On 31 August 2016 I had the good fortune of moderating a discussion on leadership. The event was a Fishbowl discussion organised by Trent Rosen of PSK Performance, and was held in Sydney. Trent had gathered an excellent set of panellists with relevant experience and expertise.
Nigel Paine – Nigel was the Head of Learning and Development with the BBC. He now does a lot of work with coaching consulting speaking.
Commodore Lee Goddard – Commodore Goddard (who asked to be called Lee during the discussion) commands Surface Force for the Royal Australian Navy. Based in Sydney, he commands Sydney 18 warships and 3500 people.
Cameron Clyne – Cameron is the Chair of Australian Rugby Union and ex-CEO of the National Australia Bank.
I was a little disappointed that there were no female leaders on the panel. However there was a really amazing diversity and depth of experience. One of the things I was really impressed with was just how down to earth and all three panellists were.
You can view my reflection on the discussion in video format or read the (slightly polished up) transcript below.
The format was called a Fishbowl. I sat at the front with the three panellists and there was an empty ‘hot seat’ at the end of the panellists’ row. The participants were in curved rows facing the panellists. If a participant wanted to join the discussion they could come and sit in hot seat. Although I did the introductions and had a set of questions, the success of this format is to get people into the hot seat to ask their own questions.
We had a good flow of conversation and range of questions asked. I’m going to share some of the key themes that came up. Views expressed below are my understanding of those expressed by the panellists.
Resilience came up quickly. A leader cannot have an off day, and behaviour under stress is the key to good leadership. A key part of building leadership is self-awareness. In order to build leadership you’ve got to know yourself. In an organisational context, the organisation has to understand itself as well in order to build leadership.
Visibility came out as a theme, particularly from Cameron. In his role as CEO at the National Australia Bank he said that information flow was critical. He wanted people to be able to tell him what was going on. To achieve this you need to strip away the hierarchy.
Nigel raised accountability and support. They are complementary – you have to support people and give them time to develop as leaders, and you also have to hold them accountable.
In regard to time, we talked a lot about behaviour change and forming habits. Developing leadership takes time. There’s no quick fix – you can’t just send people on a workshop for two days, a week or two weeks and expect that they come back its leaders.
As a leader its important to role model behaviours you expect of other leaders. Also, be aware that you will get from others the standard of behaviour that ‘you walk by.’ This relates to setting standards and holding people accountable to them. Related to role modelling is that people expect you to ‘act the part,’ to carry and conduct yourself as a leader. The conversation again returned to not having an off day – which is mostly about being resilient and managing yourself, which requires self-awareness (a recurring theme in the discussion).
Not only do others need to see you as a leader, you need to see yourself as a leader. Cameron told a story about something a coach said to him when he became CEO of NAB at the age of 40, at start of the Global Financial Crisis. His coach told him that he needed to ‘promote’ himself, meaning he needed to see himself as a senior leader before others would.
Nigel shared a lesson – he had to learn to coach others to solve their problems rather than solve the problems for them.
There was a question about developing trust in the online environment as a leader. I thought that Lee’s answer was the best of the panellists. He blew away some myths about the military, pointing out that the military is always at the forefront of technology, which includes and the online world is not different. He made the point that the virtual world consists of people and that, in fact, virtual / online has made communication and leadership more personal. I would have loved the opportunity to discuss this point for longer.
Some specific questions caught my attention.
First was the old chestnut about middle management being a blocking point for change. Terms commonly used to refer to this ‘group’ include ‘the Iron Curtain’ and ‘Permafrost.’ The common view is the you can’t change to flow down beyond middle management. Cameron made the point that this is not a homogeneous group and you need multiple approaches for different kinds of middle managers. You also need to understand the m as individuals. There was a great quote from Lee Goddard about co-creation – “Do leadership with people not to people.”
I asked whether Learning and Development (L&D) as a function is relevant to leadership development. I asked this question because the discussion had focussed on how a leader can develop themselves and other people’s leadership, but L&D had not been mentioned. It is a clear ‘yes’ for the military who invest a lot of time for each leader in leadership development every year. However, there were some question marks from the other panellists. Nigel’s point that it’s up to L&D to be relevant aligned with Cameron’s view that L&D should be integral to, and aligned with, the organisation. Although it was a bit sad, Cameron got a laugh when he said that he’s been in organisations where he wondered whether L&D was actually part of the same organisation.
A question on how sport is relevant to business got three very different responses. Nigel told a story to illustrate that lessons relevant to business could be derived from sports. The example he gave was the British 2012 Olympics Cycling team who focussed on finding 1% improvements. Lee spoke about the importance of sport to well-being and participating in sport to get to know your people. Cameron noted that in both sport and business, skill alone is not enough to success – there has to be a mindset for success.