Confidence = effective leaders

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Written by Seun Robert-Edomi on 19 February 2014 in Interviews
Interviews

Seun Robert-Edomi catches up with Mike Clasper CBE, recently appointed president-elect of the CMI. Speaking to TJ, he stressed the need for leaders to be confident and decisive and said he believes they will suffer the consequences if they are not.

Leadership comes down to confidence and, with this in mind, you need to be ready to make the right decision at the right time.

That is the view of Mike Clasper CBE, recently appointed president-elect of the Chartered Management Institute. He will be working closely with the CMI's board over the next 10 months before succeeding current president Peter Ayliffe in October 2014.

Speaking to TJ, he stressed the need for leaders to be confident and decisive and said he believes they will suffer the consequences if they are not. "A lot of leadership is about confidence and it's about being ready to make a decision if it's the right time. I think many tend to be scared in this aspect.

"For me, it's important that you train managers and leaders in how to have the confidence to make the call at the right time - that's something which we try to drum home constantly here at the CMI. If you have not been trained properly and are doing it off the cuff, you will struggle and you may be afraid, thus leading you to make bad calls.

"Sometimes, delaying the decision can also be terrible as people can pick up on a lack of confidence. This can then affect an individual or the whole team."

Clasper held a number of leadership roles and senior executive positions before joining the CMI, including chief executive of BAA plc, operating managing director at Terra Firma Capital Partners and chairman of HMRC. He has also had various positions at Procter & Gamble. Each one has provided its own challenge and problems, and he says that the leaders of today need to be a lot different to how leaders previously used to operate.

"I think there's no denying that leadership has changed quite a lot, although some aspects have remained the same. The role of a leader is now much different compared to ten or 20 years ago and there are a few things to consider when taking this into account; mainly globalisation and the development of the internet," he said.

"I would say that those in charge now need to earn respect rather than just assume that they will be given it because of their name or job title. This is applicable from the Prime Minister to floor managers and supervisors in shops.

"Managers are now into a culture of coaching and motivating rather than controlling and it's a very important shift to take note of. I would say that every leader, especially the new generation leaders coming up, need to be good at empowering and mentoring - two hugely vital skills."

He's also an advocate of gender diverse boards: "I think that it's imperative to have organisations that are completely gender diverse. Now, this creates new challenges but there are huge benefits to be had. Go back 20 years, there weren't many women on boards and this is still pretty poor today. Lord Davies' report has set out to address this and it's working but not really at the pace necessary - much more needs to be done in this regard."

Another issue he highlighted was the need for collaboration. He is a non-executive director of ITV and points out the work that the TV station is doing with Sky, normally a competitor. "With the introduction of the internet, you have to collaborate a lot more, I feel. For example, the people you would normally compete with, you find you're working more closely with them.

"I'm involved with ITV as a non-executive director but we work very closely with Sky for example. Now, we normally vie with them for viewers but they use some of our programmes to distribute to their satellite customers. In that sense, it's important to work across organisational boundaries rather than trying to do everything yourself. This is the sort of thing that would never have happened ten or 20 years ago," he said.

According to Clasper, the increasing influence of technology on the business world brings plenty of challenges for management and it's vital that technology is used correctly and in a way that will not lead to any sort of controversy.

"Technology now speeds everything up so competition is heightened," he said. "You don't have an advantage for anywhere near as long as you did before because people can now pick up on what you're doing and can react appropriately. In this regard, the influence of new technologies on management is huge.

"There is an element of 24/7 working. People can be online all the time and you have to be able to keep on top of things but also not get yourself into a situation where you're tired. You have to keep your mental speed and agility up as well. Good leaders aren't tired ones, so they manage their time effectively when it comes to this.

"A lot of companies have social media profiles, with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn being the most prominent ones. This in itself throws up different problems and challenges, though. If things go wrong today, you can have problems like Twitter storms and, if it isn' t managed correctly, that hits broadcast media, which can then lead to a huge issue."

After working in a range of sectors and for FTSE 350 companies and SMEs, Clasper said he has no problem with motivation but said it could be something that plagues managers.

