Rob Fyfe, legendary CEO of Air New Zealand from 2005 to 2012. Fyfe’s unshakable belief was that people were more important than planes. “By understanding our customers better, …. we could win by attracting more customers to fly (Air New Zealand) and ensure we had fuller aircraft rather than trying to win through having a lower cost base, or some other miraculous way (of increasing) our revenue”. A highly motivated community of people working cohesively towards a common goal with a shared sense of purpose …. will almost always outperform an opposition focused primarily on the bottom line, on financial ratios and technical superiority”. During Fyfe’s tenure, he practiced as a flight attendant and as a baggage handler. As a graduate engineer, he was not averse to doing a night shift at the airline’s maintenance hanger at Nelson, nor did he shirk responsibility for answering personally any complaint emailed directly to him.

Has his style of leadership worked? You betcha – Air Transport World voted Air New Zealand “Airline of the Year” in 2012; its profit last year was $182 million and climbing; 56,000 people applied for jobs last year at what is New Zealand’s most admired company.

What’s the real lesson from these examples? It’s that when you behave towards your staff as you would like your staff to behave towards you and you set the example by MBWA and a willingness to do “dog work”, you will tap into the constants of human nature that cut across gender, cultural, religious and ethnic boundaries and job roles and status. As Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson would say – how hard can it be ….?

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