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I am speaking to you today about Leadership because it is – like an airline pilots check list – critical to review – often.

Interestingly, the very sad revelations out of the Banking Royal Commission – and the Aged Care Royal Commission, all speak about a lack of Leadership as well as poor Culture and the poor Character of some leaders – all of which- Leadership – Character & Culture – in my view – are related and will be referenced within this opinion piece.

But now back to the topic at hand – Leadership

Interestingly, there have been more books written about leadership than any other management topic. Notwithstanding this, it may surprise you to know there is no one universally accepted definition of leadership, or one universally agreed practice of leadership.

Leadership means different things to different people – no one can quite get a precise handle on it. And, of course, there is the age-old question: Are successful leaders born or made?

Clearly then, leadership is not an exact science, but it is applicable to all facets of life. We are leaders as parents, community members, and as Leaders in our roles in the businesses we manage. That’s why as Chair of many boards, I consider myself a leader of leaders.

One of the traits of good leadership is the capacity to make things better and to influence outcomes and all of us as business leaders – and our senior leadership teams – are empowered to drive change and improve what we do in business. PLEASE remember that! Beyond that, let me tell you in simple terms what I believe leadership is and is not.

Firstly, Leadership IS NOT a popularity contest.

Effective and decisive leadership means making unpopular decisions at times – but always in the best interests of the organisation. I’ve had to make a few in some of the businesses I Chair, but I believe that people will respect you in the end for making the right choices. Leadership is about getting results and every decision the board and I make in the businesses I lead, is based on what we genuinely believe is right for our organisation and our long-term success.

My next comment is – Leadership does NOT mean always agreeing with a majority or “herd mentality” if you will.

My role requires me to champion and lead change at a board level, and this sometimes takes people outside their comfort zones. To be sure, these are challenging times for many businesses, and some will stagnate (and ultimately die) if their leaders don’t continually adapt and embrace new ways and new opportunities.

So, to take the alternate viewpoint now; can I say that: – Leadership – is about role modelling. It is about the gentle art of persuading others to understand and embrace a vision, it is about getting others to agree and support. It is about Character and it is about setting and upholding best practice Culture.

As a leader you must set an example and practice what you preach. You will never earn the respect of people if you say one thing and do another. Leaders have a primary role for developing, communicating and living the values and ethics that define an organisation. I take this responsibility very seriously and strive every day to do the right thing, in my many Leadership roles.

I am conscious that the tone at any business is set at the top and staff closely watch the behaviour of their CEO/business owner and Board. Their conduct establishes expectations and standards and thereby impacts the culture of the organisation as does.

  1. The relationship between the CEO and the board Chair
  2. The CEO with the Senior Leadership Group and
  3. Middle managers with their individual teams.

Now that you know my thoughts on leadership, please allow me to share another observation with you – genuine leadership is non-hierarchical. Much of the leadership literature is concerned with those who reach the top of the tree and this, I believe, has blinded us to the true nature of leadership.

An organisational title, such as team leader or manager, or even CEO does not confer some hierarchical authority, and it does not – of itself – make you a good leader.

The core competency of good leadership is character and character is ALL about honesty and integrity. Your character says more about your leadership qualities than a title ever will. In my view – good leaders are:

  1. Humble
  2. They develop strong relationships
  3. They help others to be successful and
  4. They serve rather than rule-Yes, you heard me correctly- they serve rather than rule.

I believe the best book ever written on leadership is “Servant Leadership” by Robert Greenleaf.

I would like to think that my leadership style is based on servant leadership – but ultimately, that’s for others to determine. Where we put serving the greater needs of others in our business as the primary goal of our leadership, then that’s Servant Leadership.

Servant Leaders serve others by investing in their personal and professional development. Within a servant leadership framework everyone is part of a team working to the same end. Good leadership builds good teamwork and I encourage all of you to play your part in being effective leaders within your business.

I should make some reference to the experts who tell us that there are three types of Leadership styles.

  1. Firstly, a transformational Leader who tries to transform the Culture of a business by motivating people to do more than they originally expected.
  2. Secondly, a relationship-orientated leader is concerned with both performance – that is – the task or goal at hand – and the quality of his or her relationship with employees.
  3. Thirdly, a participating style leader – where he or she invites the employees to share in decision making. His or her main role is that of facilitation and communication.

By the way, the experts also tell us that as leaders we should be spending 30% of our time developing staff under our control. Whilst I am not advocating 30% or indeed any other percentage, I do strongly believe that guiding, mentoring and training staff under our control is a vital part of our job as leaders – at all levels of our organisations.

Now, if you are a newer and or younger leader, you may be thinking that all of this “Leadership stuff” is above you and that you may have to do a lot of work before you get there.

If you are thinking that way – take heart – because if you think about it logically – you are already a leader in your work life, for your clients and within your family as well – I expect – and so the way to look at this – is that – Leadership happens at all levels and in all places and you are on a journey to becoming a great Leader!

Earlier in my address I dodged the chestnut question; Are successful leaders born or made?

