In 2013, I was invited as an expert witness to an interview with Sir Anthony Salz, who had been commissioned by the Board of Barclays, to review the bank’s business practices. We discussed several aspects of what it means to be good at work, including ethics, culture, character and leadership. Later that year he published the Salz Review and within it he clearly stated the importance of purpose, culture and values. But, so too was the critical importance of leadership. As well as references to our MoralDNA research and the culture of fear, Salz also quoted research by psychoanalyst Manfred Kets de Vrie, who…
“…identified that the key skills of leaders in shaping culture and delivering change are self-awareness and the ability to change personally at all levels, intellectually, emotionally and behaviourally. When leaders engage in personal learning and change, they signal to the organisation that transformation is safe and important to the future survival and success of the organisation. Actions speak louder than words. Humility and the ability to consciously reflect are required for leaders to succeed in leading transformational change. These are characteristics associated with helping oneself and others to grow.”
“Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy. ”
“I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize. The first is gentleness; the second is frugality; the third is humility, which keeps me from putting myself before others. Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men.”
Leaders shape culture; and the character and behaviour of leaders is critical in determining the nature of the culture created. Salz also quoted The GLOBE Study of 62 Societies in which the following leadership attributes were identified:
- Integrity – good leaders can be trusted
- Generosity – good leaders are helpful
- Fairness – good leaders are just and equitable
- Diplomatic – good leaders handle conflict well
- Decisiveness – good leaders make sound and timely judgements
- Competence – good leaders contribute to economic prosperity
- Vision – good leaders articulate a desirable future
To this list, we could also add Humility, because good leaders give credit were credit’s due.
Sadly, as we have already found in The MoralDNA of Love, Logic and Law, humility and generosity are often lacking in many of our leaders. Narcissism and selfishness create cultures of fear rather than cultures of psychological safety.
Our prescription, therefore, for How to be Good at Work is becoming clearer. It’s about Love, care, compassion and generosity. It’s the Logic of thinking about the integrity of our values. It’s about our respect for good Law, rules and processes that keep us safe. But what should we do to improve and where and when should we be doing it?
My answer is as frustratingly hard as it is simple…
Yes, we will need to spend some time away from work to think about our purpose, our values and the way we make decisions, yet, as with most things in life, it’s hard finding effective ways in which to then embed our conclusions into our daily working lives.
When I ask leaders what they do all day, most admit to spending a large proportion of their time in meetings or on calls with their teams or other executives. For some it gets as high as 80% of their time. So, if we ask the question “Where and when does leadership happen?”, the answer is “In every meeting, huddle, conversation or call.” Therefore, the culture that leaders shape begins in this daily routine; within the micro-cultures of meetings and calls that they and their teams experience.
Good leaders create and shape better cultures in better meetings to help them and their teams make better decisions in order to do the right thing.
Better meetings have a clear purpose; are guided by moral values such as love, fairness and wisdom; so that people feel psychological safety and speak “truth to power”. The RIGHT decisions are then taken using our ethics of Love, Logic and Law.
“Love should be treated like a business deal, but every business deal has its own terms and its own currency. And in love, the currency is virtue. You love people not for what you do for them or what they do for you. You love them for the values, the virtues, which they have achieved in their own character.”
“If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.”
If you want to be good at work, work like this in every meeting, discussion or conversation with your colleagues, customers and suppliers.
Practice makes perfect. In nature, patterns emerge through repetition and so do good habits in business. Many people think that ‘culture transformation’ is something big and scary. It isn’t. But, if you think that way before you begin, you’ll fail.
We are at our best when we focus on being a little bit better, a little bit more of the time, in everything we do, with everyone we meet.
In our next episode, we will explore “Chaos, Flow and Systems Thinking”. No, it’s not a lesson in quantum theory, but an exploration of why and how our world is becoming ever more volatile, complex and adaptive. Not only do we need to ditch the feudal hierarchy of command and control in our workplaces, we need to stop believing that people at work are anonymous cogs in an industrial machine. To be good at work we need to understand the nature of chaos, complexity and flow in the river of life.