"I don't think leaders have a problem motivating themselves, however some managers do and it's something which needs to be looked at in greater detail.

"Confidence, as I alluded to earlier, is a very important thing. You get confidence from knowing that somebody has trained you to do something properly and also by doing it alongside coaching. You then go on to do it by yourself several times, which should lead to it being second nature.

"In my opinion, if you have that confidence, you self-motivate very easily. If you do not, it can be tough. That's why I make the distinction between leaders and managers. Because managers haven't had the training, they won't be good at it naturally. First and foremost, it's important to make sure people are good managers and after that, they'll then be good leaders."

When it comes to motivating employees, Clasper once again stressed the need for leaders to empower and give confidence: "It goes back to what I was saying earlier about what leaders need to do in the modern world. You're coaching people, not controlling and telling them. A large part of it is about explaining how your team fits into the bigger picture of the organisation.

"If you're a strong organisation, every team is doing something that contributes to the success of the firm. Taking this into account, middle managers need to provide the translation for people and give them the confidence that what they are doing is important. This in turn will lead to them being confident about doing their roles effectively."

The way a leader communicates with an employee and the tone he takes should vary depending on the situation. Having emotional intelligence, therefore, is critical. "There isn't really a specific tone that leaders should take with their member of staff," said Clasper.

"Good and effective leaders modify their tone to the situation. You have to say that one's tone should be a bit different if the team you're leading has done something fantastically well. There should be a shift in tone when things are done well, otherwise you're not being human and you're not providing the right kind of feedback. There should be a standard tone but you vary it depending on the situation. In some respects, it's better for you to be human. Sometimes leaders put on an act that people know is not really them.

"You also have to make sure that the tone fits the circumstance. Extremes in this sense do not work and I'm thinking aggressive dictators specifically. If you deliver the message that way, it won' t go through. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't be honest but you need to be wary of how you convey the point.

"Tough conversations in this regard are essential but you have to have them in a way that the person receiving it is going to take it the right way. I'd say that most managers are trying to help but, if they haven't been developed with the professional skills or training, it won't feel like that for the recipient."

In recent times, many workers have been promoted into managerial roles because of their technical skills, but Clasper believed they are not equipped for this because a lack of training and development - something that has to change.

"The importance of professional training for managers should never be understated and, in my opinion, it is hugely undervalued because, let's be frank, if managers aren't good at managing people, they aren't good at their job.

"You have many people who are very good in terms of their technical skills but, when you give them a group of 20 to 40 people, they struggle, but is that entirely surprising? Why people think that this would be a natural transition [from SME to manager] is beyond me - training and development are paramount. You need to develop their leadership skills to go in conjunction with their technical skills. We're not completely there yet and we're keen to continue our work on this at the CMI."

With things looking up for the economy, he hoped that leaders could begin to take up the opportunities that would present themselves. "Over the years, I have gone into organisations and seen the difference between good and bad leaders. It is huge.

"In the UK, we need to do a good job in training and developing good managers. And this is the main reason that I'm involved with the CMI. It's very important to me and that's why I'm part of the senior team here.

"Throughout my career I've seen time and again just how big a difference great management and leadership make to business performance. The CMI does excellent work with employers to help them develop and support their managers, but there are many more employers in both the private and public sectors who could benefit from the CMI's expertise. I'm excited to be taking up this role and look forward to helping the CMI seize the opportunities it has to grow."

He added: "Looking ahead, this year won't be too different to the trends that we are already seeing. The only thing that is different is that the economy is starting to grow so there is opportunity to build revenue, leaders need to seize this."

As part of his new role, Clasper will be chairing the board and will also play a hand in helping the organisation develop its strategy. He is also there to give guidance and mentor the top team. The CMI's CEO, Ann Francke welcomed the appointment. "I'm delighted that Mike Clasper will be CMI's next president. He brings fantastic cross-sector experience and insight to the role. The CMI has such an important job to do at a time when 43 per cent of UK managers are rated as ineffective. Changing that is the CMI's mission, and Mike's experience will be a real asset in helping us achieve it," she said.

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