In my view it can be both, and much is dependent upon the upbringing of the individual and events that shaped his or her life, but whether a leader is born a leader or whether he or she is made a leader, matters not as much as how they use their Leadership skills and what positive impact their leadership brings to any situation or event.

In my view, “Managers” are not necessarily Leaders – especially those that just “direct” their staff to do things rather than working with their people to achieve outcomes.

Alternatively, a Leader will begin with the end in mind and take staff along for the journey, and

  1. Will have an open and good working relationship with his or her staff
  2. Will allow them to make decisions
  3. Will allow them to learn
  4. Will allow them – within reason – to make mistakes
  5. Will allow them to take responsibility for their own actions and
  6. Will allow them to take their training wheels off (so to speak) and feel the exhilaration of their own actions and decisions

Importantly- please be aware that when I use the term “Manager” I am using it in a generic sense in that we are all “Managers” irrespective of what official title we have and so being a true Leader is a cut above from whatever title our business card indicates and so – very interestingly – I have never seen a business card which describes someone as “Leader” of a certain function – because being a true Leader must be earned.

Some examples of modern-day outstanding Leaders – from both genders – are.

  1. Barak Obama -former US president
  2. Jacinda Ardern – the youngest female prime minister of New Zealand.

Without wishing to unsettle anyone – true leadership can cost dearly – hopefully not in our businesses – but on the flip side – true leadership can leave a permanent legacy on the world.

Former US President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated for abolishing slavery and Nelson Mandela was jailed for 27 years for his undying commitment to end apartheid in South Africa. Their servant Leadership changed the world forever – and for the better.

As I have mentioned, there are many outstanding leaders around the world today-some well-known some not – but all are stepping out on the edge to make sure their Leadership makes a difference.

AND SO…. My question to you is: Who inspires you to be a great leader?

Looking next at the relationship between a board chair and CEO the following – I believe – is how they should relate to each other.

  • The board Chair is just that and the CEO runs the day-to-day operations, not the board chair.
  • In the ordinary course of business, the CEO is the company spokesman – not the Chair and the CEO is the face of the business – not the chair.
  • The Chair should not undermine the CEO in front of staff or stakeholders.
  • Both the Chair and CEO must have mutual trust and respect for each other
  • They can both speak frankly – where necessary – but – respectfully to each other.
  • To use a tennis sporting analogy – the chair is the coach and CEO is the chair’s star player.
  • When the CEO is on the court – he plays his own game and the chairs stay quiet
  • At breaks, the chair affirms him, build his confidence and give him tips as to where he might improve.
  • If the CEO ever did a Nick Kyrgios, (the bad boy of Australian tennis who often throws tantrums on the court) the chair should talk to him/her in private and would see where his/her head was at and then suggest other ways to deal with difficult situations.
  • At regular 1:1’s the Chair and CEO drill down into the good, the bad and the ugly and try and find agreed solutions to the ways forward for the business.
  • The chair should seek to support his CEO emotionally as well as being the leader of his cheer squad.
  • The chair should encourage the CEO try new things and new ways of operating.
  • The chair is a sounding board for the CEO
  • The CEO should feel empowered by the chair to do his job well and that in turns drives him to excel.

Next, I want to again speak to any newer and younger leaders reading this opinion piece and say that Leadership is also about asking and accepting valued feedback so that you don’t work in a vacuum. Whereas some see this as a sign of weakness – I don’t – and I never have – I see it as a sign of maturity and confidence as a Leader. Remember no one person is the source of all knowledge and wisdom!

Once you are confident with your own leadership ability and style you may want to occasionally ask individual team members how they would go about solving an issue your team is having. Moreover, when one of your team members brings a problem to you – occasionally ask them what they would do if it was up to them to solve it.

Your actions will do four things:

  1. Make them feel more inclusive.
  2. Develop your team members own leadership skills .
  3. Develop their problem-solving abilities and lastly.
  4. Demonstrate that real leadership takes real skills and ability and hard work.

And finally – to all of you – remember – Leaders lead and managers (by definition) “direct “- and with that in mind I will leave you with two questions to ponder at a future time you put aside for self-reflection.

FIRSTLY – What does exceptional leadership look like to you?

SECONDLY- How do you achieve that in your own Leadership role in the workplace?

John (JT)Thomas

This opinion piece is provided by John (JT) Thomas, a 48-year veteran of the financial services industry and since 1987 a specialist in commercial mortgage funds. Considered by many to be the father of the modern commercial mortgage fund sector, JT helped establish and then managed – for 17 years – what became the largest and most successful commercial mortgage fund in Australia – The Howard Mortgage Trust – with assets exceeding $3 billion. Under JT’s stewardship, investors never lost one cent of their investments and indeed, investors always received competitive monthly returns. JT was also Chair of the $40 billion mortgage trust industry sector working group.

JT has been proudly involved with Princeton for nine years and sits on both the Princeton Credit Committee and the Princeton Compliance Committee as well as being an advisor to the Princeton Board.

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