Leadership for real

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Written by Stuart Walkley on 1 March 2013 in Interviews

In a new, occasional series, Stuart Walkley talks to leaders about what they need to control if their businesses are to be successful. This month, he puts the question to Mark Cahill

Far too often leadership has been reduced to 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?"

Mark Cahill, managing director of Manpower UK and Ireland and regional managing director of Manpower Group EMEA, said: "For me, leadership is all about people and communication. That has meant surrounding myself with good people, trusted advisors, both at board level and beyond, knowing their strengths and creating a trust that works both ways.

"How I lead, and encourage them to be leaders, is through strong, clear communication - staying in touch, with the individual or the whole company, regularly, in the best way for the message and for the person - ideally face to face or, if not, verbally in conversations and, of course, through email and instant messaging, which also has its place for informal and brief ways of staying in touch.

"As well as the means of communication, the messaging matters. Creating alignment in all parts of the business is important so we share the same big picture; understand that everyone's contribution counts; break down barriers across departments, and are ambitious for the same goals. As a result, we build accountability at every level - not just the most senior - and we encourage transparency so, even when difficult decisions are made and communicated, it is clear why we need to do it.

"Where leadership is about control - which I thought was an interesting way to address leadership - it's about creating an environment in which individuals with talent can live up to their potential. I don't easily get annoyed but I do when people who have talent don't use it. And it's my job to ensure the environment is right for them to do that.

 "It's important that a leader doesn't always have to take control, but is in control and allows others to do the same. People operate at their most successful and most engaged when they are accountable and supported, and when they know where they can seek support as they need it. That support might be from me and, as importantly, from colleagues and other expert parties - other people we can trust. It's as important, too, that people trust one another to allow difficult conversations to take place so there are no divisive agendas - to be able to say your piece and move on.

"Switching people on, creating the challenge and balancing it with the freedom to deliver on their potential and bring in the results is key, and different for every individual. Equipping people to grow in talent and confidence, and rise to their challenge, also means setting up guardrails that limit the chances of them going off in the wrong direction yet also allow for autonomy, risk-taking and flexibility, while laying out clarity, boundaries and even safety nets.

"And this brings me back to communication and knowing people well enough to understand how much or how little contact they need to deliver confidently and successfully, keeping a distance or being available - either directly or through encouraging colleagues to be in the loop.

"I'm proud that this is a business where people work hard to nurture relationships across the whole company, where people are proud to work. I'm proud, too, that this level of engagement brings with it hard results, so everyone is a part of the success story."

About the author

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


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