At recent interviews, Dynamic Business has explored the idea that soft skills may be more relevant than ever in the leadership game. The ability to listen as a leader, to empathise and to connect with employees is perhaps now more important than the background expertise of the CEO, COO, CMO and other high-up positions in business.
So if these are the new traits of our industry leaders, who are now by employee demand more likely to have a growth mindset than closed, do they even have rigid business rules that they swear by anymore?
Perhaps it is more about what leaders believe is most important in terms of value to engage employees and driving the business to succeed; the foundations they build their success from in an organisation. This could be ‘rules’ such as open communication, trust, accountability, self-development and more.
Is there a non-negotiable when it comes to leadership today?
Lindsay Brown, Vice President, APAC and Japan at LogMeIn
I’ve always said to my team that ‘Trust is given, not earned’. Trust is one of the most critical elements of healthy relationships, families, teams, organisations and communities. But a lot of business leaders come at trust from the perspective that it can only be granted as a reward, for someone doing something good by them. In thinking this way we draw on internal processes and our own experiences. Rationally, it makes sense to do this, but it can often make you guarded, leery and insecure – unable to easily create meaningful and fulfilling relationships with people. Giving out trust means you count on people in a genuine and healthy way, expecting the best from others, authentically. In doing so, you also enable those around you to act more freely, to create a true sense of connection, cooperation and collaboration across all human facets of your life – least not the team you surround yourself with.
Robert Bell, CEO, 86 400
At 86 400, one of the core business values we swear by is showing up. Building a bank from scratch isn’t easy, and this value reminds us to bring our passion, positivity and a sense of fun everyday so that we can embrace the constant challenges and hurdles that arise. At its core, showing upmeans being present, being your best self and being solutions focussed.
We practice showing up in a number of ways, but a good example is how we run our team meetings and presentations. We start all our meetings on time and with a 30 second breathing exercise, to ensure everyone is present and ready to contribute. We rate each meeting out of a 5, to ensure we are using our time effectively and are giving feedback early, often and in the moment. These practices and our dedication to showing up ensures we are aligned and productive as a team, can have quality conversations with each other and retain happier staff in the long term
Cameron Kenna, Founder and CEO of executive recruitment and advisory business, Ampersand International
The one business rule I swear by is: leadership starts with the standard you set for yourself, not the standard you ask of others. We all have the chance to lead by example and with humility, then others will willingly follow.
A great example of this is when Australian Rugby League legend Cooper Cronk, who after winning a match for the Roosters, started to clean up the change rooms after the team had gone home unaware that the TV cameras were still rolling and captured this inspiring act. He saw a job that needed to be done, and even though it wasn’t part of his role, he wasn’t afraid to get stuck in and support the wider team.
A leader who rolls up their sleeves and ‘mucks in’ builds trust, loyalty and admiration from the team, building a more collaborative and supportive workplace culture.
Nir Gabay, founder and CEO of Elsight (ASX:ELS)
Thinking critically and creatively is a key part of my leadership at Elsight. One business rule I swear by at Elsight is helping encourage my team to live by the virtues of “Rosh gadol” which is a term that recognises improvisation as a key step for action and cultivating entrepreneurship. It means seeing the whole picture end to end, taking responsibility beyond your own role, and doing everything it takes to get the job done.
Each member of our team has a wealth of knowledge, contacts and expertise in key sectors that are critical for us as we look to grow the business – in defence and military, security and law enforcement, aviation and automotive, as well as health and EMS – and I encourage each of them to collaborate and improvise with new and creative ways around how we target these industries.
In their novel, Startup Nation, Dan Senor and Saul Singer looked at how Israel went from their humble beginnings to become one of the most entrepreneurial nations in the world and I think there’s many lessons in leadership that we can apply to Australia. The book looks at “rosh gadol” in terms of the virtues of executing strategy but doing so in the best possible way, using judgment, and investing whatever effort is necessary. It emphasises improvisation, asking more questions and challenging prevailing assumptions to lead with a creative-first mindset. This resonates strongly with me and what I aim to bring forward with my leadership style at Elsight.
