Leadership for real

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Written by Stuart Walkley on 1 May 2013 in Interviews

In the third of an occasional series, Stuart Walkley talks to Chris Harrison about what leaders need to control if their businesses are to be successful

Far too often leadership has been reduced to a series of complex models and smug consultant-speak. It's time to hear a more authentic voice. I captured the direct words of leaders in the UK today, posing to them a simple-enough question: "These days, what do leaders need to control?"

Chris Harrison, group managing director of Fresenius Kabi Ltd, (pictured above) said: "Being in control is an interesting concept and one that will have different meanings to leaders in different organisations.

"Gone are the days when leaders could be purely figureheads, able to motivate people and teams through rousing messages or rally cries without having any substance behind them. Don't get me wrong, there is a time and a place when that has to be done, but that narrative must be supported by a knowledge of the business in the highest level of detail.

"Being able to fly at 30,000 feet, surveying the organisation and the market, is important for steering but it must be accompanied by a hawk-like ability to immediately return to ground level to tackle today's priority. It's important that employees see you fully in control with the day-to-day issues as well as leading the organisation for the future.

"For me, it's all about balance and making informed choices as to where to spend my time to be of most assistance to people and of most value to the business.

"I have to know every inch of the business and the people within it, and be able to choose which area will take my priority, deciding when to apply the light touch and when the sharp edge needs to be felt. Again it is a balance. The 'light touch' is essential to give people the trust and assurance to take their own decisions and to act upon them; the 'sharp edge' is needed when things are simply not properly aligned or moving too slowly for the needs of the business.

"Our objective as a business has to remain my central concern - to grow turnover and profits, and, inevitably, delivery is paramount. Therefore, I spend my time with:

  • people I spend a lot of time with each of my team one-to-one, with an equal balance of challenge, support, direction and key project follow-up
  • team I bring the management team together every two weeks to review performance and projects so the business is steered in the right direction. I expect them to come together informally as a team as and when the need arises and to recognise that they are there to support each other to achieve our common objectives
  • stakeholders Both corporately, to ensure the UK is visible on the list of markets to invest in so that we can continue to grow (which links back to delivery), and externally, to keep a close eye on our development in each market. That outward focus needs my regular attention
  • finance Reviewing the business performance and plans while ensuring the small fires are identified and extinguished before the heat is felt 
  • sales and marketing To ensure our strategies are based on real market knowledge, obtained from our people who are in touch every day with our customers, and not just theoretical research, and that these are translated into focused targets that can be delivered and measured (and changed, because strategy must be fluid within a clear parameter
  • operations and quality To make sure that our plans match our capability and that our capability is both sustainable and future-focused. We have to deliver what we say we are going to deliver and there can never be compromise on quality. Reputations are built over years of trust and can be lost in seconds. I always need to have one eye on the present and one on the future."
About the author

Stuart Walkley is a director of Oakridge Trainign and Consulting. He can be contacted via www.oakridgecentre.co.uk


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