Luke McNeal, Head of Workplace by Facebook, Asia Pacific and Japan
Communication is everything. If a business doesn’t have a means through which communications can flow freely then it won’t grow and evolve in the way that it needs to. As many workforces become more flexible and agile, internal communications are becoming all the more important. When done right, everyone team member is positively impacted. Strong communication foundations, underpinned by the right collaboration tools, will have a direct and positive impact on leaders by allowing them to quickly take the pulse of their organisation, easily raise their presence within the business quickly, and increase transparency. Collaborations tools such as Workplace by Facebook (Workplace) are mobile friendly, accessible to frontline workers who may not have a work email address, and are available 24/7. They encourage collaboration and innovation while increasing productivity by flattening rigid organisations. It’s our belief at Workplace that the more included an individual feels, the more likely they are to be engaged, collaborative and productive. Communications is the key to inclusion in the workforce.
Mac Ghani, Managing Director, Avanade Australia
Look after the people in your organisation.
Providing your employees with a great workplace experience that alleviates pain points and empowers them to do their job smoothly and effectively will send your productivity through the roof. If you don’t believe me, here are the numbers. Recent report from MIT Sloan School of Management shows that firms with the best employee experiences double their customer satisfaction figures and achieve 25 percent greater profitability compared to competitors. It seems so simple, yet so powerful – empowered and engaged employees lead to a thriving business.
Having a holistic, human-centric approach is extremely important – technology is developing at a rapid rate but also in a way that supports the people using it. As businesses evolve in the digital age, leaders need to be thinking about what kind of digital transformation will suit their team members and the work they are doing.
At the end of the day, organisations’ best assets are their people and it is about finding the technologies that will best help them thrive, which is a business rule I swear by.
Troy Martin, General Manager APAC, Instructure
One important business rule is to always empower your staff to learn and grow. New technological advancements in the workplace, such as AI, cloud solutions and innovative software can leave today’s skills irrelevant for tomorrow’s workplace. Keeping up with the rate of change is more than providing training at an organisational level. Understanding what drives employees is critical to keeping your workforce engaged.
Tools that integrate the key employee development functions, including learning, performance, engagement and career development, can provide a simple way to enable employee development. Putting employees at the centre of the learning process leads to greater engagement, motivation and employee retention, while reducing the need for recruitment by building skills internally.
Tara Commerford, Vice President & Managing Director, GoDaddy ANZ
When you’re pursuing a passion, be it in business or in your personal life, never give up on achieving your goals. This mindset has helped me overcome some of my biggest career challenges, no matter what has crossed my path.
Whether you’re employed by an organisation or working for yourself, at times challenges can be really tough. I find it’s these tough moments that will build your resilience in the long run. Think of it like a muscle: the more you commit to exercising a muscle, the stronger it becomes. Similarly, the more you commit to tackling challenges and giving things a go when it gets tough, the more resilient you will become in the long run.
Beau Savage, Cofounder and Director, Smart Energy
When starting out in business I read Steve Jobs’ autobiography and one quote really resonated with me and is something I still swear by. “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
By understanding your own strengths and building on them, you’re freed up to focus on what you’re good at and drive the overall company vision. Hiring experts that make key business decisions has enabled us to scale, build a stronger company and achieve more in a lot less time.
Surrounding yourself with experts also provides the means for your own personal growth. A different set of skills and perspectives helps you look at things from a point of view other than our own, and often leads to the best ideas.
Diana Palmer, Executive Officer, IDEAS
A key leadership priority is looking after your employees. No matter the industry, your people are your business and having them fully behind you can make all the difference to your success. Look after their needs and motivation, invest in training them properly, support their work and ideas – they conduct business on behalf of your brand and ultimately, it’s essential that they believe in its message.
Being armed with a dedicated team is now a business imperative – see lowered costs in training and turnover, higher morale and productivity, better brand and client engagement and so much more. Modern leaders are lucky in that there is so much out there on how to achieve strong relationships with employees. So, look to these solutions, these new employee relationship management tools, and invest in your people.
Stephen Barnes, Byronvale Advisors Pty Ltd, Management Consultants
The one rule that encompasses a range of other rules is that your brand is everything. It is your unique combination of skills and experiences that make you who you are. It is what others will associate with both you and your business. Brand is not a logo, is not a company name, and is not a product you sell. You also do not own your brand – it is owned by your customers or clients. Your brand is other people’s perception of what it’s like to do business with you, work with you, or be with you. You also have as many brands as you have customers. If those customers perception of you or your business is poor you have a weak brand. It takes a long time to develop your personal brand to the highest level and doesn’t happen by accident. Once brand takes hold, however, with proper attention it becomes the essence of who you are and what you do. It transcends policy, which enables you to transcend commodity. Brand becomes the way you do everything, almost without thinking. Brand is everything and it should be your top priority to build, protect, and represent your brand to the best of your ability with everyone you meet.
James Spittal, CEO at Web Marketing ROI